Maximizing Membership Rewards for Business Class: Cathay Pacific Asia Miles [Part 3]

This is the third installment for Maximizing Membership Rewards for Business Class. These articles will show you some great ways to utilize your American Express points for business class. You can read other installments to this series here:

For part three, I’m going to be focusing on OneWorld partner: Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 

I’d love to just jump right into the sweet spots but Asia Miles is a unique distance-based program that has several “fun” features you need to be aware of. I’ll try not to get too deep into the weeds here and just focus on some of the major aspects of the program.

Cathay Pacific award charts

The Cathay Pacific Asia Miles award program has two charts which they confusingly describe. Luckily, Point me to the Plane has a superb breakdown of Asia Miles in which they describe the charts more clearly.

Asia Miles Award Chart

One chart called the “Asia Miles Award Chart” is for:

  • Cathay Pacific/Dragon flights
  • Flights including one OneWorld partner
  • Flights including one OneWorld partner and a Cathay Pacific/Dragon flight

For this chart, you calculate your mileage requirement by finding the distance one way and then finding the corresponding zone. (If connecting sectors are involved, the sector distances should be added together to determine the total one-way distance and the applicable award zone.) In that zone column, you will see totals for both one way and round trip.

Note: The roundtrip distances offer better deals.

  • S7 Airlines does not participate in the “Asia Miles Award Chart”

The following airlines can only be booked using the Asia Miles Award Chart:

  • Royal Brunei Airlines
  • Gulf Air
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Air New Zealand
  • Aer Lingus
  • Award zone “S” is not applicable to one-way tickets on Aer Lingus. Award zones “S” and “A” are not applicable for Alaska Airlines flights to or from Mexico with sector distances of less than 1,200 miles.

You are allowed one stopover en route a one-way ticket but for round-trip redemptions, you get two stopovers, two open-jaws, or two transfers.

OneWorld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart

Then there’s another award chart called the “OneWorld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart” for:

  • Flights involving two OneWorld partners
  • Flights involving Cathay Pacific/Dragon flights and two or more OneWorld partners

You calculate the mileage requirement of this chart by calculating the total distance of your trip (add together all segments) and then see what award zone the distance falls into.

  • It’s a little unclear if you get 5 stopovers or 4 stopovers + your destination, but either way that’s a lot. Plus you can get two transfers and two open-jaws at either origin, en-route, or turnaround point.

You can keep going back and forth between both charts or you can use a program like AwardHacker and it will tell you the rates based on the chart used. I’d probably double check the results with the chart if you’re seriously considering booking but it’s a nice and easy way to effeciently check the prices to see which is the better route to go.

Only roundtrips 

You can only book roundtrip awards for the following airlines:

  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines

Remember, even though you can book one way awards on many different airlines you always want to consider booking roundtrips because you will often save a lot of miles.

Surcharges 

Per Travel is Free, the following airlines do not incur surcharges or at least incur minimal surcharges:

  • LAN
  • TAM
  • AA (varies based on route)
  • Qantas
  • Cathay
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Japan Airlines
  • S7
  • Air Berlin
  • Aer Lingus

Booking online

  • You can redeem flight awards for Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia Airlines, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways directly at Asia Miles Travel Services Limited online booking website or fill in the Airline Award Request form for travel on other carriers.

For other awards you’ll have to call in or submit a request form. I’ve heard their call center is not the best, so be prepared for long wait times and representatives who struggle with complex bookings.

Cathay Pacific sweet spots in business class 

So finally, let’s get to the sweet spots for flying in business class. 

North America to Europe 

  • Flights up to 5,000 miles oneway only require 80,000 miles roundtrip on the Asia Miles Award Chart

This is one of the lowest business class redemption rates you’ll ever find and it’s especially attractive because you can fit one way flights up to 5,000 miles into it, which covers a lot of ground between the US and Europe.

The only problem is that fees can be a bit of an issue. But Remember Air Berlin and Aer Lingus don’t incur fuel surcharges, so consider those options. 

I called in to check on the fees for a Aer Lingus roundtrip business class booking from JFK to DUB (since you can’t see it online) and they told me the total fees would only be $75! That’s about as good of a redemption as you could ask for.

Here are how the fees stack up on other partners.

British Airways

I first was curious to see how booking British Airways flights through Asia Miles would compare to booking them through the British Airways website. The results were interesting.

Here’s a flight from ORD to MAD via LHR, a route known for high surcharges for BA. The route with Asia Miles would require 80,000 miles but $695 in total fees.

However, if you booked this flight with British Airways you’d be paying 125,500 Avios and $1,102 in fees! So the fees are still high with Asia Miles but they are nearly $400 cheaper than what British Airways would charge.

Finnair

The fees to Europe get a lot more reasonable with other airlines, however. This booking from JFK to HEL roundtrip on Finnair only charges $308 in total fees, which is pretty reasonable considering how cheap the mileage requirement is. You’d still have around 900 miles to play around with to keep this itinerary under 5,000 miles so you could still connect to places like Berlin and only spend 80,000 miles.

