So, I’ve gone and booked a flight to Sydney in August 2021.
No, I don’t have any insider knowledge about a leisure travel bubble between Singapore and Australia, nor do I intend to go against any government advisory. Quite frankly, whether I end up taking the flight isn’t really important.
What’s important is that Cathay Pacific is resolutely refusing to extend Asia Miles, and if you have an expiring balance, making a speculative booking is the best way of circumventing this.
Here’s how it works.
Despite COVID-19, Cathay Pacific is not extending Asia Miles
Well, every major airline except Cathay Pacific. It boggles the mind, but despite the unprecedented travel restrictions currently in place, Cathay Pacific is flat out refusing to extend the validity of Asia Miles.
|❓ Hold up…don’t Asia Miles no longer expire?
Yes and no. In December 2019, Cathay Pacific announced that it would change its Asia Miles expiry policy such that miles no longer expire when you earn or redeem at least one mile every 18 months. However, this only affects miles earned from 1 January 2020 onwards.
All miles earned before that will follow the old time-based system, with a 3 year validity. Do note that the 3 years doesn’t start from the date of crediting; rather, it refers to your account’s anniversary date. In other words, all miles are valid for 3 years from your next anniversary month.
My attempts to solicit an extension were unsuccessful:
Basically, it’s use-it-or-lose-it for Asia Miles. If flying is out of the question, then you’re expected to burn them on hotel stays, merchandise, or other sub-optimal redemption options.
My Asia Miles dilemma
So here’s my situation: I’ve got 70,757 Asia Miles expiring on 30 September 2020. Had it been a smaller figure in the 5,000-10,000 range, I might have been able to justify burning them on shopping vouchers for convenience sake.
But 70,757 miles is just too much for poor value shenanigans. Renew them? Surely you jest. Cathay Pacific is demanding an incredible US$1,400 to renew 70,000 miles.
This means that one way or another, I’m going to have to redeem an award flight.
This then begs the question: to where? Award tickets can generally be booked 1 year out (the exact number of days varies from carrier to carrier), and if travel bubbles do materialize for Singapore during this period, my guess would be:
- New Zealand
There’s not much of a point burning miles on flights to Malaysia and Thailand, and getting from Singapore to New Zealand on oneworld will involve a potentially complicated third country transit. This leaves Australia and Japan as the only realistic candidates.
Now, one of my main goals when planning trips is to review new cabin products, and since I’ve already reviewed Cathay Pacific’s Business and First Class, and Japan Airlines Business Class, what does that leave?
Qantas is the obvious one, but they’re extremely stingy with the award space. Come to think of it, there’s a more interesting candidate: British Airways.
Yes, you heard me right. It’s possible to fly British Airways from Singapore to Sydney, thanks to their fifth freedom BA15 flight that runs from LHR-SIN-SYD.
Now, I don’t have particularly high hopes for this. From what I’ve read on various blogs and Flyertalk, the British Airways premium cabin experience is nothing to write home about. But I figure it’s still worth trying once, if only in some vain hope that the amazing Qantas First Class lounge at Changi will have reopened by then.
Besides, I hear that British Airways is looking to introduce a “new first class” (actually, more like the existing seat plus a door) from October 2020, and who knows- these might end up on the LHR-SIN-SYD route by 2021. After all, a commercially-important route like this would be a logical place for BA to deploy its new “flagship product”.
I can find quite a few days in August 2021 where British Airways First Class award space from SIN-SYD is available.
This will cost 87,000 Asia Miles from SIN-SYD (one-way), plus 1,904 HKD (S$334) in taxes and fees, nicely clearing out my 70,757 expiring miles balance.
What happens if travel restrictions remain in place?
With all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it’s perhaps best to take 2021 travel plans as “gambles” rather than “guarantees”.
So what happens if August 2021 comes round and Australia is still closed to visitors? My Asia Miles award ticket validity is 1 year from the date of issuance, and if I make the booking today (20 September 2020), I won’t be able to push it back much further.
In other words, if I cancel my SIN-SYD ticket in August 2021, the miles will be refunded to my account, and since they expired on 30 September 2020, they’ll be extended to 30 September 2021- the next “anniversary date” for my account.
Therefore, in a worst case scenario where Australia remains closed or where quarantine requirements make the trip impracticable, I can pay a US$120 cancellation fee and effectively extend my miles to 30 September 2021. Then I can book a new flight for up to a year in advance, giving me breathing room until September 2022. That’s a heck of a lot better than paying Cathay’s US$1,400 extension fee, I can tell you that.
And of course, if the flight ends up being cancelled, I’ll avoid the US$120 fee and get a refund plus extension of my miles for free (assuming the cancellation happens after 30 September 2020).
Everyone’s anniversary date will be different, so to see how this applies to you, go to your Asia Miles account and check your mileage expiry date. If it’s July, for example, any refunded miles which have expired will be extended till the following July.
While I’m quietly optimistic that some form of leisure travel between Singapore and Australia will be possible by August 2021, I probably wouldn’t have made a booking if Asia Miles hadn’t forced my hand.
But it does seem like the right course of action here, at least for those who are adamantly opposed to redeeming non-flight awards. Make a speculative booking, and if travel restrictions have eased by then, great. If not, pay a token cancellation fee and get a de facto extension of your miles, at a fraction of the price Cathay is normally asking for.
For those of you with expiring Asia Miles, how are you burning them?