Update: Cathay Pacific has implemented an overnight devaluation on their partner awards in the Medium distance zone. Sneaky sneaky. Lots of brilliant sweet spots remain, but #5 below gets a little weaker.
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 a few examples of the strengths of the program in my 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.
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:
Similar to Alaska Mileage Plan, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles allows a complimentary stopover on a one-way redemption
However, 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.)
1. North America to Oceania, with stopover in Asia, for 85,000 miles
To start with a basic example, take note of the fact that the distance-based award chart tops out at the “Ultra-Long” distance band, which encompasses itineraries of more than 7,501 flown miles. One such example might be a trip from North America to Australia on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, and you’d be able to add a stopover in Hong Kong or Tokyo for no additional cost.
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 stopover, you can continue onwards to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, or Auckland, and you’ll only pay 85,000 Asia Miles for the whole thing.
Meanwhile, Japan Airlines serves Vancouver and several US cities as well, and after a Tokyo stopover, you’d be able to continue onto Sydney or Melbourne as well, 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 US gateways (once Vancouver loses Cathay First next April) and you’d only be able to enjoy it on the North America–Asia leg of the journey.
In addition to destinations in Oceania, we can also generalize this sweet spot to all other global destinations that Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines serve, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Dubai, Bahrain, Tel Aviv, or New Delhi.
Indeed, this is similar to the well-known Alaska Mileage Plan sweet spots, except for the fact that Alaska doesn’t even allow you to route to Oceania on Japan Airlines, as well as the fact that Asia Miles are significantly easier to earn in Canada than Alaska miles.
2. North America to Europe, with stopover in Asia, for 85,000 miles
In order to further sweeten the deal, we can look at a variant of the above sweet spot that Alaska miles cannot accomplish: flying to Asia first, then Europe, all for the same 85,000 miles on Cathay Pacific or 90,000 miles on a partner airline.
You could fly from Toronto to Hong Kong, have a stopover there, and then go all the way to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dublin, or Rome for 85,000 Asia Miles in Cathay Pacific business class.
Or you could fly from Vancouver to Tokyo, enjoy an extended stop, and then continue to London, Paris, Frankfurt, or Moscow for 90,000 Asia Miles in Japan Airlines business class. Both of these could be elevated to First Class as well, and you’d likely be able to enjoy First Class all the way rather than only on one of the flights.
With a routing like this, you’re basically almost circumnavigating the globe, and you’d only need one additional award between Europe and North America – or even a cheap cash ticket, if you don’t mind slumming it for a short six-hour journey after two back-to-back luxurious long-haul flights – to complete your round-the-world routing.
For as little as 85,000 Asia Miles, it’s an absolute steal and a fantastic way to stretch the value of your miles as far as possible.
3. North America to Europe, with stopover in Australia, for 90,000 miles
The insane value here should be plain for all to see.
The above sweet spot, which is already pretty damn generous, can be taken one step even further if we forget about Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines and look at Qantas instead.
Indeed, Qantas flies to both North America and Europe via its Sydney hub (the Sydney–London flight makes a stop in Singapore, although it’s all one flight number), so in theory you could fly 17 hours down under, stop there for as long as you’d like, and then fly another 21 hours back up to London. All of this could be done in Qantas business class for 90,000 Asia Miles, or even First Class for 135,000 Asia Miles.
The hard part will be finding award availability, because Qantas premium space can be a fickle beast. Instead of consistently releasing award seats at the beginning of schedule, Qantas likes to drop batches of premium space every now and then at seemingly random intervals, so you’ll need to be actively on the lookout for it.
Business class space will be significantly easier to find than First Class, although in either case you’re getting a truly jaw-dropping deal for a trip that reaches both Australia and Europe.
Those of you who are happy to redeem miles for economy class might have an easier time finding award space, and the redemption rate of 47,000 Asia Miles one-way (for routings over 7,501 miles in distance flown) is excellent value as well.
