In years past, flying to China from the U.S. was not simple. However, more recently, getting to China has become much more straightforward. China has implemented 10-year travel visas, airlines have opened up more direct routes, and award space has gotten better.

In fact, now the issue with flying to China is often choosing between your multitude of options. In this article, we’ll break down your best options and help you find the award availability that you need to get to China.

We’ve written separate articles about award travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan so if you’re looking for those destinations specifically check those out!

Best Ways to Fly to China
Shanghai World Financial Center

Content

1 United Airlines MileagePlus
1.1 How to Book with United MileagePlus Miles
1.2 How to Earn United MileagePlus Miles
1.3 Cards to Help You Earn United MileagePlus Miles
2 Air Canada Aeroplan
2.1 How to Book with Air Canada Aeroplan miles
2.2 How to Earn Air Canada Aeroplan Miles
2.3 Cards to Help You Earn Air Canada Aeroplan Miles
3 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

3.1 How to Book with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
3.2 How to Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
3.3 Cards to Help You Earn  Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles
4 Delta Airlines
4.1 How to Book with Delta Skymiles
4.2 How to Earn Delta Skymiles
4.3 Cards to Help You Earn Delta Skymiles
5 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
5.1 How to book with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
5.2 How to Earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
5.3 Cards to Help You Earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Bottom Line

How To Beat United Basic Economy
United Airlines MileagePlus

United Airlines MileagePlus

For travel on/after November 15, 2019, flights on United itself will not have set redemption rates. Make sure you understand what this dynamic pricing of awards will mean for you.

Star Alliance has great coverage to Asia in general and to China specifically. With so many Asian partners you have a lot of options to get to China. On top of that, the majority of non-stop flights to China from the United States are on Star Alliance.

The best reason to use United Airlines MileagePlus to book your Star Alliance flights is their easy to use search engine. They also charge lower taxes and fees than most carriers because United doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges. Even if you end up booking with a different carrier, starting with United gives you a good idea about award availability.

United charges the following one-way prices to China:

  • Economy: 35,000 United Miles
  • United Business Class: 70,000 United Miles
  • Partner Business Class: 80,000 United Miles
  • Partner First Class: 120,000 United Miles

United offers nine non-stop flights from the Continental United States to China on their own aircraft. They fly out Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Most flights arrive in Beijing or Shanghai. There is also one San Francisco to Chengdu route. At the time of writing, only the San Francisco to Beijing (SFO-PEK) route features United’s new Polaris business class product.

Don’t forget you can also use United’s excursionist perk to further stretch the value of your miles by adding an extra one-way segment in Asia for free.

How to Book with United MileagePlus Miles

Booking with United MileagePlus miles is pretty straightforward thanks to their easy to use online booking engine. Just click “Book with miles” when you search.

How to Book with United MileagePlus Miles-United Award Search

After you search, you will receive a list of results and the amount of miles each itinerary will cost. These prices also include taxes and fees.

How to Book with United MileagePlus Miles-United Award Search 2

You can also search by month. A solid blue line means saver economy award space, and blue dots mean saver business or first class award space. This could be either United or partner award space.

United Award Calendar

One of the best reasons to book flights to China using United MileagePlus is United’s generous routing rules. Five years ago, my wife and I booked two Lufthansa first class flights to Beijing through Munich. That was twenty hours across two flights in Lufthansa first class! Routing through Europe gives you a lot of options to China, even today, like this itinerary through Frankfurt on Lufthansa and Air China first class. While it’s not non-stop, that’s a lot of hours for you to enjoy in business or first class!

United Award F

The United website simply breaks down flights by dates and class of cabin., You can see exactly how much it will cost in miles, taxes, and fees. Just click through and complete the booking process and you’ll be on your way to China!

How to Book with United MileagePlus Miles-Lufthansa First class cabin
Lufthansa First class cabin | Image Courtesy of Joseph Cheung

How to Earn United MileagePlus Miles

United MileagePlus miles transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. They also are transfer partners with Marriott at a 3:1.1 ratio plus a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. So, 50,000 Marriott points get you 18,333 United miles, but 60,000 Marriott points will get you 27,000 United miles when you factor in the bonus.

