One thing we all hate when booking an award ticket is not only the taxes due to be paid on top of the miles quote, but in the case of many airlines and frequent flyer programmes that annoying “fuel surcharge” too – so often a sting in the tail when you come to redeem.
Until yesterday, Cathay Pacific applied a fuel surcharge to all its tickets, including both revenue fares and award seats booked using Asia Miles and many other partner programmes.
The airline announced last month that fuel surcharges were to be removed completely on (almost) all routes from 1st May 2020. That probably won’t result in lower ticket prices, which will simply be adjusted to compensate.
It does however have the benefit of reducing the price you’ll pay for an award ticket, with the fuel surcharge previously being added to the other taxes and fees you paid on top of the miles rate applicable to your booking.
Cathay Pacific is already popular with our readers for its excellent lounges and on-board product and service standards. In late 2019 the airline rolled out some enhancements in its First and Business Class cabins, including new bedding with mattress toppers in Business Class, improved catering and Bamford amenity kits.
How much will you be saving?
Probably the first thing to note about Cathay’s fuel surcharges is that they weren’t really that high. The surcharge was the same regardless of travel class, so it had a proportionately higher impact on cheaper Economy tickets than it did on Business and First Class fares.
The maximum surcharge was around US$49 (S$70) for the longest flights, while for a shorter journey like Singapore – Hong Kong you were looking at around US$11 (S$16).
Surcharges applied sector-by-sector, so if your itinerary was Singapore – Hong Kong – Frankfurt, you’d be hit with the S$16 surcharge and the S$70 surcharge combined.
Nothing earth-shattering here, but for an itinerary like that on a round-trip basis, over S$170 less in fuel surcharges from 1st May 2020 is to be welcomed.
Fuel Surcharge Experts Cathay weren’t the worst offenders here. Qatar Airways is charging a S$381 fuel surcharge from Singapore to Doha in Business Class for example, while Emirates is asking for S$300 from Singapore to Dubai. Now those are significant amounts to pay on top of your miles for an award seat!
Some flights will still have a fuel surcharge
Fuel surcharges will still be levied on the following Cathay Pacific flights:
- Journeys originating from Japan (JPY1,700 – JPY7,300, or S$22 – S$96 depending on your route).
That means if you’re flying Cathay Pacific Business Class from Tokyo to Singapore via Hong Kong, for example, you’ll still pay a fuel surcharge, however the reverse of that route (Singapore – Hong Kong – Tokyo) is now free of fuel surcharges.
That is unless you use Alaska Miles, in which case there’s no surcharge in either direction. More on that later.
Here are some examples of the money you’re now saving on these award tickets. They assume travel in Business Class (travel class does slightly impact the taxes charged for itineraries including a departing flight from both Hong Kong and London).
Taxes & Fees
|Route||Until 30 Apr||From 1 May||Change|
Based on IATA Consolidated Exchange Rates at 1 May 2020
In some cases, including for long-haul flights originating from Hong Kong, the saving is over 50% compared to previous rates. Obviously on routes where other taxes are high (ex-LHR for example) the saving, while still welcome, isn’t a big proportional impact.
Frequent Flyer Programmes
We use three ‘optimal’ methods to redeem Cathay Pacific flights using miles or points, and from 1st May 2020 all are free of fuel surcharges (except for journeys starting in Japan).
- Asia Miles for Singapore – Europe and some intra-Asia itineraries
- Avios for short, single sector intra-Asia itineraries
- Alaska Miles for longer intra-Asia itineraries and Asia-USA trips
Redeeming Asia Miles on Cathay Pacific flights is all about securing a Standard Award (the equivalent of a Saver Award in the KrisFlyer programme).
If you find availability at ‘Choice’ or ‘Tailored’ award levels, be careful because you’re paying more miles (much more in some cases).
Note that Long – Type 1 relates to itineraries which do not include any cities in the Americas, whereas Long – Type 2 includes those cities.
Simply calculate your total one-way trip distance including any connecting flights (Great Circle Mapper can help) and you’ll find the relevant award rate.
For example Singapore to Frankfurt via Hong Kong (SIN-HKG-FRA) is 7,285 miles, so that would be a Long – Type 1 redemption:
- 30,000 miles in Economy Class
- 40,000 miles in Premium Economy
- 65,000 miles in Business Class
100,00092,300 miles in First Class (we’ll explain below!)
Already you can see there’s some decent value there – Singapore Airlines is charging 92,000 KrisFlyer miles for a one-way saver award flight to Frankfurt in Business Class (184,000 miles return), but if you don’t mind a transit in Hong Kong it’s 65,000 Asia Miles one-way or 130,000 Asia Miles return.
Better still, for 92,300 miles you can take the second sector to Frankfurt in First Class. That’s strange, since the award chart states 100,000 miles for that cabin, so why?
