A New Flight to Upgrade to Asia On

Via Joe Brancatelli’s (subscription-only) Tactical Traveler,

Hainan Airlines, the Chinese carrier, says it will launch nonstop flights between Chicago/O’Hare and Beijing. The airline will fly two-class Airbus A330-200s four days a week starting on September 3

And believe it or not, there are people who should care.

Already, Hainan Airlines flies Seattle-Beijing. To many, they’re just an obscure Chinese airline. To savvy flyers, though, they’re probably the cheapest ‘out of pocket cash’ airline to upgrade with between the U.S. and Asia.

Their frequent flyer program is the Fortune Wings Club. The only Western carrier they partner with is Air Berlin. But you can transfer Wyndham Rewards points into Fortune Wings Club miles.

International upgrades are permitted — without cash co-pay — from M fares and above. I’m currently seeing M fares from $1390++ roundtrip on both the Chicago – Beijing and Seattle-Beijing routes.

Here’s the catch. Their upgrades cost a bunch of miles. Flights between 8500 and 11000 kilometers (which both the Chicago and Seattle to Beijing flights are) cost 55,000 points to upgrade (each direction).

But it’s a unique airline that offers upgrades off of reasonable fares without cash co-pay — no $500 or $600 upcharge on top of miles in order to get out of coach.

For folks that aren’t United or American 100,000 mile flyers with access to their top tier upgrade certificates, this can offer a reasonable strategy. Especially since – given the lack of airline partnerships, especially with US airlines — there’s just not a ton of competition for upgrade seats.

Sadly, upgrades used to be cheaper but the mileage price got raised back in September.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. the biggest caveat about this “opportunity” is that no one has FWC accounts, let alone miles. and their transfer partners are probably a dinky handful.

  2. @Jerry sometimes. But Chicago – Beijing yeaer-round for $1500 and upgrade-eligible? Seems one to keep in the back pocket.

    @Jackie – see the post above, I mention where to get Fortune Wings Club points from 😉

  3. So after 150 nights in a Super 8, you can earn enough WR points to score an upgrade.

    Sounds like a winner to me!

  4. ” The only Western carrier they partner with is Air Berlin”, I think they have code share with AA?

  5. I flew Hainan for my first time last year SEA-PEK in C, and was very pleased. The food was decent, bed comfortable, and service very pleasant. One of their managing directors even took a moment to chat me and others up during boarding to welcome us to the airline and give us his business card for future feedback.

    So yeah, it’s a shame about Hainan’s frequent flyer program being (IMHO) confusing, expensive (in terms of miles), and poorly connected (no major alliances), but at some point it’s just tempting to focus on out-of-pocket costs & quality, and with this, Hainan’s really worth considering.

  6. 55k FW points each way is 110k FW points
    You need 8000 WR for 3200 FW or
    for 110k FW you need 275000 WR = 135k spend
    135k spend on SPG = 160k US miles
    remember that 90k US miles = 1 biz award to China

    So for the price of 2 free awards, (opportunity cost 2 cpm= 2700$)
    you can buy a 1500$ ticket and get 1 upgrade
    Total real cost for this entire exercise = 4200$

  7. Aside from Aegean the lowest requirement giving lounge access is Air Canada’s new Altitude Elite 35K card which is silver but offers a free optional card allowing access to Star biz class lounges worldwide.

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