The more I play around with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, the more convinced I am that it ought to play a key role in the Miles & Points strategy of every Canadian traveller.
I’ve touched upon the strengths of the program in our Essential Guide to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, but in this post I wanted to take a deeper look at some specific redemption opportunities that represent great value for your Asia Miles.
In This Post
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Basics
- 1. North America to Oceania or South Africa for 85,000+ Asia Miles
- 2. Vancouver to Asia for 61,000+ Asia Miles
- 3. Much More Cathay Pacific Premium Space than Partner Programs
- 4. Qatar Airways Qsuites for 90,000 Asia Miles
- 5. Qantas business class from West Coast to Australia for 75,000 miles
- 6. Royal Jordanian business class to Amman for 75,000 miles
- 7. Mixed-Cabin Awards with Unusual Pricing
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Booking Tips
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Basics
Before we begin, remember that there are a variety of ways to earn meaningful amounts of Asia Miles in Canada, including transferring from Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:0.75 ratio, transferring from RBC Avion at a 1:1 ratio (with occasional 20% bonuses), and obtaining the RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card for up to 25,000 Asia Miles in the first year, whether that’s as a new credit card application or as part of a product-switching strategy.
Let’s also go over the key routing rules that you should be familiar with as you digest the below redemption sweet spots:
The Asia Miles definition of a one-way redemption is rather strict: you’re only allowed to have two segments in total, so your redemption will very likely consist of a flight from your origin into one of the Oneworld airlines’ hub airports, followed by a second flight from the hub airport to your destination
The award chart for redemptions on Cathay Pacific flights is distance-based, and reads as follows (if your itinerary consists of two segments, you add up to the two flights’ distances and look it up):
There is no published award chart for redemptions on partner airlines; however, based on looking at the search results, one-way itineraries that include a partner airline generally seem to be priced at 5,000 more Asia Miles than the above chart for economy, premium economy, and business, and 10,000 more Asia Miles than the above chart for First Class.
As of September 27, 2019, one exception is the Medium distance zone, which requires 61,000 and 82,000 miles for business and First Class respectively.
While Asia Miles used to allow a stopover on a one-way redemption, that ability has been phased out as of April 1, 2020.
1. North America to Oceania or South Africa for 85,000+ Asia Miles
Let’s start with a basic example of how Asia Miles’s distance-based award chart can be leveraged for very long journeys to distant continents.
Take note of the fact that the distance-based award chart tops out at the “Ultra-Long” distance band, which encompasses itineraries of 7,501+ flown miles. One such example might be a trip from North America to Australia or South Africa on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines business class, while transiting via Hong Kong or Tokyo respectively.
Cathay Pacific flies to Vancouver and Toronto, as well as a plethora of US gateway cities, out of its hub in Hong Kong. After a layover of up to 24 hours, you can continue onwards to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Auckland, Johannesburg, or Cape Town, and you’ll only pay 85,000 Asia Miles for the whole thing.
This logic works for partner airlines as well. Japan Airlines serves Vancouver and several US cities, and after a layover of up to 24 hours in Tokyo, you’d be able to continue onto Sydney or Melbourne, all for 90,000 Asia Miles (although admittedly Japan Airlines business class space to Oceania seems very tough to find).
Both Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines hold firm places among the world’s leading airlines and have spectacular onboard products in business class.
You could even elevate to the First Class experience for 125,000 and 135,000 Asia Miles respectively, although First Class would only be available out of the US gateways and you’d only be able to enjoy it on the North America–Asia leg of the journey.
Oceania and South Africa are some of the most far-flung destinations you could reach on an Asia Miles award from North America. However, we can also generalize this sweet spot to all other global destinations that Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines serve, such as Dubai, Bahrain, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, or anywhere in Europe (although you’d be flying “the long way around”).
2. Vancouver to Asia for 61,000+ Asia Miles
Instead of flying all the way to Oceania or South Africa, there are sweet spots when flying only to Asia as well. However, due to the distance-based nature of the award chart, departing out of Vancouver or the US West Coast will often be a better deal than departing from the East Coast.
From Vancouver, you can book a one-way flight to Tokyo on Japan Airlines business class for only 61,000 Asia Miles, since the total routing falls under the “Medium” distance band of 5,000 flown miles. You could also fly to Osaka or Nagoya via Tokyo and remain under the 5,000-mile threshold as well.
If you’d prefer to travel to Hong Kong and beyond on Cathay Pacific, then for 70,000 Asia Miles you can book a one-way journey of up to 7,500 flown miles. This means that you can either terminate in Hong Kong or continue to destinations like Taipei, Bangkok, Shanghai, or Ho Chi Minh City.
As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge you 75,000 miles for the same routing, so both of these bookings are a pretty good deal. However, you do need to make sure that you remain within the specified distance thresholds, as anything further would fall into the next distance band and cost you a lot more miles.
