Cathay Pacific is a Hong Kong-based airline and a member of the oneworld Alliance that includes American Airlines and British Airways. It is one of my favorite airlines, with spectacular first class lounges in Hong Kong. I’ve also enjoyed both business and first class in the air. In fact, Cathay Pacific’s first class pajamas are so comfortable that I continue to use them at home (with occasional replacements, of course).
But Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program, Asia Miles, is also fiendishly complex. Multiple award charts exist for different combinations of partner- and Cathay Pacific-operated flights. Some agents are also not familiar with the rules of the program, so you might need to make multiple calls to book flights that are unavailable online.
Cathay Pacific just launched a co-branded credit card for U.S. customers earlier this year. However, most people who need more Asia Miles will transfer them from American Express Membership Rewards. You can also transfer them from Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
What Partner Airlines Can Be Booked with Asia Miles?
Asia Miles can be used to book flights on Cathay Pacific and all other oneworld Alliance members, including:
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Japan Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
Additional non-alliance partners include:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
- Gulf Air
- Jet Airways
- Air New Zealand
- Royal Brunei Airlines
Non-alliance partner awards cannot be found on the Asia Miles website, so you’ll need to look up award space elsewhere (such as the operating airline’s website) and then call Asia Miles to book the ticket.
Award Travel Costs
Cathay Pacific publishes an online award chart and also provides a calculator tool that can determine the appropriate price between two destinations. However, the award chart is not especially intuitive. There are separate charts for travel on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, for travel on partner airlines, and for travel that is either one-way or round-trip.
For example, a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong is a distance of 7,260 miles, which makes it a Zone D award. Zone D will cost 70,000 miles in business class to travel one-way or 120,000 miles (60,000 each way) when traveling round-trip. You can use this pricing if you fly on Cathay Pacific or if you fly on Cathay Pacific and one partner airline. (Cathay Dragon is also okay instead of Cathay Pacific.)
If you want to fly on multiple partners airlines, or if you want to fly on a partner without including travel on Cathay Pacific, then you must use the oneworld multi-carrier award chart. This is another distance-based chart, but the names are different and you must consider the entire distance traveled, not one direction. A return trip from Los Angeles to Hong Kong is 14,520 miles, a Zone 09 award. This costs 135,000 miles in business class.
I’ve already included all of these different prices in my Award Maximizer tool, which will look up award prices using Asia Miles and also compare them to award travel using other loyalty programs like British Airways or American Airlines.
Asia Miles will apply carrier-imposed surcharges, also known as fuel surcharges, to all award travel. However, fuel surcharges on Cathay Pacific’s flights are surprisingly low. For example, travel between Los Angeles and Hong Kong in business class has a round-trip fuel surcharge of just $97.40. Other taxes and fees are also lower than you might face for travel to Europe or other destinations.
You can estimate the surcharge before you begin looking for award space by using ITA Matrix to find the same itinerary as a paid (or revenue) ticket. The fare breakdown on the final page will include all taxes and fees, as well as a carrier surcharge listed as “YQ” or “YR”. Some taxes may not apply to your award ticket because they depend on the base fare. When you redeem miles, the base fare is zero, so the tax is zero. However, other fees and the carrier surcharge will still apply.
How to Book Travel Using Asia Miles
Start by going to the Asia Miles website and log into your account. The site was updated in December 2017, so please feel free to post comments if you uncover features of the new site that aren’t mentioned here.
From the account dashboard, go to the “Redeem awards” menu option and choose “Flight Awards” underneath. There are three main areas on this page. The first option, “Plan your trip,” will let you look up the cost of an award between two cities. There are also links to the award charts if you scroll further down. Standard awards have the lowest prices.
The second option, “Redeem instant ticket award,” will let you book an award ticket online. You can only book award travel online for travel on Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia Airlines, Qantas Airways, and Qatar Airways.
The third option, “Request Flight Awards,” is for itineraries that can’t be booked online because they involve additional partners or because they include a stopover or other complication that the online reservation tool cannot handle. You may also call to book these awards by phone at 1-866-892-2598. Calling is recommended since award availability can change frequently, and it might disappear before your email request is processed.
Let’s assume you click on the option to redeem an instant ticket award. I’ll search for a business class award between Los Angeles (LAX) and Hong Kong (HKG) because these two cities have four flights a day; there’s a good chance that business class award space will be available. I recommend you keep the option to search +/- three days for more flexibility.
The initial results are displayed as a calendar with different arrival and departure dates. All of the awards cost 120,000 Asia miles, which is the standard award price for travel between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. However, the fees are different. If I depart on December 16 and return on December 23, then the fees are HKD 5,964 (about USD$763). I can select this date and scroll down to the yellow “Continue” button to learn more.
It becomes obvious why the fees are so high. This involves a return flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles via London, with flights on British Airways. British Airways is notorious for high carrier surcharges. In addition, this flight would be inconvenient given the long route around the globe.
Going back to the calendar, another option is to return on December 26 with fees of just HKD 1,314 (about USD$168). This is likely to be a Cathay Pacific flight in both directions, which is confirmed after continuing to the next screen.
As I don’t have any miles in my account right now, I can’t continue with the booking process to enter passenger and payment information, but you should be able to easily replicate these steps on your own. As you can see it’s possible to get itineraries with multiple carriers as long as you limit your expectations to the few that display their award space online.
For award space on other carriers such as American Airlines or JAL, you will need to search elsewhere. Good suggestions are the British Airways website or Qantas website, which are both pretty comprehensive. You might also be able to use the American Airlines website or Alaska Airlines websites; these two face their own limitations, but not the same ones as Asia Miles.
Another interesting use of Asia Miles is Companion Award tickets. This only works for First and Business class bookings, but if you’ve made a premium class booking and paid cash (e.g., your employer purchased a ticket for business travel), then you can use Asia Miles to book a companion ticket for a friend or family member on the same itinerary.
The great thing about companion awards is that they’re much less expensive than regular award tickets. The Zone D award that we were looking at earlier will only cost 75,000 miles for a return journey instead of 120,000 miles. Plus, you only need to find award space for one person.