SkyTeam’s Taiwan-based carrier China Airlines does not have the glamor or Hello Kitty planes of Eva Air, however it can be useful for Asia trips. My wife and I flew New York JFK – Osaka KIX last weekend, she in business, me in economy, and the experience was fine, not special, not terrible, see my recap here.
China Airlines has North America flights to Taipei from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver, plus the New York service via Osaka. It is the only carrier that flies to Osaka nonstop from the US East Coast. They also fly from Honolulu, as well as expensive flight destinations in Micronesia and Australia/New Zealand.
The trick, as always with Delta, is finding availability and then finding Delta agents who can book it. No China Airlines flights are shown on delta.com. Keep in mind as a backup it is possible to book awards from other SkyTeam partners such as Air France/KLM.
The key principles are the same as for many Delta partners.
1. Find out the blackout dates. Through 2014 they are:
- Dec 10, 2013 – Jan 04
- Jan 24 – Feb 03
- Jun 1 – Aug 31
- Dec 14 – 31
During blackout dates the only option is booking through other SkyTeam partners.
2. Check availability on Air France. Look for ‘Classic Awards.’ This should match Delta availability outside blackout dates. Availability in economy is pretty good, much less in business. Have all flight information noted.
3. Call Delta. If you are Diamond or Platinum make sure you get an agent in Chisholm or Salt Lake City. If you are not, keep trying to find a competent agent. If you get Cincinnati, hang up. Asking for the global pricing desk might help. Some people report success calling Delta’s customer service lines in Asian countries. You can request a ‘long sell.’
I usually say that the flights I want are available for awards. If pressed I say they are shown on Air France which accurately displays SkyTeam awards. They do not take that to mean much other than that I sound like I am not making it up.
I have not had as many issues getting agents to see China Airlines as, say, China Eastern and China Southern.
4. (Hopefully) success. Like all Delta partner awards, pricing is at the low a.k.a. saver level. Taxes and fees on a trans-Pacific business class ticket are in the low hundreds of dollars.
5. Get the China Airlines confirmation number from the Delta agent. Delta itineraries leave out this key information. Call China Airlines to verify the ticket is properly issued..
China Airlines does not allow advance seat assignments on these awards and many other tickets. Some agents will help with requests by SkyTeam Elites. Anyway, exit rows and business class upper deck seem to mostly be held until check-in.
6. Print out the Delta receipt, not just to itinerary, because may need the Delta ticket number, see #6, next.
6. Online check-in may not work. Both our ticket displayed the itinerary but got an errors that said “Sorry! All or some passengers without electronic ticket number.” A a China Airlines phone agent explained this is because their website check-in does not recognize Delta tickets with the 006 designator.
My wife’s ticket showed only later flights on China Eastern, not the China Airlines flight with error, “Sorry! The system cannot find a flight for check-in in your booking record.” The agent manage to fix this by some manual process involving the Delta ticket number. She said it would have been fine, anyway, if we had gone straight to the airport, though I was glad to have called.
Note that calling Delta on any of this is useless, they always think the ticket is issued correctly and are no help. Go straight to China Airlines. Their agents are a bit brusque with that distinctive husky Taiwanese female voice, but warm up in conversation and are knowledgeable.
7. Have a great trip!