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Citi ThankYou Rewards has stepped up over the past year by introducing new benefits to the program’s credit cards and improving its array of airline transfer partners. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr looks at award opportunities on several of those partners to see what kind of value they offer.
Citi recently released some great new offers for cards in the ThankYou Rewards program, including a limited time offer for the Citi ThankYou Premier Card of 50,000 points (after spending $3,000 in the first three months), plus a similar offer for the Citi Prestige Card. Naturally, interest in the program spikes when offers like this come out, and the TPG team has been getting more questions about how to make use of ThankYou points.
After looking last week at how to maximize Citi ThankYou redemptions, I got to wondering why so many have written off the lesser known ThankYou Rewards airline transfer partners. I admit that I had only a cursory understanding of some of the programs, like EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, so I decided to investigate further. In this post I’ll begin my two part analysis of these transfer partners by looking at Cathay Pacific and EVA Air to see what hidden gems I can find.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Oneworld member and Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific utilizes distance-based award charts for its Asia Miles program. Off the bat, there are a few things to know when redeeming Asia Miles:
- Like many frequent flyer programs today, Asia Miles is overly complicated. Phone agents are unaware of all the rules, and supervisors contradict what is clearly written on the Asia Miles website.
- There are multiple award charts depending on how many airlines are involved in your itinerary, and whether Cathay Pacific or Dragon Air is one of those airlines.
- You can redeem award flights online only for Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Qantas, and British Airways.
- You can use miles to fly non-Oneworld members Alaskan Air, Gulf Air, Aer Lingus, Air China, Royal Brunei, Jet Airways, and Air New Zealand.
- Fuel surcharges can be fierce, but there are ways to avoid them.
Asia Miles has award charts for standard awards, priority awards tier 1, priority awards tier 2, and Oneworld multi-carrier awards. Priority awards imply that by paying more miles, you’ll have greater availability for the particular flights you want (like American Airlines AAnytime awards).
Standard awards allow 2 stopovers, 2 transfers, or 1 open jaw unless you’re flying exclusively on Air China or Iberia, which allow no stopovers or open jaws. To qualify for a standard award, you can only use 2 airline partners.
At first glance, the above award chart for multi-carrier awards seems like a great value. You can make 5 stopovers and 2 open jaws. The chart is priced lower than the standard award chart, and moving up an award zone doesn’t necessarily mean a large increase in the number of miles required. For example, an economy award that covers 4,000 miles is only slightly more expensive than one that covers 1,000 miles. The same goes for a 10,000 mile itinerary versus a 4,000 mile itinerary.
Where it gets confusing is knowing which chart you qualify for. I called to get a price for a Madrid-Berlin-Dusseldorf-Rome-Madrid itinerary on Oneworld airlines Iberia and Air Berlin. I had 2 Oneworld alliance airlines and 3 stopovers on my round-trip itinerary. In my interpretation, this award should clearly fall within the multi-carrier award chart, which states that “This awards chart is applicable when you redeem a round-trip award ticket with an itinerary which covers: Two oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Dragonair is not included.” I used Air Berlin and Iberia round-trip from Madrid, so I should be good.
However, the phone agent and supervisor said a multi-carrier ticket must include a Cathay Pacific or Dragon Air flight; therefore, I had a standard award and was only allowed 2 stopovers. I read the website to them, was put on hold several times, and even had my call dropped, but I did eventually get a price of 35,000 miles and $121 in carrier imposed surcharges.
This price correlates with the multi-carrier award chart. I was still told the ticketing department would have to approve the itinerary, and that I should expect an email. I thought the $121 wasn’t too bad for my itinerary, which I could have maximized further to get closer to the next award zone without going over the 4,000 mile threshold.
Avoiding fuel surcharges with Asia Miles means using the same strategies you’d employ when redeeming British Airways Avios. Awards on domestic American Airlines flights, Air Berlin, Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines, and LAN/TAM should all be surcharge free, and there are reports that Air New Zealand qualifies as well. An itinerary out of Boston to visit Dublin, Berlin, and Rome in business class on Aer Lingus and Air Berlin comes in at 8,719 miles, and therefore would only cost 85,000 Asia Miles.
