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Wide Open: Air China’s New Houston to Panama route with Suites

a couple of people sitting at a table in an airplane
courtesy of Air China

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On April 5th, Air China started flying from Houston To Panama on Tuesdays and Sundays. The route allows Air China to service central America from their hub in Beijing.  The route is an interesting one, and my speculation is that it has something to do with Panama’s proficiency in tax avoidance, and Air China recognizes an increased demand in their clientele looking for ways to get their money into other markets. Purely speculation on my part, but of all places, Panama is a peculiar destination to pinpoint from China. The cool part is that you can experience a Air China’s first class suites on a short flight, or try out their business class with almost guaranteed avail. It is a fifth freedom route which means you can book these legs separately from any continuation from/to Beijing.

It’s pretty wide open for the entire schedule.

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Here are prices in Econ, Biz, First from the States on various airlines

  • Avianca
    • 18k, 36k, 46k
  • Aeroplan:
    • 20k, 30k, 42,5k
  • Singapore KrisFlyer:
    • 17.5k, 30k, 40k.
  • United MileagePlus:
    • 17.5k 30k, 40k

How you can buy miles, use stopovers, transfer, etc

Avianca often puts their miles on sale for under 1.4 cents which means you could buy business class for less than $500 and first for less $640. Pretty solid deals. Singapore Airlines has a great stopover policy, meaning if you were to fly business class from Manchester to Houston, you could pay $100 and then later in the year fly from Houston to Panama all for 70k miles. You can of course transfer Amex into Aeroplan or Singapore, Chase UR into Singapore and United…Citi transfer direct to Avianca.

Service:

One of the biggest complaints of Air China is that the service sucks. This flight is less than 4 hours, so if you’re considering flying them on a much longer flight, you’d get a taster with this flight. Air China is one of Star Alliance partners you’ll often see with tons of avail to Asia, and also facilitates a great sweet spot with Virgin Atlantic miles ( 75k in first R/T from LHR to PEK).

Business Class on Air China features seats very similar to what is found on American’s transcon business class A321T or their 757s.

First class is massive and personally, I’d spring for the extra 10k miles just to try it out.

a couple of people sitting at a table in an airplane
courtesy of Air China

You could buy the route as well…although prices get steep fast.

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Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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5 Comments

  • Joel April 6, 2018

    Your thought about flying SQ MAN-IAH, paying $100 for a stopover and then going onward on CA IAH-PTY for 70k KF miles is erroneous. The Star Alliance award chart will charge you mileage for MAN-IAH and then IAH-PTY as if they were 2 separate tickets. Personally experienced that on the phone when trying to book a oneway Star award with KF miles as well.

    • Miles April 6, 2018

      Joel – sorry that happened to you, but next time HUCA or escalate. Many reps will say that it should price separately, but I’ve been able to successfully book stopovers for $100 on multiple tickets.

      • Joel April 6, 2018

        That’s strange. It was written on their Star Aliance award chart too (https://www.singaporeair.com/saar5/pdf/ppsclub_krisflyer/charts/StarAlliance_RoundTrip.pdf), so you’d be lucky if you got someone who didn’t know the rules.

        • Miles April 6, 2018

          Joel – My understanding is that the roundtrip saver chart traditionally includes a stopover and an open jaw complimentary, but only standard awards allow for a free stopover one way. If you want to add in a saver stopover you need to specify that you’d like to add it for $100, at least that’s how I’ve done it in the past.

          • Joel April 6, 2018

            That is true for awards on SQ-only metal. By mixing in another Star Alliance carrier, you’d be subject to the rules of the SQ Star Alliance award chart and not the SQ award chart for SQ metal only.

            A SIN-FRA-JFK on SQ metal would attract the SQ award price from SIN-East Coast USA oneway J in Saver, add an extra $100 and get a stopover in FRA.

            If you were to choose to fly LH from FRA-JFK, then you’d be looking at paying $100 for the stopover, the mileage requirements SIN-FRA, the mileage requirements FRA-JFK, as well as any fuel surcharges imposed by LH. It’s a losing game to be honest.

            Ditto for your assumption that an SQ Star Alliance award just requires the payment of the $100. You’re better off booking them as separate tickets.

            Call KF and price it out if you still don’t believe me. Tell me how many agents will quote you 65k MAN-IAH + 30k IAH-PTY for a 95k total in J. If the connection is under 24h, they’ll quote 70k.

            That’s what their system tells them. I tried calling in for a simple MEL-SIN-BKK-NRT with a stopover in SIN last year. No dice, the computer was pricing it as MEL-SIN + SIN-NRT.

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