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Cathay Pacific removes fuel surcharges – where are the award sweet spots?

Cathay Pacific has removed fuel surcharges from (nearly) all its flights. Where are the redemption 'sweet spots' and how much sweeter did they just become?

CX B77W Takeoff (Cathay Pacific)

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.

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What’s changed?

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.

Business Bedding
New amenity kits and bedding in Cathay Pacific’s popular Business Class. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

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.

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Examples

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).

Cathay Pacific
Taxes & Fees
Route Until 30 Apr From 1 May Change
SIN-HKG US$40.20
(S$56.90)
US$29.30
(S$41.50)
decrease_gn S$15.40
(- 27%)
HKG-FRA US$93.90
(S$132.90)
US$45.20
(S$64.00)
decrease_gn S$68.90
(- 52%)
LHR-HKG US$318.70
(S$450.80)
US$270.00
(S$381.90)
decrease_gn S$68.90
(- 15%)
SIN-HKG-FRA US$118.60
(S$167.80)
US$59.00
(S$83.60)
decrease_gn S$84.20
(- 50%)

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

AM Logo trans

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).

Standard Award Table
Asia Miles Standard Award table (click to enlarge)

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
  • 100,000 92,300 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.

SINFRA F
Why 92,300?

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.

The calculation

For this SIN-HKG (Business) then HKG-FRA (First) itinerary, it’s calculated as follows:

  • SIN-HKG-FRA = 7,285 miles
  • SIN-HKG: 1,587 miles (21.8%) x 65,000 Business = 14,100 miles
  • HKG-FRA: 5,697 miles (78.2%) x 100,000 First = 78,200 miles
  • Total 14,100 + 78,200 = 92,300 miles

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).

Bar
The cocktail bar in Cathay’s The Pier First Class lounge. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

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.

Sweet Spots

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.

AM Asia Miles ‘Sweet Spots’
Cathay Pacific
Route Cabin Miles Taxes & Fees
Singapore – Hong Kong Economy 10,000 S$56.90
S$41.50
Business 25,000
Hong Kong – Taipei Economy 7,500 S$63.00
S$47.60
Business 16,000 S$75.70
S$60.30
Sydney – Hong Kong Economy 22,000 S$153.30
S$84.40
Business 45,000
Singapore – Amsterdam Business 65,000 S$167.80
S$83.60
Singapore – Frankfurt Business / First 92,300 S$167.80
S$83.60
Bangkok – London Business 65,000 S$158.80
S$74.60
Business / First 94,700 S$158.80
S$74.60
Bangkok – Vancouver Business 70,000 S$158.80
S$74.60
Sydney – London Business 85,000 S$263.90
S$126.10
Business / First 107,600 S$263.90
S$126.10

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.

SIN-EUR
(click to enlarge)

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.

BKK-EUR
(click to enlarge)

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.

CX J Seat Overhead (Cathay Pacific)
Cathay Pacific’s long-haul Business Class. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

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).

Stopovers

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

Friday

  • 12:55 Singapore – Hong Kong 16:55

(Overnight in HKG)

Saturday

  • 15:10 Hong Kong – London 20:15

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.

Hong Kong Skyline 2 (Yun Xu)
Stopovers (or layovers) in Hong Kong on Asia Miles award tickets are now limited to less than 24 hours. (Photo: Yun Xu)

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.

Transfer partners

AMEXtrans BOCtrans2 CITItrans DBStrans2 HSBCtrans2 MAYBANKtrans2 UOBtrans2

You can transfer credit card points into Asia Miles from seven banks in Singapore, with OCBC and Standard Chartered being the only major exceptions.

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