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Cathay Pacific ‘Revalues’ Asia Miles from June: The Good and Bad

All the details of Cathay Pacific's upcoming changes to Asia Miles

CX B77W (Cathay Pacific).jpg

We mentioned in our recent article just a couple of weeks ago regarding UOB’s 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles to tread carefully as we’d heard rumours of an upcoming devaluation of the scheme. Today, Asia Miles – Cathay Pacific’s awards program, announced a major shake-up in the way miles are earned and used, with the most significant changes coming for those booking their award redemption tickets on or after 22nd June 2018.

Sadly it’s not uncommon in recent times to see major frequent flyer schemes making significant changes to either devalue your miles or make it more difficult to achieve those aspirational first and business class bookings on premium routes. In fact, Singapore Airlines devalued their KrisFlyer scheme back in March 2017 – the effects of which were steep increases on certain high-value routes like Singapore to Europe and the USA.

Here’s the low down on the changes and how we expect them to affect you if you’re a big user of Asia Miles.

Major Changes

  • Redemption changes to take effect from 22nd June 2018.
  • Earning rates no longer based on just mileage and will now include cabin, fare class and distance zones, effective immediately on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights.
  • Economy award seats will be generally be cheaper to redeem.
  • Business and First Class award seats will generally be more expensive to redeem.
  • Upgrade Awards are hardest hit with steep increases in many cases.
  • Pay a lot more miles to ‘force’ award availability in all classes on all flights with a new ‘Tailored Award’ category.

Earning Rates

Earning rates were previously based on mileage flown with percentage increments based on the class of cabin travel. Now a third element will be included: ‘Fare Class’, previously only assessed for earning purposes for Economy Class tickets but now also a factor for the other travel classes.

Fare class (sometimes referred to as ‘fare codes’) are usually a single letter assigned to your ticket that indicates, amongst other things, how much money was paid and what flexibility they carry.

Earning Table
The new Asia Miles earning chart by ‘Distance Zone’ (examples based on flights to/from Hong Kong)

On the earning side Asia Miles have stated that you’ll “earn more miles on 80% of Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon tickets”. A nice positive headline so let’s take a look at some examples to see if the numbers match the rhetoric.

Take the example of a Singapore to Hong Kong ticket in Business Class. Prior to the change the earned miles for this 1,587-mile trip would have been 1,990 miles. Now you’ll earn 2,500 miles or 2,700 miles depending on the fare class booked (a 26% increase or 36% increase respectively).

For the same trip in Economy the earn rates changes are:

Fare Class Miles Earned Change
Old New
S, N, Q 398 1,000 + 151%
M, L, V 1,592 1,800 + 13%
Y, B, H, K 1,592 2,000 + 26%

Again in all cases the miles earned are higher under the new system for this route.

What about a long-haul flight though? Let’s say you were booked on a full-fare ticket from New York to Hong Kong. In Business Class you’d previously have earned 10,074 miles for the trip – that’s now either 10,880 miles (+8%) for the cheaper business fares or 11,750 miles (+17%) for the more expensive tickets.

For the same trip in Economy the earn rates changes are:

Fare Class Miles Earned Change
Old New
S, N, Q 2,015 4,350 + 116%
M, L, V 8,059 7,830 – 3%
Y, B, H, K 8,059 8,700 + 8%

Here the ‘middle’ fare groups M, L and V actually lose out slightly on the earning scale, while once again the cheapest Economy Class tickets benefit the most and there is still some advantage at the top end too.

For Asia Miles earning through paid flight tickets therefore we found the changes are largely positive.

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Wondering how many Asia Miles she’ll earn for this trip? The good news is it’s likely to be more than before (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

Spending Rates

The value of an Asia Mile is predicated on what it can give you on the award redemption side, so this is naturally the bigger focus of the changes. That’s especially true if, like most of our readers, you accrue Asia Miles through credit card spending rather than flying on paid tickets which means it will be difficult for you to take advantage of any increased earning rates but you’ll be fully exposed to increased redemption costs.

First the good news (and it’s not in ‘First’, sorry). Economy Class redemptions are either fixed at the same rates as before or will actually reduce in cost. A good example, Singapore to Hong Kong return in Economy Class, will now set you back 20,000 Asia Miles instead of 30,000 miles. That’s a 33% reduction.

Singapore to Bangkok is also down by 33% – 10,000 Asia Miles each way from 15,000 miles previously.

Note this applies to Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon redemptions. Certain oneworld carrier awards and partner awards will cost more, even in Economy Class.

Now some bad news – one of the nicer perks of Asia Miles was that round-trip redemptions came in slightly cheaper (in miles terms) than two one-way redemptions. That meant it always made sense to book a return award ticket if you could.

The round-trip redemption miles discount is gone and a return trip using Asia Miles will now cost exactly double the one-way award cost. To be fair, this is brought in line with every other frequent flyer scheme we can think of – hardly surprising that one was for the chopping block.