All things equal, I do see some potential to find great round-trip itineraries if you can get on the multi-carrier award chart. Flying 9,000 miles in business class to 5 stopovers and a destination for only 85,000 ThankYou points seems like a fantastic way to explore Europe and avoid fuel surcharges with Air Berlin and Aer Lingus.
Distance-based award charts like Asia Miles are great for flying to destinations that are close together, but are classified in different regions on other programs. An example for me (living in Japan), Tokyo – Guam is only a 3 hour flight, but region-based award charts charge me for a flight from Asia to Oceania or North America (depending on the program).
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
Star Alliance member and Taiwanese carrier EVA Air operates region-based award charts. TPG Senior Points and Miles contributor Jason Steele covered EVA’s program last year, and concluded that its award chart is beaten most of the time by fellow Citi transfer partner and Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines. EVA’s award chart for flights on its own metal is not very generous, with round-trip economy flights between Taipei and the US starting at 100,000 miles.
I wouldn’t recommend transferring ThankYou points to EVA for its own flights. However, you might consider redeeming Infinity MileageLand miles for some Star Alliance itineraries.
When I dig into an airline’s program for the first time looking for value, I always start in the same place. If the program has a region-based award chart (as EVA does), then I look at how those regions are defined, and how much flights cost between destinations in the same region.
Round-trip flights within North Asia only cost 30,00 miles in economy or 55,000 miles in business. EVA also allows 2 stop-overs and an open-jaw on Star Alliance Award flights. Those rules plus broad region definitions should get you excited. You could visit 3 Pacific Islands and two Asian capitals in business class for 55,000 miles on United and Asiana — for example, Tokyo – Guam (stopover) – Saipan (open-jaw), followed by Palau – Seoul (stopover) – Tokyo. A Saipan-Palau ticket will set you back 12,500 United miles to cover your open-jaw leg.
The long pole in the tent is the booking process, which must be done over the phone. Use United.com to find availability, and then call EVA’s Infinity MileageLands call center in the US (East Coast) at 1-646-278-6060 or Taiwan at +886-2-25017899. EVA charges $172 in fuel surcharges on its own transpacific round-trip flights, and even after a few calls to the call center I’m still not sure which “carrier-imposed surcharges” would end up on any given itinerary.
Intra-Europe flights are priced the same at 30,000 for economy and 55,000 for business. Europe covers Iceland to Russia as far as EVA is concerned. With 2 stopovers, an open-jaw, and all the Star Alliance flights in Europe, you could see a lot for 30,000 Citi ThankYou points. Here’s an example itinerary visiting Istanbul, Rome, Frankfurt, Berlin, and Copenhagen for 55,000 miles in business on Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and SAS:
Another interesting option is North America to a very unique “Hawaii, Central America” region for 80,000 miles round-trip in business. This definition puts the Caribbean and Hawaii in the same region. I came up with an itinerary I believe falls within all of EVA’s (complex) rules to fly from San Francisco to see Hawaii, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Toronto all for 80,000 EVA miles in business. It depends on whether EVA counts Hawaii as the same nation as the US even though they’re in different regions.
This is a complicated itinerary and would take some careful planning, but it can be done. The point is that EVA deserves some attention as a ThankYou transfer partner, as there are some gems in the Star Alliance award chart. If you’re willing to do some research and spend time on the phone, in the end you can get some great value from your points.
It’s always a great idea to do your own research on what may be deemed as obscure or less desirable programs. I wouldn’t go out of my way to earn miles with EVA or Cathay Pacific, but I definitely think you can come up with fantastic itineraries that would be difficult to find at an equal or better price elsewhere.
Booking may be a cumbersome process, but I guarantee when you’re in business class on your way to your second of five stopovers, you won’t be thinking about the time you spent on the phone with Asia Miles.
Keep an eye out for the next post in this series, where I’ll look at more of the less popular Citi ThankYou transfer partners in Asia, including Thai Royal Orchid Plus, Garuda Indonesia Garuda Miles, and the Malaysian Airlines Enrich program.
What experiences have you had using ThankYou points to book awards on Cathay Pacific and EVA?