How to Travel More and Pay Less: North America to East Asia

I have decided to start my "travel more, pay less" examples with East Asia, as I used to travel there every couple of years (pre-COVID, of course). Cheap yet amazing food, lots of history, beautiful scenery - the only complaint I have is the long flight there!

For the purposes of this post, East Asia includes the following countries:
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Macau
  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Taiwan
Asia is a big continent that obviously includes way more countries, but I will be focusing on specific regions as they are often grouped this way by many travel loyalty programs, and therefore have a specific "mileage" price.

If you plan on traveling to any of these countries in the near future, keep reading for how to save a buck or two on your future trip. I've split this post into each major spending category.

Last Updated: September 24, 2021

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are referral links, which means I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This post is not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned. All opinions are my own.

Flights (Economy Class)

If you don't mind the journey in economy class and are flexible with dates, I recommend keeping an eye out for flight deals, of which there are many throughout the year. Some websites that are great for this are:
Pre-COVID, I've seen deals on Secret Flying between Toronto/Vancouver to East Asia for under $700 at times. Granted, you likely won't find any deals during peak travel times (Lunar New Year, summer, early fall and Christmas holidays), so you do need to have some flexibility in your vacation schedule.

Post-COVID, East Asia flights from Canada are less frequent and more expensive. This is due to Canada's travel advisory warning as well as various Asian countries' restrictions against foreign nationals. As a result, it could be worth using points to fly to Asia.


Pre-COVID, I would not have recommended using points on economy class flights to Asia, as you don't end up saving much cash by doing so. In a previous post, I mentioned thinking about this in terms of % cash back. 

You used to be able to fly directly from Toronto to Shanghai directly from $700-$1,200 roundtrip, whereas the Aeroplan miles required would be 75,000 miles + several hundred dollars in taxes and surcharges. Even at $1,200 with $150 in surcharges, that equated to $1,050/75,000 = 1.4% return on points, which is less than the 1.5% cash back you get on a Rogers World Elite MasterCard.

However, in the current situation with travel restrictions, Asia flights are now much more expensive than before. As an example, currently a roundtrip flight from Vancouver to Taipei in economy class costs $2,224:

The same flight through Aeroplan is available for 100,000 Aeroplan miles + $114, which means you're getting a return of ($2,224 - $114)/75,000 = 2.81%, which is a much better value and savings than before.

Of course, 100,000 Aeroplan miles is nothing to sniff at. Keep reading to see all the cards that offer Aeroplan miles.

Flights (Business Class)

I rarely see great deals on Asia business class fares, other than the occasional error fare (which gets corrected quickly). However, this is where accumulating travel rewards points really comes in handy for most people, as you are literally getting thousands of dollars of value out of your points! A typical business class flight to Asia is upwards of $3,000 on a good day, whereas you typically only need to double the amount of points required for economy class to fly it.

The catch or difficulty with flying Asia business class on points is that everyone wants to do it, so there is limited availability. You will need to book far in advance (i.e. 6+ months out) to secure your business class seat(s).


Keep in mind the advice below applies to pretty much every country I've listed above.

Program: Alaska Mileage Plan

Points Required: As low as 100,000 miles round trip or 50,000 miles one-way

How to Book:, check "Use miles" when searching for flights

How to Maximize Your Points: The fastest way to get to East Asia in business class is by flying Hainan Airlines, which has a regular route from Toronto/Calgary to Beijing for only 50,000 miles + ~$300 USD one-way. You can make Beijing into a stop over and fly to elsewhere in East Asia (or even Southeast Asia) at no additional cost!

Japan Airlines (JAL) does a route from Vancouver to Tokyo for 60,000 miles one-way in business + $71 USD. If you are based in Vancouver and would like to visit Japan - this is the route for you.

American Airlines is also a partner with Alaska, and cost is usually 60,000 miles + $77 USD. However, keep in mind you will likely have an overnight layover in the States, which will add to your trip costs. It's not a bad idea if you wanted a stopover in, say, Chicago.

By far THE best redemption using Alaska miles is Cathay Pacific, regularly rated as one of the world's best airlines. The process is slightly less straightforward than the airlines I mentioned above, so I recommend reading this incredibly comprehensive post by Points Nerd on how you can redeem for Cathay Pacific - maybe even First Class.

