Maximizing Travel Benefits: A Comprehensive Review of Delta SkyMiles Amex Gold & China Eastern Airlines Experience (SkyPriority, Dec 2023)

I sensed a series of trips to China coming up and decided to sign up for the Delta SkyMiles American Express® Gold Card, which offers SkyTeam Elite Plus status in the first year just for joining. Interestingly, my first business trip ended up being with JAL due to schedule and pricing, but now I finally got the chance to leverage this card.

This time, I want to share about the perks I experienced flying from Narita to Shanghai with China Eastern Airlines, utilizing the Delta‘s Gold Medallion = SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits.

Please note, the specifics of the perks can vary depending on the flight and operations of the day.


The Flight

The flight was China Eastern Airlines MU524, departing Narita at 13:50 and arriving in Shanghai at 16:50, in early December 2023.

Pre-assigned Seating was a strugule!

Although I booked through a travel agency and provided my Delta membership number, I was assigned seat 63D! It felt almost as if I was sitting in the galley. Needless to say, I attempted to change my seat.

For this, I tried

  1. China Eastern Airlines’ Japanese website
  2. The travel agency’s personal account page
  3. The English version of China Eastern Airlines’ website
  4. The Chinese version of China Eastern Airlines’ website, using a Chinese mobile number
  5. Lastly, calling the Japanese call center and mentioning my Elite Plus status

None of these methods allowed me to change my seat…

At the China Eastern Airlines Call Center…

When I asked about changing my seat over the phone, I was told to try the website. When I said that didn’t work, they suggested I request a change at the counter on the day of. Quite a reasonable response…

Even after mentioning my Elite Plus status with Delta, they responded they didn’t know about Delta matters and suggested contacting Delta directly, which felt a bit cold.

At least I managed to get the basic information, such as the check-in time at Narita, which starts 150 minutes before departure.

Seat Change Strategy (Side Story) – Seatguru Surprise

To my surprise, Seatguru did not show the seating chart! This felt like a reminder of the economic divides, although it probably wasn’t the case.

Check-In Time for China Eastern Airlines Economy Class at Narita Airport Starts 150 Minutes Before Departure

I arrived at Narita Airport 190 minutes before the flight. The check-in counters for China Eastern Airlines displayed signs for flights departing before mine, confirming the 150-minute prior check-in. While contemplating whether to handle banking or restroom visits first, a staff member approached me

Elite Members Can Check In Even Before 150 Minutes!

Before I could retreat upon hearing “Economy check-ins start at 11:20,” I mentioned my Elite Plus status, and to my delight, was told, “Oh, then you can check in right now over there!” This saved me from unnecessarily standing in line for 40 minutes. Between the check-in queue and priority boarding, I likely saved about 90 minutes, which, if it happens three times a year, honestly makes the credit card’s annual fee worth it.

Of course, having lounge access and increased baggage allowance is great, but the biggest perk of being a top-tier member, in my opinion, is the reduction in wasted time specifically related to flying.

The check-in and guiding were handled by JAL ground staff.

Managed to Get a Seat Change.

Luckily, because I checked in early, I was moved from the shocking seat of 63D to a comparatively forward seat, 35C, in the economy class. I’m grateful to the staff member who couldn’t get through on the phone and went to another counter to arrange this for me.

Can I Use Security Fast Track?

Narita Airport seemed unusually empty today, and the general security gate had almost no queue, almost making it seem like the Fast Track lane was busier in comparison. For future reference, I inquired if SkyPriority allowed for Fast Track usage. The reply was ambiguous, suggesting that staff might not be familiar with Sky Team status and might refuse entry based on the ticket alone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear answer on this.

Off to the Lounge!

I had read that the Delta Air Lines lounge, “Sky Club,” at Narita closed in March 2020, so I assumed I’d be directed to the Korean Air lounge due to the Sky Team connection. However, at the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to be instructed to go to the “Sakura Lounge” instead.

So, it ended up being the familiar Sakura Lounge. While I was looking forward to exploring a rare lounge, I’m satisfied with the unexpected access to the curry I had given up on. After all, if I really wanted to check out the Korean Air lounge, I could just use my Priority Pass.

First Time Flying with China Eastern Airlines

The aircraft was an A350, which, to be honest, was as comfortable as any I’ve flown with, including JAL.

The flight included a memorable view of Tokyo Bay at dusk from the plane’s window.

Despite having heard some daunting stories about airline meals, I found the meal onboard quite tasty.

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