Departing from the East Coast, the price points aren’t quite as low but can still be competitive. You could fly something like New York–Tokyo–Busan for 75,000 Asia Miles in Japan Airlines business class, or 120,000 Asia Miles with the long leg in Japan Airlines First Class.
3. Much More Cathay Pacific Premium Space than Partner Programs
It’s worth noting that, as a general rule, Cathay Pacific makes a lot more award seats on their own flights available to Asia Miles members than to partner airlines like Alaska Mileage Plan or British Airways Avios.
Therefore, if your goal is to fly Cathay Pacific business class or First Class, you’re likely to have a much easier time making the trip happen using Asia Miles than going through Cathay Pacific’s partner programs, even if the mileage cost is higher.
For example, a First Class award from North America to Hong Kong costs 110,000–125,000 Asia Miles one-way (unless it’s a mixed-cabin award, as we’ll discuss below), depending on which gateway airport you’re flying to/from. That’s quite a significant markup compared to the 70,000 Alaska miles that you might pay for a similar journey.
Similarly, booking Cathay Pacific business class for 70,000–85,000 Asia Miles one-way is more expensive compared to Alaska’s price point of 50,000 miles one-way.
However, because Asia Miles members also get access to more award seats on Cathay Pacific, there are bookings that you’d be able to make with Asia Miles but not with Alaska, so you shouldn’t discount the option of booking through Asia Miles just because the price point is higher.
This is especially pronounced if you’re looking for multiple business class seats on the same flight, or if you’re hunting down last-minute First Class award space (alas, both Asia Miles and partner programs are restricted to one First Class award seat when the flights are first loaded into the schedule about a year in advance).
4. Qatar Airways Qsuites for 90,000 Asia Miles
One of the most aspirational business class products within the Oneworld airline alliance is Qatar Airways Qsuites, which is widely regarded as the best business class product in the world. Qatar Airways even operates Qsuites on the Montreal–Doha route, giving us a redemption opportunity that’s tailor-made for Canadians.
With the Ultra-Long distance band topping out at 90,000 Asia Miles for a one-way routing no matter how long, you can fly between Montreal and Doha and add on another flight from Doha to one of Qatar’s vast network of global destinations for just 90,000 Asia Miles in total.
The tricky part is that Qatar Airways imposes heavy fuel surcharges – think $500+ for such a one-way routing. The trick here is therefore to originate in a country that has banned fuel surcharges, like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, or Brazil.
Qatar’s routes from Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Auckland, Canberra, Sydney, and São Paulo are all equipped with Qsuites, so you could originate from any of those airports, have a layover of up to 24 hours in Doha, and then fly to Montreal all for 90,000 Asia Miles and minimal taxes and fees. Indeed, I recently booked Tokyo–Doha–Montreal for the return journey of a trip in early 2020 and paid only $90 in fees.
Meanwhile, the surcharges on a single Doha–Montreal segment aren’t too bad either (about $300), and you’re still getting excellent value out of your Asia Miles with the Qsuites experience. The outbound Montreal–Doha tends to be much more expensive at around $700 in surcharges, though.
If you’re planning a trip to Asia or Australia, you should keep this sweet spot in mind if you wanted to combine a separate redemption on the outbound with a Qsuites adventure on the way back. And indeed, if you just want to sample Qatar Airways Qsuites for yourself, I’d consider this the best way for Canadians to do so.
5. Qantas business class from West Coast to Australia for 75,000 miles
If you’re in the mood for a more conventional trip to Australia rather than criss-crossing the world, you’ll note that Qantas’s San Francisco–Sydney, Los Angeles–Sydney, and Los Angeles–Brisbane flights clock in at just under the 7,500-mile threshold for Asia Miles’s “Long” distance band, which means that a one-way redemption on these direct flights would run you 75,000 Asia Miles in business class.
That’s a compelling redemption rate for a direct business class flight to Australia. As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge you 80,000 miles for the same journey.
If we look at the Ultra-Long distance band, the possibilities grow even more plentiful. For example, you could fly from Dallas to Sydney, have a layover of up to 24 hours, and then continue onwards to Perth all for 90,000 miles in business class. Similar routings might include Los Angeles–Melbourne–Auckland, San Francisco–Sydney–Cairns, or even Dallas–Sydney–Bali.
In all cases, the tough part will be finding Qantas business class or First Class availability for your desired dates of travel, which can appear and disappear on a seemingly random basis. With Qantas premium space, it’s best to make the booking as soon as you find available space on a date that works for you, since it might get snagged by someone else and you never know when it’ll return!
6. Royal Jordanian business class to Amman for 75,000 miles
With a traditional zone-based award chart, the Middle East tends to be one of the more expensive regions to travel to from North America, which makes it a destination where a distance-based program like Asia Miles can provide some savings.
