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Transferring Amex Membership Rewards To British Airways Avios Versus Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

by on April 25, 2013 · 20 comments

in American Express, British Airways, Cathay Pacific

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In light of the current 35% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways through June 7, 2013, I thought it might be useful to do a comparison of mileage redemption sweet spots between British Airways and Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program, another transfer partner of American Express that doesn’t tend to garner as much discussion.

Amex is currently offering a 35% transfer bonus to BA Avios.

Amex is currently offering a 35% transfer bonus to BA Avios.

Both programs are distance-based, so rather than dividing their award redemption charts into zones such as North America or Europe, redemption rates are calculated based solely on distance between departure and arrival points. That means there are opportunities to score some amazing redemption values if you calculate out the distances carefully and consider all your options.

Below you’ll find the award redemption charts for each program as well as a side-by-side comparison of how many miles you’d need in each program for awards of various distances. That way, you can calculate the distance of the award route you want by using a site like gcmap.com and see which program it makes the most sense to transfer your Amex points to.

Here is the Asia Miles redemption chart:

Asia Miles Award Chart

Asia Miles Award Chart

And here is the British Airways/Iberia Avios redemption chart:

British Airways Award Chart

British Airways Award Chart

Just one important note: British Airways actually does not publish an award chart. The one above is for reference from the Iberia Plus program, which also uses Avios. However, the only truly accurate way to calculate how many British Airways Avios you will need for a particular redemption is to plug your departure city and destination into the Avios Calculator. As you will see, although the calculations for British Airways awards adhere pretty closely to the zones above, but partner awards can vary. Part of this is due to the fact that British Airways calculates awards per segment rather than overall distance (so if your itinerary includes two or three flights in each direction, each will be priced out individually rather than added together and priced cumulatively) and inherently includes a London stopover in most itineraries that could possibly fly through there, so that can add tons of Avios to the redemption calculation you get. Whereas when you actually go to book a ticket, you might find that you actually need a whole lot fewer. If this is a little confusing, you’ll see what I mean in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong-Chicago example below.

Though the two charts look similar, there are in fact some big differences between the two, especially in the zones where their distance bands don’t quite overlap – such as 601-650 miles, which still counts as Avios Zone 1 but leaps up to Zone B (the second zone) with Asia Miles and thus bumps up the mileage requirement significantly. 50 miles in distance might not sound like much, but 10,500 award miles for a redemption does, let alone 20,000-40,000 miles in some cases!

Here are two tables with side-by-side comparisons of how many of each type of miles you’d need – Avios and Asia Miles – for redemptions in each distance band in economy and business class for roundtrip travel. The distances are one-way between origin and destination. I based many of these off of Avios’s distance calculations, though as the zones get bigger, I calculated them in 500-mile increments. I also included calculations based on the Amex points you would need taking advantage of the current 35% bonus.

Comparing Asia Miles vs. Avios for Economy Awards (round-trip)
Distance (each-way) Asia Miles BA Avios BA Avios (35% Transfer Bonus)
1-650 15,000 9,000 6,667
651-1,151 20,000 15,000 11,111
1,152-2,000 30,000 20,000 14,814
2,000-2,500 30,000 25,000 18,518
2,500-3000 45,000 25,000 18,518
3,001-4,000 45,000 40,000 29,629
4,001-5,000 45,000 50,000 37,037
5,001-5,500 60,000 50,000 37,037
5,501-6,500 60,000 60,000 44,444
6,501-7,000 60,000 70,000 51,851
7,001-7,500 60,000 100,000 74,074
7,500-10,000 90,000 100,000 74,074
10,000-100,000 110,000 100,000 74,074

So as you can see, there are some pretty significant differences here, especially on the lower end of the spectrum and taking into account the Amex transfer bonus to Avios. For example, on a flight of less than 650 miles – such as between New York and Montreal, you would literally be spending less than half the Amex points by transferring to Avios instead of Asia Miles.

That contrast gets even more pronounced around the 2,500-3,000-mile distance band – pretty much the spot for most transcontinental US award tickets or those from the west coast of the US to Hawaii where a roundtrip ticket using Avios would cost you 25,000 Membership Rewards points (though just 19,000 during the bonus period) while using Asia Miles instead would require 45,000 points – over double!

What’s also interesting to look at is where Asia Miles edges out Avios such as in the distance bands from 6,501-10,000 miles where Asia Miles consistently beats Avios under normal 1:1 transfer ratios. That should mean your average flight to Asia from the US is going to be a better bargain using Asia Miles since most of them fall within this distance band. However, as I noted above, this isn’t always the case since partner awards using British Airways Avios can actually price out much lower because of actual routing.

When it comes to business class awards, there are also some noticeable differences between the two charts.

