The process of planning a China trip

2018, Jan 04    

Reward points from credit card

My baby girl has turned to her 9 months, we figured that it is the time to bring her back to China to visit the ‘new’ grandparents. As the Chinese new year is around the corner, we need to start making a plan for the trip. In 2017, I did collect lots of points via different credit cards (mostly from new customer spending rewards from Amex and Chase). now it’s the time to use them.

After studying the reward points exchange policies from Amex & Chase and airlines’ reward programs, I found ANA is probably my best way to go. The round trip business class can be redeemed at 95,000 pts (from the USA to Asia); This is a really good deal if we compare with some other airlines which one-way business can cost you about 100K pts between the same region. the ANA points can be exchanged from my Amex MR points at a 1:1 ratio. This has been considered as maybe the best way to use the MR pts. (I recently applied another Amex EPD :-) keep spending..)

The stopover choices

Once we decided ANA, one big benefit is the one free stopover. This means we can fly to a city in between and travel for a few days before going to the final destination (Beijing in our case). We think about stopping at Japan or Taiwan but finally gave up for different reasons. (For Japan, the US to Japan business class tickets availability is low; To book it, we need to be on waitlist first.. for Taiwan, as my wife is a Chinese citizen, she needs to get a certain permit to enter. Even it’s not too hard to apply, we just simply don’t want any hassle)

we chose another country - South Korea

There are a few reasons that make South Korea a very desirable choice:

  • We can fly Asiana airlines (can use ANA points to redeem), which usually has very good availability on business
  • My wife can enter without visa for 30 days (if you are just doing a stopover)
  • We have never been there before, always want to try the food and do some shopping So, the final route has been decided! LAX - ICN - PEK (two Asiana flights) and then PEK - LAX (direct flight by Air China) all business

The actual points transfer time

The total ANA pts needed is 190,000 (95,000 * 2); I almost started the points exchange process right away since I know it could take time. 150,000 was transferred from my Amex MR pts, and the rest 40,000, I exchanged from my SPG points (the ratio is 1:1 as well). The MR pts were transferred very quickly; it arrived at my ANA account the next day, but the SPG takes a FULL 20 DAYs to be appeared in there. So my advice here: if you want to use SPG for ANA, get started as early as possible. Luckily, I planned it early enough, so I was still able to redeem my ticket in time. (I quickly booked all the tickets the same day I received the SPG pts) the total points spent breakdown as below:

  • 150,000 Amex MR points: 100,000 from my Amex Platinum; 50,000 from the Amex PRG card; both were rewarded via opening new card spending bonus
  • 40,000 SPG points: 35,000 from the SPG opening new card spending bonus, 5k from my regular spending bonus
  • $400+ tax and fuel surcharge - not cheap, almost an economy round trip ticket

At this point, I thought things are all settled; at least for the airline tickets, and we can move on to have fun on making the 3 days travel plan in Seoul, such as hotel booking and what attractions we should check out.. but in fact, one thing was overlooked, the ticket for my baby girl.

Baby ticket

It was not the very first time we take our baby to travel via airplane. A few months ago, we have traveled to New York with her, which was a 6-hours long flight. She was doing really well, kept sleeping for most of the time, did not make too much trouble for us, so I am not too worried about her behavior on the airplane. The thing is, for a domestic flight, the baby under two is usually free if they can stay on one of the parent’s lap. Unfortunately, this is not the same for international flights. In short, there will be a charge even the baby doesn’t occupy a seat, the amount varies among different airlines. I was a little scared when I see some airlines charge 10% of the full amount of the price for the ticket, and they don’t take mileage points; a guy on the internet saying they used points to redeem a business seat and was charged $2,000 for their baby as their full price for the seat was $20,000 .. :-(.

I quickly contacted Asiana and Air China to find out. As a result, Asiana can take points for baby, so it’s 10% of the points that need to redeem for an adult ticket, which is 6,500 pts, this is awesome! but Air China will only take 10% of the ticket price, and it turned out to be $700… in the end, I just paid it, as there was nothing else I can do at that point.

Summary

There were a few takeaways in the process:

  1. As long as the ANA’s 95,000 pts round trips redeem exists, the Amex MR point is the preferred option for spending, the free stopover is very useful, I tested a few other destinations (Hawaii, Saipan, Guam, HongKong, Macaw, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea) and they are ALL POSSIBLE to be the stopover!
  2. For SPG points exchange, start at least 2 months before, it took me 20 days but I’ve seemed other people take even longer
  3. Baby tickets (under 2) friendly airlines include Korean Airline, Asiana, Air Canada, British Airways, and Emirates. They can take mileage points for this (which should be always cheaper); most of the other airlines take 10% of the ticket price; one airline needs to be noted - the Cathay Pacific takes 25% of the ticket price for baby!
  4. You can contact either ANA or the executing airlines to purchase the baby tickets, each one will have their policy; You can always compare and go with the best option.