Iberia

Sometimes Asia miles is worse off than booking with other programs and here’s an example. Through Asia Miles, the flight from Madrid to Chicago on Iberia will require 80,000 miles but $590 in fees.

However, if you booked a flight from Chicago to Madrid roundtrip on Iberia using Iberia Avios you’d only have to use 68,000 Avios and pay $220 in total fees, so it’s all around cheaper. This proves that some times you’d be better off utilizing Iberia Avios for business class to Europe than Asia Miles.

Membership Rewards transfer to Iberia at a 10:8 transfer ratio, however, so that’s something to think about.

Fights between regions and under 2,500 miles one way

You can find some decent intra-continental redemptions like Tokyo to Shanghai for 40,000 miles round trip but for the most part Cathay Pacific Asia miles aren’t the best for intra-continental flights like some other programs, such as British Airways Avios or Singapore KrisFlyer.

However, both distance-based charts can be utilized for exceptional redemption rates between regions for flights under 2,500 one way.

For example, take a look at these flights utilizing Qatar from the Middle East.

  • DOH – MLE (2,055 miles) 

If you’re flying from the Middle East to the Maldives you can get a roundtrip in business class for only 50,000 miles or 30,000 miles one way. Both rates are pretty exceptional but the 50,000 miles roundtrip is possibly the best rate for that route and great value.

  • DOH-ATH (1,840 miles) 

You can also make your way to Europe from the Middle East for 50,000 round trip, which isn’t bad either.

When the flights go over 5,000 miles roundtrip the sweet spots begin to fade away a bit until you get to longer flights that are over 4,000 miles one way. For example take a look at the following long flights also from the Middle East based on the Asia Miles chart.

  • DOH-CPT (Cape Town, South Africa)  (4,615 miles) 

One way is 45,000 and round trip is 80,000. Both rates are pretty competitive.

  • DOH – SAO (São Paulo, Brazil) (7,379) 

One way is 70,000 and round trip is 120,000. Again, both rates are extremely competitive for this absurdly long flight from the Middle East to South America.

You can experiment around with these distances between regions and you’ll likely discover that Cathay Pacific often offers extremely competitive rates when it comes to inter-regional flights between these distances.

North America to Caribbean

When it comes to getting to the Caribbean, Asia Miles will offer you some of the best redemption rates for business class. Obviously some of these flights are ridiculously short (like Miami to the Bahamas), so business class won’t be needed for many people. However, many of these rates are among the best even for longer flights like JFK to AUA.

Here are some rates:

  • JFK TO AUA: 50,000 roundtrip
  • JFK to STT: 50,000 roundtrip
  • DFW to CUN: 40,000 roundtrip
  • ORD to NAS: 50,000 roundtrip
  • MIA to NAS: 30,000 roundtrip

North America to South America 

The beauty of flying business class with Asia Miles to South America is that you don’t have to worry about the high surcharges. And on top of that, the distance-based rewards are fantastic from places in the southern half of the country.

You’ve just got to pay attention to the routes to make sure that you’re getting a good bargain, as some routes such as those over 10,000 miles roundtrip or 5,000 miles one way do not offer the greatest deals compared to other programs.

Take a look at these routes from DFW.

  • DFW to BOG: 50,000 miles roundtrip (under 2,500 miles one way)
  • DFW to SCL: 80,000 miles roundtrip  (under 5,000 miles one way)

Both rates are outstanding compared to other programs. 

North America to Australia

Australia is definitely one of the most difficult places to get on miles and points but that’s partly because people try to book that route as a nonstop and forget that there are plenty of options to get there via Asia.

It’s only 120,00 miles for a roundtrip in business class to Australia with Cathay Pacific. For Oceania standards, availability was great when I searched 8 to 12 months out. The total fees are at $334 for a flight on CX, so you’re still going to have to shell out some cash but at least it’s not asinine, especially considering that you’d probably have to pay out 40,000 more miles to book with airlines like American, Aeroplan, etc.

This same route could be booked with Alaska for the same rate at 120,000 miles but you’d likely get away with less in fees. When I did a dummy booking with their call center, I got quoted at $227 total fees (including partner booking charge). So if you have the Alaska miles, you can save over $100.

Round the world itineraries

Where Asia Miles really can offer over the top value is when booking round the world or near round the world itineraries with business class.

Utilizing the stopovers on the OneWorld chart, you could fly:

  • up to 25,000 miles for 160,000 miles 
  • up to 35,000 miles for 190,000 miles
  • over 35,000 miles for 220,000 miles

If you utilized the OneWorld partners that don’t pass on surcharges, your out of pocket could be minimal. My recommendation would be to put together a bunch of one way segments on OneWorld partners that come just short of 25,000 miles or 35,000 for maximum value.

Final word 

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is an outstanding program for business class. It’s got a number of sweet spots for business class redemptions and although it’s a little tricky due to its different award charts, exceptions, and lack of online booking, there’s some great value to be had with the program.

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