Delta runs a great airline operation; however, despite the deceptively named DeltaOne business-class product, Delta has no international first class, and SkyMiles cannot be used to book first-class seats on partner international flights. But booking a business-class award on a Delta partner puts you in first class on any entirely domestic flight the partner operates with an aircraft with business class and first class (e.g. most A380s and some 777s). There is only one country where this situation occurs – China.
Last year I was overjoyed to use 40,000 Delta SkyMiles for a business-class award ticket on China Southern from Bangkok to Beijing stopping in Guangzhou. The 737-800 flight from Bangkok (BKK) to Guangzhou (CAN) was in business class, and the flight from Guangzhou to Beijing (PEK) was in first-class in a fantastic A380 Platinum Suite.
Early this year, I took the same trip except with this business-class award I chose a flight from Guangzhou to Beijing in first class on a 777-300ER. Those flights were a great use of SkyMiles. Now there’s a way to book the same flights using half the miles.
Before we get to that, let’s have a quick look at the 777-300ER flight in first class.
CZ Flight 3103 Guangzhou to Beijing
After a few hours in China Southern’s very nice domestic Sky Pearl VIP Lounge, I headed to Gate B167 in Terminal 2.
Getting to the gate took longer than expected. Gates in this terminal are enormous. I arrived at 10:19 for the 11:00 departure. Boarding was underway.
China Southern 777-300ERs have four open suites in first class configured 1-2-1. My seat was 1A, the window seat on the port side.
This suite exemplifies the key differences between seats in business class and first class. A first-class seat is simply bigger and your feet and lower legs are not confined in a tunnel or cubbyhole as they almost always are with a lie-flat seat in business class. My feet could barely reach the wide ottoman with the seat positioned for takeoff. SeatGuru says these seats are 26 inches wide and have 78 inches of pitch. These is plenty of room on the floor for stowing a backpack in flight.
The color scheme and clean design produce a subdued ambiance. Most features, storage compartments, and controls are concealed. This suite was remarkable for the lack of noticeable wear and tear even though China Southern has been using this type of open suite for years on this aircraft type.
There’s no mistaking these seats for business class. Compare.
Amenities at the seat at boarding were pillows, noise-cancelling headphones, slippers, and a heavy quilt and a light one. Dental kits and other personal items were available in the lavatory.
The crew in first class made introductions while I was getting situated. A warm towel and choice of beverages followed.
The aircraft pushed from the gate a few minutes before our 11:00 departure time. It was a beautiful day for flying. At 11:21, the captain turned onto the active and took off.
A slight left turn during climb put us on the heading to PEK 1,165 miles distant. Total time, gate to gate, was estimated at two hours and 50 minutes. I was looking forward to every minute in first class.
The seat was ultra comfortable. It was easy to find the perfect position for working, relaxing, viewing the video monitor, eating or sleeping. I reclined a bit immediately after takeoff and started going through the in-flight entertainment options. This seat felt like my favorite armchair at home.
China Southern planned a five-course meal for this short flight. Meal service began 27 minutes after takeoff when the 777 attained its initial cruising flight level. First-class passengers had a choice of six entrees.
Surprisingly, China Southern had no list of wine, liquor or other beverages. The attendant brought a few bottles of wine to choose from.
I chose the duck entree and a nice bottle of white wine. The attendant set the table and started with nuts in a bowl not packaged (remember the Korea Air fiasco at JFK a few years ago).
My choice was Double Boiled Ginseng and Chicken soup.
I enjoyed Papaya and Snow Fungus Sweet Soup for dessert.
The meal concluded with fresh fruit. I added French ice cream for good measure.
The flight attendant served at a leisurely pace that matched my slow eating style. Everything was delicious. Service was friendly but professional and not overbearing. There were no language issues.
After the meal service finished, there wasn’t much time before we prepared for landing. CZ Flight 3103 landed at Beijing Capital Airport at 13:36. Takeoff to touchdown was a quick two hours and 15 minutes. I enjoyed every minute.
The Bigger Better Deal
Even though China Southern left SkyTeam on January 16, 2019, it is still possible to book these flights with SkyMiles on Delta.com. Now, the standard price for a business-class award on this route is 45,000 SkyMiles one way.
The good news is that American Airlines and China Southern formed a partnership that became effective when China Southern left SkyTeam. AAdvantage and Sky Pearl Club members are eligible to earn and redeem miles on all flights in both networks.
For purposes of mileage awards, American Airlines puts China and all of Southeast Asia in the same region, Asia2. Instead of 45,000 SkyMiles the same flights now require only 22,500 American miles for an award in business class! If one or more segments has first class available, the price is 32,500 American miles. That is a huge savings.
Presently, AAdvantage members must call American to book China Southern awards. Perhaps because it gets a higher price from Delta, China Southern seems to offer it substantially better award availability. No problem. American has other partners like Cathay Pacific that offer good availability for award flights in business or first class in China and Southeast Asia.
Due to an oversupply of flights between China and the U. S., fares are really low. For travel from America to exciting and relatively inexpensive destinations in Southeast Asia, it can make sense to book a low fare to China and a separate ticket with miles or cash from China to the final destination.
Flying with China Southern has always been a pleasure unlike some of my experiences with China Eastern, China’s No. 2 airline and Delta’s and Skyteam’s primary Chinese partner. China Southern’s departure from SkyTeam is a big loss for the alliance and Delta, and the partnership with American Airlines is a bit of a coup for American.
It remains to be seen, though, how much American will make of this partnership. China Southern is based in Guangzhou which is only 30 minutes or so from Hong Kong, the home of American’s traditional partner, Cathay Pacific. But there is no question that business class flights within China and Southeast Asia for 22,500 American miles is twice as good as using 45,000 SkyMiles for the same flights.