Planes, Trains, and More Planes, 2017 Edition: Asia for the Holidays

Buenos dias everyone,

Like last year, I just left Mexico City for a long international trip over the holidays – this time to Asia instead of Europe. This time the trip wasn’t built around a mistake fare, but rather a desire to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha and the Chengdu Panda Base, both in western China.

I started planning the trip in mid-September, and found that Asiana Airlines had pretty good business class availability across the Pacific for the dates we were looking at. I tacked on United economy flights between Mexico City and LAX (though this resulted in an overnight layover in each direction, since United only has one flight per day between those two cities), and added a domestic Air China economy flight from Shanghai to Chengdu after a one-week stopover.

A world map centered over the Pacific Ocean showing the following flight routing in red: MEX-LAX-ICN-PVG, SHA-CTU

Map generated by gcmap.com

This itinerary cost 95,000 ANA miles per person (transferred from American Express Membership Rewards) plus about $330 in taxes and fuel surcharges – since ANA issues online tickets from its Vancouver, Canada office, the cash amount was billed as $417 Canadian dollars. I checked award availability for the United flights over the next couple of months, and was able to get both of them upgraded to Business class by calling ANA – there was no fee for these changes, but the taxes repriced at current exchange rates, so the first change I made cost an extra $30 and the second one I got a $5 refund.

For hotels, I decided to go with nicer properties than I might normally book, since neither of us speak any Mandarin and especially in Western China, nicer hotels tend to have more staff available with a strong command of English. I also know that staying in Airbnbs in China requires a trip to the police station within 24 hours of arrival to register your details (otherwise you may have visa problems in the future). And you can get some very nice properties for reasonable prices in Asia!

A panda bear relaxes against a rock surrounded by grass, with bamboo in the foreground.

Not going to lie, I’m pretty excited about seeing some pandas. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

After our two weeks in China, we’ll be heading to Taiwan and South Korea. I haven’t booked our hotels for that part of the trip yet, but here’s what our flights look like:

  • Xi’an to Kaohsiung via Hong Kong on Cathay Dragon business class, booked for 22,500 AAdvantage miles + about $40 in taxes and fees per person
  • Taipei to Seoul-Incheon on Cathay Pacific business class for 15,000 British Airways Avios + $27 in fees per person
A map showing mostly China as well as Taiwan and the edge of Korea, with a red route map showing XIY-HKG-KHH, TPE-ICN

Map generated by gcmap.com

I went through the AAdvantage call center in Mexico for the Xi’an-Kaohsiung trip (since I was calling from home), and one catch with that was that they charged me a phone ticketing fee, even though that isn’t supposed to apply to trips you can’t book on AA.com (including Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights). I reached out to their Twitter customer support team, who agreed to refund the charge but had to wait for it to fully process in their system before doing so – I messaged them again the next day after my credit card got charged, but they still couldn’t see it on their end, and I forgot to follow up with them until I was writing this post. They’ve assured me that the refund is being processed.

Once we fight our way through the jet lag, I think this is going to be an awesome trip. Do you have any recommendations for any of our destinations? Would you have used different currencies or strategies to book these flights? Let me know in the comments!

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