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What do you think the best Amex transfer partner is?
If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have probably opted for Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer – there are good cases to be made for half a dozen other programmes, depending on where you want to go and how you want to travel.
I would not have said Cathay Pacific Asia Miles though – and I doubt many other people would. The thing is, we’ve all been missing a trick for years. Asia Miles is, without doubt, the most valuable Amex transfer partner.
Before continuing, let me quickly get a quick qualifier out of the way first:
Terms like “best” and “most valuable” are inherently subjective. If you spend most of your points/miles flying short-haul with BA, Avios is still likely your best option. If you predominantly take advantage of very specific ‘sweet spot’ redemptions – like using Virgin Flying Club Miles for ANA First Class – stick with that.
If you want to know how to fly Business and First Class on a wide range of routes, for far fewer points/miles than you currently spend on those flights, Asia Miles is the programme for you!
I should also make clear that you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points directly to Asia Miles at a 1:1 rate. Transfers tend to be completed within 48 hours once you have linked your accounts.
Asia Miles award chart
Asia Miles has lots of different award charts. For now, the one we are focusing on is just the standard award chart below:
As you can see, the number of miles required for a one-way redemption is determined simply by the cumulative distance of the flights involved – it’s not region-based or segment-based like many other programmes’ award charts.
There is an important limitation though, which is that a one-way award can only include 2 segments. In other words, you are allowed only one connection.
The award prices listed are for travel on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, with partner awards generally pricing out 5,000 miles more.
[If you’ve spotted the “Long- Type 2” category in the chart, don’t worry about that for now – it’s only relevant in a specific American context.]
In terms of a practical example, let’s focus on a “Long – Type 1” redemption on Cathay Pacific itself, which means we can fly up to a maximum of 7,500 miles.
The distance between London and Hong Kong is about 6,000 miles, so you could fly Cathay Pacific Business Class for 65,000 Asia Miles – and still connect to somewhere else within ~1,500 miles of Hong Kong (like Shanghai, or Ho Chi Minh City) as part of the same award.
Why are Asia Miles so valuable?
Many readers will know that you can fly Cathay Pacific Business Class between Europe and Hong Kong for just 42,500 Alaska Mileage Plan Miles, so you might be wondering why 65,000 Asia Miles is impressive.
There are A LOT of reasons – as will become abundantly clear in future posts – but here are some of the most obvious:
Direct 1:1 Amex transfer partner
The fact that Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner from Amex is hugely important.
To get 42,500 Alaska Miles using Amex MR Points, you would have to transfer indirectly via Marriott Rewards, and would need 112,500 Marriott Points. That means you would actually need 75,000 Amex Points, given the 2:3 Amex to Marriott transfer ratio.
For further context, a one way between London and Hong Kong in Cathay Business Class would require 92,750 British Airways Avios (also a 1:1 Amex transfer partner).
By transferring to Asia Miles instead, you save 10,000 Amex Points compared to booking with Alaska (via Marriott) and 27,750 Amex Points compared to booking with BA Avios.
Free stopover on one-way awards
We often write about how great Alaska redemptions are because they usually allow a free stopover even on one-way redemptions. One of the big drawbacks of Alaska Miles from a UK perspective though, is that you aren’t allowed to even connect beyond Hong Kong on a single award with Cathay Pacific when flying to/from Europe – let alone have a free stopover.
With Asia Miles, you can have a free stopover on one-way redemptions regardless of where you are going to or from. The only real restriction is that (because you are only allowed 2 segments on a one way award) this realistically has to be in hub city – eg. Hong Kong for Cathay Pacific.
This policy opens up some truly incredible redemption values.
Let’s say that you want to fly from London to Sydney, Australia. A quick look at the Asia Miles award chart earlier in this article shows that you could fly one way in Business Class with Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong) for just 85,000 Asia Miles, based on the distances involved.
That is a remarkable price in itself – but you can also have a free stopover in Hong Kong for a few days (or a week… or a month, etc) too!
If you look closely at the screenshot above, you can see that the first flight is 10th September and the second flight is on 16th September.
Don’t fancy Australia? – how about Barcelona to Los Angeles (via Hong Kong) instead…
Again, the whole thing (one-way) in Cathay Pacific Business Class, with a week’s stopover in Hong Kong, can be booked for just 85,000 Asia Miles + taxes/surcharges
How to book
The Asia Miles website is relatively good at pricing up these sorts of awards. Log in to your account, click on “redeem awards”, then “flight rewards”, scroll down and then click “Redeem now”. After that, you should see a screen like the one below – if you want to have a stopover, make sure you select “Multi-City”:
Finding availability can be a bit tedious, but Cathay does make more space available to Asia Miles members than it does to partner airline programmes, so it can be worth the effort.
One irritating quirk is that the Asia Miles website doesn’t show how much the taxes and surcharges are going to be, unless you already have enough miles in your account to book the award. Instead, (from the UK) just phone 0800 092 3595 and the Asia Miles agents will be able to help.
If you do phone and want to book a stopover, make sure you are very clear that you want them to search a multi-city award and give them the exact flight details that you want to book.
As regards surcharges, the bad news is that Asia Miles does charge them. The good news is that if you stick to Cathay Pacific’s own flights rather than partner airlines, they are actually quite reasonable. I did a few tests and for something like Europe-Hong Kong (stopover)-Sydney, you’re looking at about ~£150-£200 in total for taxes and surcharges one-way. Obviously, if you want to fly from the UK, add Air Passenger Duty on top.
The value you can get by transferring Amex Points to Asia Miles is truly astonishing – I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article.
Watch out for more posts later today explaining how to really make the most of Asia Miles…