In my recent update post, I mentioned that we wanted to squeeze in a visit to China before heading over to Taiwan. Well, it’s all booked! And in business class thanks to an American Express 40% transfer bonus to British Airways.
40% bonus? Please and thank you.
Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points normally transfer to British Airways Avios at 1:1, and their transfers are usually instant. Marriott also transfers, but at 3:1. You do get an extra 5,000 airline miles for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer (netting you 25k miles), but Marriott transfers have been known to take several days, if not weeks to process.
Chase does not run transfer bonuses to any of its partners. However, American Express does it quite often, and until 11/15/18, transferring 1,000 Membership Rewards points to British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus (all Avios partners) will now give you 1,400 Avios. While they’ve run this 40% bonus transfer rate for British Airways before, bonuses with most other partners are usually in the 10-30% range, so 40% is amazing.
Japan to Shanghai
As you can see from the picture above, cash flights on low-cost carriers weren’t all that expensive, but the flight times were horrendous. Any decently-timed flight was $300+. While looking for award flight options, I remembered that British Airways has some sweet spots on their award chart for intra-Asia travel. We took advantage of this back in 2016 to take a couple domestic flights in Japan for 4,500 miles + $2.27 per person, each way.
I searched for award flights on British Airways’ website and hit paydirt. Plenty of award seats were available on a 3.5-hour non-stop from Tokyo to Shanghai on JAL on the date we wanted and with a 2:35p departure time.
Economy, premium economy, and business class seats were all available at their respective rates of 7,500, 11,250, and 15,000 miles, plus $57 in taxes and fees. Those rates on their own were already the lowest of any other points/miles options, but with the 40% bonus, I’d only need to transfer over 6,500, 9,000, or 11,000 Amex points depending on which class we flew in. 6,500 points + $57 for an economy ticket is a good deal for a 3.5-hour flight…but 4,500 more points for that same flight in business is a steal.
We’ve flown business with JAL before, and the service and food were both great, but what really sealed the deal was finding out that the planes on this route actually have JAL’s Sky Suite III business class product. That means private, lie-flat, reverse herringbone seats. We’ve experienced these seats on Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, and Qatar Airways flights, and we love them. No, we don’t need lie-flat seats for a 3.5-hour flight, but we haven’t tried this seat with JAL yet, plus it’ll make for a super comfortable flight.
Shanghai to Taipei
Of course, I wanted to keep taking advantage of the 40% transfer bonus. British Airways doesn’t partner with anyone that flies non-stop from Shanghai to Taipei, so I did look around to see if any non-stop flights might be a better option. The best I found was economy on a China Eastern flight for $192. It also would’ve been bookable through the Chase Travel Portal for only 12,795 Ultimate Rewards points since T gets a 50% bonus for having the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Flying Blue (Air France/KLM’s frequent flier program that accepts transfers from Citi, Chase, and Amex) also showed award availability for 11,000 miles, but they tack on $52 in taxes and fees, so the Chase Travel Portal would be the way to go for this particular option.
However, there was plenty of availability from Shanghai to Hong Kong in Cathay Dragon (CX’s subsidiary) business class, then on to Taipei in Cathay Pacific business class. The seats aren’t lie flat like the ones we had flying from Los Angeles to Hong Kong last year, but they’re supposed to be comfy, and we haven’t tried them before. While T doesn’t care so much about trying every airline’s variation of every business class seat, I definitely enjoy it, and she was willing to oblige me here.
We’d have to book these flights separately at 15,000 Avios+$48 in taxes/fees for Shanghai to Hong Kong and 9,000 Avios+$28 for Hong Kong to Taipei. Factoring in the 40% transfer bonus, the per person cost was 17,500 points+$70 to book both of these flights.
Is business class really worth it for these short flights?
Had we opted for economy for all of these flights, we could’ve spent a few as 19,500 total miles and $57. Splurging for business cost us an extra 9,000 miles and $70. Amex points can only be cashed out for a statement credit at 0.6 cents per point, giving 9,000 points a pure cash value of $54, so you could say we spent an extra $124.
That got us a more spacious, more comfortable seat, plus good food for a combined 7.5 hours of flight time, not to mention other business class benefits, among them priority boarding (no standing in line), deplaning first (faster immigration), and access to lounges that will likely be better and more conveniently located than the Priority Pass lounges we would’ve had access to otherwise. Are these necessities? Absolutely not, but I’d say for an extra $124, the value is there.
T-1 week to China. That means only one more week in Japan. 😫