Part II – Getting to Asia Using Your URs

As I mentioned in the Introduction Post, Chase Ultimate Rewards points (much like American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points) are great points to stockpile because they are so versatile. Chase URs are getting a little more difficult to earn thanks to Chase’s 5/24 Rule (though that seems to be a bit relaxed now), but if you already have the points or are new to the credit card game, they can be quite useful for getting you to Asia!

Introduction – Getting To Asia Using Your MRs, URs or TYPs
Part I – Getting To Asia Using Your MRs
Part II – Getting To Asia Using Your URs
Part III – Getting To Asia Using Your TYPs

Chase offers only one personal card that allows for the transfer of Ultimate Rewards points to airline partners – the Sapphire Preferred card. Chase is pretty strict with their approvals for this card, so if you have picked up more than 5 credit cards in the past 24 months, chances are good you will be denied if you apply for this card, so plan accordingly/carefully. Chase also offers the business Ink credit card, which has been offering some great sign up bonuses lately.

Now that you know how to earn the URs, the more complicated process is how to use those hard earned URs to get you to Asia!

Your URs will transfer to 6 different airlines across all 3 major airline alliances. Those airlines include:

AirlineAllianceTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Korean AirSkyTeam1:1Same day
British AirwaysOneWorld1:1Same day
Singapore AirlinesStar Alliance1:1Same day
UnitedStar Alliance1:1Same day
Virgin AtlanticN/A1:1Same day
SouthwestN/A1:1Same day

As I said before, the transfer times are just an approximation based upon data points I could find (as well as personal experiences), but it is important to be cognizant of these transfer times when you are planning your award booking(s).

Also keep in mind that you should always be looking at the paid ticket prices for tickets through the Chase UR portal – especially if you are looking to fly economy class – as your URs can be redeemed towards a paid ticket.

Another caveat is that although I will be including general advice for getting to Asia on your URs, your home airport will play an important role in finding availability or determining cost. For example, since British Airways operates under a distance based award chart, the cost for someone traveling from the East Coast is generally going to be higher than the cost for someone traveling from the West Coast. I will also assume for purposes of this post that you would be flying into Hong Kong (HKG).

Korean Air

Korean Air is a SkyTeam alliance member, which means you can redeem your SkyPass miles for travel on Delta, Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern and Vietnam Airlines flights. Korean Air is largely considered to be one of the best bang for your buck redemptions to Asia in general and is among the best option among UR transfer partners.

Korean Air uses a two-tier system where award tickets solely on Korean Air flights are one rate, and award tickets on partners are another rate. For itineraries solely on Korean Air flights, Korean Air divides Asia into 5 regions, which are comprised of the following countries/cities:

  • Korea – Korea (yup)
  • Japan – Japan (who knew?)
  • China/Northeast Asia – China, Hong Kong, Irukutsk, Taipei, Ulaanbaatar & Vladivostok
  • Southeast Asia/Guam – Bangkok, Cebu, Chiang Mai, Da Nang, Denpasar Bali, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Nha Trang, Palau, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Singapore, Yangon & Guam
  • Southwest Asia – Colombo, Malé, Mumbai, Kathmandu & Tashkent

Complicating the process further, Korean Air operates under a peak/non-peak season award chart. Those dates are very specific and depend on where you are flying so you are better off checking out the chart here.

A roundtrip on Korean Air flights to/from the U.S. and Korea, Japan or China/Northeast Asia will cost you 70k/105k miles in coach (off peak/peak), 125k/185k miles in business and 160k/240k miles in first class.

A roundtrip on Korean Air flights to/from the U.S. and Southeast Asia/Guam will cost you 85k/125k miles in coach (off peak/peak), 150k/225k miles in business and 190k/285k miles in first class.

A roundtrip on Korean Air flights to/from the U.S. and Southwest Asia will cost you 95k/145k miles in coach (off peak/peak), 170k/255k miles in business and 210k/315k miles in first class.