One example is the opportunity to fly Qatar Airways Qsuites as outlined above, but you’ll recall that Qatar Airways comes with some hefty fuel surcharges on the outbound Montreal–Doha segment (about $700).
Here’s where another Oneworld airline in the Middle East might come in handy: Royal Jordanian. A one-way flight from Montreal to Amman also costs 75,000 Asia Miles, but only about $350 in supplemental fees. If you’re planning a trip to Jordan to see the Dead Sea, Petra, or Wadi Rum, this would be a comfortable and convenient direct route to get there.
7. Mixed-Cabin Awards with Unusual Pricing
While the Asia Miles award chart displays the number of miles required based on the cabin of service, an interesting phenomenon occurs when pricing out mixed-cabin itineraries. In particular, the mileage cost is calculated based on a weighted average of the total distance flown in each class of service.
Since an Asia Miles one-way itinerary can consist of a maximum of two flight segments, this means that the formula used is as follows:
total miles required =
(distance of flight #1 / total distance) × miles required in higher class of service +
(distance of flight #2 / total distance) × miles required in lower class of service
Let’s take the example of an itinerary that consists of New York JFK–Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class, followed by Hong Kong–Sydney in Cathay Pacific business class.
New York JFK–Hong Kong covers 8,072 miles of distance, while Hong Kong–Sydney covers 4,581 miles of distance. Meanwhile, according to the award chart, the itinerary of New York JFK–Hong Kong–Sydney costs 125,000 Asia Miles if it’s fully in First Class, and 85,000 Asia Miles if it’s fully in business class.
Plugging this into the formula, we have:
total miles required =
(8,072 / 12,653) × 125,000 + (4,581 / 12,653) × 85,000 =
And pulling this itinerary up on the Asia Miles search engine, we see that our calculation comes very close – you’d pay 110,400 Asia Miles for the itinerary:
The interesting thing to note here is that you’d pay the full amount of 125,000 Asia Miles if you had only booked a New York JFK–Hong Kong flight in Cathay Pacific First Class. So you actually save miles by adding on another segment in a lower class of service at the end of your journey.
The Asia Miles search engine will default to offering business class if First Class isn’t available on a specific flight. However, Greg from Frequent Miler reports that you can call the Asia Miles contact centre to combine a First Class flight with an economy class segment as well, thus saving even more miles due to the weighted-average calculation method.
There are many intriguing possibilities here for making your First Class flights more affordable, and I’ll leave it to the reader to digest the full implications of Asia Miles’s mixed-cabin pricing mechanism.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Booking Tips
In laying out the above sweet spots, we haven’t even discussed the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles multi-carrier award chart, which I’ve discussed in detail in a previous post, and is particularly lucrative for multi-segment round-the-world travel.
Let’s talk about the award search process. While select Oneworld airlines like Qantas and Finnair can be searched on ExpertFlyer, many other airlines like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and LATAM can only be searched on individual airlines’ websites.
You might want to use the British Airways or Qantas websites for this purpose, although keep in mind that you’ll also have access to more Cathay Pacific business class and First Class availability as an Asia Miles member than if you were to conduct the search partner websites.
The Asia Miles search engine is relatively easy to use if you’re booking a simple one-way or round-trip flight on Cathay Pacific or other Oneworld partners.
The mileage amounts should correspond exactly to the award chart (for Cathay Pacific) and pseudo-chart (for partners) that we’ve laid out above.
The next screen will show you the available results. Note that unlike many other programs, you do need to have enough miles in your Asia Miles account to see the available options! This is definitely one of the less user-friendly parts of the program.
Ever since Cathay Pacific cut stopovers on one-way awards, however, the online search engine hasn’t been the best for finding “creative” one-way routings like Tokyo–Doha–Montreal on Qatar Airways.
These results often won’t show up if you simply search Tokyo–Montreal as a one-way, so you may need either call the Asia Miles contact centre, or use the Flight Award Request Form to submit your award booking request and get an agent to manually book it for you.
Finally, in planning your trips, you’ll find that most airlines besides British Airways and Qatar Airways tend to have moderate and reasonable fuel surcharges – think a few hundred dollars per person for the one-way journey, which is undoubtedly still fantastic value for the amount of flying in premium cabins that you get in return.
Even after its devaluation in April 2020, the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program contains immense potential for redeeming miles to several destinations across Asia, Oceania, and Europe. In some ways, I’d say that the strength of the program provides an extremely viable alternative to Alaska Mileage Plan, since the best sweet spots of the two programs largely overlap with one another, but Asia Miles are much easier to earn.
I implore you to take the inspiration from this post and play around more with the Asia Miles search engine, because I’m sure there are even more sweet spots for us to discover!
(featured image by OneMoreWeekToGo)