It’s all because a First Class cabin is not offered between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Mixed class awards
This is a nice benefit of how Asia Miles deals with mixed class bookings. With many airlines if a cabin type is not offered for part of your route – that’s just tough. You’ll pay the highest cabin class award price for the whole journey regardless.
For example, Perth to London via Singapore on Singapore Airlines in First Class on a saver award will cost you 142,500 KrisFlyer miles (the Zone 8 to Zone 12), even though you’ll be in Business Class for the Perth – Singapore sector.
With Asia Miles it doesn’t work that way. If a First Class cabin is not available for part of your journey, the required mileage reduces by the proportional distance you spend in the lower cabin class.
Since Singapore to Frankfurt via Hong Kong (7,285 miles) is the same award rate as a Hong Kong to Frankfurt flight (5,697 miles) in the award chart, it actually results in fewer miles to redeem SIN-HKG (Business) plus HKG-FRA (First) than a simple HKG-FRA (First) award.
That’s right, Asia Miles is giving you miles back to take a Business Class flight from Singapore to Hong Kong before your First Class flight. Granted, you will pay the additional taxes and fees, but as we know – those just dropped.
For this SIN-HKG (Business) then HKG-FRA (First) itinerary, it’s calculated as follows:
Asia Miles rounds down the mileage rates for individual sectors to the next whole 100 miles, before summing them.
Don’t forget this is also giving you access to the excellent Cathay Pacific First Class lounges in Hong Kong during your transit, even if you replicate it on the return sector (thanks to oneworld policy – just keep hold of your First Class boarding card).
Even better, if you’re happy to head to Hong Kong in Economy Class then take the First Class flight to Frankfurt, the total rate for the trip comes in at 84,700 miles (yes, a 15,300 miles saving on the standalone Hong Kong – Frankfurt First Class rate!).
You will have to call Asia Miles to book an Economy then First (or Economy then Business) redemption from Singapore.
FYI: Economy SIN-HKG then Business HKG-FRA as a single award ticket comes in at just 57,300 Asia Miles + S$84. A great deal if you’re short of miles, but still want comfort on the long sector.
Here are some examples of our top picks for using Asia Miles to redeem on Cathay Pacific, with the corresponding taxes and fees now applicable (shown against the old rates) for bookings made from 1st May 2020.
|Asia Miles ‘Sweet Spots’
|Route||Cabin||Miles||Taxes & Fees|
|Singapore – Hong Kong||Economy||10,000||
|Hong Kong – Taipei||Economy||7,500||
|Sydney – Hong Kong||Economy||22,000||
|Singapore – Amsterdam||Business||65,000||
|Singapore – Frankfurt||Business / First||92,300||
|Bangkok – London||Business||65,000||
|Business / First||94,700||
|Bangkok – Vancouver||Business||70,000||
|Sydney – London||Business||85,000||
|Business / First||107,600||
Stretching lower rates to Europe
One slightly annoying thing about heading from Singapore to Europe on Cathay Pacific is that the combined distance of the Singapore to Hong Kong sector plus the Hong Kong to Europe sector sometimes exceeds 7,500 miles, which pushes your redemption rate into the “Ultra-Long” distance zone.
As you can see Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan and Rome all fall within the “Long – Type 1” redemption zone, but the other European cities including London and Paris are in the “Ultra-Long” zone, increasing the cost of a one-way Business Class redemption by over 30% from 65,000 miles to 85,000 miles.
One method to circumvent this is to start (or end) your journey in Bangkok, over 500 miles closer to Hong Kong compared to Singapore, which extends the 7,500 miles “Long – Type 1” redemption zone radius well into Europe.
In fact as you can see almost all Cathay’s European destinations are then covered (only Madrid remains in the “Ultra-Long” zone from Bangkok).
You can also consider redeeming from Singapore into the “Ultra-Long” zone but back home from a “Long – Type 1” city (e.g. SIN-HKG-LHR for 85,000 miles + AMS-HKG-SIN for 65,000 miles), giving you an “average” redemption rate of 75,000 miles each way, not to mention avoiding the hideous long-haul departure taxes from the UK.
Similarly you can save 15,000 miles (70,000 vs 85,000) on a Business Class flight to Vancouver via Hong Kong by starting your trip in Bangkok (distance 7,441 miles) rather than Singapore (distance 7,980 miles).
Unfortunately since March this year Asia Miles ceased permitting stopovers in Hong Kong of more than 24 hours when flying on an award ticket.
Effectively now a 23 hour 59 minutes layover is the maximum you can achieve on the same ticket, otherwise you have to redeem two separate awards, which is obviously more expensive and to be avoided.