For itineraries on partner flights, Korean Air divides Asia into 3 regions, which are comprised of the following countries/cities:

  • Asia 1 – Korea & Japan
  • Asia 2 – Guam, Taiwan, East Russia, Laos, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Macao, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Brunei, Saipan, Singapore, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, China, Central Russia, Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Palau, Philippines & Hong Kong
  • Asia 3 – Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, India & Pakistan

A roundtrip on partner flights to/from the U.S. and Asia 1 will cost you 80k miles in coach, 140k miles in business and 180k miles in first class.

A roundtrip on partner flights to/from the U.S. and Asia 2 will cost you 90k miles in coach, 155k miles in business and 200k miles in first class.

A roundtrip on partner flights to/from the U.S. and Asia 3 will cost you 100k miles in coach, 170k miles in business and 230k miles in first class.

Korean Air does not allow for one-way awards on partner redemptions, but they do for those with flights operated solely by Korean Air. You are also allowed one stopover on a one-way award ticket and two stopovers on a roundtrip award ticket.

While Korean Air Skypass miles offer one of the best values, it can be difficult to work with Korean Air. If you are planning to use your miles to book an award ticket for another person, that other person has to be a family member (mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, wife, husband or child). You will also need to call in to Korean Air to book your partner award and the process is somewhat arduous. I would strongly recommend that you call in to make sure space is available and then place a hold on your award ticket(s) before transferring your URs to your Skypass account.

British Airways/Iberia

British Airways and Iberia somewhat share an award program where both have a distance based award chart, so your home airport is really going to make the biggest difference here in how much an award ticket to Asia will cost you. As both British Airways and Iberia are members of the OneWorld alliance, you can use your Avios to book Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines or American Airlines flights to Asia.

From the East Coast of the U.S. (New York – JFK) or the West Coast of the U.S. (Los Angeles – LAX), you can expect a cost of 35k Avios for coach, 70k Avios for premium economy, 105k Avios for business and 140k Avios for first for a one-way redemption.

Again, keep in mind that these are price ranges for flights to Hong Kong, so your award ticket cost may vary from these numbers depending on your home airport, number of connections needed and destination. Also keep in mind that British Airways does not levy their usual hefty fuel surcharges on partner redemptions, so from the U.S. you can expect the usual $5.60 in taxes and fees.

In light of the cost, unless you are based out of a hub airport where you can find a direct partner flight to your Asian destination or have a glut of Avios you want to burn, you are better off transferring your URs elsewhere for a redemption to Asia – especially if you are looking to travel in a premium cabin.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use your Kris Flyer miles for Air Canada, United, Air China, ANA, Asiana, Eva Air, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways flights to Asia. Again, in other words, you are going to have a ton of options!

Singapore Airlines is one of several airlines that utilizes a separate award chart for partner awards. The Singapore Airlines specific chart breaks Asia into 7 zones which are comprised of the following countries:

  • Zone 1 – Singapore
  • Zone 2 – Malaysia, Indonesia & Brunei
  • Zone 3 – Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar & Cambodia
  • Zone 4 – South China, Hong Kong & Taiwan
  • Zone 5 – North China (Beijing & Shanghai)
  • Zone 6 – South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Maldives & Bangladesh)
  • Zone 7 – Japan & South Korea

There are simply too many combinations and options for me to address all of the rates here, however you can easily find your redemption cost using this chart provided by Singapore Airlines. You can expect roundtrip prices of around 70k miles for economy, 160k miles for business class and 220k miles for first class. Keep in mind those rates are for one-way tickets at the saver rate and do not factor in the 15% discount you would receive from booking your award ticket online.

The partner specific award chart on the other hand breaks Asia into 4 regions. Those regions are comprised of the following countries:

  • South East Asia 1 – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore
  • South East Asia 2 – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand & Vietnam
  • North Asia 1 – Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan
  • North Asia 2 – China, Guam, Japan, Micronesia, Palau, Russia Far East & South Korea

For roundtrip flights to/from the U.S. and South East Asia 1, it will cost you 110k miles for economy, 195k miles for business and 225k miles for first.

For roundtrip flights to/from the U.S. and South East Asia 2, it will cost you 110k miles for economy, 195k miles for business and 225k miles for first.

For roundtrip flights to/from the U.S. and North Asia 1, it will cost you 90k miles for economy, 175k miles for business and 200k miles for first.

For roundtrip flights to/from the U.S. and North Asia 2, it will cost you 90k miles for economy, 175k miles for business and 200k miles for first.

If you are looking to fly from one of Singapore’s few U.S. destinations, Singapore Airlines is a program worth looking into. However, if you are looking to fly on a Star Alliance partner or want a connecting flight from your home airport included in your award price, then there are much better redemptions to be had elsewhere.

United

United is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use your MileagePlus miles for Air Canada, United, Air China, ANA, Asiana, Eva Air, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways flights to Asia. As with Singapore Airlines, that means you are going to have a ton of options!

United divides Asia into 4 separate regions. Those regions are comprised of the following countries:

  • Japan – Japan (did you guess that one?)
  • North Asia – China, South Korea, Mongolia & Taiwan
  • Central Asia – Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan
  • South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand & Vietnam

United uses a two-tier award system for their awards. Economy tickets are the same cost regardless of whether you are on a United flight or a partner flight. A roundtrip saver coach award ticket will cost you 70k miles for Japan or North Asia, 85k miles for Central Asia and 80k miles for South Asia.

Business and first class award tickets on the other hand will differ in price depending on whether you are flying on a United operated flight or a partner operated flight. For United operated flights, a roundtrip saver business class award ticket will cost you 130k miles for Japan and 140k miles for North Asia, Central Asia or South Asia. For United operated flights, a roundtrip saver first class award ticket will cost you 160k miles for Japan, North Asia or South Asia or 180k miles for Central Asia.

Alternatively, for partner operated flights, a roundtrip saver business class award ticket will cost you 150k miles for Japan, 160k miles for North Asia, Central Asia or South Asia. For partner operated flights, a roundtrip saver first class award ticket will cost you 220k miles for Japan, 240k miles for North Asia, 260k miles for South Asia or 280k miles for Central Asia.

United allows one-way award tickets (though you would lose out on the free stopover) at half the rates cited above.

As you can see, the much better value when redeeming for premium cabins is with United operated flights – though the actual product is going to be far less enticing than what some of United’s partners such as ANA offer. Since Singapore Airlines would have access to much of the same award inventory as United, so if you are looking for first class seats, you are better off transferring your URs to Singapore instead and then booking the exact same flights for 5-80k miles less.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic also operates out of a very small market in the U.S., but they do partner with Singapore Airlines, ANA and Delta for award tickets to Asia. The downsides to this program are numerous including: a) you cannot redeem for business or first class on Singapore Airlines flights; b) the destinations offered are limited to Hong Kong (HKG), Shanghai (PVG) and Tokyo (NRT); and c) and the taxes and carrier imposed fees are outrageously high.

For example, from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG), a roundtrip award ticket will cost you 92.5k miles + ~$1,200-1,450 in taxes and fess for coach, 150k miles + ~$1,500-1,800 in taxes and fees for premium economy and 220k miles + ~$1,900-2,500 (!!) in taxes and fees for upper class (business class).

Although the mileage redemption rates (ignoring the outrageous taxes and fees) are actually not horrible, the astronomical taxes and fees makes Virgin Atlantic the single worst UR transfer partner for award tickets to Asia in my opinion. The taxes and fees on a coach ticket to Hong Kong are enough for 2-4 round trips given the fare sales that have been going on lately from the U.S. I would strongly recommend you avoid this option at all costs unless you literally have no other option.

Southwest

Unfortunately, Southwest does not currently fly to Asia, nor do they have any partners that fly to Asia. If you have a Chase co-branded Southwest credit card, there is a way around this to use your RapidRewards points for international travel, but the value is usually exceedingly poor and I will not get into how to do so here as it will rarely work out in your favor.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the UR transfer partners do not offer a lot of options for finding award availability to Asia, though they do offer some of the less expensive options among MR, UR and TYP transfer partners. Hopefully this guide has helped to shine a little light on how to utilize and maximize your URs for a trip to Asia!

Stay tuned for the next installments on your best redemption options for TYPs!

What is your favorite way to redeem URs to get to Asia?

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