Why $400 Economy Fares to Asia Don’t Excite Me

Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen some incredibly fares between the West Coast and Asia. Back in July, The Flight Deal shared a $330 roundtrip fare between San Francisco and Hong Kong. Since then, lots of other fares of around $400 have popped up. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a $478 roundtrip fare between San Francisco and Beijing. While these are really great fares that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to travel to Asia cheaply, they just don’t appeal to me. Why? For starters, 12 hours in economy class is pretty hard to endure when you’ve traveled the same route in Cathay Pacific’s first and business class cabin. Second, through the magic of manufactured spending, I can get a premium cabin seat on the same route for around the same price as that economy fare.

Cheap $400 flights to Hong Kong Asia

The famous Hong Kong skyline – one of the many amazing sights to explore in Asia

I could accomplish this by focusing my efforts on accumulating Alaska Miles for a roundtrip business class ticket on Cathay Pacific, which would set me back just 100,000 miles and get me a stopover each way if I booked two one-way awards. Earning 100,000 miles through online Visa gift cards purchases would cost $438 out of pocket after cash back portal bonuses are factored in. If some of these miles are earned through the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express, with its 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to Alaska, it could work out even cheaper.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it cheaper to manufacture enough miles for a $400 economy class ticket, especially if you redeem Arrival miles for it? Sure it is, but again, the prospect of a 12-hour flight without a flatbed seat isn’t enticing. Points and miles aside, I can afford a $400 economy class flight – it’s the $5,000+ business class ticket that’s going to be hard to explain to Suze Orman. With a business class ticket to Asia costing about the same as an economy class ticket, I choose the former. It requires a bit more effort on my part but results in a much better travel experience. I think it’s worth the effort.

There is the matter of the miles you’re giving up by traveling on an award flight rather than a paid fare. As someone who collects miles to be able to travel in premium cabins, there are easier and cheaper ways for me to earn those miles (as I’ve explained above) than via paid travel. Most of these super cheap flights don’t accumulate many miles anyway – in the case of the $330 roundtrip fare to Beijing, it was 1,319 redeemable miles and 14,326 elite qualifying miles. Neither of these are of much use to me, since I don’t travel enough to earn airline elite status anyway and I can manufacture 1,319 miles easily and for less than $7.50 out of pocket.

Taking into account how cheaply and fairly easily I can generate enough miles for a business class ticket to Asia, the prospect of a ~$400 economy fare isn’t as appealing as it would be for folks who aren’t able to manufacture miles for a business class ticket so easily. On the other hand, if you’re saving up miles for an economy class ticket to Asia, then you’re absolutely better off booking these cheap fares. You’ll save miles and get an insanely good deal on a paid fare.

What’s your take on this? Have you booked any of the super cheap economy fares to Asia lately?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. although i agree with everything you’ve said, i wanted to add that some of us don’t have opportunities for MS due to living overseas or whatever. for us, these cheap flights are very appealing because we can credit the miles to an overseas FF program — e.g., for an upcoming $400 SFO-SIN UA flight i’d get 2,105 redeemable miles if i credited the miles to UA; but if i credit them to SQ i get 8,444 miles. of course it’s an absolute pain in the butt, but in the absence of MS there aren’t many options

    • I totally understand. In my case, MS is a readily available option for me, so earning enough miles for a business class ticket isn’t a problem. But these fares really are terrific if you don’t mind flying in coach and have limited ms options.

  2. I love cheap fares and booked a cheap one to Greece. With that being said, we don’t mind flying economy – even overnight or on a 12-hour flight. We also usually have four people to buy tickets for, making MS considerably harder. Lastly, I do not have time to manufacture spending. So for us, buying a cheap fare makes sense. If I were young and single with no kids, I’m sure I would choose the opposite approach!

  3. I did book one, but changed my mind. The great thing about cheap fares is that they’ve always been around. I’ve been looking at them online for 15+ years. You just have to be patient. Cheap fares are great for families. If I could acquire points for us all there may not even be seats when I need one. Too risky. I prefer the cheap seats. Yesterday, I would have booked cheap seats to South America, but I could only get 4. I need 5.

  4. I can deal with economy if travel during the day, like leaving in the AM hours, in 12-15 hours, watch few movies and goofy around, then after landing, take a good sleep. If travel in the evening, business class would definitely worth the extra.

    • For me it’s actually the opposite: I could do an evening flight in coach because then I’d just doze off in my seat – and once I’m out, comfort isn’t really an issue. However, if I’m flying during the day, I’ll be awake and will want to sit up comfortably, watching movies, and enjoying the food.

  5. While those flights from the Bay Area to Asia for less than $500 are insane, I’ve never taken one of those ultra-cheap flights before. I’m headed to Asia this December, and will be there for 7 months. I decided to use miles for the long haul flights, since I had a better choice of travel dates and destinations that way.

    However, I did get some good deals within Asia. I got two flights within Malaysia for $6 each, and a flight within the Philippines for $7.

      • I’m flying CX economy on the way there, LAX to Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur on Dec 24. I used AAdvantage miles, and the redemption cost 37.5K one way. I haven’t booked the flight back yet, but I plan to use United miles.

        If you want to check out those ultra-cheap flights within Asia, go to http://www.airasia.com/my/en/promotion.page. You can also change the country abbreviation in the URL if you’re looking for flights out of countries other than Malaysia. Also, check out http://www.cebupacificair.com. I find it easiest to browse the deals quickly by going to their Philippines site and looking at their promo fares.

        • Make sure you have a return ticket on hold, in case they ask for proof of return. When I was flying to Singapore last summer, they would not let me check in for my flight until I provided proof of a return ticket. I ended up booking a refundable ticket and cancelling later, but if you just put a ticket on hold and show them the itinerary, it should be fine.

          • Thanks for your advice. Would an actual flight booking to a third country be enough to successfully check in? Or, do I need to show them a flight booking all the way back to the US? I have a flight booked from Malaysia to the Philippines, and from the Philippines to Hong Kong, and I hope that’s enough to successfully check in and board.

          • Yes, that’s sufficient. They basically just want to know that you’re planning on leaving the country you’re visiting within an appropriate time frame.

  6. Hi Ariana, this is a complete newbie question, but it also related to how you were able to generate so many Arrival miles to cover the cash costs for your recent volunteering trip to Greece and France (and kudos to you for doing something meaningful).

    For someone sitting overseas but visiting the States often, what are the key factors in determining whether MS is viable? is it a matter of having access to the “right” credit cards to charge the “right” gift card purchases on? How much time per month do you spend on MSing?

    On a related topic, some other bloggers have talked about actually making money MSing and reselling. Do you think someone frugal can make a living doing this (as in taking cash back instead of the miles reward option) or are the good old days over?


    • Hi John, there are several factors that determine whether ms is viable. It’s partly having enough credit cards to spread all the spending across, but more importantly it’s having access to places where you can buy and liquidate gift cards. In today’s post I covered my ms total for the month of September, as well as how much I spent and earned. In all, it took about 15 hours. I know a few folks who make a living ms’ing and I can certainly pull that off if I put in some more effort, but it becomes tedious and I’d like to spend my time in other ways rather than hopping from one WM to another.

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