So perhaps it’s time to start looking around for a new FFP. The obvious candidate is Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles, given that it partners with almost every bank in Singapore and points transfer at the same ratio as Krisflyer.
I’ve been getting a positive deluge of emails from people interested in jumping ship. And each time I’ve had to pretend like I’m vaguely competent on the subject, in order not to disappoint all the chiobus who are writing in (I assume you all are chiobus, otherwise I’ve just wasted the past few days of research)
So, after a week of research, I’m finally ready to share all I know about Asia Miles, its advantages, disadvantages, which routes you should use it for, which products you should use it for and all that jazz.
Will there be tables? Oh yes.
Marco Polo Club vs Asia Miles
Let’s start with the basics. Cathay Pacific has two programs, which is always a confusing one for many first timers.
Marco Polo Club is Cathay’s elite status program. Members who obtain Diamond, Gold or Silver in this program get special privileges like priority boarding, lounge access, extra baggage, priority waitlisting etc.
Asia Miles is the loyalty program. You earn and use Asia Miles to redeem for award flights, upgrades etc. just like you would with Krisflyer. You can be a member of Asia Miles and not have a Marco Polo membership, but all Marco Polo members are automatically enrolled in Asia Miles.
This was confusing to me because Krisflyer combines the two into one. But if you only intend to earn Asia Miles through your credit cards, you don’t need to worry too much about Marco Polo (as your award flights won’t earn you any status with Marco Polo either).
Let’s focus only on Asia Miles in this article.
Here’s how Cathay’s base awards compare to SQ
Comparing CX’s award chart to SQ’s isn’t a simple exercise. Why? Cathay’s award chart goes by distance, not destination.
There are pros and cons of this approach (for example, a destination 2,501 miles away will be worse value than one 5,000 miles away), but my main gripe is that such award charts aren’t intuitive, at least for me. I mean, I’m terrible at gauging distances, and I’d bet most people are too. How far is it from Singapore to Los Angeles? Your guess is as good as mine.
In order to do a proper comparison of the Krisflyer and AsiaMiles charts, I needed to first make them on a like-to-like basis.
So that’s exactly what I did.
- I made a listing of every destination served by SQ (I left out Silkair. Don’t complain, this was still a lot of work)
- I got the flying distance from Singapore to each of those destinations based on the distance chart provided in SQ’s SilverKris magazine (it’s towards the back, if you’re interested)
- Using milecalc.com, I got the flying distance from Singapore to Hong Kong to each of those destinations. For example, if I wanted to fly with CX from Singapore to LHR, I’d have to purchase an award to fly from SIN-HKG-LHR
This generated a total list of 46 common destinations for which I could compare what CX and SQ would charge for different cabin classes. Here’s the full excel if you want to analyze it for yourself, otherwise I’ll put excerpts in each section as we go along.
A few caveats-
First, this list is not complete. There are a few additional routes served by Silkair but also by Cathay which won’t be taken into consideration here.
Second, remember that CX awards have inherent disadvantages when compared to SQ awards because you need to transit in Hong Kong, which adds time and distance to your overall journey. So even if something looks cheaper on CX, you need to factor in the added inconvenience.
Third, this doesn’t take into account the quality of the hard and soft products. There will be other times and places to discuss whether Cathay’s reverse herringbone J is as good as SQ’s mini-suite J, or whether Cathay’s superior ground experience for F passengers can compete with SQ’s superior inflight experience for Suites.
Fourth, I’ve looked at round trip award prices. Cathay one-way award prices cost 55-75% of round trip prices, so if we re-do this analysis for one way awards (be my guest), the answers may change a bit.
Fifth, this doesn’t take into account award availability. I don’t have a a good enough sense of CX yet to know how much award space they release or how the waitlisting process works.
Sixth, there may be some minor differences in taxes and surcharges. Asia Miles also does not levy fuel surcharges on sectors originating in Hong Kong., but if you’re starting from SIN you may need to pay some surcharges on that leg. Based on Louis’ research the difference was at most about S$100 or so.
Ready? Here we go.
Economy Class: SQ cheaper 68% of the time
Of the 46 routes I looked at, SQ had lower award prices in 31 instances. Two were ties, and CX was cheaper in 13 cases. On average, SQ was 10% cheaper.
CX was cheaper to European destinations like AMS, DUS, FCO, FRA and ZRH by 27%, and to Japan/S. Korea destinations like NRT, HND, ICN, KIX, NGO by 11%. I’m not sure an 11% savings in miles is worth taking an additional layover, but 27% (assuming a short layover) might motivate people trying to conserve miles.