That doesn’t allow huge potential for a useful stay to break up your journey, but it is still achievable, for example:
The best Asia Miles Hong Kong ‘stopover’ you can now manage with Cathay Pacific
(Overnight in HKG)
That’s enough time for dinner in the city and a decent hotel stay before having to head back to the airport the following lunchtime.
Asia Miles: Other things to know
- Asia Miles earned or transferred from your credit card from 1st January 2020 no longer expire, provided you earn or redeem at least one mile every 18 months.
- You can waitlist an Asia Miles Cathay Pacific award in a similar way to the KrisFlyer programme.
- You can change the date of your Asia Miles Cathay Pacific award booking for US$25 per person per sector (online) or US$40 per person per sector (over the phone).
- You can change the destination of your Asia Miles Cathay Pacific award booking for US$100 per person per ticket.
- You can cancel your Asia Miles Cathay Pacific award booking and have your miles redeposited and taxes / fees refunded for US$120 per person per ticket.
You can transfer credit card points into Asia Miles from seven banks in Singapore, with OCBC and Standard Chartered being the only major exceptions.
The key to using British Airways Avios points on Cathay Pacific is to keep it short, and keep it to one sector.
That’s because the airline’s partner award chart has some good value in the sub-2,000 mile zones, but also that BA charges sector-by-sector for its award flights, so it usually becomes poor value once a connection is involved.
Here are a few of our favourite picks using Avios to fly on Cathay Pacific, and the new cash rates you’ll pay on top of your hard-earned points to secure them, following yesterday’s withdrawal of fuel surcharges.
|Avios ‘Sweet Spots’
|Route||Cabin||Miles||Taxes & Fees|
|Singapore – Bangkok||Economy||9,000||
|Bangkok – Hong Kong||Economy||9,000||
|Singapore – Hong Kong||Economy||11,000||
|Hong Kong – Taipei||Economy||6,000||
Avios is the best way to book Cathay’s fifth freedom flight between Singapore and Bangkok, at 9,000 points in Economy Class and 16,500 points in Business Class (compared to 10,000 and 25,000 Asia Miles respectively).
The airline has a fantastic lounge of its own at both the Singapore and Bangkok ends, worth arriving early for whichever direction you’re flying in.
Even though these Avios rates have increased slightly following a small devaluation in 2019 (it was 7,500 points and 15,000 points respectively for these flights before that), they are still competitive in our opinion, with Cathay usually deploying an A350 or A330 with long-haul Business Class seats on this daily route.
Finally you can tap into the ‘Zone 1’ Avios pricing on shorter routes out of Hong Kong, like to Taipei, from 6,000 Avios in Economy and 12,500 Avios in Business Class, not forgetting you can do a lot of pre-flight lounge surfing in Hong Kong when flying Business Class.
Part Pay with Cash
British Airways allows you to part-pay with additional cash and fewer Avios when redeeming on Cathay Pacific. This is sometimes reasonable value and sometimes isn’t, effectively allowing you to ‘buy’ Avios points (either by keeping them in your account, rather than using them, or topping up with cash because your Avios balance is insufficient).
Here’s an example for a Singapore to Hong Kong award in Business Class:
As you can see it’s possible to save as little as 2,000 Avios (by instead paying 20,000) for an extra S$36 (not a great rate to buy of 1.8 cents per mile), however at the top end saving 9,900 Avios by paying 12,100 instead for the trip will cost you S$145 extra (a more palatable 1.5 cents per mile).
It’s up to you whether you consider this method good value. Do the maths before committing.
It’s also worth mentioning that transfers from Citi credit cards in Singapore into Avios points must be in 10,000 Avios blocks, so using this part payment method is potentially a way to avoid having an unwanted leftover quantity in the programme, allowing you to transfer more closely to the exact amount you need.
Avios: Other things to know
- Your Avios points never expire, provided you earn or redeem at least one Avios every 36 months (3 years).
- You can’t waitlist an Avios award. There is either availability, or there isn’t.
- You can change or cancel an Avios award within 24 hours of booking for free (unless you are flying within 24 hours).
- After that, both date and time changes and cancellation / Avios redeposit cost S$69 per person per ticket if completed online, or S$99 if done over the phone.
- This is significantly cheaper than cancelling an Asia Miles booking (at US$125, that’s close to S$170).
- You must cancel an Avios award ticket at least 24 hours before your flight departure time, or you will forfeit the Avios spent.
You can transfer points into Avios from Citi credit cards in Singapore.
It’s also possible to credit hotel stays from Kaligo and Rocketmiles to the programme, or transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Avios.
Alaska Mileage Plan (like American Airlines AAdvantage) never passed on Cathay Pacific’s fuel surcharges on award tickets in the first place, so there is actually no additional saving when using miles from these programmes for such a redemption.
