A lot of people like to use miles on aspirational products, and Cathay Pacific Business and First Class have been pretty popular choices. However, Cathay Pacific’s own program—Asia Miles—doesn’t get a lot of coverage. However, with a distance-based award chart and relative easy-to-accrual miles, there is actually good value to be had. For that reason, I figure I would put together a guide to redeeming Asia Miles.
Keep in mind that until December 31, 2016, you can earn a 30% bonus when you transfer hotel points to Asia Miles. This means if you’re transferring SPG points in 20,000-point increments, you will essentially get a 62.5% bonus! That’s a pretty incredible deal.
Earning Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
There are a few ways to earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. They are a transfer partner with both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou. Points from both of these programs (earned with cards like the Citi Prestige and the American Express Platinum Card) convert into Asia Miles in a 1:1 ratio, with a 1,000-point transfer minimum.
Alternatively, you can also transfer Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points into Asia Miles, also at a rate of a 1:1. SPG gives you 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points you transfer. So if you’re transferring in 20,000-point increments, you will essentially end up with a 1:1.25 ratio.
Of course, you can always earn Asia Miles from flying. Cathay Pacific is a oneworld member, so you can credit flights on oneworld carriers to Asia Miles. For example, American Airlines is transitioning to a revenue-based earning scheme, so the general public will earn 5 miles per dollar spent. However, if you credit those flights to Asia Miles, Cathay Pacific still awards at least 100% of the flown miles in Asia Miles. Which carrier to credit is a question that doesn’t have a universal answer, so it’s crunch the numbers before a flight.
Earning rates vary by carrier, and you can check them out here.
Asia Miles Award Charts and Routing Rules
There are two separate award charts for redeeming Asia Miles. Cathay Pacific describes them in a pretty convoluted way, so I’ll attempt to simplify them here.
The first one is called the “Asia Miles Award Chart,” which I will call “Chart #1” here. This is used for any itinerary that includes just one carrier. However, you are free to include Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon in addition to the one carrier on the same itinerary. Think of it like redeeming Alaska miles for partner award.
This chart is a bit confusing, but let me illustrate with an example. Say you want to fly from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG), and then onto Singapore (SIN). You simply add up the number of miles for the one-way, which in this case is 9,659 miles. This means your itinerary falls into the “E” award zone. If you’re flying one-way, the cost would be 85,000 Asia miles in Business Class. For a round-trip, the cost would be 145,000 Asia Miles in Business Class; so it’s cheaper to fly round-trip than one-way.
Not all partner airlines are eligible for one-way redemptions. The following airlines are only available for round-trip itineraries:
- Japan Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
There are airlines that only participate in the Asia Miles award chart (#1), meaning you cannot combine them with carriers other than Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon. These airlines are:
- Aer Lingus
- Air New Zealand
- Alaska Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
- Gulf Air
- Royal Brunei Airlines
With the “Asia Miles Award Chart” (#1) above, you are allowed one stopover en route a one-way ticket. For round-trip redemptions, you get 2 stopovers, 2 open-jaws, or 2 transfers.
There is a separate award chart if you want to include two oneworld carriers, which I will call “Chart #2” in this post. Again, you can also include Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon on top of the two, for a total of three carriers.
With the multi-carrier chart, you can make up to 4 stopovers (in addition to the destination), 2 transfers, and 2 open-jaws.
S7 Airlines does not participate in the “Asia Miles Award Chart” (chart #1), meaning you can only redeem tickets on them using the multi-carrier oneworld chart (#2).
I should note that there are “Priority Award” charts, which theoretically have access to expanded award space. However, the cost a fair bit more than the two standard charts, so I won’t cover them here.
Booking the Ticket
You can book simple one-way and round-trip flights operated by selected carriers directly on Asia Miles’ website.
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon
The engine online will show you the cost in miles, but I highly recommend you price out the itinerary yourself before transferring any points into Asia Miles. The prices shown online during the initial search are only the least possible number of miles you need to redeem for that city pair, and not the number of miles you’ll need for the actual itinerary shown. So until you get to the final booking page (which you won’t be able to until you have the required number of miles in the account), do not believe what the booking engine says. Update: Read more on what I mean here.
For more complicated trips, you’ll have to call to book. However, I have found the hold times to usually be excruciating long (expect at least ~45 minutes), and that the agents (even supervisors) are often not familiar with the rules. It can take 4 or 5 HUCAs before you can get an agent who knows how to ticket an itinerary with a simple stopover and charge the right number of miles.
