A week ago I wrote a guide on redeeming Asia Miles, which is a program that’s often overlooked but can actually have tremendous value. Most of us likely accrue Asia Miles by transferring points in from Citi ThankYou, American Express Membership Rewards, or SPG. For that reason, I included the caveat that you should always price out the itinerary before transferring points, because the online booking engine is not always reliable in what they show during the initial search.
Many people are likely thinking about transferring SPG points to Asia Miles, given that you are effectively getting a 62.5% bonus when you do so before the end of 2016, under the current promotion. For that reason, I figure I would elaborate it a bit in a separate post.
Potentially Misleading Pricing on Asia Miles Booking Engine
I think the easiest way to do so is by way of an example. Let’s say I wanted to fly from Osaka (KIX) to Seoul (ICN), one-way, in Economy.
I use Great Circle Mapper to figure out the distance between the two cities, which comes out to be 535 miles.
I check out the award chart, which says that a one-way Economy Class ticket under 600 miles costs 10,000 Asia Miles. Sure enough, the Asia Miles website shows, on the Flexible Dates Search page, that the award can be had for 10,000 Asia Miles + taxes/fees.
So I hit continue, and I see a page with all the available flights. All of the flights shown are on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon, which means a connection in Hong Kong is required. Hm…but that means the total distance flown is significantly greater! Instead of flying 535 miles on a direct flight, you are flying 2,823 miles when you connect through Hong Kong!
This is actually a bit misleading, because under the award chart, this routing would actually require 25,000 Asia Miles. But the Asia Miles booking engine seems to assure you that “no worries, this alternative, more complicated route that we’re showing you will also only costs 10,000 Asia Miles.”
If you don’t currently have Asia Miles in your account, this is as far as the engine will let you go. Clicking continue at this point will yield an error message, saying you don’t have enough miles in your account. So the logic of most people would go: I will transfer 10,000 Asia Miles over so I can redeem this ticket!
But once you’ve transferred 10,000 Asia Miles over, you’d still get the same error when trying to book this routing. That’s because with a layover in Hong Kong, the routing actually requires more miles. Once you have enough Asia Miles (for the correct price, not the misleading “lowest” price shown), clicking continue would show you the actual price for this connecting flight.
So in this instance, if you transferred 10,000 Asia Miles in, you’d either (1) have to transfer more in to book the connecting itinerary, or (2) you just parked 10,000 points in Asia Miles.
ALWAYS Price Out An Award Yourself Before Transferring Points to Asia Miles
This boils down to the fact that Asia Miles shows you the lowest possible price (i.e. direct flight) when you search for an award online, without taking into consideration the availability of the non-stop flight or whether it can be booked online. In this instance, Japan Airlines does operates a direct flight, but their flights are not bookable via the online engine. However, since it is technically possible, Cathay Pacific shows that pricing, even though online award booking is only available of Cathay’s own metal, which costs more due to the routing it necessitates.
I will admit that the misleading pricing can seem enticing, since it’s almost looks like you’ve tricked the engine into giving you a lower price for a more complicated routing. It almost makes you think if you can use this for hidden city ticketing, or just book throwaway tickets for further destinations. However, the booking engine doesn’t calculate the total distance of your itinerary until the very end, and won’t show you the final price unless you have that number of miles in your account. So in the end, unless you’ve crunched the numbers of priced out the award yourself, you might actually end up being the one who got tricked. This really isn’t a way to book “hidden city” ticketing, nor will adding a throwaway
There are a few sweet spots with Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program, but their online engine can be really frustrating in this regard. Still, the program really excels in long-haul or round-the-world itineraries, so this online quirk/glitch/feature shouldn’t affect too many people, since most “sweet spots” routes won’t be bookable online anyway. However, if you are looking to book a simple itinerary online, just keep in mind to do the math yourself and figure out how many miles are actually required before initiating any transfers!