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!

Shanghai World Financial Center

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Lufthansa First class cabin | Image Courtesy of Joseph Cheung

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.

Air Canada

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 Class37,500 miles
Premium Economy62,500 miles
Business Class75,000 miles
First Class105,000 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 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.

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.

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® Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business 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 U.S. Supermarkets. With Capital One, you can earn 2X points per dollar across a variety of cards which you can transfer to Aeroplan.

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.

AirlineEconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
American Airlines35,000 miles70,000 miles110,000 miles
Cathay Pacific30,000 miles50,000 miles70,000 miles
Hainan Airlines30,000 miles50,000 milesN/A
Japan Airlines40,000 miles65,000 miles75,000 miles
Korean Airlines*70,000 miles105,000 milesN/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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

AirlineU.S. CityChina City
China EasternLos AngelesShanghai
China EasternLos AngelesNanjing
China EasternSan FranciscoShanghai
China EasternNew YorkShanghai
China EasternChicagoShanghai
China EasternHonoluluShanghai
China EasternSan FranciscoQingdao
China SouthernLos AngelesGuangzhou
China SouthernNew YorkGuangzhou
China SouthernNew YorkWuhan
China SouthernSan FranciscoGuangzhou
China SouthernSan FranciscoWuhan
Xiamen AirlinesSeattleShenzhen
Xiamen AirlinesNew York Fuzhou
Xiamen AirlinesLos 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!