Cards to Help You Earn United MileagePlus Miles

You can earn United MileagePlus miles through the Chase Sapphire Preferred or any Chase Sapphire card. You can also earn them through Chase’s co-branded cards with United such as the United Explorer card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

Chase Sapphire Reserve

50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

United Explorer Card

40,000 bonus miles after $2,000 spend in 3 months

Learn more

how to get to japan using miles
Air Canada

Air Canada Aeroplan

Another great Star Alliance option is Air Canada Aeroplan. They also have a great website and good redemption rates. The biggest downside with Air Canada Aeroplan is they pass on fuel surcharges from some of their partners. For the purposes of flying to China, Air China and United are your best bet for avoiding fuel surcharges.

These are one-way award rates on Aeroplan:

Economy Class 37,500 miles
Premium Economy 62,500 miles
Business Class 75,000 miles
First Class 105,000 miles

One benefit Air Canada Aeroplan has over United is that two stopovers or one stopover and one open jaw are permitted on round-trip flights. You can use this to your advantage for intra-China flights. If you’re unfamiliar with what a stopover or open jaw is, we’ve got you covered!

United business
United business class isn’t fancy, but having a lie-flat seat to China can make a big difference. Image Courtesy of Joseph Cheung

How to Book with Air Canada Aeroplan miles

Like United, the easiest way to book Air Canada Aeroplan awards is online. If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to sign up with Aeroplan not Air Canada’s own website as Aeroplan is Air Canada’s loyalty program.

Once logged in, hover over “Book Travel” and then click “Flights”. You can search for One-Way, Round-Trip, or Multi-City itineraries. Be sure to click on “Business/First” if you want to search for a business or first class seats.

Aeroplan booking

Once you’re in your search results, you can click on “Availability Calendar” to search more results at once. In the calendar, click on individual dates to check flights for those dates. We actually prefer to check space on United’s website (see above) first since both programs can book the same space. After you confirm space at United, you can go to Aeroplan’s website to book.

Aeroplan calendar

Aeroplan result

How to Earn Air Canada Aeroplan Miles

If you’re looking to boost your Air Canada Aeroplan balance, the TD Bank Aeroplan card is an option. However, your best bet for getting Aeroplan miles is via transfer from American Express Membership Rewards. These can be transferred to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio and can be earned on a variety of personal and business cards.

Thanks to Capital One’s recent foray into transferable miles, you can also transfer miles from the Capital One Venture Card and the Capital One Spark Miles Card at a rate of 2:1.5. Marriott Bonvoy points can also be transferred at a ratio of 3:1 with a bonus of 5,000 miles for transfers of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. A 60,000 Marriott point transfer would net you 25,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles.

Cards to Help You Earn Air Canada Aeroplan Miles

American Express offers a number of Membership Rewards earning cards that you can transfer to Air Canada Aeroplan. Cards such as the American Express Gold Card are great for earning 4X points per dollar on dining and groceries. With Capital One, you can earn 2X points per dollar across a variety of cards which you can transfer to Aeroplan.

American Express Gold Card

10xT Thoughts: A great card for category spenders who want more rewards for their spend! Currently offering 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Learn more

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

50,000 miles after spending $4,500 in the first 3 months

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Alaska Airlines - book ticket using credit card to get free baggage fee

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Thanks to their variety of partners, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan presents a great option for using miles to get to China. Alaska prices each partner differently. Here’s a chart with the redemption rates for your main options for China for one-way trips.

Airline Economy Business Class First Class
American Airlines 35,000 miles 70,000 miles 110,000 miles
Cathay Pacific 30,000 miles 50,000 miles 70,000 miles
Hainan Airlines 30,000 miles 50,000 miles N/A
Japan Airlines 40,000 miles 65,000 miles 75,000 miles
Korean Airlines* 70,000 miles 105,000 miles N/A

* – Korean Air has to be included in a round-trip itinerary (otherwise you’ll pay the round-trip price for a one-way ticket), although you don’t have to fly on Korean Air in both directions. Korean Air also has significant blackout dates, including most of December and almost the entire summer – check the Alaska Airlines award charts page for specifics. Also, note that Korean Air does not allow lap infants in business class – infants must have a full price ticket.