Comparing Asia Miles vs. Avios for Business Awards
Distance (each-way) Asia Miles BA Avios BA Avios (35% Transfer Bonus)
1-650 30,000 18,000 13,334
651-1,151 40,000 30,000 22,222
1,152-2,000 50,000 40,000 29,629
2,000-2,500 50,000 50,000 37,037
2,500-3000 80,000 50,000 37,037
3,001-4,000 80,000 80,000 59,258
4,001-5,000 80,000 100,000 74,074
5,001-5,500 120,000 100,000 74,074
5,501-6,500 120,000 120,000 88,888
6,501-7,000 120,000 140,000 103,703
7,001-7,500 120,000 200,000 148,148
7,501-10,000 145,000 200,000 148,148
10,001-100,000 175,000 200,000 148,148

Just off the bat, you’ll notice that the smaller-distance awards are again much more of a bargain using Avios – not even counting the Amex transfer bonus. That holds mostly true up until the 4,000-mile mark. At that point, there’s a momentary flip-flop between 4,001-5,000 miles where Asia Miles are a lot cheaper, and then BA edges out Cathay again for a few more bands until we get to 6,501 miles.

Then at 7,001 miles and above, Asia Miles ostensibly becomes dramatically cheaper since British Airways Avios redemptions plateau at 200,000 roundtrip at this threshold whereas Asia Miles continues to differentiate between distance bands. Just the one example alone of 7,501-10,000 miles where Asia Miles will only require 145,000 miles roundtrip while you’d need 200,000 Avios is stunning – that’s a 27.5% discount. Granted, during the 35% transfer bonus you need significantly fewer Membership Rewards points to generate 200,000 Avios, but it’s still a greater number by a few thousand. As we’ll see in an example below, however, there’s more than meets the eye to these numbers and Avios actually still turn out to be a better deal.

Also remember, these tables are based on roundtrip travel and one-way awards using Asia Miles can be much more expensive. For example, though a roundtrip award on Asia Miles will cost you just 145,000 points, a one-way will cost you 85,000. On the other hand, British Airways awards are just calculated based on one-way requirements, so the roundtrip redemptions are simply double what a one-way will require. This is why you should consult the Asia Miles chart carefully before committing to a transfer.

Comparison Examples

To put this all in context, let’s take a few simple comparison examples to see when it might make sense to use which kind of miles.

Los Angeles – Honolulu on American Airlines

This has to be one of the best British Airways Avios redemptions, requiring just 25,000 Avios instead of the 35,000 miles American (and most other US airlines) will make you redeem to fly from the west coast to Hawaii. That’s because the distance on this flight is 2,556 miles, squarely within the 2,001-3,000-mile band.

Los Angeles-Honolulu Economy Award

Los Angeles-Honolulu Economy Award

Unfortunately, this same award falls within Asia Miles’ Zone C band (it misses the 2,500-mile cut-off by a mere 6 miles!) so it would require a whopping 45,000 miles – 20,000 more than with BA. Then if you factor in the Amex transfer bonus, you would only need to transfer 19,000 Amex points to BA for this award, meaning you’d save 26,000 points by using Avios instead of Asia Miles in this instance!

New York – Miami

This is another great value example of using British Airways Avios for short hauls. This roundtrip between New York LGA and Miami will only cost you 15,000 Avios (just 12,000 Membership Rewards points during the transfer bonus).

New York-Miami Economy Award

New York-Miami Economy Award

But it’ll cost you 20,000 Asia Miles. That means that during the promo period you’re saving 8,000 points by using Avios instead of Asia Miles.

Hong Kong – Chicago in Business Class

I was looking forward to calculating out this example because I expected it to show a dramatic mileage difference between using Asia Miles and Avios. However as I discussed above, the Avios award table is only really a rough estimate of requirements, and to calculate the actual number of Avios you need for a specific award, you always need to check it using the Avios Calculator on the British Airways site.

Case in point: booking a roundtrip award in business class on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Chicago, which is 7,794 miles. Based on the tables above, you would expect the award to require 145,000 Asia Miles or 200,000 British Airways Avios, giving you a clear choice.

However, after consulting the calculator and actually pricing out an award ticket using both BritishAirways.com and CathayPacific.com (with some help searching on Qantas.com.au as well since it has the best Oneworld award search engine), I found the following.

Cathay HKG awardThe award using Asia Miles would require 145,000 miles and about $354 in taxes and fees – just what I expected. However, the British Airways Avios award priced out as follows:

BA HKG awardJust 140,000 Avios plus $338 in taxes and fees instead of the 200,000 the award chart would have you believe. An even better deal!  That’s also in line with what the Avios Calculator told me when I had plugged in the city pairs and it showed me partner award requirements. And that’s not even taking into consideration the 35% Amex transfer bonus, which would mean you only need 104,000 Membership Rewards points for this redemption.

