How to Book Cheap Cathay and Emirates Business Class Awards

Mar 25, 2015

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I don’t often recommend buying airline miles because frequent flyer programs often charge around 3-3.5 cents per mile, a value that can be hard to recoup on most awards.

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However, Alaska Airlines is currently offering a promotion now through April 3 where you can get up to a 40% bonus on purchased miles that might be worth it in some cases. As with most promotions on purchased miles, this one is tiered in the following way:

  • Buy 5,000-9,000 miles: 10% bonus
  • Buy 10,000-19,000 miles: 20% bonus
  • Buy 20,000-39,000 miles: 30% bonus
  • Buy 40,000 miles: 40% bonus

Miles normally cost 2.75 cents each ($27.50 per 1,000) plus a 7.5% excise tax. If you max out this bonus and purchase 40,000 miles, you will end up with 56,000 miles for a total cost of $1,100. That breaks down to 1.96 cents per mile.

You can purchase as many miles as you like, just in transactions limited to 40,000 miles each. These transactions are processed by, so you will not earn any airline or travel bonuses by using a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Amex Premier Rewards Gold.

Here’s why purchasing miles at that price might make sense: Alaska partners with some great airlines including Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Air France and Emirates, so you have some amazing award opportunities at your fingertips.

For instance, you could use your Alaska miles to fly Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and beyond. Alaska will require 50,000 miles to fly business class each way from North America to Hong Kong on Cathay, and 70,000 miles each way in first class.

Why not redeem your miles for Cathay's stellar business class?
Why not redeem your miles for Cathay’s stellar business class?

Here is a sample award search (using the British Airways site) for award flights from Los Angeles-Hong Kong in September. As you can see, two of Cathay’s 4 flights that day have business class award availability.

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Purchasing the 50,000 miles necessary to book one of these would cost you $982.15 during this promo. If you were to book the same ticket with Cathay, it would cost you $3,927.80.

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That represents a potentially huge savings if you really plan to maximize your miles, and don’t forget, you can do so by adding in a stopover in Hong Kong and continuing on to another part of the world like Australia, India or the Middle East from there for only slightly more miles than simply getting to Hong Kong thanks to Alaska’s flexible routing rules and generous award charts.

You can also use your Alaska miles on Emirates business class awards.
You can also use your Alaska miles on Emirates business class awards.

Cathay isn’t the only carrier where this might make sense, though. Alaska is also partners with Emirates and there is often a decent amount of award availability in business class (first class is now scarce). Flying from North America to Dubai requires 72,500 miles in each direction as you can see from this award search in June:

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Purchasing those miles through this promo would cost you $1,424. However, if you were to book this flight through Emirates and just pay for it, you’re looking at a ticket that is nearly $10,000!

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Obviously, this is an extreme example, but there are a lot of creative ways to maximize the miles you purchase on premium partner redemptions. Many do involve a fair outlay of cash, as you can see from above, but compared to the price of the tickets you can redeem those miles for, you are still coming out way ahead.

Do you plan to purchase miles with this promo? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Hat tip: One Mile at a Time.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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