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Premium cabins like First Class and Business Class (pictured) bear the brunt of the redemption cost rises, especially on long-haul routes

Here are the new Standard Award rates by zone:

Standard Awards New.jpg

Standard, Choice and Tailored Awards

Until now, Asia Miles reward availability has been relatively simple. Either a ‘Standard Award’ was available, or a more costly ‘Priority Award’, or nothing at all. If it’s available you then can choose to pay entirely with points, or part pay with points.

Now you will have three options for redemptions.

Award Availability

Effectively ‘Priority Award’ has been renamed ‘Choice Award’ (a bit like the Singapore Airlines ‘Advantage Award’), and ‘Tailored Award’ is a new more expensive level which has been added to unlock an award seat on any cabin on any flight, but which will be in line with the applicable ticket cost and will therefore realise the least value per mile.

Unless you are earning more Asia Miles than you can spend, for example through extensive work travel, the ‘Tailored Award’ isn’t likely to be something you’ll want to spend your miles on.

Note that for each redemption type, Asia Miles is promising progressively more availability (as you pay more points). For ‘Choice Award’ and ‘Tailored Award’ tickets seats are available an extra week in advance than for ‘Standard Award’ ones – 360 days instead of 353 days before travel.

Advance seat reservation on award tickets is not available for Economy Class redemptions, except for the ‘Tailored Award’ category.

For those regularly using Asia Miles to redeem Standard Award tickets from Singapore to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, here are the changes.

Singapore to Hong Kong Standard Award (one-way)

Class Miles Needed
One-way Change
Old New
Economy 20,000 10,000 – 50%
Premium 24,000 18,000 – 25%
Business 30,000 25,000 – 17%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business

Hong Kong to Singapore Award (return)

Class Miles Needed
Return Change
Old New
Economy 30,000 20,000 – 33%
Premium 36,000 36,000
Business 50,000 50,000

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business

Everything here is either positive (less miles will be needed) or stays the same, depending whether your travel patterns usually involve one-way or round-trip redemption bookings.

For reference Singapore Airlines are charging the following one-way KrisFlyer miles rates on this route:

  • 15,000 miles in Economy (5,000 more than Asia Miles)
  • 22,500 miles in Premium (4,500 more than Asia Miles)
  • 27,500 miles in Business (2,500 more than Asia Miles)

For a longer trip though let’s look at a Standard Award example from Hong Kong to London Heathrow:

Hong Kong to London Standard Award (one-way)

Class Miles Needed
One-way Change
Old New
Economy 40,000 30,000 – 25%
Premium 48,000 40,000 – 17%
Business 70,000 65,000 – 7%
First 105,000 100,000 – 5%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business, F – First

Hong Kong to London Standard Award (return)

Class Miles Needed
Return Change
Old New
Economy 60,000 60,000
Premium 72,000 80,000 + 11%
Business 120,000 130,000 + 8%
First 180,000 200,000 + 11%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business, F – First

As you can see for one-way redemptions it’s all good news on this route, especially in Economy Class where the miles rate is cut by a quarter. The removal of the round-trip redemption discount however makes return awards poorer value (with the exception again of Economy Class which remains the same).

Personally this doesn’t worry us much as we seldom make return award redemptions and usually end up using a different method to return to Singapore (e.g. Asia Miles or Avios outbound, KrisFlyer return, etc…), but for those who always made an effort to take advantage of the rare Asia Miles round-trip discount these increases will hurt slightly.

Do note that the change to zone-based pricing adds both ‘sweet spots’ (typically where your destination is at the far edge of a zone) and ‘sour spots’ (where it only just falls within a zone). London to Sydney (via Hong Kong) for example boasts a reduction in required miles. Hong Kong to San Francisco in First Class however suffers a 22% increase on a round-trip award.

We don’t have time to look at all these and will leave it to the Asia Miles experts to assess where the ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’ spots now lie within the new award pricing structure.

Upgrade Awards

If you use your Asia Miles to upgrade your travel class on Cathay Pacific and/or Cathay Dragon flights you’ll already know there are 4 ways you can do this:

  • Economy to Premium Economy
  • Premium Economy to Business
  • Economy to Business
  • Business to First

Here is the new Upgrade Awards chart by zone:

Upgrade Awards New.jpg

Let’s take a look at the Singapore to Hong Kong example for a one-way or return upgrade award to check how your miles value is changing on this route if you redeem your miles this way.

Singapore to Hong Kong Upgrade Award (one-way)

Upgrade Type Miles Needed
One-way Change
Old New
Y > W 10,000 10,000
W > J 10,000 12,000 + 20%
Y > J 17,500 17,000 – 3%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business

Singapore to Hong Kong Upgrade Award (return)

Upgrade Type Miles Needed
Return Change
Old New
Y > W 15,000 20,000 + 33%
W > J 15,000 24,000 + 60%
Y > J 30,000 34,000 + 13%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business

It’s mostly bad news here as you can see, with the sharpest increase for those upgrading from Premium Economy Class to Business Class on a return flight (60% more miles are needed).