The exception remains for flights originating in Japan, where Alaska will not pass on the fuel surcharge even though it will still be imposed on an Asia Miles or Avios award ticket, however this was also the case for tickets issued before 1st May 2020.
|Tokyo – Hong Kong – Singapore
Cathay Business Class
|FFP||Miles||Taxes & Fees|
As you can see you’re saving S$49.20 (the JPY3,700 fuel surcharge) by booking this itinerary with Alaska Miles rather than Asia Miles or Avios.
Here’s a quick reminder of the (still) fuel surcharge-free good value Alaska Miles redemptions on Cathay Pacific, even though you’re not saving any more by booking them now compared to before 1st May 2020.
|Alaska Miles ‘Sweet Spots’
|Route||Cabin||Miles||Taxes & Fees|
|Singapore – USA||Business||50,000||S$107.50|
|Australia – USA||Business||60,000||S$150.40|
|Hong Kong – London||Business||42,500||S$64.00|
|Singapore – Tokyo||Business||22,500||S$79.90|
Alaska Miles: Other things to know
- Alaska Miles expire if you don’t interact with the programme for 24 months.
- You can’t waitlist an Alaska award.
- You can change or cancel an Alaska award within 24 hours of booking for free (unless you are flying within 24 hours). After that it will cost you US$125.
You can buy Alaska Miles in one of their regular bonus sales, from around 1.7 US cents per mile. It’s also possible to credit hotel stays from Kaligo and Rocketmiles to the programme, or transfer Marriott Bonvoy points.
Cathay Pacific awards
Here’s a few things to know about redeeming award flights on Cathay Pacific.
Cathay Pacific releases award space on its flights to these three frequent flyer programmes as follows:
- Asia Miles: 360 days before
- Avios: 350 days before
- Alaska: 330 days before
In terms of searching award space, the Asia Miles site or British Airways Avios site are good sources. Availability is not always identical between the two. For Alaska, where you have to call to search availability and book, we find the British Airways Avios site gives the best indication of availability.
Again, it’s not always exactly the same, so a little patience may be required.
Cathay Pacific enforces ‘married segment’ award availability (actually, so does Singapore Airlines, but to a much lesser and almost unnoticeable extent).
For example Singapore to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Frankfurt may both be available to redeem individually, while Singapore to Frankfurt via Hong Kong on the exact same flights is not.
Similarly Singapore to Frankfurt via Hong Kong may be available to redeem, even though both the identical Singapore to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Frankfurt flights (individually) are not.
Always search your full proposed itinerary to accurately establish available award space.
Some wide-body planes have regional Business seats
Don’t be fooled into thinking a Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 or Boeing 777 will definitely have long-haul Business Class seats installed. Some of these aircraft have the far less desirable Regional Business Class product with a 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 configuration.
Ensure that you have a 1-2-1 seat map for the long-haul Business Class seat type. Also bear in mind that equipment swaps on routes like Singapore – Hong Kong are relatively common.
All of Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A350s have the long-haul Business Class seats fitted.
Not all routes have First Class
Don’t go searching for First Class award space assuming that all longer Cathay Pacific flights feature the cabin class. In fact only 31 of the airline’s 51 Boeing 777-300ERs have the cabin fitted. No other Cathay Pacific aircraft types feature First Class.
Looking at the airline’s 13 Europe routes in November 2020, for example, shows that only the following four have a First Class cabin planned:
What if I booked already?
Too late unfortunately. The removal of fuel surcharges on Cathay Pacific flights came into force for tickets issued from yesterday (1st May 2020), not for flights operating from that date. If you booked on or before 30th April 2020, you won’t be refunded for the fuel surcharge.
Cathay Pacific wasn’t imposing significant fuel surcharges on its tickets, however it did pass them on to Asia Miles members when making award bookings. British Airways also passed on the cost when booking Cathay flights through its Avios programme, though other schemes including Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage never did so.
While the actual cost savings for Asia Miles and Avios redeemers aren’t huge, it still adds up to over half the taxes and fees levied on a Business Class ticket from Singapore to Europe via Hong Kong, for example.
A return ticket on many of those routes will now set you back S$168 less per person, practically halving the cash component.
More cash in your pocket means more money to spend on your vacation or hotel room, so this is a welcome move from Cathay – adding some value for our readers to the Asia Miles and Avios programmes in particular.
It also provided us a good opportunity to revisit where the best value redemptions are with this popular airline, using our three favourite FFPs for Cathay bookings. COVID-19 may have us all grounded for now, but these opportunities should definitely be food for thought when things recover.
Top picks for us are Singapore to Europe (7,500 miles distance or less) for 65,000 miles in Business Class or a very competitive 92,300 miles in Business Class, then First Class for the long flight from Hong Kong.
Will Cathay’s removal of fuel surcharges sway you to take an indirect flight via Hong Kong to save miles, or will you stick to KrisFlyer? Let us know in the comments section below.
(Cover Photo: Cathay Pacific)