Airlines

An important warning about the Asia Miles booking engine

The initial price quoted may not be the final price you pay.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the ins and outs of Cathay Pacific’s Asiamiles program, especially when it comes to the booking engine. In fact, I only recently made my first ever redemption, for a first class trip to Los Angeles sometime in June this year.

I bring this up because I penned a how-to guide on Asiamiles shortly after the Krisflyer devaluation in March last year. In this post, I compared the mileage that Asiamiles charges for Cathay awards to what Krisflyer charges for SQ awards. Since banks in Singapore offer the same transfer ratio for Asiamiles and Krisflyer, this was a way to see which carrier gave you more bang for your mile.

Someone posted a comment yesterday saying the following:

In my comparison table, I showed the cost of a SIN to LHR award as 145,000 Asiamiles. I was quite certain I didn’t goof up, but I went to check Asiamiles award engine and behold, it was indeed showing 115,000 miles for round trip business class!

Oh crap. I thought. Had I been providing wrong info all this while? Why didn’t anyone pick up on this? How would this affect my standing with the ladies?

And then I did some trial and error with the Milelion team and realised this very important point for award planning:

The Asia Miles engine always shows you the lowest possible award cost, even if it’s a theoretical minimum

Confused? Let me explain.

How many ways to get to London?

Suppose I want to fly Cathay Pacific from Singapore to London, via HKG. I know this is a total one way travel distance of 7,582 miles (I use milecalc.com), so that’s Zone E, and a round trip business class ticket on Cathay should cost me 145,000 miles. See the award chart below:

So why then is the engine returning 115,000 miles? What’s going on?

It becomes more clear when I lay out that there are three ways I can fly from Singapore to London

  1. Fly Cathay Pacific from SIN-HKG-LHR (Total distance: 7,582 miles OW)
  2. Fly British Airways from SIN-LHR (Total distance: 6,765 miles OW)
  3. Fly Qatar Airways from SIN-DOH, and British Airways from DOH-LHR (Total distance: 7,119 miles OW)

What the engine is showing me is the lowest possible option, which is 115,000 miles for option (3).

Now you’re wondering- 115,000? I don’t see 115,000 listed in any of the standard award buckets in the chart on top. You’re right. Cathay has quite a few different award charts and this further complicates matters.

Here’s Cathay’s Multi-Carrier OneWorld award table, which as per the instructions is to be used when you are redeeming a round-trip award ticket with an itinerary that covers:

  • Two oneworld alliance airlines, which Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is not one of your selected carriers; or
  • Three or more oneworld alliance airlines, which Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is one of your selected carriers.

In the case of option (3), you’re flying QR to DOH and BA to LHR, so that fulfils the criteria of “two oneworld alliance airlines where Cathay isn’t one of them”. Therefore you refer to this chart, and your round trip journey of 2x 7,119 miles prices at 115,000 miles.


But this 115,000 is a theoretical minimum. The engine isn’t even offering me an option to fly via DOH through QR and BA on this particular dates. That’s to say, there is no way I could ever pay 115,000 miles for this route on this date, except in theory.

For this date, all I see is connecting options on CX via HKG and a direct flight via BA.

It gets better- even when I select flights on Cathay, the booking engine still keeps the incorrect 115,000 mile award cost at the bottom

And here’s the kicker. You can’t click through to the final screen if you don’t have the required number of miles in your account. But you don’t know the final miles required until you click through to the final screen!

If you had enough miles, you’d see the 115,000 mile price reprice itself on the final screen. Here’s how much it costs to fly SIN-LHR direct via BA metal (120,000 miles):

Thanks to CTAN for this screenshot. I didn’t have enough miles to get to the final screen

And here’s how much it costs to fly SIN-HKG-LHR on CX metal (145,000 miles):

And if you only had 115,000 miles in your account and select the CX options? You’ll get this error message, and be very confused. “But it said 115,000 miles and I have 115,000 miles in my account…”

You’ll realise you have a chicken and egg problem on your hands. You won’t know exactly how many miles you need for your particular flight selection until you hit the final screen.

Ok fine, you can use milecalc.com to compute the total flown distance and then look it up in the relevant chart, but I can tell you that a lot of first time users won’t think to do that or even know what chart to use.

What should you do?

The implications for award planning then is that you need to be absolutely sure about the number of miles required for your route before you transfer the points. The last thing you’d want is to transfer in 115,000 miles and then realise that you need 145,000 miles for your route, thereby incurring two transfer fees at best, or at worse seeing that award space disappear in the incremental time it takes to transfer the balance 30,000 miles.

So if you’re intending to fly on CX metal with a stopover in HKG, use milecalc.com to confirm the total distance you’ll be flying and then look it up in the relevant award chart to know the total miles required.

Some time back a reader emailed me a question asking me “can I trust the Asiamiles award engine? If it tells me I need 100,000 miles will it still be 100,000 miles when I pay?”

What a silly question, I thought. Er, duh? 

But now I understand what this person was asking. And hopefully now that you know this quirk of the Asiamiles award engine and won’t get caught out.

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3 Comments on "An important warning about the Asia Miles booking engine"

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Good reminder! I suggest calling the Asiamiles help centre to confirm the miles required before transferring them.

Yes I redeemed AM to Helsinki via Finland. It showed 115k per person. It actually needed 120k. So I had to do another miles transfer. Was quite annoying… and very expensive surcharges. If it weren’t for a direct flight I wouldn’t have picked AM

2x 7,119 miles prices at 115,000 miles.

2 x 7,119 = 14,238 , so using that would make you under award zone 9 (14,001 -18000)

2 x 6,765 = 13,530 , which should keep u still at award zone 8 (10,001 – 14,000)