So those exceptions aside, if I were redeeming economy (nope), I wouldn’t do it on CX.
Premium Economy Class: CX cheaper 95% of the time
I’ll be the first to say this is a problematic comparison, given that CX is in the midst of eliminating PY from its South Asia and Middle East routes.
That said, of the 37 destinations where SQ offered PY, CX was cheaper than SQ for 35 of them. Now, it doesn’t mean that CX offers PY on all the routes that SQ offers it (I’m not clear which routes have and don’t have it). What it does mean, however, is that on routes where SQ and CX both offer PY, CX will almost always be cheaper than SQ. PY on CX was ~24% cheaper than on SQ.
I think it speaks volumes to how ridiculously priced SQ’s PY is (in terms of $ and miles) in that if you wanted to fly to Melbourne, it would cost you 72K miles to fly SIN-HKG-MEL (i.e going in the opposite direction) in CX PY than to fly SIN-MEL for 90K miles on SQ PY. The same goes for Auckland, Sydney and pretty much everywhere in Australia and NZ.
Yes, the additional time incurred for Australia and NZ is probably a dealbreaker for most people, but what about other locations? SIN-JFK costs 30% less on CX than SQ. SIN-MXP, AMS, DUS, FCO, FRA and ZRH costs 74% less. That’s incredible.
Another interesting thing to note is the ratio between premium economy and business class awards on CX.
Where SQ is concerned, I mentioned that the even after the devaluation, you still needed ~75-85% of the cost of a business class ticket to redeem an economy class ticket.
For Cathay, that ratio is slightly lower. Depending on distance and one way/round trip, it takes anywhere from 60%-80% of the miles required for a business class award to book a premium economy award.
Although the gap is smaller, my advice would still be the same-I’d much rather save up the additional miles and have a proper business class experience. I think the gap would have to be >50% before I’d even consider redeeming miles for premium economy.
However, if your heart is set on redeeming premium economy, then CX wins every time.
Business Class: SQ cheaper 55% of the time but…
This headline is deceiving. It says SQ is cheaper 55% of the time, but to do this justice we need to look at long haul destinations, the type where business class comfort becomes more of a need than a want.
Again, it’s Europe where CX has the advantage. Business class awards to AMS, DUS, FCO, FRA, MXP and ZRH are 42% cheaper on Cathay than SQ. JFK is 27% cheaper, SFO and LAX are 21% cheaper. LHR, MAN and CDG are 17% cheaper.
So where is SQ cheaper then? It’s cheaper to places where you really don’t need business class. Short haul destinations like South East Asia, medium haul like MLE, PER, BOM, DEL etc. The one key exception here is to JNB in this case you’d want to fly SQ because it’s 38% cheaper. And perhaps maybe DXB, which is 25% cheaper on SQ.
My conclusion is that unless I really couldn’t add a layover to my trip, I would definitely pick CX over SQ when it comes to business class.
First Class: 50-50 split, but…
The story here is again that the big picture misleads. Although on average it’s split down the middle in terms of the number of routes where one carrier is cheaper than the other, where the all important long haul routes are concerned, CX has the upper hand.
First Class awards to AMS, DUS, FCO, FRA, MXP and ZRH are 28% cheaper on CX. Where the USA is concerned, JFK is 9% cheaper, LAX and SFO are 7% cheaper. I generally would not consider a price difference of <10% to be significant, so this becomes a question of availability. If SQ awards are not available, you could consider CX.
It doesn’t make sense to fly up to HKG and then down to Australia, but just in case you were thinking about that you might like to know that CX does not operate First Class on its flights to Australia and NZ. So if you’re intending to get to Australia in first class, you’d best stick with SQ. Or you could always try and get Qantas First Class space (cue stage laughter).
The differences (in % terms) aren’t as stark as they are for business class, but remember the base here is higher, so a 28% difference in miles can be substantial (in the case of Europe, it’s 180K vs 230K).
As an aside, I know we said we wouldn’t talk about hard/soft product, but I just want to add that the Cathay First Class lounge in HKG looks heads and shoulders above SQ…
My overall observation from this exercise is that Cathay generally has cheaper long haul awards than SQ. The question is whether you’re ok with taking the layover.
We’re far from done, of course, as there are other points about Asia Miles to consider…
Cathay’s priority awards cost a smaller premium than SQ’s
Remember that airlines tend to have different “buckets” of award availability. What we analyzed above was the “base” award for Cathay and Krisflyer, that is, the cheapest possible award.