However we think most people on this route will be upgrading from Economy to Business (a Premium Economy cabin does not even feature on all flights for one thing), and here there is actually a small saving on the one-way cost and a more marginal 13% increase in miles for the return award.

How does it work for a long-haul award upgrade though? Let’s look again at Hong Kong to New York, where this time First Class comes into play too.

Hong Kong to New York Upgrade Award (one-way)

Upgrade Type Miles Needed
One-way Change
Old New
Y > W 27,500 30,000 + 9%
W > J 27,500 35,000 + 27%
Y > J 45,000 48,000 + 7%
J > F 60,000 65,000 + 8%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business, F – First

Hong Kong to New York Upgrade Award (return)

Upgrade Type Miles Needed
Return Change
Old New
Y > W 45,000 60,000 + 33%
W > J 45,000 70,000 + 56%
Y > J 80,000 96,000 + 20%
J > F 105,000 130,000 + 24%

Note: Y – Economy, W – Premium Economy, J – Business, F – First

Mostly palatable increases on the one-way chart of less than 10%, again with the exception of the Premium Economy to Business class its not too significant. Round-trip miles requirements in this category are a little eye watering though.

BA / AA Upgrades

Bad news if you use Asia Miles to upgrade your travel class on British Airways (BA) or American Airlines (AA) flights – this option is going away from 22nd June and upgrades using Asia Miles will be restricted only to Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon services.

oneworld Awards

Generally speaking if you use your Asia Miles to redeem flights on oneworld airlines you’re paying about 10% more after 22nd June. Not all categories have changed by that amount, and the oneworld redemption table is available at this link.

Partner Awards

Only limited information about partner awards has been provided at this stage. Generally some small miles cost increases are expected.

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Business Class on the Cathay Pacific A350 (Photo: MainlyMiles)

More Information

Asia Miles has very helpfully provided a good microsite outlining all the changes, including the ability to play around yourself with the earning and redemption calculators to better understand how the value of Asia Miles will change for you personally based on your earning and spending habits.

We appreciate the effort taken to provide transparency to Asia Miles members here, this site may not give you the news you wanted but it’s super clear, easy to use and will answer 95% of member’s questions.

Our Thoughts

A lot to digest here. With improved earning rates almost across the board it’s clear Cathay Pacific are revamping Asia Miles with a strong focus on customer spending.

Like Singapore Airlines, Cathay is in the midst of a transformation programme with efficiency drives which have made a devaluation of the Asia Miles redemption charts for travel in premium classes somewhat of an inevitability.

Nonetheless for those regularly using this scheme to redeem in First and Business Class on long-haul routes, or those with a large Asia Miles stash looking to make such a redemption in future, this potentially comes as a blow with devaluations of around 10% in some cases. To be fair however for tickets on intra-Asia flights in both Economy and premium classes things are largely staying the same or improving, especially on the Hong Kong – Singapore route.

Many upgrade award valuations are being strongly hit and it’s no surprise Cathay have made little mention of this in their press releases – devaluations on some routes we looked at of 60% don’t make good headlines. If you use your Asia Miles to upgrade paid tickets you may need to take a close look at whether this is still a valuable use of your miles after 22nd June.

There’s Still Time (but not much)

If the current award redemption or upgrade rates suit you better than the new ones – there’s not much time to act. You’ll need to lock in your redemptions before 22nd July 2018 to take advantage of the current rates and that’s just 4 weeks from now. Remember this deadline relates to the ticketing of the award flight, you can actually travel any time over the next year from now.

Summary

Whether this change to Asia Miles works in your favour or against you depends on exactly how you normally earn them and how you normally spend them.

For those flying regularly on Cathay Pacific (especially on their company’s dime), it’s hard to see how the ‘Standard Award’ redemption increases will not be outweighed by the increased earning rates they’ll receive on paid tickets.

Those accruing most of their miles through credit card spending or other ‘external’ means though will have to look carefully at how they usually redeem their Asia Miles to determine whether this is still the scheme for them.

There’s no simple summary here – if you use your miles almost exclusively to redeem Economy Class or Business Class Cathay Pacific tickets from Singapore to Hong Kong or Bangkok things will basically improve for you (or at worst stay the same).

If you normally use them to redeem Premium Economy to Business Class upgrades on long-haul flights, it’s a devastating devaluation.

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For most people nothing catastrophic has happened here. Asia Miles still has good value for the most part with award upgrades perhaps the hardest hit. Some will even benefit from the changes. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

Fundamentally there’s still good value in Asia Miles. We’d park this ‘devaluation’ at approximately the 10% mark, though again to be simplistic is risky as some are much worse off while others are much better off.

We kicked off this article by saying we’d warned people to be wary of a devaluation before proceeding with UOB’s 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles offer which ends in a couple of weeks. Would we still transfer from UOB to Asia Miles today at a 20% discount following this announcement? Yes.

(Cover Photo: Cathay Pacific)

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