Cathay Pacific Devalues Many Award Flights, Makes Other Big Changes to Asia Miles

May 24, 2018

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Cathay Pacific announced significant changes to its Asia Miles frequent flyer program on Thursday morning, overhauling how points are both earned and redeemed. The changes will take effect on June 22, 2018.

While US-based travelers may not be intimately familiar with the program from the Hong Kong-based airline, Asia Miles is a transfer partner with Citi ThankYou Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, and has been a solid option for booking Oneworld award itineraries.

Let’s take a look at the changes in the way flyers will earn miles on flights and redeem them for award tickets.

Earning Asia Miles

Mileage earning in Asia Miles will now be based on a combination of cabin class, fare class and distance zone, instead of purely on the actual distance you fly. While Cathay isn’t directly mimicking other revenue-based frequent flyer programs with these changes, the fare class and ticket price tend to go hand-in-hand, so there’s an element of price in this. But since the fare classes are grouped in the revised program (as they are somewhat in the current program), it won’t be a direct relationship between what you pay and how many miles you earn.

Here’s the new earning chart in its entirety:

Mileage earning used to be based on a percentage of the actual distance flown, with that percentage determined by your fare class (though there were only two fare class groupings for economy tickets):

Asia Miles current earning scheme, which will end on June 22, 2018.

Asia Miles has created a page that will show you how many miles you’ll earn under the new system based on your cabin class, route and fare class. It demonstrates that, in some cases, you’ll actually earn more with the new program than under the current one.

For instance, on the Hong Kong (HKG) to New York (JFK) flight in economy with an S, N or Q fare, you’ll earn over 2,000 additional miles with the new system:

But if you’re traveling on a M, L or V fare, you’ll be earning slightly less:

Cathay claims that 80% of its routes will actually net passengers more miles, and that seems to be relatively accurate after playing around with its calculator tool. Miles earned from flights on partner airlines will remain unchanged, and will still be calculated on the distance flown, cabin and fare class.

Redeeming Asia Miles

Now for the bad news. It’s going to take more miles to fly in Cathay Pacific premium cabins on routes to the US. Although there are some shorter routes that will go down in price, that mostly applies if you’re flying in the Oceania region.

Asia Miles currently prices one-way awards differently from round-trip awards — you can get a discount when redeeming for a round-trip. But the new award chart will get rid of that discount and price all awards on a one-way basis, meaning a round-trip will simply be double the price of a one-way. The number of distance zones is also being dropped from seven to six.

Here’s the new award chart for flights operated by Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon

Previously on the New York to Hong Kong route, a seat in business class would cost 85,000 miles one-way or 145,000 miles round-trip. One-way awards are staying the same at 85,000 miles, but you’ll be losing the round-trip discount, with the cost increasing to 170,000 miles.

Here’s Asia Miles’ current award chart for comparison:

There are some silver linings. Economy awards are going down in some cases — for instance, Hong Kong to Tokyo (NRT) will go from 20,000 miles one-way in economy to 10,000 one-way, and a round-trip redemption drops from 30,000 to 20,000 miles. Also, in some cases, the one-way price will drop while the round-trip price doesn’t. For instance, a one-way economy ticket from Hong Kong to Los Angeles (LAX) falls from 40,000 miles to 30,000 miles, but round-trip prices stay the same at 60,000 miles.

Asia Miles also will have two other award charts for peak pricing — Choice and Tailored awards — which replace the current Priority awards. The rates for most of these flights are going up too, as are the rates for many premium cabin redemptions. Cathay also says they’ll be increasing award availability by 20%, though it will be hard to verify whether that actually comes to fruition and for what type of awards.

Business class on Cathay Pacific’s A350. (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)

Asia Miles also has multiple partner charts that apply to itineraries on its Oneworld partners such as American or Japan Airlines. We’ve seen that you can create some amazing itineraries on some of these charts, allowing you to get massive value from Asia miles. While we don’t yet have revised charts for single-partner airline itineraries (Cathay plans to release more details on partner routes on June 22), unfortunately, the multi-partner chart has been devalued as well.

Here’s the new Oneworld multi-carrier award redemption chart:

 And the existing chart for comparison:

As you can see, long-distance premium cabin awards will require more miles. For instance, Zone 9 awards (covering redemptions from 14,001-18,000 miles in length) will increase from 135,000 miles to 155,000 miles for business class. First class is hit even harder, rising from 190,000 miles to a whopping 250,000 miles. Economy award increases aren’t quite as bad, but a number will also require more miles.

Flights to Europe will be hit too. For instance, a round-trip from JFK to Barcelona (BCN) falls into award Zone 6, currently costing 85,000 miles in business, which is an incredible value. That will go up to 100,000 miles round-trip, which isn’t horrible compared to other programs, but still damages this sweet spot.

Finally redeeming miles for upgrades will also increase in cost — in some cases you’ll be paying 60% more. You also won’t be able to use miles to upgrade on partners like American or British Airways.

Bottom Line

When trying to maximize your points and miles, you’re usually going to be getting the most value when redeeming for long-haul premium cabin awards, so it’s unfortunate to see Asia Miles devalue this part of its program, both on its own aircraft and its Oneworld partners. Granted, the devaluation isn’t completely horrible and could have been worse. There are some silver linings: cheaper economy awards on certain routes, the likelihood that you’ll actually be earning more Asia Miles on paid tickets than you were before and the uncertain promise that we’ll see more award availability. But we’ll also have to wait and see what happens with the single-partner chart when it comes out.

If you want to redeem miles at the old rate, you have until June 22 to do so, and if you’re looking for other ways to book Cathay award flights, you still have the option to use other mileage programs like Alaska or American. Alaska charges just 50,000 miles for a one-way business award and 70,000 miles for first class between North America and Asia. That’s about as good as it gets, and it’s an incredible redemption no matter how you slice it. Other Oneworld programs like British Airways Avios can still provide great value for flights within the US as well.

Featured image of Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.

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