But CX has 3 types of award tickets- Standard, Tier 1 Priority and Tier 2 Priority. Think of these as analogous to SQ’s Saver, Standard and Full awards (back when they still had full awards). Don’t get confused- CX’s cheapest award is called Standard, SQ’s cheapest is called Saver.
Where CX is concerned, Standard awards cost the least but have the lowest availability, Tier 2 Priority cost the most but have better availability. I put the 3 charts together for easy comparison
What I want to highlight is the step-up between Standard and Tier 1 (let’s ignore T2, because like “Full” awards, only a fool would shell out that many miles), i.e the premium you pay in terms of miles in order to have access to a bigger inventory of award seats.
With Cathay, the step up is smaller than SQ on average. In First and Business Class, SQ standard awards cost 1.9X and 1.7X the price of a saver award. For CX, the step up is 1.5X for both.
Now, I know it’s a psychological effect and chart prices are arbitrary, but I’m not really the sort who likes paying Standard award prices because it seems silly to me that if SQ can let go one award seat for 1.9X miles, it can’t let it go for X miles. I guess the lower Saver prices anchor me to the idea that I should be paying this amount for an award seat, and anything above that is me getting ripped off.
Of course not everyone thinks this way. I think the consolidation if you’re an Asiamiles user is that if Standard seats aren’t available, Tier 1 prices for premium cabins will be at most 50% higher.
Oneworld award tickets need not necessarily cost more than CX
Cathay does not have a separate award chart for OneWorld partner redemptions provided your ticket does not involve more than one non-Cathay carrier. In other words, if I flew SIN-HKG-NRT all on Cathay, I’d pay the same number of miles if I flew SIN-HKG with Cathay and HKG-NRT with JAL, or SIN-NRT with JAL.
If your ticket involves two or more Oneworld non-CX carriers, or three or more Oneworld carriers where CX is one of the three, you’ll need to refer to a different award chart. Which leads to another interesting observation…
Asiamiles RTW award prices are cheaper than Krisflyer
This chart is more relevant to you if you’re looking to book a RTW trip with Oneworld.
Cathay’s pricing of its RTW award has a bit more flexibility than Krisflyer’s in one sense. Krisflyer charges 180K, 240K and 360K for Economy, Business and First Class RTW awards, which have a maximum of 35,000 miles flown and 16 segments. Asiamile’s pricing scales depending on total distance covered.
But what is interesting is that even at their most expensive (150K, 220K and 335K for Economy, Business and First Class), Asiamiles RTW awards are cheaper than Krisflyer.
The main drawback I can think of is that an Asiamiles RTW award is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers. I’d be very interested to plan a RTW trip with Oneworld though. Let’s see what happens…
Asiamiles are valid for 3 years, just like Krisflyer
Your Asiamiles are valid for 3 years from the time you earn them. Ditto Krisflyer.
Asiamiles asks for US$40 per 2,000 mile block, which gets you another 3 years. Krisflyer charges US$12 per 10,000 mile block, which gets you 6 or 12 months more depending on your elite status.
There is no reason why you should be in a position where your miles are about to expire though. Remember- earn and burn.
Asiamiles cancellation policies are more onerous than Krisflyer
If your plans change, you’ll find that Asiamiles has more stringent cancellation fees than Krisflyer.
Asiamiles does not offer free date changes for award tickets, but Krisflyer does (assuming your departure date is more than 24 hours away). Similarly, it is much cheaper to cancel a Krisflyer award than an Asiamiles one.
Topping up your Asiamiles account is cheaper than Krisflyer
Both Krisflyer and Asiamiles give you the option to top up your account assuming you don’t have sufficient miles for an award.
With Krisflyer, you need to have at least 50% of the miles needed, and then you can buy the remainder at a rate of US$40 per 1,000 miles (5.7 SG cpm)
With Asiamiles, you need to have at least 70% of the miles needed, but your buying rate for the remainder is cheaper at US$60 per 2,000 miles (4.3 SG cpm)
In either case there really is no reason why you should be paying such expensive rates to buy miles. You can easily buy the additional miles you need for ~2 SG cpm through credit card annual fees.
This took a long time to figure out, but I’ve learned quite a bit about Asiamiles in the process. I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge and transfer some credit card points over.
If there’s one good thing about this devaluation, it’s the hope that maybe more Singaporeans will go outside the SQ bubble and try other carriers. I personally am looking forward to booking a First/Business class experience with CX in the near future.