Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles shake-up means 80 per cent of flights will earn more in loyalty programme

Travellers buying cheapest economy tickets on short-haul routes with Hong Kong’s flagship airline to be biggest winners when Asia Miles launches changes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 12:48am

At least 80 per cent of flights on Hong Kong’s flagship airline will earn more air miles from next month as the loyalty programme for Cathay Pacific looks to counter criticism that rewards for journeys with the carrier pale in comparison to competitors.

The shake-up to Asia Miles is set to offer a major boost to Cathay Pacific and sister airline Cathay Dragon as the loss-making airlines struggle to remain competitive amid stiff competition from budget carriers.

The programme, a profit-generating subsidiary of Cathay Pacific Group, will also let customers redeem fewer miles to book many flights and will place 20 per cent more seats up for grabs.

The changes will affect some 10 million members of the reward scheme worldwide.

Stephen Wong See-yuen, chief executive of Asia Miles, described the reforms as proof that the programme was finally listening to customers and acting on persistent complaints.

“This is a major change ... We think it will truly deliver value to all of our members no matter what route you fly, which route you redeem or which cabin you fly in. We believe the changes will benefit people across the board,” he said.

The biggest boon will be for travellers buying the cheapest economy tickets on short-haul routes, for which very few miles were given to customers in the past.

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The cheapest ticket to Tokyo’s Narita airport will earn 1,000 miles, an increase of 117 per cent.

A seat booked on flexible terms to Shanghai Pudong will rake in 2,000 miles, up 157 per cent. A business class journey to China’s financial hub will bag 2,500 miles, up from 974.

“Our job is to help the airline as much as we can as well as all of our other airline partners, and we think this will be good news for everybody involved,” said Jason Adessky, head of strategy and coalition development at Asia Miles.

The loyalty scheme spent a significant amount of time working with Cathay Pacific to plot the incoming changes, he said.

Many of the improvements come from changes to the way air miles are calculated, based on cabin class, fare class and flight distance.

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For a trip to Sydney, a flight with rival airline Qantas Airways currently offers Asia Miles customers 2,296 miles in the cheapest economy seats, whereas with Cathay the number is just 1,148. But that figure will rise to 2,300 miles after June 22 when the changes take effect.

Anomalies like these which have favoured Cathay’s competitors will all be ironed out with the new set-up, the company said.

Qantas is a part of the Oneworld airline alliance of which Cathay is also a member.

Mileage earnings for the loyalty programme’s airline partners other than Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will go unchanged.

Cashing in miles to book an economy class seat will become cheaper in many cases.

Flights to Singapore and Osaka will cost 20,000 miles for a return ticket, a third less than previously.

For business, premium economy and first class journeys however, return trips will cost much more, although one-way tickets will be slightly cheaper. And upgrading a seat using miles will also become more costly, along with companion bookings.

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One of the more contentious changes revolves around the availability of seats. Although the number of seats up for purchase by redeeming miles will increase by 20 per cent, two new redemption categories called “choice” and “tailored” will be introduced whereby travellers will need to use more miles for seats at peak travel times or short notice.

This so-called “dynamic pricing” will see many customers pay close to standard market rates for flights bought with miles if their travel needs are less flexible.

Top-tier Cathay Pacific frequent flier Kesler Go endorsed the changes, but described them as a “mixed bag”.

“Ultimately, with the promised 20 per cent more seats available for redemption, it’s a positive development,” he said, “as I think there are more people who actually have miles but can’t seem to redeem.”

But Go was upset about an ongoing disparity which he said meant passengers signed up to air miles schemes with rival airlines could redeem Cathay flights more cheaply.

Through the Alaska Airlines loyalty programme a customer could redeem the same Cathay business-class return trip from Manila to Hong Kong and onward to New York for 100,000 miles, much less than the 170,000 Asia Miles required, Go said.

This was further proof that Cathay was more generous with partner airlines than its own passengers, he said.

David Flynn, editor of frequent flier website Australian Business Traveller, said: “This revamp is good news for regional travellers on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights under four hours, even in economy class. They’ll earn more Asia Miles when they fly and will need fewer Asia Miles to book an award seat. I suspect this is a deliberate move by Cathay to boost its appeal against the growing legion of low-cost competitors across Asia.”

Rival loyalty programmes such as those serving American Airlines and Qantas have made changes along similar lines, and British Airways is expected to follow suit.