** Update **
Hainan Airlines found this post valuable. I hope you do as well!
@realpointsnerd Hello Jayce, this is an incredibly detailed analysis. Thank you very much for sharing it with us. Best, Cecile_HA
— Hainan Airlines (@HainanAirlines) February 28, 2017
Let’s continue our series on booking Alaska Airlines Partner Awards with a view to Hainan Airlines, a China based carrier. Hainan is hubbed out of Beijing (PEK) with Haikou (HAK) serving as a secondary hub for the airline. For the purposes of this post, we will concentrate on Beijing as all North American flights connect through Beijing.
What’s interesting with Hainan is that they fly direct to Bejing from some odd cities in North America. The cities that are serviced in Canada are Calgary and Toronto. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that Hainan flies from Calgary but the question remains … why? I just don’t see the loads to justify that route but then again … I don’t know the intimate details of their strategy.
For US routes, Seattle, San Jose, Las Vegas, Chicago and Boston are serviced. San Jose? Las Vegas? Am I the only one that finds these routes strange?
In any case, these are the routes we have to work with so let’s dig a bit deeper on what we can book with Alaska Miles.
The negotiated redemption that Alaska and Hainan have worked out are for North America to Asia. You can also use Alaska miles to fly intra-Asia with Hainan but we will focus on flights and awards from North America, specifically Canada.
The first thing you might be asking yourself is “what is considered Asia?” and you’re not alone. I asked myself that very same question. Unfortunately neither Alaska Airlines or Hainan airlines publishes a list of countries it considers “Asia”. This is especially important to know in order to find sweet spots in the award chart. For example, JAL, another Alaska partner, considers India as part of Asia in their award chart, which makes for a ridiculously cheap redemption to fly half way around the world.
I actually called into Alaska Airlines and spoke to a supervisor and he confirmed that they do not have a listing of all the countries that Hainan considers Asia so the best thing you can do is to actually search for the city in the Alaska search engine in order to find out if it is included … I know … not the most efficient method.
The Alaska supervisor did confirm that in their approximation, Asia is everything in the continent of Asia. This again poses a problem because you have to ask yourself, is Russia a part of Europe or Asia because Hainan flies to Irkutsk, Moscow and St Petersburg.
The other difficulty is that there is no definitive way to find out if Moscow (or any other city) is considered Asia until you search for it AND find availability. You could very well search for a valid city (which could be Moscow), not find availability and then draw the conclusion that Moscow is not a part of Hainan’s Asia definition but you could never be sure.
Let’s leave this part of the topic for the time being and concentrate on the points required.
As you can see from the chart above, the prices are very reasonable but you can only fly in Business or Economy even though Hainan apparently offers First class on some routes.
Is It Good Value?
If we look at the same metric as we have for the past two reviews of Cathay Pacific and JAL, we can examine if Hainan offers good value.
As always, we will use the city in Canada that is the furthest distance from Hainan’s hub. In this example, we will use Toronto (YYZ). We of course will connect in Beijing (PEK) and then fly to the furthest point in Asia that we can reach on a direct flight. For Hainan, this is Phuket (HKT). For the purposes of this exercise, I am going to assume that Russia is not part of Asia.
As you can see, you can travel an incredible 9,051 miles for as little as 30,000 Alaska Miles in Economy or 50,000 for Business. At first blush, that’s incredible value but let’s look at the math to be sure.
To find out the Price per Mile (PPM), we take the Points Requried and divide it by the distance travelled.
If we compare these numbers against the other Alaska Partners I have previously examined (Cathay and JAL), we can see that the Hainan’s rates are competitive in Economy and beat both JAL and Cathay for Business Class travel (remember: lower is better)
Here we can start to see the value of comparring PPM against Alaska Partners. I’ll grant it’s an impercise measure but it’s the best we have.
If you wanted to figure out the best value for flying to Asia, just look at the lowest PPM in each class of service. Cathay provides the best value in Economy to Asia and Hainan offers the best value for Business.
