Travel news and advice

How to get the best deals on air miles from Hong Kong, with Asia Miles, Avios and others

Wondering about the most cost-effective ways to collect miles, who to collect them with, and how best to spend them? The answers depend on where you want to fly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 11:50am

Asia Miles, Cathay Pacific Airways’ loyalty programme, is offering travellers greater rewards for flying with the carrier. But customers and experts say Hongkongers should consider other mileage schemes if their goal is to score free flights.

For example, almost half of all weekly flights into Hong Kong International Airport are operated by the 11 airlines of the Oneworld alliance, making the group’s programme very appealing to travellers based in the city.

Robert Cheng Chi-ming of Hong Kong consumer savings website MoneySmart said: “It all depends on which region people will fly to frequently.”

Airline loyalty and credit card expert Cheng gave his top picks for Hong Kong-based travellers. He said travellers looking for free ultra-short-haul flights of two hours, enough to fly to Taiwan, should rack up miles on British Airways’ Avios scheme.

For most Asian destinations, Asia Miles was Cheng’s pick, while he suggested Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan and American Airlines’ (AA) AAdvantage scheme for long-haul redemptions.

How can travellers earn these miles?

Air miles are mostly earned through flight purchases, hotel stays and through credit cards that offer the miles to their customers. But the amount of miles you can earn, and where you can spend them, vary from scheme to scheme.

British Airways ’ Avios

Avios members can earn miles on Cathay Pacific flights, but British Airways frequent fliers can get double points when flying AA and Japan Airlines from Hong Kong.

For example, flying from Hong Kong to Tokyo on the cheapest round-trip economy-class Cathay Pacific ticket would earn 2,000 Asia Miles, and credited to Avios would get 930 points. But booking Japan Airlines on the same route would net 4,520 points for top-tier members. Both Asia Miles and Avios would charge 20,000 points to redeem a round trip to Tokyo.

A number of credit cards offer Avios miles – as good as one mile for HK$3 (US$0.38) spent.

AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan

It is much tougher to earn miles for AA’s AAdvantage and Alaska’s Mileage Plan. Neither has local credit card loyalty programmes, so miles can mostly only be earned through flights.

AAdvantage members can buy points direct from the carrier, up to a maximum of 150,000 per year, enough to redeem a long-haul round-trip ticket on Cathay Pacific in business class. At their discount rates, that would cost US$2,655 (HK$21,000).

Alaska regularly offers large discounts on miles, as compared with buying the equivalent flight directly. A Post search found that customers can pay US$1,770 and get close to 84,000 miles – a 40 per cent promotional boost – which is close to snagging a return long-haul ticket on Cathay Pacific in business class. A cash booking costs as much as US$11,000 (HK$90,000).

Cathay Pacific plans to allow early reservations in the cheap seats

Asia Miles

The recent changes to Asia Miles have made it generally easier to earn miles on flights and spend them on air tickets. The might of Asia Miles means an array of banks offer credit cards with attractive rates, which accrue Asia Miles. The rate at which banks offer miles per HK$ spent is as good as a mile for every HK$2.78 on the HSBC Visa Signature Card, with bonuses bringing that as low as HK$1.

Using Asia Miles, taking indirect flights to get miles and club points more quickly is still possible, said Minh Tran, a Cathay Pacific top-tier Marco Polo Club member and collector of Asia Miles points. It can be cheaper and more enticing to go one-stop than taking a direct Cathay Pacific flight, and the programme’s partner airlines are often cheaper.

However, Will Horton, a Hong Kong-based aviation analyst for CAPA Centre for Aviation, noted the Asia Miles changes were designed for Cathay Pacific to encourage passengers to fly it and earn with it.

“The Asia Miles changes seem a genuine improvement and part of Cathay’s new initiative to win back the Hong Kong market,” he said. “Cathay took its near-monopoly for granted and did not need to have Asia Miles be lucrative or a sticky factor for passengers.”

Which scheme do I use (by intended route)?

Hong Kong to Taiwan

Use Avios. Spend 9,000 Avios points instead of 15,000 Asia Miles for a round-trip economy ticket. A seat in premium economy would cost just 13,500 Avios points instead of the 22,000 points now required by Asia Miles.

Hong Kong to Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Singapore or Beijing

Asia Miles wins over Avios. It’ll be the same cost for the most popular regional flights, now that Asia Miles has reduced the number of miles needed for redemptions for those routes. However, more distant Asian routes like Bali, Colombo and Mumbai have all been made cheaper to redeem on Asia Miles, too, unlike Avios.

Hong Kong to India

Use Asia Miles. With its changes, it’s cut the redemption rate by up to 55 per cent in economy class, to just 20,000 Asia Miles, and similar steep discounts in the more expensive cabin seats.

Hong Kong to Europe

Use Avios and fly British Airways to London outside peak periods. A Post reporter recently paid 6,700 Avios points and HK$1,400 for a one-way ticket to London with BA. However, use Asia Miles in economy and Alaska, AA for higher cabins including business class.

Hong Kong (or nearby) to the US

Use Alaska. Kesler Go, a Cathay Pacific Marco Polo top-tier frequent flier, suggests Hongkongers buy a cheap one-way ticket to a nearby destination and start their long-haul journey from there.

For example, they can use 100,000 miles on the Alaska plan to book a round trip for Manila-Hong Kong-New York in Cathay Pacific business class. Doing the same route with Asia Miles points would cost 170,000 miles.