4. 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 stopover there, and then continue onwards to Perth all for 90,000 miles in business class. Sure, that’s more expensive than a journey that’s under 7,500 miles, but it also allows you to leverage the stopover allowance to stretch the value of your miles further.
Similar routings might include Los Angeles–Melbourne–Auckland, San Francisco–Sydney–Cairns, or even Bali–Sydney–Dallas. In all cases, the tough part will be finding Qantas business class or First Class availability for your desired dates of travel – like the above example, economy class would be much easier to accomplish.
5. Vancouver to Japan for 61,000 miles
Continuing with the theme of squeezing just under the mileage threshold, you can book a one-way routing between Vancouver and either Osaka or Nagoya and include a stopover in Tokyo for only 61,000 Asia Miles in business class, since the total routing falls under the “Medium” distance band of 5,000 flown miles.
As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge you 75,000 miles for the same routing, and wouldn’t permit any stopovers on a one-way routing either, so this is a pretty good deal.
(However, it’s not quite as good as it was before – Asia Miles used to charge only 50,000 miles for the Medium distance zone in business class, until a surprise overnight devaluation occurred in September 2019.)
It’s really only Osaka and Nagoya that falls within the 5,000-mile threshold, though – other Japanese cities like Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Sapporo, or Okinawa would overshoot the threshold and bring you into the “Long” distance band, and you’d be charged 75,000 Asia Miles for the one-way in business class.
Nevertheless, even 75,000 Asia Miles is a great deal considering the Tokyo stopover. You could continue onwards to other Asian cities like Beijing, Hong Kong, Hanoi, or Manila for that price, as long as you don’t overshoot the next distance threshold of 7,500 flown miles. You could even depart from the East Coast and 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.
6. Qatar Airways Qsuites, with stopover in Doha, for 90,000 miles
One of the more 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 stopover 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 Chinese New Year trip in early 2020 and paid only $90 in fees.
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.
7. Cathay Pacific First Class on Vancouver–New York JFK (before April 2020!)
If you’d like to sample the Cathay Pacific First Class service between Vancouver and New York JFK before the route is terminated next spring, then Asia Miles will be one of the best ways of doing so. The route clocks in at the “Short” distance band, and so only requires 40,000 Asia Miles one-way in First Class.
Economy class and business class are only 10,000 Asia Miles and 25,000 Asia Miles respectively, both of which are pretty good deals for trans-continental as well.
8. Three Stops on a Round-Trip Flight
Finally, we’ve only looked at one-way redemptions so far, but the fact that you’re allowed to have stopovers on one-ways can be generalized into the round-trip scenario as well. In particular, you’ll be able to build in up to three stops on a round-trip redemption: your final destination plus two stopovers, one in either direction.
Doesn’t that remind you of something? A beloved family member that we lost on September 1, 2019, perhaps?
The pricing will depend on your the total distance flown in your overall routing, and the outbound and inbound portions of the itinerary will be calculated separately and added together to arrive at the total mileage price (taking into account the fact that partner awards are priced higher than Cathay Pacific awards).
But you could easily build multi-stop itineraries across Asia, Australia, and Europe for similar amounts of miles that Aeroplan used to charge back when it allowed three-stop routings. I encourage you to play around with the Multi-City tool on the Asia Miles website to figure these ones out!
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.
Since one-way awards on Asia Miles are limited to two segments, the award search engine is very easy to use as a result. Simply specify the two segments that you’d like, choose from the drop-down list of airlines, and the Asia Miles engine will tell you how many miles are required.
For one-way redemptions, the amounts should correspond exactly to the award chart (for Cathay Pacific) and pseudo-chart (for partners) that we’ve laid out above, but when you start planning multi-city trips, the exact mileage pricing can start to get a little indecipherable.
Either way, proceed to the next screen and you’ll be presented with the list of available options, with the flights with available award seats highlighted for selection.
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.
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.
We’ve all been overlooking Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for far too long, as the 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!