Is Hainan Worth Flying?
Based on what I’ve read, Hainan is an excellent airline and probably the best Chinese carrier out there. It receives an 8/10 rating from Skytrax and is considered a 5 Star Airline. As a point of reference, Skytrax only has 9 airlines in the world it considers 5 Star:
- All Nipon Airways (ANA)
- Garuda Indonesia
- Singapore Airlines
While I have never flown Hainan before, their rating seems to suggest that it would be a great experience. If you are interested in flying Hainan, I would suggest a quick search on YouTube for some video reviews.
Thankfully Hainan is an airline you can search for using Alaska’s search engine. My recommendation is to look for your over water portion of your flight first and search segment by segment. For example, if you were wanting to go from Calgary to Phuket, you would search for the Calgary to Beijing leg first and then once you find availability, move on to find your Beijing to Phuket leg. The reason for this is simple, there are fewer international flights daily than intra-Asia so it’s going to be more difficult to find your over water portion. If you find availability for the hardest segment, finding availability for the shorter segment should be much easier.
To use the Alaska search, simply go to www.alaskaair.com and in the Book tab, type in your search criteria. Make sure you check off “Use Miles”.
Even with a random search for a date in April, I was able to find availability.
For those that have access to ExpertFlyer, you can use it to search for Hainan availability as well.
Taxes and Fees
If you’ve been paying attention, you will notice the taxes and fees for Hainan seem to be much higher than with Cathay or JAL and that’s because Hainan charges a fuel/carrier surcharge (YQ). Intestingly, they charge a different YQ amount based on the class of service.
Here are the taxes and fees for Economy:
And for Business:
As you can see, there is a $15.20 premium on the Business Class seat.
If you have read my blog in depth, you will know that I absolutely HATE paying for YQ and this is no exception. The only time that I would consider paying these carrier imposed surcharges is if I wanted to get to Beijing with a direct flight. If I had time, I would probably go with Cathay Pacific.
Get In On The Action
I hope you are starting to see that by having Alaska Miles, you open yourself up to a lot more options for finding award flights.
Now if you want to get in on the Alaska redemption train, I would suggest you first read my review on the Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard to get a sense if this card is for you. I personally think that it’s a no brainer to get this card, especially because you can get 25,000 Alaska Miles for a $75 Annual Fee but you can read about how to reduce that to a $15 fee in my review of the card.
Seeing as we have been reviewing airlines that go to Asia, let’s continue to the trend with a review of another excellent carrier and Alaska Partner, Korean Air. I am currently on vacation and working on these posts while my lovely wife sleeps but I might take a break for a day or two so please be patient.
This is super helpful and very clearly laid out. My only question would be the leg between HKT and PEK (or for that matter BKK and PEK since I tested that too). I can’t find any availability that is not on JAL. It seems super easy to find Hainan space between PEK and and North America, but not the intra-asia routes. Is there a different place I should check for that?
The best places to look for Hainan availability (based on my research) are the Alaska site, which you have checked, ExpertFlyer.com (requires a subscription but has a free 5 day trial) and AwardNexus (also a paid service but you get 100 points free if you have a FlyerTalk account and that’s free).
Outside of those options, you can always call into Alaska’s Customer Service group and they can do the search for you as well or perhaps offer an alternate route home.
The other thing you can consider is that because Alaska allows for a stop on a one way flight, you might want to consider flying Cathay or JAL back from Phuket or Bangkok as both are serviced by Cathay and JAL.
If you live in the US, you will see some ridiculous sales to China on Hainan airlines. Last Spring I flew economy from San Jose to Guangzhou for around $450 round trip. I was delighted to find that after my trip, my Alaska points earned were around 20K! Especially for economy redempitions, I think capitalizing on the points bonus and paying in cash offers a much better value due to the very high surcharges when booking with Alaska miles. Just my 2 cents.