Tag: Strategy

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

The Planning

Let’s face it, branching into a new frequent flyer program is both exciting and unsettling, even for a seasoned travel hacker. Generally speaking, I will look into these factors before committing to a new program:

  • Be in a position or have a plan to acquire big trunks of miles meaningful for redemption. Different travelers may have different views on what’s considered minimum. For me, I would set the bar at 100K at the minimum, preferably 200K. Why? At current rate, depending on the airline program, it will cost anywhere from 50K to 90K for a one-way long haul premium class redemption from the US, where the jewel of award travel belies. Too small a balance often means limited travel options and wasted small balance post redemption.
  • Have plausible travel itinerary in mind using the miles before expiration. Almost all frequent flyer miles programs enforce some form of expiration policy from as short as 18 months to a few years. Some set “soft” expiration dates, ie, life of program miles can be extended with some activity. Others are “hard” ones, miles expire regardless of activities in the program.
  • Ideally, the program either does not charge the notorious fuel surcharge (hello British Airways) or keeps it to reasonable nominal amount.

Both my wife and I had previously signed up for Citi Preferred and Citi Prestige cards. Each card earned us 50K ThankYou points. As we closed these accounts with annual fees were due, I was searching for a new home among TY transfer partners for our 200K+ TY points before we closed out the last account. You will need one of the premium accounts open in order to transfer to partners. I was debating between Singapore’s KrisFlyer and KLM/Air France’s Flying Blue. Both have their standout merits but neither is ideal. KrisFlyer is the only way to gain access to the premium cabins of the topnotch airline, including Singapore Airline’s famous first-class suite (the “Apartment” as it is known), an ultimately thrilling experience treasured by many. Yet, Singapore Airline does not serve my home city of Chicago. Staging a flight to JFK, SFO, or LAX, though possible, costs time, a rare commodity in my world predominantly defined by kid’s school schedule. When I looked at Flying Blue, both Air France and KLM serve Chicago, making it possible to hop on SkyTeam’s global network without a transfer. But Flying Blue charge relatively high fuel surcharges and, for 62500 miles, the award rate for my most likely trip to Europe in business class is not particularly attractive. I was hoping Citi would offer transfer bonus to either one of the programs that would help settle my dilemma, before I had to close our last Prestige account by October when another year of annual fee would be assessed.

Well, my patience paid off, sort of. In early August, Citi announce a 20% transfer bonus to, … Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. Given only two months left before $450 annual fee from Prestige were to appear on my bill and I did not plan to renew for another year (hindsight speaking, I actually renewed Prestige for another year due to promotional offers, but I had no regret for this act), this could well be my last chance to get some bonus miles from TY points. I had to ask myself, is 20% extra Asia Miles the tipping point compared to Flying Blue or KrisFlyer?

My homework on Asia Miles’ award program quickly turned up two award charts, one for Cathay’s partners and the other exclusively for OneWorld carriers. Cathay Pacific has formed wide partner network outside of OneWorld alliance, which even includes Star Alliance’s cornerstone carrier Lufthansa and its affiliates of Austrian Airlines and Swiss International, as well as Air China and Air New Zealand, both of Star Alliance. Here’s award chart for its partners:

Asia Miles’ distanced award chart for its flights operated by one of its partners or one partner plus Cathay Pacific

My decision to go for Asia Miles in large part was due to my anticipated redemption from Chicago to Shanghai, my second home town. The direct route between Chicago and Shanghai, served only by American Airlines among Asia Miles’ partners, is 7058 miles. I can also afford to make a stop at Tokyo via Japan Airlines, for a one-way distance of 7393 miles. In both cases, Zone D rate applies and round trip business class costs 120K, slight ahead of American Airlines’ 140K. However, if Cathay Pacific is involved, Chicago-Hong Kong-Shanghai segments add up to 8573 miles, bumping up the total to 145K miles, slightly worse than AA’s 140K. Yet, taking into account 20% transfer bonus, I am looking at either 100K Citi ThankYou points on AA or JAL, or 121K TY points on CX for a round trip home, pretty attractive redemption in my view. And I have no doubt being able to exercise redemption within three years before miles expire.

I also studied Asia Miles’ OneWorld award chart, below, and concluded that I could not do better than 120K AM miles for a round trip in business class to Shanghai, the least expensive option under partner chart above. Regardless, I already found the winning formula and decided to initiate transfer from Citi TY to Cathay Pacific AM.

OneWorld rate applies when two or more OneWrold carriers without Cathay, or three or more OneWorld carriers including Cathay are involved in a round trip ticket

Execution of Transfer

Once I logged in to my Citi ThankYou page, the partner transfer option was available online. I chose to start with a small transfer twenty days before the transfer bonus deadline, to validate the process.

Citi ThankYou points 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles

Within two days, 20,400 miles were posted to my Asia Miles account. Everything looked good. A few days later, I transferred my entire TY point balance to bring my total AM balance to close to 300K.

More sweetspots

Just like owning a stock piques one’s interest in that company’s news, having miles in the program entices my appetite for better ways of redeeming my hard-earned miles.

If you live on the west coast, particularly close to a gateway city, 120K can get you to many places in China/Asia in business class round trip. For example:

  • San Francisco to most of China for 120K on Air China
  • Los Angeles to eastern China for 120K on Japan Airlines
  • Vancouver to southeast Asia for 120K on Cathay Pacific
  • Western US to Shanghai for 120K on American Airlines
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
San Francisco/Urumqi Air China SFO-PEK-URC 7428 D 120K
Los Angeles/Chongqing Japan Airlines LAX-NRT-CKG 7450 D 120K
Vancouver/Bangkok Cathay Pacifc YVR-HKG-BKK 7442 D 120K
Phoenix/Shanghai American Airlines PHX-LAX-PVG 6856 D 120K

Evan if you are located on the east coast, distance-based AM chart may not come in your favor in terms of mileage requirements, you can still be rewarded with choice of airlines that include Qatar, Iberia, Finn Air, and, if hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges does not faze you, British Airways.

