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American Express Membership Rewards now offers 1:1 transfers to Cathay Pacific’s frequent flyer program Asia Miles. It’s great to hear of new additions to the Membership Rewards program, especially since the primary Oneworld transfer partner is British Airways, whose Avios program has major strengths and weaknesses. Now with Asia Miles, you have another option when redeeming for Oneworld (American, British Airways, Cathay, Qantas, etc.) and other partners like Aer Lingus, Air China (Star Alliance), Alaska, China Eastern (SkyTeam) and Jet Airways.
Cathay itself is a great airline – I’ve flown their business and first class recently and both products blew me away. Having one more way to redeem for them is definitely a good thing. I haven’t personally used the Asia Miles program extensively, but I am now intrigued at the ins and outs and will be writing future posts on the best ways to maximize Asia Miles, so stay tuned.
To get started, you can open up a new Asia Miles account here. Once you have the number, login to membershiprewards.com and then click Points Summary -> Linked Travel Programs -> and then scroll down to Link Additional Programs and select Asia Miles. Since Asia Miles is a foreign transfer partner, there are no fees to transfer points and its says it can take a couple days to transfer – I initiated one on Sunday afternoon and as of this post it still hasn’t gone through.
Key differences between Asia Miles and Avios
1) Asia Miles has several distance based award charts (see below) vs Avios with a hybrid distance and segment based system. For example, you don’t get penalized for making multiple connections with Asia Miles vs. Avios calculating each and every segment separately. Avios is better for short-haul flights, but Cathay wins out on some long/ ultra-long haul redemptions- especially if you have multiple connections. To do the math to see which is better for your desired route, use the Avios Calculator and the Asia Miles calulator.
2) Date changes to awards are free to Asia Miles awards vs. a $70 fee on British Airways. To change class of service, routing or carrier, there is a $100 fee.
3) You need to call Asia Miles at 1-866-892-2598 to book awards that include partners. You can also submit an online request, but it must be for a flight at least 15 days in the future – I just tried doing this and will report back on how long it takes for the service center to contact me.
4) Fees/surcharges when booking on asiamiles.com do not display if you don’t have enough miles in your account to book the awards vs britishairways.com, which will show you the total amount needed. Unfortunately, you have to email/fax/call in advance of transferring Amex points to get a sense of the fees and surcharges for your desired award. I will be doing a future post on highlighting the different types of award fees when using Asia Miles, but they appear to be similar to Avios fees, which isn’t a great thing.
5) Asia Miles has flexible routing rules on awards: two stopovers, two transfers, and/or one open-jaw at either the origin, end route or turnaround point for a Round trip award on all airline partners except Air China and Iberia where no stopovers or open-jaws are permitted. Avios has no routing rules since every single leg of your journey is priced individually.
The first contains figures for redeeming itineraries on Cathay Pacific only, or Cathay and one other airline partner:
So, for instance, a roundtrip itinerary on Cathay from Chicago to Hong Kong, which is just shy of 8,000 miles each way, would cost you 90,000 miles in economy, 108,000 in premium economy, 145,000 miles in business class, and 180,000 miles in first class. By contrast, it would cost you just 70,000 Avios for an economy roundtrip ticket, 105,000 for premium economy, 140,000 in business class, and 210,000 for first class–with similar taxes and fees. So the only case it would make sense to use Asia Miles instead of Avios here is for a first class redemption.
One area Asia Miles can handily beat Avios is in the fact that the mileage requirements are calculated on the entire itinerary, not by segment. So, for instance, if you were to fly from San Francisco to Bangkok via Hong Kong it would take the following amounts on each airline. On Cathay: 90,000 miles in economy, 108,000 in premium economy, 145,000 miles in business class, and 180,000 miles in first class. Using Avios, that same itinerary would have to be priced out into four separate segments total and would cost you: 85,000 Avios in economy, 127,500 in premium economy, 170,000 in business, and 255,000 Avios in first class. Just in terms of miles needed, Cathay is the clear winner in this category–and that matters a lot for flyers who have to make a few connections in order to get to their destination since with Avios, you’d have to map out each individual segment and use the Avios mandated for each one, whereas with Cathay Asia Miles, you just need to figure out the total mileage of your trip.
That said, for premium class travel aboard Cathay, your best bet is still probably American Airlines AAdvantage miles since you’d only need 110,000 miles for a roundtrip business class ticket from anywhere in North America to Hong Kong, and 135,000 for first class–a significant discount on either Asia Miles or Avios. AAdvantage unfortunately isn’t a transfer partner of Amex or Chase, but they can be converted from Starwood Preferred Guest points at a 25% bonus per 20,000 points transferred.
The second chart contains the numbers needed for awards on multiple Oneworld carriers–two when Cathay is not included, or three when Cathay is or Dragonair are included:
Finally, the third chart has to do with upgrades, which are also calculated by the same distance-based zones:
To determine the distance of your flight, you can use the flight calculator tool at GCmap.com.
Asia Miles lets you redeem miles for MoneyBack points, which is a Hong Kong based loyalty program. 30,000 Amex to 30,000 Asia Miles would transfer into 75,000 MoneyBack points, which transfer into $1,500 HKD in cashback vouchers ($193 USD). Less than a cent per point, so not a great transfer option unless you are points rich and cash poor. Plus, you need to be in Hong Kong (or know someone who is) to take advantage of the Moneyback program.
Asia Miles can also be used for hotel nights and gift certificates, however they are rarely a good deal. For example, its 13,000 Asia Miles for a $50 Marriott Gift card, which is 4/10 of a cent per point if you transferred Amex points to get those Asia Miles. No thank you!
Stay tuned for future posts highlighting fees and redemption tricks. While I would have rather seen other partners added to Membership Rewards (like Alaska, American, US Airways – or even Emirates) I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
If you are looking to get a Membership Rewards card or increase your current balance, the following are the top deals for new card applicants:
50,000 points for the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card ($475 annual fee), 25,000 points for the regular Platinum card ($450 annual fee), 25,000 points for the Premier Rewards Gold ($175 annual fee, waived the first year), 25,000 points for the Business Platinum.