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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.
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:
And here is the British Airways/Iberia Avios redemption 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)|
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)|
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.
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.
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).
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.
Just 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.
So 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?
Know before you go.
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