How to Earn Points: 
  • Fly with Alaska Air and partner airlines (e.g. American Airlines)
  • Sign up for the MBNA Alaska Card and earn Alaska miles directly
  • Sign up for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card (Personal and/or Business) and convert points to Alaska miles in 60,000 point chunks to get an extra 5,000 miles bonus = 25,000 Alaska miles
  • Any American Express Card that earns Membership Rewards points (e.g. American Express PlatinumAmerican Express Gold Rewards Card, American Express Cobalt) can be converted into Marriott points that convert into Alaska miles as well, but this is only recommended if you need to top up as the conversion rate is not that favourable

Program: Aeroplan

Points Required: At least 150,000 miles round trip or 75,000 one-way + as low as ~$75 fuel surcharge

How to Book:

How to Maximize Your Points: Avoid any flights with Asiana Airlines or All Nippon Airways. These carriers will likely run you up at least $400+ of "fuel surcharges" round trip.

Instead, try and book flights with carriers such as:
  • Air Canada, who have waived fuel surcharges
  • Air India (look for YYZ-DEL routes)
  • EVA Air (look for YYZ-TPE and YVR-TPE routes)
  • Singapore Airlines (look for connections through JFK, SFO, LAX or SEA to SIN routes)
  • United Airlines (look for connections through the U.S.)
Not all United flights eligible for Aeroplan miles show up on the Aeroplan website, so a tip is to check the United MileagePlus website and look for "saver" awards and call into the Aeroplan booking call centre.

How to Earn Points:
There are other cards by TD, CIBC and American Express that do earn Aeroplan miles directly, but have higher annual fees / minimum spends than the ones listed above.

Inter-Asia Flights

Note: This section was written pre-COVID so the flight examples are from a few years ago, but the principles still apply in 2021.

Inter-Asia flights typically are usually quite reasonable, and I would look to paying cash fares. If for some reason the flight is extremely expensive (>$250 one-way), then definitely look at Aeroplan or Alaska Mileage Plan to reduce your costs.

As an example, let's look at Taipei to Tokyo one-way on January 8, 2019. With Alaska, you can fly within East Asia for 15,000 miles + $29 USD, which is probably the lowest amount of miles you can get for inter-Asia.

Aeroplan flights within Asia 1 cost 20,000 miles + fuel surcharges, which typically won't exceed $50 one-way on an Asian airline. I didn't find a direct flight that day from Taipei to Tokyo, but it doesn't seem like a terribly long connecting flight either. The taxes are also about half that of Alaska. 

Once we look at the cash fares, it doesn't seem like it's a particularly expensive day. So I'd probably pay cash in this instance as it's only about $113 CAD if you're willing to fly very late or very early. Again, I'd probably only use points if it was over $250.


Hotels, AirBnBs, hostels, etc. aren't that expensive in East Asia, other than in Hong Kong and Japan. You can find plenty of 3-star and 4-star hotels for around $100 CAD, or stretch your budget even further by staying at AirBnBs and hostels.

For Hong Kong and Japan, Marriott points would definitely come in handy as a redemption.
Program: Marriott Bonvoy

Points Required: From 25,000 points/night - 35,000 points/night to stay in a central location

How to Maximize Your Points: Use them on expensive cities in East Asia such as Hong Kong or Tokyo. As an example, the Courtyard Hong Kong is 35,000 points/night

How to Earn Points:
  • Stay with Marriott hotels
  • Sign up for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card (Personal and/or Business) and earn Marriott points directly
  • Sign up for the American Express Cobalt Card and convert points to Marriott points
  • Sign up for the American Express Platinum Card (Personal and/or Business) and convert points to Marriott points (only recommended if you're in a pinch)
  • Sign up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card (Personal and/or Business) and convert points to Marriott points (only recommended if you're in a pinch)

Other Trip Costs

Food, entertainment, and transit costs in East Asia is extremely cheap, so I wouldn't worry too much about getting around. You can eat dinner for as little as $10. In addition, all major cities in the countries above either have extremely efficient subway systems, cheap taxis, or both.

If you plan on traveling to East Asia in the not-so-distant future, I hope this post was helpful in helping you plan and pay less!