Asiamiles Award Flights – resources and tricks
Just spent nearly 50 hours going through a quagmire of hoops and loops due to restrictions under AM’s T&C, thought I’d like to share my experience here just it may help someone doing the same. Award flights are an attractive option especially you got the miles and you intend to travel in peak season when buying tickets would be expensive (likely 3 or 4 times than low season prices), but there are many restrictions ….
The easy advice first- plan early and book your itinerary as soon as possible, like a year ahead, i.e. soon after the dates open up and before most people. Now, that would make a carefree booking and travel. However; that’s easier said than done, just wonder how many can be sure of their leave plan, etc a year ahead!
If you can’t, my recent experience would tell us that you may be up for a very frustrating experience, but the following resources (knowing where to find information which are often tricky, and how to approach the Asiamiles- AM enquiry, etc) may help tremendously in relieving some tension here. Still, as availabilities become scarce as time to your travel gets shorter (especially if you choose peak times), you must bear in mind 3 things – it’s frustrating (so keep calm and consider all options), be very flexible, and it’s rewarding when you succeed in the end (saves you a lot of cash, and gave you lots of knowledge about flying in that area).
Asiamiles is big and global (their English and Cantonese hotline 27473838 in Hong Kong is 24/7, Putonghua one closes 11PM-7AM and on Sundays though), so you’re competing with not just someone in HK, but lots of people all over the world. So you can be up for a long wait for someone to pick up your call (30 min is not uncommon, or you’d be asked to leave a no. to call you back- which may take days!) before someone attends to your call. People can easily spend an hour or more on the phone for each case, so you can imagine their workload and can explain why they can be pretty indifferent and may not be that helpful (they are courteous though). So get equipped with some of the tips below would save your much frustration and lots of time. So long you have questions to ask, they would continue to entertain you and they should help you to explore lots of options, hence it’s important that you prepare yourselves with many options and all questions you want to clarify with them beforehand as getting through to them is not easy. Now, let me get to the basics:-
AM has two award schemes – Asiamiles Award and One-World Multi-carrier Award with different mile points (Award miles) for different zones of flight distances. For details, study here for the award charts. Which one to use to your advantages depends on the distances (miles) of your intended travel itinerary, see my example below.
- Asiamiles Award – the Asia miles required for each zone (S, A-F) which has one way or return, etc, are based on one-way distance (to more than 10,000 miles) from origin to destination including all detours to/from your destination, i.e. max distance one way. In this mode, you are allowed 2 transits, 2 stopovers and 1 open-jaw.
- One-World Multi-carrier Award – the Asia miles required for each zone (01-13) are based on the total miles travelled (up to 50,000 miles), i.e. cumulative of every leg you travel including transit and stopovers. In this mode, you are allowed max 2 transits, 5 stopovers and 2 open-jaws. You need to use Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon plus at least 2 other one-world alliance airlines or if no Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon, exactly 2 one-world alliance airlines.
Sounds straight-forward, but devil is in the details- the T&C under the award charts which you may want to read it over and over, and whether you can find the partner flights which go to your points of interests but not too many transfers (only 2 allowed!) in between AND seats are available; but if you have time, you can stopover at the transfer cities (as 5 allowed). Transfer or transit means you stop at a place less than 24 hours from your scheduled arrival time, stopover is more than 24 hours (the award ticket should be valid for 1 year).
Below is an example, say if you plan to go from Hong Kong: HKG (these 3 letter codes are the airport ID codes) and visit New York and nearby cities (Toronto: YYZ, Boston: BOS, Washington DC: DCA), Anchorage: ANC for a southbound Alaska cruise, Seattle: SEA and San Francisco: SFO to visit friends, before returning to Hong Kong. Now first, for your most desirable itinerary, you have to decide which cities you want to open jaw, stopover or just transit, and see if it works. E.g. you want to take the South-bound Alaska cruise, so an open jaw must be Anchorage (ANC) (near Whittier, the embarkation port) to say Vancouver (YVR) (or Seattle- SEA which is just about 4.5 hrs away by bus/drive), then stopovers at New York (3 airports here – JFK, EWR, LGA) for touring the nearby areas of Boston (BOS), Washington DC (DCA); and SEA as well as San Francisco (3 nearby airports here SFO, OAK, SJC).
