Everything You Need to Know About Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Nov 29, 2018

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Asia Miles, the loyalty program of Hong Kong-based airlines and Oneworld members Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, may not be at the top of your list for lucrative transfer partners. The program underwent a significant overhaul in the summer of 2018, arguably becoming more complex and opaque. However, the program still offers incredible award possibilities hidden underneath a complex layer of rules and was included in Capital One’s list of transfer partners for cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Spark Miles for Business.

Today, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Asia Miles in order to book stellar award itineraries that offer maximum value for your earnings.

Earn Asia Miles

American Express Membership Rewards points and Citi ThankYou Rewards points can be converted into Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio, allowing you to transfer points earned on cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Citi Premier Card to the program. In addition, Marriott points can be converted at a 3:1 ratio, and the normal 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott Rewards transferred applies. Finally, as noted above, you’ll soon be able to transfer Capital One miles to the program as well, though at a slightly less lucrative 2:1.5 ratio.

Besides transferring points, you can apply for the Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card issued by Synchrony Bank which routinely offers up to a 60,000-mile bonus. It’s currently offering 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. The card offers 2x miles on Cathay Pacific spend, 1.5x miles on dining and spend outside the US, and 1x on all other spending.

In addition to credit card earnings, Asia Miles has dozens of partners that allow you to earn miles. For US residents, the easiest ways to earn Asia Miles besides credit card earnings are crediting partner flights to Asia Miles (considering the earnings of your fare class), utilizing the Asia Miles iShop portal and booking hotels through Rocketmiles or Pointshound.

One final way to earn miles is a ‘top up’ feature which allows you to buy up to 30% of the miles required for a reward ticket if you are short of a specific award during the redemption process. As I found out, it’s not a cheap option, with miles in the example below costing $30 for every 1,000 miles purchased:

This is a purchase price of 3 cents per mile, more than double TPG’s most recent valuations.

Redeem Asia Miles

With the basics of earning Asia Miles covered, let’s look at how to use this currency. Asia Miles has a host of redemption options in addition to award flights. You can redeem miles for hotel stays, car rentals, city experiences and merchandise, and you can participate in auctions or redeem miles for charity. As with most programs, using miles for award flights will give you the best value.

The Award Charts and Complexity of Asia Miles

Asia Miles offers three basic award types:

  1. Asia Miles awards are for itineraries operated only by Cathay Pacifc and Cathay Dragon. There are three subcategories here: Standard, Choice and Tailored. Each level essentially gives you more award seat availability in exchange for paying more miles for the flight.
  2. Single-partner awards apply when you only use one partner carrier for an award itinerary. There is no published award chart for this award type, but after dozens of searches it appears to be priced at 5,000 more than what an Asia Miles award would cost.
  3. Oneworld multi-carrier awards apply to itineraries operated by two Oneworld members without Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon or three or more oneworld members with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.

All award charts are distance-based, and the sum of all sectors in your itinerary are added together to determine which zone your ticket will be priced within. Here are all the award charts and applicable routing rules for each type of ticket:

Standard Award

You can find all of routing rules for the program at this link (I recommend a strong cup of coffee before trying to digest all the rules on that webpage), but here are the highlights:

  • One-way flights allowed with maximum of two sectors and one stopover
  • For round-trip itineraries, maximum of four sectors allowed with two in each direction
  • For round-trip itineraries, one open-jaw allowed at point or origin or turnaround point
    • Point of origin open-jaw must be within same country/region
    • If open-jaw is in itinerary, two stopovers allowed
  • For round-trip itineraries without an open-jaw, three stopovers allowed
  • Long – Type 1 applies when the mileage distance of either inbound or outbound itinerary falls between 5,001 and 7,500 miles and none of its origin, destination or turnaround points include a city in the Americas. If a city in the Americas is just acting as a transfer point or stopover (not an origin, destination or turnaround point), Long – Type 1 still applies. Long – Type 2 applies when the mileage distance of either inbound or outbound itinerary falls between 5,001 and 7,500 miles and the origin, destination or turnaround point includes any city in the Americas.

Choice Award/Tailored Awards

This award pricing is still for itineraries operated only by Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon. You are essentially paying more miles for additional award availability.

Choice and Tailored awards follow the same routing rules as Asia Miles Standard Awards. There is no published Tailored award chart, which is the level above Choice. You must go with what the online pricing calculator says.

Oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards

Here are the major routing rules for these awards:

  • Five stopovers allowed and two open-jaws allowed
  • Itinerary must contain two Oneworld carriers without Cathay or three including Cathay
  • Mixed-cabin is allowed by you’ll be charged the highest class booked on any segment for the entire itinerary

Partner Redemption Notes

When it comes to redeeming Asia Miles for award flights, you have a number of partners to use in addition to Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon. As a member of Oneworld, you can use miles for flights on any alliance member but also have access to several non-alliance partners as well, including Aer Lingus, Air Canada (limited routes), Air China, Alaska Airlines, Austrian Airlines (limited routes), Bangkok Airways, Gulf Air, Jet Airways, Lufthansa (limited routes), SWISS (limited routes) and Shenzhen Airlines (limited routes). You can also redeem your miles on Air New Zealand, though only between Hong Kong (HKG) and Auckland (AKL).