  • Eastern US to Hong Kong and beyond for 145K on American and Cathay
  • Washington to Beijing for 145K on Iberia
  • New York to Guangzhou for 145K on Finn Air
  • Boston to Chongqing for 145K on Qatar
  • Miami to Chengdu for 145K on British Airways
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
Pittsburgh/Kuala Lumpur American + Cathay Pacific PIT-JFK-HKG-KUL 9987 E 145K
Washington/Beijing Iberia IAD-MAD-PEK 9550 E 145K
New York/Guangzhou Finn Air JFK-HEL-CAN 8893 E 145K
Boston/Chongqing Qatar Airways BOS-DOH-CKG 9880 E 145K
Miami/Chengdu British Airways MIA-LHR-CTU 9595 E 145K

As you can see, Asia Miles program does a nice job either supplementing OneWorld routes beyond those available on American Airlines or saving miles outright compared to AAdvantage. Since AA often offers very few, if any, award space on its own flights, success in OneWorld redemption increasingly hinges on partner availability. Asia Miles does just that, opening another door when AA’s is shut.

What happens if you push the envelope further?

As usual, I like to start off with comparing Asia Miles to its OneWorld cousin, AAdvantage. As far as I am concerned, AAdvantage award rule is cut and dry. To go from point A to point B, you look up which regions they belong to, and apply the rate between the two regions. You can’t construct complicated routing other than maximizing transit time of up to 24 hours to explore the stops in between. Asia Miles, on the other hand, allows two stopovers (stops over 24 hours), two transfers (stops less than 24 hours) or one open-jaw (gap in itinerary instead of all connected dots). In each of the examples above, you may opt to spend a few days en route, whether it’s US gateway cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles, transfer hubs of Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, London, Helsinki or Madrid, the choice is yours! Does anyone object to visiting two places in one award ticket without extra flight cost? And since we’re talking about business class tickets, how do you feel about checking out airport lounges at each airlines’ main hubs?

If you still manage to feel hum hum about Asia Miles, let me show you a few more examples, this time, utilizing its OneWorld redemption chart. In a truly industry-leading fashion, Asia Miles OneWorld redemption permits five stopovers, AND two transfers, AND two open-jaws. The only downside? You are required to fly a minimum (note, NOT maximum) of two OneWorld airlines not counting Cathay Pacific.

Asia and Oceania


  • Chicago to Tokyo on American Airlines or Japan Airlines (6275 miles)
  • Tour Japan using land based transportation (stopover 1)
  • Tokyo to Hong Kong on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific (1842)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Brisbane on Cathay Pacific (4306)
  • Tour Australia using land based transportation (open-jaw 1)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas or American Airlines (7488)
  • Los Angeles to Chicago on whatever (open-jaw 2)

Total flying distance, 19,910 miles, fits into Zone 10 in AM OW chart, giving this all business-class trip a price tag of 140K Asia Miles. And we still have three more stopovers and two transfers to give. Remember, it will cost 140K in AAdvantage miles to go to Hong Kong alone!

Africa and South America


  • Chicago to Miami on American Airlines (1197 miles)
  • Transfer at Miami (transfer 1) or tour Miami
  • Miami to Sao Paulo on LATAM or American Airlines (4073)
  • Explore Brazil on land from Sao Paulo (stopover 1)
  • Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on LATAM (4631)
  • Explore safaris from Johannesburg, followed by land or air transportation to Cape Town. Explore Cape Town (open-jaw 1)
  • Cape Town to London on British Airways (5995)
  • Tour London or Europe on land or by low cost air (stopover 2)
  • London to Chicago on American Airlines (preferred due to low fuel charge) or British Airways (3953)

Total fly distance 19,848 miles, good for Zone 10 rate of 140K in business class. Try to do that in AAdvantage!

Asia and Europe on new airplances

If sampling new airplanes or highly ranked airlines is your cup of tea, consider including Doha in your itinerary, home of award-winning Qatar Airways that equips multiple routes with Airbus A380, Boeing Dreamliner B787, or Airbus A350.


  • Chicago to Shanghai on American Airlines (7068 miles, B787)
  • Tour Shanghai (stopover 1)
  • Shanghai to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon (779 miles)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific (1050, A350)
  • Tour Bangkok (stopover 3)
  • Bangkok to Doha on Qatar Airways (3285, A380)
  • Transit at Doha (transfer 2)
  • Doha to Venice (or Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna and many other European cities) on Qatar Airways (2488, A350)
  • Vienna to London on British Airways (795)
  • Tour London (stopover 4)
  • London to Chicago (3953) on American (B787) or British Airways (B747)

With this itinerary, you have a chance to visit three charming Asian cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, as well as European double-header of Vienna and London, sit in front of modern aircrafts in style, and still only have to pay 140K in Asia Miles for your flights!

How can you earn Asia Miles?

Besides flying on Cathay Pacific or crediting your partner flight credits to AM, you can obtain 150K Asia Miles rather quickly with no more than three credit cards offers. Remember Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and SPG Starpoints programs. For example, you can apply for these cards and be on your way to book some of the exciting trips I mentioned earlier after completing signup bonus requirements.

  • American Express Platinum card (often comes with 70K or even 100K offers)
  • American Express SPG card (usually 25K but occassionally 35K)
  • Citi Prestige or Preferred card (50K currently)
  • Synchrony Cathay Pacific card (50K currently)

Are you becoming interested in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles?