Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: Cathay Pacific has extended the transfer bonus until February 28, 2017!
In this post, Million Mile Secrets contributor Andy digs into the limited-time 30% transfer bonus from hotel points to Cathay Pacific!
Andy: I explained how Cathay Pacific’s great redemption scheme and liberal routing rules allow folks to see more places on the same ticket. And until December 31, 2016, you can get a 30% Asia Miles bonus for transferring your hotel points.
Specifically, folks with Starwood points can do very well! Because you can transfer Starwood points to Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific) at a good ratio.
Many folks have complained about how hard it is to redeem a Cathay Pacific award. So Million Mile Secrets contributor Andy set out on a mission to find out if Cathay Pacific deserves this reputation.
Redeeming Cathay Pacific Miles
Link: Why This Obscure 30% Transfer Bonus = Big Travel (Valid until December 31, 2016)
Andy: The Asia Miles program is amazing. It lets you have up to 5 stopovers for the same mile price as a simple round-trip flight. Of course, it will add taxes and fees as you fly more airlines and visit more cities. But it’ll still cost you much less than flying to each place separately. And it’ll save you a huge amount of flying.
This is not my first time dealing with Cathay Pacific, as I’ve successfully used their miles before. There are 3 ways of booking a Cathay Pacific award flight. And each has its own advantages.
1. Go to AsiaMiles.com
If you have a simple flight in mind, such as a one-way or round-trip journey, you can redeem online for these airlines:
- Cathay Pacific
- Cathay Dragon
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- Qantas Airways
- Qatar Airways
Just log on to the Asia Miles Booking Site and enter your travel information.
After you click “Search,” you’ll see available flights.
Choose the flights with the cheapest cash outlay. In our case it will be 1,172 Hong Kong Dollars or ~$150. Other flights are more expensive because they have segments on partners hungry for fuel surcharges, such as British Airways.
After you click “Continue,” you’ll be taken to the next screen to finalize your booking.
Booking a simple flight on a partner airline is equally easy. Here is a result of requesting a flight to Doha on Qatar.
However, you can NOT book your flight online if:
- The airline is not one of the Cathay Pacific partners bookable online
- You request any itinerary other than a simple one-way or round-trip flight
If that’s the case, there is another option…filling out an online form.
2. Complete an Online Airline Award Request Form
You can redeem your award via an online form. It’s very easy, and Cathay Pacific is actually great at getting back to you, usually on the next day (this is true for phone calls, as well).
It’ll work great if the award you want is more complex than the online booking allows – yet not so complex that it would require a telephone call.
Go to the Asia Miles website and log-in, then hover your mouse over “Redeem Miles” and click “Flight Awards” in the drop-down menu.
Scroll down until you see “Flight Awards — Redeem through Airline Award Request Form” and click the link inside.
The next page gives you an option to send its request to Cathay Pacific.
I wouldn’t risk using the Request Form for a flight with a Business or First Class long-haul request, because award seats may disappear at any moment. Because this is exactly what happened with my request (luckily, it was just a test booking).
Whether you call or use the online Request Form, you have to do your homework. First, find available seats. If you don’t have ExpertFlyer, the most accurate way to gauge available oneworld award seats is the British Airways website. It’s very important to record all the information including the flight numbers and departure times.
This is my Request Form.
You don’t have to write down the airline codes. You also don’t need to fill out both flight number and departure time. Use either one. I just wanted to keep this screenshot for my records.
If you don’t find available seats first, and Cathay Pacific agents don’t find the alternatives, you will have to send email messages back and forth with no end in sight. So, it’s very important to find the award seats first, then send in the form.
Because I didn’t have the miles anyway, this is the response I received (and it was predictable).
Thank you for contacting The Marco Polo Club Service Centre.
This is to let you know that your preferred itinerary Los Angeles – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur – Narita – Los Angeles requires 135,000 Asia Miles per person for a oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards (zone 9) Business Class award ticket.
Unfortunately you do not currently have at least 70% of the required mileage to top up your account in order to redeem this award. Therefore, we are sorry that we are unable to process your request.
There are 2 important takeaways from this response.
- They correctly calculated the mileage
- They had no objections to the award’s validity
But I also needed to know the cash component. So, I responded asking for more information.
I’ve been trying to figure out the validity and cost of this route. I have hundreds of thousands of American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points that I’m ready to transfer to Asia Miles immediately.
I just need to know two things:
- Is the routing and the number of stopovers in my itinerary valid for a oneworld award?
- What’s the cost in miles and cash for taxes and fees?
Along with this email, I also contacted Asia Miles Member Services with a separate email. I used the online form, but I think a simple email would get there too.
In that message, I copied the text above and enclosed the screenshot of my itinerary. Good thing I did, because the only response I received was from Member Services, and it was longer and more detailed.
In the first part of the message they explained the difference between the Asia Miles chart and oneworld chart. In the second part, they gave me the information I requested. I’m leaving out some non-essential parts.
Thank you for contacting the Asia Miles Service Centre. We also acknowledged the receipt of your previous email.
Regarding your award request, there are no award seats currently available on your preferred flights and dates and our partner airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Japan Airlines, do not operate a waiting list for award seats. I have also checked alternative flights and dates close to those you have requested (+/- 2days) but could not find anything suitable.
Meanwhile, we would like to explain that the award tickets need to be issued immediately once bookings are confirmed. Although we understand you will transfer your credit card points to your Asia Miles account, you do not currently have sufficient miles in your account to redeem a Round trip Business Class ticket for route Los Angeles – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo – Los Angeles. This requires 135,000 Asia Miles per person.
For your information, payment of approximately HKD 3,080 per person for the airport and security taxes as well as for the fuel surcharge would be required for a Round trip Business Class award ticket for route Los Angeles – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo – Los Angeles.
There are 3 important takeaways from this email.
- The Member Services correctly calculated the mileage cost of the itinerary
- The cost outlay for this ticket is 3,080 Hong Kong Dollars or ~$397 – quite reasonable for a Business Class award ticket that includes 4 stopovers
- 2 segments became unavailable in 1 day – Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo on Malaysia Airlines and Tokyo to Los Angeles on Japan Airlines
3. Call Cathay Pacific
If you have a complex or time-sensitive itinerary that includes Business and First Class long-haul travel, you’re better off redeeming your award on the phone. While using the online form is easier, award seats can disappear before the agent in Hong Kong starts to work on your itinerary.
There have been a lot of data points about redeeming miles on the phone with Cathay Pacific agents on Flyertalk. I also had less than stellar experiences with them in the past.
But either they’ve upped their game, or maybe I asked the right questions, because out of 4 calls, I only had one semi-clueless agent, and even that was a win, because I managed to turn him around.
I wanted to check the numbers I received via their Members Services first, so I tried 2 Cathay Pacific numbers:
- Hong Kong: +852-2747-3838
- US: 866-892-2598
Note: If you call the Hong Kong office, the best bet is to dial from the landline phone (add 011) or cellphone (add “+”). If you use a calling card, you might not be able to choose the selection (the system prompts you to press “1” to speak English, and this function may not work with a calling card). Calling the Hong Kong number appeared to be free for me when dialed from my T-Mobile cellphone, but YMMV.
I’d recommend trying the US number first, as it may work for you just fine.
A. This Call Almost Went Awry
I hadn’t been very successful with the Cathay Pacific US Call Center in the past, so I started with the Hong Kong Center. Perhaps it wasn’t a good time, because after listening to nice music for half an hour, I gave up and dialed the US number. This time I didn’t have to wait at all.
I gave the agent my itinerary with dates and flight numbers: Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo and back to Los Angeles with stopovers in each city. He stopped me at “Kuala Lumpur” and said it couldn’t be done because only 2 stopovers were allowed.
I knew right away that he was quoting the “Single or Mixed 2 Carrier Awards Chart” rules instead of the “oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart” rules and asked him to try and check the oneworld chart. He repeated that only 2 stopovers were allowed. He was very polite, so even if he’d been annoyed with me – I wouldn’t have known. 🙂
I told him again that there were 2 charts, and he was looking at the wrong one, but it didn’t make a dent.