Non-Oneworld members available for award redemptions have their own routing rules and eligibile routes, so make sure to study all of the (many) notes and charts listed on Asia Miles’ site carefully, specifically on each partner page linked above. Even though there are no notes for limitations on redeeming miles with specific partners, in practice, only the routes on which you can earn miles are available for award redemption. You need to go to the ‘important notes section’ on the ‘earn’ tab for each partner to see the eligible routes, such as the Lufthansa partner page shown here:

There are a few unique things to know when redeeming Asia Miles for partner award flights:

  • Make sure you’re on the right award chart to know expected pricing (including the non-published single partner chart and the Tailored Award rates, which is really just the online calculator).
  • You can redeem Asia Miles for one-way award flights on all Oneworld carriers except Iberia, which must be round-trip.
  • Not all Asia Miles partners or combinations of partners are allowed in the above charts. Air China, Jet Airways and S7 cannot be included on an itinerary with a Cathay Pacific-operated flight. Aer Lingus, Air China, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Gulf Air and Jet Airways can’t be used in conjunction with a Oneworld Multi-carrier award.

Upgrades & Companion Tickets

In addition to award flights and the other above listed options, you can use miles for upgrades on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon as well as for a companion ticket when flying in paid business or first class. Once again, make sure to read all the fare class limitations and rules for upgrading on the dedicated webpage. Took a look at the following chart for upgrade pricing:

Cathay offers a unique redemption option with companion tickets. When purchasing one ticket on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon in select fare classes (F or A for first class; J, C, D or I for business class), you can use Asia Miles for a companion ticket based on the following award chart:

There’s some potentially great value here if you find a good paid fare or if your company pays for your business class flight and you want to bring a friend or family member along. 105,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket from the US to Hong Kong is a wonderful deal.

Booking Award Flights and Maximizing Redemptions

Off the bat, if you can’t already tell, Asia Miles is overly complicated. To make matters worse, phone agents are often unaware of all the rules, and supervisors may contradict what is clearly written online. Asia Miles is (in my experience) the most painful loyalty program to call due to consistently long wait times and the inability of 90% of phone agents to book anything beyond a simple one-way or round-trip flight. With that said, if you can book online or if you’re willing to put in some concerted effort, you can still get great value from Asia miles.

You can redeem miles online at AsiaMiles.com for flights operated by Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Qantas, Finnair, Iberia, Qatar Airways, Alaska Airlines and British Airways. The online booking engine only allows you to book round trip or one way awards (without a stopover) and gives you a week’s worth of availability at a time while also showing you all of the different pricing options (standard, choice, tailored). However, note that the online engine does not show mixed class possibilities.

Here is an example of a search for Dallas-Fort Worth (SFW) to Sydney (SYD) with both Qatar and Qantas options displaying:

To redeem awards on other carriers or for a combination of carriers that includes Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, British Airways, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways or Finnair, you’ll be asked to submit the Airline Award Request Form. However, filling out the form is a fruitless effort, as the response time for my last two requests has been 21 days. At that point, availability has obviously changed, and I’d never dream of transferring miles in at this pace.

As a result, if you cannot book online, do yourself a favor and skip the online form and call 1-866-892-2598 instead.

There are so many great possibilities because of the large number of partner airlines, generous routing rules and reasonable distance-based zones on the award charts. Here are the strategies I would focus on to maximize your Asia Miles:

  • One stopover allowed on one-way standard awards (excluding Air China and Iberia)
  • Two stopovers and one open jaw allowed on standard awards
  • Five stopovers and two open-jaws allowed on Oneworld multi-carrier awards
  • Transatlantic business class one-way for 50,000 miles (with possible stopover) on itineraries less than 5,000 miles (excluding Iberia and Finnair which must be round-trip, costing 100,000 miles)
  • Asia Miles fuel surcharges on British Airways-operated flights are several hundred dollars less than booking through Avios or American Airlines.
  • Take advantage of the different pricing zones in the award charts. If you can add another 4,000 miles to your itinerary but only pay an additional 25,000 Asia Miles for a business class ticket, that’s a great deal.
  • Be wary of fuel surcharges; while the discount on BA is nice compared to other programs, some carriers have steep surcharges attached to award tickets.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of rules and ambiguities you have to become familiar with in the Asia Miles program in order to make the most of your redemptions. However, once you have a working knowledge, the possibilities of amazing itineraries are only limited by award seat availability. Here’s a recap of the tendencies I found while completing multiple award searches and numerous phone calls with Asia Miles:

  • Agents can price itineraries without finding available flights. This is huge, as it prevents you and the agent from wasting time finding availability if all you want is to price an itinerary or determine if your routing is allowed.
  • Phone reps do not understand partner award pricing. They do seem to have the power to manually adjust partner pricing, but it takes a special agent to listen and understand what you are saying as justification.
  • Some agents will allow open jaws on different continents, while some will tell you it isn’t possible and won’t even try to input it in their system.
  • Your experience will really vary based on your agent. Many can fly through building an itinerary while others are painfully slow and aloof. You also have to routinely educate agents on the program’s partner airlines. Tell them the IATA code of a partner airline (e.g. EI for Aer Lingus), and they can then for some reason see the partnership.

Asia Miles represents an opportunity where sincere effort is rewarded with equivalent prizes. Some itineraries are easy to book online that yield great value, so I’d recommend starting there before moving on to itineraries only bookable over the phone.

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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