You can call the US Asia Miles phone line at 1-866-892-2598, where the agents speak good English but are not familiar with a lot of the rules. You can also call the Hong Kong-based phone number at +852-2747-3838, where there is also an English option, and the agents are generally more competent, though the hold time can be horrifically long (I’m talking ~3 hours). Strangely, I have found the Beijing-based center to have the shortest hold times (measured in minutes), though I believe only Mandarin service is available, so it’s not an option for everyone.
Asia Miles doesn’t officially have a hold policy, though supervisors on the phones do have the power hold a ticket. I have seen them offer a hold for anywhere between 3 days and 3 weeks, so it’s a highly YMMV situation. Keep in mind, too, that they are only able to guarantee seats on flights operated by Cathay Pacific. So even if partner flights “appear” on any held itinerary, the award space is not guaranteed.
Finally, Asia Miles actually has an award ticket request form online. This is your best bet in ticketing complicated itineraries. You can add up to 10 flight sectors, and an agent will get back to you to issue and pay for the ticket. This is also probably the easiest option if you want to avoid waiting on the phone. However, since Asia Miles doesn’t make a promise as to how long it will take for them to contact you (I’ve experience up to a week of wait time), this is only a good option if you are not in a hurry to ticket something. Of course, with a wait like that, award space can very well change between your request and the issuing attempt.
Asia Miles Sweet Spots and Advantages
The advantage of distance-based award charts is that you can basically hop around with very little limitations. If you can find “geographical sweet spots” with travel distance that add up to just below a threshold, you can derive pretty good value from the program.
For example, you can fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG), and then onto Taipei (TPE). This itinerary adds up to just 7,428 miles, right under the 7,500-mile threshold. Since Cathay Pacific flies both routes, you can redeem 120,000 miles for round-trip travel.
Of course, American Airlines only charges 70,000 miles for a one-way, so savings on the miles front isn’t dramatic. However, because Asia Miles open award booking ~360 days out, so you will have access to their Premium Cabins award space earlier than most other partners, like Alaska and American.
Where Asia Miles really excel is in really long, almost round-the-world itineraries, especially if you go through the hubs of oneworld airlines. Take the following example:
- Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) on Qantas
- Sydney (SYD) to Melbourne (MEL) on Qantas
- Melbourne (MEL) to Hong Kong (HKG) on Qantas or Cathay Pacific
- Hong Kong (HKG) to Tel Aviv (TLV) on Cathay Pacific
- Tel Aviv (TLV) to Berlin (TXL) on Air Berlin
- Dusseldorf (DUS) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Air Berlin
This route comes to a total distance of 24,799 miles, which is right under the 25,000-mile threshold in the multi-carrier chart (#2). This means it will cost you 160,000 miles to fly this itinerary, which is a pretty great value! Additionally, all of the carriers on this route have either no or very low fuel surcharge, so taxes/fees won’t be too brutal.
If you’re leveraging the 30% transfer bonus until the end of 2016, you’re spending less than 100,000 SPG points for this trip. That’s amazing.
Change Fees and Redeposit Charges
Cathay Pacific does charge a fee for changes, cancellations, and redeposits. You can only make changes if no part of the ticket has already been used (i.e. before the first flight on your itinerary).
- Change in Dates:
- Online: US$25 (or 2,500 miles) per leg/sector
- By Phone: US$40 (or 4,000 miles) per leg/sector, not waived even if the itinerary cannot be booked online
- Refund and Redeposit: US$120 (or 12,000 miles)
- Reissue (must remain with same airline): US$100 (or 10,000 miles)
Additionally, you are only allowed to redeem tickets for yourself or up to 5 nominees (which can be anyone). You can change nominees up to 3 times a year with no charge; after that you will pay $50 for every nominee replacement.
Asia Miles is often overlooked because if you are looking to book simple one-way or round-trip tickets, they don’t represent a particularly good value, for the most part. However, because they have a distance-based award chart and super generous routing rules, you can get some pretty great deal on ultra-long and round-the-world itineraries.
Of course, Asia Miles’ Achilles heel is their horrible call centers, with long hold times and agents that are poorly trained on routing rules. You will have to deal with the call center agents if you’re hoping to book a complicated itinerary (or risk losing award space), and that can be a deal breaker for some people.
But if you’re willing to play with your itinerary, have the miles to transfer and spend, and have the time and patience to deal with phone agents, there are some pretty great redemptions out there with Asia Miles!