Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is an underrated rewards program for Canadians, with several compelling redemption opportunities sitting right beneath our noses.
Asia Miles can be redeemed on a vast array of Oneworld and other airline partners, including some of the world’s leading airlines, and the program also makes it easy for Canadians to rack up the points through a range of different financial institutions.
While they do operate a fairly byzantine award system (read: one in which we’ll need to spend time to tease out the sweet spots), the possibilities with redeeming Asia Miles are fairly wide, including increased access to Cathay Pacific premium award space and a potentially lucrative Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart (similar to British Airways Avios).
Without further ado, let’s cast a spotlight on this lesser-known points program to see what kind of interesting awards we can build.
Earning Asia Miles
Like many other airline programs, the easiest way to earn Asia Miles in Canada is through two main channels: credit card signup bonuses and converting from transferrable points currencies.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles has a co-branded card with RBC: the RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card.
Right now, it comes with a generous signup bonus of 35,000 Asia Miles; however, that’s a tiered welcome bonus consisting of 15,000 Asia Miles upon approval, 10,000 Asia Miles when spending $6,000 in the first three months, and then 10,000 Asia Miles after one year of holding onto the card.
You’d therefore need to pay the annual fee of $120 twice in order to capture the full bonus. If you were to only pay for the first year and then cancel the card, you’d only get 25,000 Asia Miles out of it. As an added bonus, the card also comes with Marco Polo Club Green status for the first year.
In addition, RBC also offers the option to convert its proprietary RBC Avion points into Asia Miles.
RBC Avion points are convertible at a ratio of 1:1, which can be an excellent use of your RBC Avion points, especially if you have an aspirational award redemption in mind. RBC also occasionally offers transfer bonuses when converting to Asia Miles, the most recent one being a 20% bonus in March 2019.
Next up, American Express Membership Rewards points are also transferrable to Asia Miles, at a ratio of 1:0.75. Unfortunately, this exchange rate is lower than other partners like Aeroplan, which have a 1:1 transfer ratio, but given how easily you can rack up Amex MR points through credit card bonuses, it could still be a good way to boost your Asia Miles balance.
In addition, Asia Miles also partners with HSBC Rewards for point conversions. HSBC Rewards points can be converted to Asia Miles at a ratio of 25,000 HSBC Rewards points = 8,000 Asia Miles, or 3.125:1. HSBC has varying offers on their cards, but their occasionally generous welcome bonuses can be leveraged to bump up your Asia Miles balance.
Lastly, Marriott Bonvoy points can also be transferred to Asia Miles, although the relatively large number of Bonvoy points required (the optimal transfer ratio is 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 Asia Miles) means that this option should be treated as a last resort.
With a Canadian co-branded credit card, three financial partners from which to transfer points, and the ability to top-up using Marriott Bonvoy, you have a multitude of opportunities to rack up a meaningful balance of Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
Redeeming Asia Miles
As a frequent flyer program, Asia Miles’s primary strength lies in redeeming miles for flight rewards.
(While hotels, car rentals, and merchandise are also possible to book, they generally provide poor value for your Asia Miles, and so we’ll skip over them in this guide.)
Similar to its fellow Oneworld loyalty program British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles primarily uses a distance-based award chart. Alas, that’s where the simplicity of the program ends, and the endless subtleties and intricacies begin.
For example, Asia Miles advertises three different “types” of flight rewards: Standard Awards, Choice Awards, and Tailored Awards.
For the general purposes of redeeming Asia Miles for high-value flights, you can just focus on Standard Awards and forget about the other two, which essentially allow members to access additional Cathay Pacific award availability at dynamic (read: much higher) award cost.
Standard Awards employ the distance-based award chart I mentioned above, which reads as below:
Together with the award chart, the routing rules are also an important component of any mileage program. In true Asia Miles fashion, the routing rules (which can be accessed at this link) are extremely complex:
To summarize the main points:
A one-way award redemption can include up to two segments, but cannot include a stopover at the intermediate point
Round-trip bookings can include up to four segments in total – two on the outbound and two on the inbound – and you can choose to have one stopover on either the outbound or inbound direction
The ability to have a stopover on a round-trip award is quite compelling, and is reminiscent of the powerful Aeroplan Mini-RTW. However, the fact that you’re limited to four segments is a major restriction.
