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Travelers heading out of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) will be getting a new way to travel down to Central America soon. Starting April 5, 2018, Air China’s 777-300ER will be making its way from Houston (IAH) to Panama’s Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City.
The flight schedule
Via OMAAT, Air China is set to operate the following schedule on Thursdays and Sundays:
CA885: Departing 7:40AM from Beijing (PEK) and arriving 8:20AM to Houston (IAH)
CA885: Departing 10:50AM from Houston (IAH) and arriving 2:30PM to Panama City (PTY)
CA886: Departing 4:30PM from Panama City (PTY) and arriving 8:15PM to Houston (IAH)
CA886: Departing 1:00AM from Houston (IAH) and arriving 4:50AM (+1 day) to Beijing (PEK)
I like the travel times for the flights to and from PTY and IAH but they are little less ideal for the long-haul from China. CA886 has a pretty long layover of almost 5 hours in Houston, so that’s a bit of a stretch for some. While passengers do have to make their way through US immigration, that’s way more time than would be necessary for even the slowest of immigration lines.
Air China’s product
Air China doesn’t get the highest of reviews for their business class and first class product. I’ve seen reports about terrible dining and hit or miss service. However, the first class hard product looks pretty impressive and could be an interesting way to make your down to Central America for the roughly 3 hour and 45 minute flight. As of right now, United/Copa is the one of the most popular ways to get down to Panama, so this opens up a nice new opportunity to travel on a premium product.
If you’re headed elsewhere in Central America or South America, this also might be a decent way to break up your journey. There are other Star Alliance partners like Copa and Avianca you should be able to use to complete your journey with to various destinations in Latin America.
A one-way first class ticket from IAH to PTY can be booked for as low as 30,000 SQ (Singapore) miles or for a one-way business class journey you could use 20,000 SQ miles. As you extend your itinerary down into South America the mileage requirements will increase quite a bit to 50,000 SQ miles for a one way business class ticket and 70,000 SQ miles for a one way first class class ticket.
I’m not sure if I’ll be flying the Air China 777-300ER out of IAH but it is slightly exciting to have a new first class option to fly somewhere that doesn’t involve an ultra-long haul flight. If you’re like me and interested in experimenting with different airline products, a 4 hour flight is actually a perfect distance because it gives you a taste of that product without locking you in to a long flight that could potentially be a major let down.
I”ll keep my eye on these seats when award redemptions open up.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.