You can only fly one partner at a time, so you can’t mix and match partners between flights. You can, however, use Alaska flights for positioning. There’s a lot of value to be had amongst all these partners with the possible exception of Korean Airlines. Definitely, don’t overlook Hainan’s direct flight between Los Angeles to Xi’an.

LAX XIY

Aside from the Hainan flight, Cathay Pacific is your best bet with low redemption rates and taxes and fees. It also happens to offer an excellent business class product.

Although Cathay Pacific has to connect through Hong Kong, Alaska Airlines allows a stopover on award flights. Better yet, you can take a stopover on a one-way flight. So you could stop in Hong Kong on your way to mainland China, stretching your miles even further.

Hainan business
Hainan Airlines business class Image courtesy of Hainan Airlines

How to Book with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

You can search for most partner awards on Alaska Airlines website. Checking the “use miles” box will pull up prices in terms of miles, taxes, and fees. Be sure to click through to make sure you aren’t booking any mixed cabin awards.

AS search

For Cathay Pacific, you will have to call Alaska Airlines to book. You cannot search for Cathay Pacific space on Alaska’s website, but you can search for it on British Airways’ website.

How to Earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles can be transferred from Marriott at a rate of 3X Marriott Bonvoy points to 1X Alaska mile. You also get a bonus of 5,000 miles for transfers of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. A 60,000 Marriott point transfer would thus net you 25,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.

Cards to Help You Earn  Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

You can earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles through Bank of America’s co-branded credit cards which earn 3 points per dollar spent on Alaska Airlines and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Since you can transfer from Marriott Bonvoy, you can also earn Alaska miles via the American Express or Chase Marriott Bonvoy cards and then transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Alaska.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

75,000 bonus points after $3,000 spend in the first 3 months

Learn more

American Express Gold Card

10xT Thoughts: A great card for category spenders who want more rewards for their spend! Currently offering 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Learn more

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

75,000 bonus points after $3,000 spend in the first 3 months

Learn more by visiting our
credit cards page.

delta-amex-increased-offers-april-2018

Delta Airlines

While Delta’s variable award pricing has made it more difficult to find value, they actually make it pretty straightforward to find award seats to China. Straightforward for Delta, at least.

If flying on Delta, it will generally cost you 35,000 miles one-way in economy and 100-120,000 miles one-way in business class. If that business class price looks expensive, it’s because it is!

Delta One
Delta One Suites Image Courtesy of Delta

But the key to redeeming Delta miles for flights to China in business class lies in Delta’s partners China Eastern, China Southern, and Xiamen Air. Delta charges 85,000 miles one-way on partner business class. Luckily, China Eastern and China Southern have fairly good availability from North America to China to their hubs in Shanghai and Guangzhou, respectively.

Delta has a flight on its own metal between Detroit and Beijing that sometimes has good availability in business class as well. You can also connect through Taiwan on partner China Airlines at the cheaper partner rate of 85,000 miles one-way in business class.

How to Book with Delta Skymiles

Theoretically, you can book all of the Delta flights and China partners through Delta’s site. In practice, it’s a little bit more difficult than that.

You should start by doing a simple search from your city to one of the hub cities mentioned above. If that doesn’t result in saver award fares, especially in business class, you shouldn’t give up.

LAX PVG DL

Delta’s site can see China Eastern, China Southern, China Airlines, and Xiamen airlines flights on their award search calendar, but with a catch. You often need to search segment by segment. That means you need to have good knowledge of what cities those airlines fly to. So you should first search the main routes between China and North America. Then you can try to string them together in a multi-city itinerary.

Here are the routes these airlines fly direct between the U.S. and China.

Airline U.S. city China city
China Eastern Los Angeles Shanghai
China Eastern Los Angeles Nanjing
China Eastern San Francisco Shanghai
China Eastern New York Shanghai
China Eastern Chicago Shanghai
China Eastern Honolulu Shanghai
China Eastern San Francisco Qingdao
China Southern Los Angeles Guangzhou
China Southern New York Guangzhou
China Southern New York Wuhan
China Southern San Francisco Guangzhou
China Southern San Francisco Wuhan
Xiamen Airlines Seattle Shenzhen
Xiamen Airlines New York Fuzhou
Xiamen Airlines Los Angeles Qingdao

How to Earn Delta Skymiles

Delta Skymiles can be earned through the American Express co-branded Delta cards. You can also transfer Delta Skymiles from American Express Membership Rewards. Note that American Express charges 0.06 cents per point transferred up to a maximum of $99.