Importantly, note that the above award redemption structure is only applicable when redeeming for flights operated by Cathay Pacific. If you’re redeeming for flights on either a single partner airline or Cathay Pacific plus one partner airline, you’ll need to add 5,000 Asia Miles to all of the above points totals.
(Meanwhile, if you have two or more partner airlines on the itinerary, an entirely separate award chart is used, which we’ll discuss further below.)
To add further intrigue into the mix, not all of Asia Miles’s 26 airline partners can be booked on all routes. For example, Air Canada is an Asia Miles partner, but you can only book intra-Canada flights on Air Canada using your Asia Miles as per their partner agreement.
Anyway, enough with the nitty-gritty. Let’s look at some of the sweet spots in this award chart, shall we?
Award Chart Sweet Spots
The distance-based award chart lends itself to quite a few sweet spots. For example, similar to Avios, you can redeem Alaska Airlines flights from Seattle to Hawaii at a relatively low 15,000 Asia Miles one-way in economy class, since the distance is under the “Short” threshold of 2,750 miles (remember, the above award chart shows 10,000 miles for Cathay Pacific flights, so you’ll need to add 5,000 miles since it’s a partner redemption).
You’ll only pay $13.66 in fees for this redemption, which makes it a very solid use of Asia Miles.
You can also leverage the “Ultra-Long” distance category of 7,501+ miles to great effect.
For example, you know how one of Alaska Mileage Plan’s sweet spots lies in Cathay Pacific premium cabin flights from North America to Hong Kong and then continuing to South Africa?
Well, you can do the same thing with 85,000 Asia Miles… and Asia Miles are a lot easier to earn than Alaska miles!
You can even book North America to Hong Kong, and then fly to one of Cathay Pacific’s European destinations for the same amount! This is something that Alaska doesn’t allow, so if you have any desire to travel to Europe “the long way” with a stopover in Asia, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles should be the first thing on your mind.
Best of all, as an Asia Miles member, you get access to significantly more Cathay Pacific award availability in premium cabins than partner programs like Alaska do!
You can also leverage this principle on partner awards as well, like flying Japan Airlines business class from Vancouver to Tokyo to Sydney for 90,000 Asia Miles.
(Unfortunately, you can’t choose to have a stopover in the intermediate connection point on these itineraries. It used to be possible to book a stopover on a one-way award with Asia Miles, but that perk was eliminated in April 2020.)
The benefit of these relatively simple awards is that they can be booked online through the Asia Miles search engine, as long as you find award availability.
I say that because Asia Miles’s call centre is notoriously difficult to use, with many reports of relatively simple tasks requiring multiple calls to complete. Therefore, while more complex round-trip awards could potentially represent even more value here, it could also take up more of your time and energy to actually get them ticketed.
Lastly, a very interesting part of Asia Miles is the Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart, which is used when two or more Oneworld partner airlines are included on the same ticket (with Cathay Pacific possibly being included as well).
Under this award chart, you can have up to five stopovers, two connections or layovers, and two open-jaws. Needless to say, that’s an incredibly generous amount of flexibility for you to play with as you build your trip. The amount of miles required is determined based on the total distance flown, following the chart below:
Unfortunately, award redemptions made using the Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart can only be booked over the phone.
Finally, it should be noted that the taxes and fees can be significant when booking with Asia Miles, depending on which airlines are on your itinerary.
British Airways and Qatar Airways are among the airlines with relatively high fuel surcharges on Asia Miles bookings, while Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, American Airlines, and LATAM seem to have more moderate surcharges, and Alaska Airlines, Aer Lingus, and Air New Zealand have none.
Therefore, you can either choose exclusively from the latter set of airlines, or originate your itinerary in one of the world’s jurisdictions that has regulated fuel surcharges, in order to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a pretty complex award program that requires an upfront time investment in order to fully understand and maximize.
The award chart, routing rules, and partner airline arrangements are all frankly more complex than they need to be, and many redemptions beyond the most simple ones will require calling the relatively inefficient call centre.
However, Asia Miles can be earned pretty easily in Canada, and there’s no denying that the program throws up some pretty amazing sweet spots as a result of the distance-based chart, the unique OneWorld Multi-Carrier Award Chart, and the relatively laissez-faire routing and stopover policies.
With some careful research and planning, there are many lucrative ways to transform your Asia Miles into some highly aspirational trips on some of the world’s best airlines at a spectacular value.