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Asia Miles, the loyalty program of Hong Kong-based airlines Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, may not be first on your list of top transfer partners. After gaining a working knowledge of the program, though, you’ll probably want to utilize it more often. The program is a treasure trove of incredible award possibilities hidden underneath a complex layer of rules. Today, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Asia Miles in order to book stellar award itineraries that offer maximum value for your transferable point currencies.

Earn Asia Miles

Three transferable point currencies can be converted into Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio: American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and Starwood Starpoints. The normal SPG 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred applies.

With sky-high Platinum Card from American Express sign-up bonuses routinely appearing and the Citi Prestige offering 40,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening, it’s very easy to quickly rack up a large Asia Miles balance.

The Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card was also just released in February and offers a 25,000-mile bonus after you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days of account opening. The card offers 2x miles on Cathay Pacific spend, 1.5x miles on dining and spend outside the US and 1x on all other spending.

In addition to credit card earnings, Asia Miles has dozens of partners that allow you to earn miles. For US residents, the easiest ways to earn Asia Miles besides credit card earnings are crediting partner flights to Asia Miles (considering the earnings of your fare class), utilizing the Asia Miles iShop portal and redeeming Marriott points for travel packages that include a 7-night hotel stay and up to 85,000 miles.

The Marriott Hotel + Air travel package chart for redeeming points towards Asia miles.

Redemption Basics

Asia Miles has a host of redemption options in addition to award flights. You can redeem miles for hotel stays, car rentals, city experiences and merchandise, and you can participate in auctions or redeem miles for charity. As with most programs, using miles for award flights will give you the best value.

When it comes to redeeming Asia Miles for flights, in addition to Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, you can use miles for flights on any Oneworld member as well as Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Gulf Air, Jet Airways, Air New Zealand (Between Hong Kong and Auckland only) and Royal Brunei Airlines. Non-Oneworld members available for award redemptions have their own routing and eligibility routes, so make sure to study all of the (many) notes and charts listed on Asia Miles carefully.

There are a few unique things to know when redeeming Asia Miles for award flights:

  • Asia Miles is overly complicated. Phone agents are often unaware of all the rules, and supervisors may 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 the carrier in your itinerary.
  • You can redeem miles online at AsiaMiles.com for flights operated by Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Qantas, Finnair, Iberia, Qatar Airways and British Airways. The online engine does not show mixed class possibilities.
  • To redeem awards on other carriers, or for a combination of carriers that includes Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, British Airways, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways or Finnair, complete and submit the Airline Award Request Form. All other award bookings need to be done over the phone by calling 1-866-892-2598.
  • Fuel surcharges have declined noticeably since I first researched the program two years ago.

In addition to award flights and the other above listed options, you can use miles for upgrades on Cathay and certain Oneworld-operated flights as well as companion tickets when flying on paid airfare. You can use Asia Miles to upgrade paid Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, British Airways, and American Airlines flights. Took a look at the following notes for upgrade eligible fare classes on each of the carriers:

Cathay offers a unique redemption option with companion tickets. When purchasing one ticket with cash on Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon or British Airways, you can use Asia Miles for a companion ticket based on the following award chart broken into the same distance-based zones used for other awards:

With an intro to redemptions covered, let’s move on to award flight bookings, which will yield the best use of your Asia Miles.

The Many Award Charts and Nuances of Asia Miles

The first step in redeeming Asia Miles for award flights is ensuring you know which award chart to use for your itinerary. Asia Miles has award charts for standard awards, priority awards (including tier 1 and tier 2) and Oneworld multi-carrier awards. Here’s a rundown of each chart:

The standard award chart applies to redemptions for single or mixed (two) carrier awards. For mixed carrier awards, Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon must be included as one of the two airlines. If you’re flying a single partner airline, you use the standard award chart. If you are flying one partner and Cathay, use the standard award chart. Standard round-trip 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. For one-way flight awards with no stopover, the distance from origin to destination will count for pricing the itinerary. While the rules for standard one-way awards with a stopover state that the sum of each leg will be used for pricing, I’ll show below that that isn’t really the case.

Things get confusing when it comes to calculating which award zone an itinerary will price into. For a simple round-trip itinerary with no stopover or open jaw, your “distance in actual miles” is based only on your one-way distance. Your award price will be the economy, business or first class price listed for the length or your one-way distance, not the cumulative total distance of your itinerary. Example: Philadelphia (PHL) to Venice (VCE) is 4,248 miles in length, costing 45,000 miles one-way in business and 80,000 miles round-trip in business based on Zone C. If you insert a stopover or open jaw, your itinerary is supposed to price based on the cumulative distance of your trip, but in practice I found it priced based on the longer one-way distance between your outbound and return.

Asia Miles standard award chart

Next, the Priority Award charts offers the chance to pay more miles for Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights in order to have greater availability for the particular flights you want (much like American’s AAnytime awards). The Priority Awards Tier 1 imposes roughly a 50% premium over the standard award chart, and Priority Tier 2 imposes a 100%+ price increase compared to standard awards.

Asia Miles Priority Awards chart.

Last, the Oneworld multi-carrier award chart applies to a round-trip itinerary with two Oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is not included; or an itinerary with three or more Oneworld alliance airlines when Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is included. You can make a maximum of five stopovers, two transfers and two open jaws at either origin, en-route or turnaround point, subject to airline partners’ terms and conditions.

At first glance, the above award chart for multi-carrier redemptions is a great value because you can make five stopovers and two 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 4,001-mile itinerary.

Not all Asia Miles partners or combinations of partners are allowed in the above charts. Air China, Jet Airways and S7 cannot be included on an itinerary with a Cathay Pacific-operated flight. Aer Lingus, China Airlines, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Gulf Air, Jet Airways, and Royal Brunei Airlines cannot be used in conjunction with a Oneworld Multi-carrier award.