Delta Skymiles can be transferred from Marriott at a rate of 3 Marriott Bonvoy points to 1 Delta Skymile. You also get a bonus of 5,000 miles for transfers of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. A 60,000 Marriott point transfer would thus net you 25,000 Delta Skymiles.

Cards to Help You Earn Delta Skymiles

American Express offers multiple co-branded Delta Airlines credit cards which offer great opportunities to earn Delta Skymiles. You can also earn Delta Skymiles to transfer from American Express Membership Rewards cards or Marriott Bonvoy cards.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

30,000 SkyMiles after $1,000 spend in the first 3 months

Learn more

American Express Gold Card

10xT Thoughts: A great card for category spenders who want more rewards for their spend! Currently offering 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Learn more

American Express Membership Rewards points - Airline Transfer Partner - Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

One program people don’t think of when looking for award space to China is Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. They have a great award chart and the benefit of opening up Cathay Pacific award space 360 days out.

This is 30 days before partners such as Alaska or American can book the space. So if you’re looking to lock down award space early, especially for a family, Asia Miles can be a great asset.

Best Ways to Fly to China | Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific has one of the best business classes in the world. | Image Courtesy of Joseph Cheung

Asia Miles uses a distance based award chart, both for Cathay Pacific and partner awards. Expect to pay around 85,000 miles to fly from North America to China. The only exception would be if you could sneak an itinerary of a distance of under 7,500 miles from the west coast. That would only cost 70,000 Asia Miles.

You can also book non-stop flights with partners like American Airlines and Air China for an extra 5,000 miles.

Aside from the early availability, Asia Miles also allows stopovers – even on one-way awards! That can be very valuable since you can add a stop in Hong Kong on your way to China if you’d like.

How to book with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

If you are booking a simple one-way trip, you can book online through the Asia Miles website. Sign up for an Asia Miles account and input your cities and dates into the search. You want to look for “Standard” awards generally. For Asia Miles “Standard” means the same thing that “saver” normally means for other airlines.

CX online

If you want to book a multi-city trip or with partners, you will need to call Asia Miles. The best thing to do is to use the online engine to search the exact segments and dates you want. Then, when you call, you can feed your flights to the agent. Since Asia Miles is distance based, you can also input your itinerary into GCMap to figure out what distance band your trip falls into.

How to Earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be transferred from a variety of partners. American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points both transfer to Asia Miles at a rate of 1:1. You can also transfer Capital One miles at a 2:1.5 ratio.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be transferred from Marriott at a rate of 3 Marriott Bonvoy points to 1 Asia Mile. You also get a bonus of 5,000 miles for transfers of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. A 60,000 Marriott point transfer would thus net you 25,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Cards to Help You Earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Synchrony Bank offers a co-branded Cathay Pacific Asia Miles card. That’s your only option for earning Asia Miles directly. But you have the option of earning all the different mileage currencies. American Express Membership Rewards cards, the family of Citi ThankYou cards, the Capital One Venture card, and the Marriott Bonvoy cards are all good options for earning miles to transfer to Asia Miles.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months

Learn more

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

75,000 bonus points after $3,000 spend in the first 3 months

Learn more by visiting our
credit cards page.

Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card

Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

Learn more

Bottom Line

Getting to China is more attainable than ever. With the variety of programs that you can use to fly over to China, the toughest decision might be which option is best. If you need any further assistance, feel free to drop a question in the 10xTravel Facebook group. A lot of the programs offer generous stopover rules so you can also turn your trip to China into an extended visit to Asia!

Chase Sapphire Preferred

New to the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card to start with. With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points on dining and travel, this card truly cannot be beat! 

Learn more

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Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. You can read our advertiser disclosure here.


About the Author

Joe caught his love of travel at an early age, but started really diving into miles and points when he and his wife were expecting their first child. He’s been writing about using miles and points to reduce the cost of family travel on his blog asthejoeflies ever since. He loves traveling all around the world with his wife and three children, with a special place in his heart for travel to Asia. When he’s...

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