Deciphering the New Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Award Booking Engine
The Asia Miles program underwent significant changes in June 2018, resulting in new award charts and a new website. The program has been a curiosity to me since the summer for a few reasons:
- There is still no award chart published for itineraries consisting of a single partner airline.
- The website says you can redeem miles online for Finnair, Qantas and Iberia (among others), but after dozens of searches, it's rare for the engine to produce these flight results.
- The online award engine often does not price itineraries according to the published chart for Oneworld multi-carrier award tickets. In fact, I often have no idea why the engine prices an award the way it does.
- The program's award ticket policies remain complex: multiple award levels, different routing/redemption rules (depending on which partner you'd like to fly) and flexible rules that allow multiple stopovers and open jaws. Transfers are also allowed, but that term is interpreted differently depending on the phone agent with whom you speak.
- Phone service is awful with long hold times and inept phone agents. The online booking request form has taken 21 days for me to receive a response back the last two times I submitted it, making it completely useless when trying to find and book award space.
With those changes, the program (for which I previously had high praise) annoyed me to the point where I largely abandoned it the second half of this year. However, I recently started wondering if an award chart for single partner itinerary had been published, so I reluctantly dove back into the new website to see if any nice surprises were waiting.
I wasn't disappointed.
Get to Know the New Award Booking Engine
In no particular order, here's a few tips to help you navigate the updated site and sampling of the gems I found:
1. There are two award search engines on Asiamiles.com. The default engine (the one shown when you click Flight Awards) will not populate many of the routes operated by the airlines capable of being booked online. Make sure you use this engine to look for award space on the site.
2. Depending on the airline and route you want to book, fuel surcharges with Asia Miles can be (but aren't always) painful. There's one major problem: you can't see these surcharges unless you have at least 70% of required miles for the itinerary in your account. That means if you are going to transfer in American Express Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points, you won't know the fuel surcharges unless you call (painful) or have a friend with miles in his/her account. Once you have 70% of the required miles, you can buy the remaining miles needed for your itinerary right on the award booking engine, but they're expensive.
Fuel surcharges on Qatar Airways and Qantas are rough (to the tune of $200 - $375 each way, per person). Fuel surcharges on Finnair are ~$160 per person for a transatlantic redemption, both in economy and business.
On the other hand, you can book British Airways-operated flights with Asia Miles and pay far less in fuel surcharges for premium cabin redemptions compared to booking with American miles or British Airways Avios. For the new Charleston (CHS) to London-Heathrow (LHR) flight, British Airways wants 62,500 Avios and $581.40 one way:
American Airlines has a better award rate (57,500 miles) but the same $581.40 in taxes and fees:
But Asia Miles beats those prices on both accounts, requiring 50,000 miles and ~$340, saving you over $200 out of pocket and requiring the fewest miles:
3. Iberia space doesn't show on Asia Miles' booking engine even when other Oneworld engines display plenty of space. For example, Qantas.com shows business and economy available for Iberia from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Madrid (MAD) on November 14, 2019:
Asia Miles shows nothing for business or economy:
After many attempts to get Iberia space to show, I only found one date when a non-bookable Iberia flight even showed. I have thus given up on using AsiaMiles.com to find Iberia space.
4. If circuitous flying is your preference, the Asia Miles engine doesn't discriminate between flying long distances east or west. For example, to go from New York to the Maldives, you can go via Europe, the Middle East or Asia and almost pay the same amount of miles and taxes each way:
Note the single partner itinerary of British Airways prices the same as the Cathay Pacific itinerary. However, the Qatar itinerary costs 5,000 miles more, even though the distance from New York-JFK to Male (MLE) via Doha (DOH) is only 2 miles (two!) different than routing via the two London airports. The 5,000-mile price increase over the Cathay Standard Award chart for single partner itineraries is common, but not always the case (as this example shows).
5. Don't forget that stopovers are allowed on one-way awards, but they aren't bookable online. Flying from Atlanta (ATL) to Doha (DOH), you could fly the nonstop Qatar Airways flight in business class for 75,000 miles:
Alternatively, you could fly on British Airways via London-Heathrow and stopover to see London for as long as you like. This routing would set you back the same 75,000 miles in business class, though you would need to call to book this ticket with the stopover:
6. You can book Alaska flights on the engine, but I haven't found pricing to be much better or worse versus booking with Alaska's own miles or using British Airways Avios.
The Cathay engine also seems to offer premium economy on Alaska flights for just a few thousand more miles, but no matter what route and date I searched, I never found a seat as bookable. This makes sense, as Alaska doesn't have a true premium economy cabin; the carrier's 'Premium Class' is just main cabin with early boarding, free snacks/drinks and a few inches of extra legroom.
7. The price you see at the top of the search results doesn't correlate to the actual lowest price available for single-partner bookings. Asia Miles seems to add an additional mileage surcharge to single partner tickets, but as noted above with British Airways, that is not always the case. Take a look at the Alaska results below as an example; 7,500 is not available on any date:
8. Cathay Pacific-operated flights are easy to find and book with the engine and carry little surcharges. This premium economy flight to Hong Kong (HKG) from Los Angeles (LAX) has plenty of availability on many dates. For 45,000 miles and $97, it's a solid deal.
I've got about 80,000 Asia Miles in my account at the moment. If I was going to make a plan to use them, I'd try and either fly Finnair to Europe in business with a free stopover in Helsinki for 50,000 miles one-way or take a British Airways business class flight with a free stopover in London for significantly less fuel surcharges compared to booking through other programs. I would also look at flying Cathay Pacific itself from the US to Hong Kong.
As you can see, the new award engine has plenty of quirks and nuances. Unfortunately it's not as useful as the previous version before the June changes. It's also frustrating that Iberia results simply don't show, even though the airline is advertised as bookable online. However, these limitations don't mean that Asia Miles is a program to ignore; if you're willing to invest the time, there are still plenty of good uses within reach.