Maximize Redemptions

There are so many great possibilities because of the large number of partner airlines, generous routing rules and reasonable distance-based zones on the award charts. Before showing a few examples, here are the strategies I would focus on to maximize your Asia Miles:

  • One stopover allowed on one-way standard awards (excluding Air China and Iberia)
  • Two stopovers and one open jaw allowed on standard awards
  • Five stopovers and two open-jaws allowed on Oneworld multi-carrier awards
  • Transatlantic business class one-way for 45,000 miles (with possible stopover) on itineraries less than 5,000 miles (excluding Iberia and Finnair which must be round-trip, costing 80,000 miles)

WARNING: Asia Miles award redemption rules are very confusing, even for Asia Miles phone agents and supervisors. Some interpret stopovers and open jaws differently. Some agents count routine layovers as one of the stopovers. To avoid a hassle, book itineraries online or be persistent in phone calls.

Here are some example itineraries to maximize Asia Miles:

Itinerary/Length/Class of Service: Chicago-Helsinki-Chicago/4,436 miles one-way/business
Carrier(s): Finnair
Award Chart: Standard
Cost: 80,000 miles and $305 (remember your award zone is based on the one-way distance)

Itinerary/Length/Class of Service: Los Angeles-Hong Kong-Sydney/7,488 miles/premium economy
Carrier(s): Cathay Pacific
Award Chart: Standard
Cost: 48,000 miles and $140

Because there is no stopover in the itinerary, Asia Miles prices the ticket based on the distance from origin (LAX) to destination (SYD). This means you only pay 8,000 more miles to fly Cathay Pacific premium economy compared to economy for the transpacific journey.

Itinerary/Length/Class of Service: New York-Madrid-Rome-Berlin (open jaw) Vienna-Dusseldorf-New York/9,402/business
Carrier(s): Ibera, Air Berlin
Award Chart: Oneworld multi-carrier
Cost: 95,000 miles + $400

See five European cities all in business class from New York and back to Chicago for 95,000 miles. Important to note in this itinerary is a one-way JFK-MAD on Iberia which technically isn’t allowed according to Asia Miles rules. However, if the segment is part of a Oneworld multi-carrier itinerary, you can book Iberia one-way. There are three stopovers in MAD, FCO and DUS with an open jaw from TXL to VIE. Use the British Airways award search engine to find Oneworld member availability. You could further maximize this itinerary with a second open jaw as long as you stayed under 10,000 miles for the whole itinerary length.

Itinerary/Length/Class of Service: Dallas-Maui (open-jaw) Kona-Los Angeles (stopover) Los Angeles-Dallas/3,711 one way/economy
Carrier(s): American
Award Chart: Standard (priced on cumulative itinerary length)
Cost: 45,000 miles + $11.20

I was surprised this priced as 45,000 miles. Asia Miles is pricing the itinerary based on the distance of 3,711 miles from DFW-OGG (or the KOA-DFW return). The program terms and conditions are specific that once you add a stopover the total cost is supposed to be based on the cumulative distance of all the segments. However I confirmed twice with the call center this was indeed the cost. This leads to a fantastic itinerary of two Hawaiian islands and a stopover in Los Angeles for 45,000 miles.

Itinerary/Length/Class of Service: Boston-Shannon (open-jaw) Donegal-Dublin-Boston/6,028/economy
Carrier(s): Aer Lingus
Award Chart: Standard (priced on one-way distance BOS-SNN)
Cost: 45,000 miles + $34

See the majority of Ireland for 45,000 miles with this Aer Lingus transatlantic hop. The open jaw between Shannon and Donegal (CFN) gives you the ability to fly and see the rest of Europe and then pick up your return home by flying from Glasgow to Donegal, a route also operated by Aer Lingus.

The above examples only really scratch the surface. Pick any Oneworld carrier and try to find an itinerary under 5,000 miles in length with multiple stopovers. You can see South America (and surrounding islands) on LATAM or hop all over Southeast Asia using Cathay and Malaysian Airlines all for 45,000-mile itineraries with five stopovers. One of my favorite additional options I found is the ability to route back to North America from Europe via Hong Kong for no extra miles.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of rules and ambiguities you have to become familiar with in the program in order to maximize your miles. However, once you have a working knowledge, the possibilities of amazing itineraries are only limited by award seat availability. Here’s a recap of the tendencies I found while completing multiple award searches and phone calls with Asia Miles:

  • Agents can price itineraries without finding available flights. This is huge, as it prevents you and the agent from wasting time finding availability if all you want is to price an itinerary or find if your routing is allowed.
  • Partner award pricing is not understood by the phone reps. They do seem to have the power to manually adjust partner pricing, but it takes a special agent to listen and understand what you are saying as justification.
  • Some agents will allow open jaws on different continents while some will tell you it isn’t possible and won’t even try to input it in their system. One agent allowed me to make a DFW-HKG/CDG-DFW itinerary while another wouldn’t even try. (The itinerary priced based on the DFW-HKG distance.)
  • Asia Miles agents can book any American flight you see that has saver availability.
  • Your experience will really vary based on your Asia Miles agent. Many can fly through building an itinerary while others are painfully slow and aloof. You have to routinely educate agents on all Asia Miles partner airlines. Tell them the IATA code of a partner airline (ex.: EI for Aer Lingus) and they can then for some reason see the partnership.

Asia Miles represents an opportunity where sincere effort is rewarded with equivalent prizes. Some itineraries are easy to book online that yield great value, so I’d recommend starting there before moving on to itineraries only bookable over the phone.

Have you used Asia Miles to book partner award tickets?

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