I was ready for HUACA (Hang Up And Call Again), but decided to try one more time. I told him I was confused (I wasn’t) and slowly read him the oneworld chart rules from the Asia Miles website. You can find them at the bottom of the page.
The awards zone is determined by the actual miles flown in all of the sectors of your itinerary.
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.
Then I asked if they had changed the rules recently, because I was reading that on Cathay Pacific’s own website.
He finally relented and asked if he could put me on hold. When he got back, he apologized, confirmed that up to 5 stopovers were allowed and asked for my phone number to call me back.
Somebody did call next day (although I’m not sure it was him) and confirmed the validity of my award. This time all segments were available, although they gave me a slightly different cash summary. It was 3,144 Hong Kong Dollars or ~$405 instead of the 3,080 Hong Kong Dollars or ~$397 that I had received in the email.
B. This Call Took Less Than 5 Minutes
On the same day, I made another call and got rerouted to the Manila office. I had a a simple Cathay Pacific Business Class itinerary: San Francisco to Hong Kong (stopover) to Hanoi (stopover), then back to San Francisco via Hong Kong. The whole conversation took ~5 minutes, and the agent correctly quoted 120,000 Cathay Pacific miles for the whole trip.
C. These Calls Went Fine
Next I called the Hong Kong and US offices about a oneworld ticket to Europe. Getting a reasonably priced Business Class Cathay Pacific multi-stop European award can be tough because:
- Cathay Pacific adds fuel surcharges to almost every airline except Air Berlin
- Iberia has mild fuel surcharges but Cathay Pacific rules explicitly prohibit stopovers on Iberia
- I was trying to get the maximum value (5 stopovers) and keep the cost under 100,000 miles (10,000 actual flying miles)
I was finally able to put together the following itinerary, with stopovers in each city:
- New York (JFK) to Dusseldorf on Air Berlin in Business Class
- Dusseldorf to London (Heathrow) on British Airways in Business Class
- London (Heathrow) to Paris (Orly) on British Airways in Business Class
- Paris (Charles de Gaulle) to Vienna on Air Berlin in coach
- Vienna to Berlin on Air Berlin in coach
- Berlin to New York (JFK) on Air Berlin in Business Class
You probably won’t have a problem getting a ticket with Air Berlin in coach, but finding trans-atlantic Air Berlin Business Class award seats is not easy. So when you do, you need to build your itinerary around it if you want to avoid fuel surcharges.
This is a Business Class award ticket with 5 stopovers in European cities: Dusseldorf, London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin. And it costs only 95,000 Cathay Pacific miles.
I confirmed the mileage cost with both the Hong Kong and US Call Centers. The call with the Hong Kong office took less than 15 minutes, while the conversation with the US office took about an hour as the agent put me on hold a few times.
They also quoted different cash amounts. The Hong Kong office quoted 2,600 Hong Kong Dollars or ~$335, while the US office quoted $395. In any case, the discrepancy wouldn’t have been big enough to kill the deal.
There is no reason to be scared of phone booking. And I wouldn’t hesitate trying the US phone number first. Just find the flights first and be proactive.
Tell them right away that you have found your itinerary and feed them the information. Be very friendly but firm. Also, keep the Cathay Pacific award chart website open while you call, so you can immediately correct the agent if he or she is mistaken.
Cathay Pacific has generous award charts and some of the best routing rules in the industry, so folks shouldn’t hesitate to use them to their advantage. There are a few ways to book Cathay Pacific award flights:
- Cathay Pacific best values are in round-trip Business Class awards with multiple stopovers
- Online booking works great for simple one-way or round-trip flights on certain airlines.
- The online request form is easy to use for all airlines or complex bookings, but award seats can disappear at any moment
- Phone booking is the ultimate way to get a complex award itinerary, but it can take time and more than one call
- There is no reason to be intimidated by a phone call. Just do your homework and be friendly and confident!
What do you think about Cathay Pacific booking options? Have you tried, and what was your experience?