Not only that, but if you were to book just a one-way ticket, BA would charge you 70,000 Avios, but Cathay would bump your redemption up to 85,000 miles, making British Airways even more of a bargain. Then if you calculated in the 35% Amex transfer bonus, you’d need just 52,000 miles for a one-way business class award instead of 85,000 using Asia Miles, an incredible savings!

Just to compare apples to apples (and consider some fuel surcharges to boot!) I wanted to look up one final itinerary from Hong Kong to London on Cathay Pacific in business class and here’s what I found.

CP HKG LHRCathay would charge me 120,000 miles and about $620 in taxes and fees while British Airways would charge me the same 120,000 miles but only $594 in taxes and fees, slightly edging out Cathay.

BA HKG LHRSo all things are pretty much equal here – only British Airways is the one with a transfer bonus, bringing the number of Amex points you’d need to transfer down to 89,000 instead of the 120,000 you’d need on Cathay. That’s savings over over 25%, and since both sites showed the same availability and the taxes and fees on BA were even less than on Cathay, it’s a no-brainer while the transfer bonus lasts.

As with all transferable points programs, it bears looking at all the options when looking to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points and to look at all your options. There are a lot of great values to be had – especially when you’re able to take advantage of bonuses like the current 50,000-point one on the Business Gold Rewards card and then leverage them with transfer bonuses like the 35% one to British Airways.

Have you ever decided between transferring Membership Rewards to British Airways versus Cathay Pacific? What influenced your decision?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • julie davidson

    what do you think of transferring to AC if you want us-thailand with stopover somewhere along the way? or BA and or cathway better?

  • Trey

    do you know if the Chase Ultimate Rewards/ Sapphire Preferred ever offer transfer bonuses to BA Avios?

  • Corky

    UR hasn’t offered a transfer bonus to anyone in the last couple of years.

  • thepointsguy

    They have never to my knowledge

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  • Brett Van Landingham

    I can never find LGA-MIA availability. What’s the secret?

  • thepointsguy

    Search AA.com for milesaaver space and then enter those dates on BA.com. Will show up- I’ve booked many

  • RB

    Does Cathay availability automatically show up on BA Avios’ search?
    I regularly fly NYC-HKG , is there any benefit in booking directly on the Cathay website rather than through BA Avios?

  • Rob

    TPG, if you fly NYC-MIA-MAD using cathay without a stopover, do they price it like avois by adding up 2 flights OR do they just use the NYC-MAD distance?
    also, does CX allow stopovers?
    how hard is it to book CX partner awards?
    thanks!

  • Cindy

    Any tips/compare/contrast on merits and disadvantages on what happens when you need to make changes to an award ticket on Cathay when booked via Asiamiles vs. Avios?
    I ended up booking through BA/Avios due to the bonus transfer, but had a hard time getting clear info on fees/rules when canceling or altering tickets before departure and/or once the trip commenced. Also, sounds like you can waitlist for First on Asiamiles (If only business is available, which is nice since they tend to release First seats the days/week of travel) versus having to re ticket on BA if availability opens.

    I couldn’t get the return I wanted, and can’t waitlist via Avios/BA, so was advised to do two one-way tickets to make the return easier to change. $65 I think will be the fee, but that seemed worth the 56k points RT (versus 70k Asiamiles round trip), JFK-YVR.

  • http://twitter.com/freakisclassy FREAKisclassy

    I am looking to use 50k Amex MR points out of Boston. I don’t like Dublin though. ThePointsGuy, can you recommend me some good uses of those Amex MR points? I can of course ask Amex to advance me some points too but I don’t want to unless absolutely necessary.

  • asar

    Isnt the big difference that Cathay counts stopovers as part of the same trip while BA prices each leg separately?

  • Corey

    Would you say redeeming Asia Miles from a NRT-YVR is smarter than using Avios since with Avios I’d probably be flying on JAL a lot more fuel surcharge?

  • choi

    your comparisons are very accurate with point to point, however when you add segment and connecting point to other destination, CX have the edge. Ex, lax-hkg-sgn, rt on J is 145k on cathay vs 170k for avios. but with the bonus there is an advantage. without the bonus CX have a better deal if you connect with other cities

  • rob

    ? any answer?

  • Broadly

    How long does it take to transfer to Asia miles?

  • Broadly

    How long does it take to transfer to Asia miles?

  • Anuj

    Do either of these airlines offer higher availability or guaranteed seat availability for higher miles? If not, then I was wondering if someone can assist me with a list of the airlines that do so. I know UA for one does this.

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