Best route scenario (you want to use award miles to the best advantage, i.e. minimum self paying): HKG-YYZ (S1), YYL-EWR (OJ1) touring east coast then fly out from DCA-SEA-ANC (no direct flights, hence must use another transit, T1), then OJ2 to Vancouver-YVR, then YVR-SEA (S2), SEA-SFO (S3), SFO-HKG. This routing satisfy the One-World Multi-carrier Award, but not the Asiamiles Award. Let’s see the total distance. It seems no one knows how Cathay/AM calculates their miles between airports, but this Great Circle Mapper site offers instant calculations which are close enough (typically about 2% higher than those calculated by AM), you just need to type in the airport codes and link them by a dash (-) and it calculates instantly the total miles. It’s ok if you don’t know or forget the airport codes, you just type in the location and GC would give you a choice of airports there. So putting in HKG-YYZ-JFK gives 8176 miles, then DCA-SEA-ANC gives 3777 miles, then YVR-SEA-SFO-HKG gives 7732 miles, total would be 19,685 miles. Hence this route would just be in Zone 10 (18000-20000 miles) and you’d need 95,000 award miles for economy class. Bingo, sounds a great deal as the tickets involved if you pay yourself would typically amounts to HK$20k in the high season.
Now heading to details, I use Skyscanner to find the available flights and airlines (you can filter the results just for the OneWorld airlines and no. of stops you want, if any) for first stab on the feasibility and routing (as well as info on the minimum self-paying price in case you need to do the self paying option later- so note them down). You can of course, use Cathay’s website under “Redeem Flights” to more accurately check the route and availability (but this takes much more clicks and longer). After checking, I found that I can use CX for HKG-YYL, (American Airline) AA for YYZ-JFK, (Alaskan Airline) AS for DCA-SEA-ANC, and also for YVR-SEA-SFO, then CX of course for SFO-HKG. Perfect! CX plus 2 partner airlines. So armed with the info and 95,000 award miles, you can call AM and book your award tickets. Good luck!
Note: through searching, you may find many routes are possible via Air Canada, and since Jan 2017 Canada has become CX’s partner airline! Good news and bad news. Good news is that there are indeed a lot of routes Air Canada fly to, but the bad news is that award flights under AM are only available for some domestic flights in Canada, not say even short ones just across the border, e.g. from Toronto to Boston or Vancouver to Seattle. Hence using this to make up the 3rd carrier was impossible for my example.
Here’s a tip to get through to the ‘impossible’ AM CS rep quickly, from Hong Kong, just dial 27473838, press 1 (for English, as much much quicker than Cantonese), then 1 (to say you’re an AM member), then punch your 10 digit AM no., then press 1 (for willing to rate their service afterwards). You don’t need to wait to hear all these lengthly instructions or promotion talks!
But as I said earlier, unless you are getting tickets for the low season or you book nearly a year ahead, it’s likely that you may be frustrated. In my case, I called in April for some Aug and Sept flights and met tremendous frustrations, mainly with availability of the domestic legs. It happens that AS is rather generous with award seats but AA is hopeless in this example. In the end I could not get any AA domestic flights, and have to ditch this option completely after trying several times and many hours of prep work and options exploring. Since without AA in the picture, I got only CX plus AS, just 1 partner carrier with CX, hence not satisfying the condition for the Oneworld Multi-carrier Award mode. I tried many other options including self-paying for the Toronto and DC visits, but then the only available AA flight to ANC would be via DFW (Dallas, AA’s hub) which means flying more distance and making the total distance travelled now in excess of 20,000 miles bumping it into Zone 11 requiring 110,000 Award miles! Since I only got about 98,000 award miles, I was back to square one!
Realising that the more favourable option of using OW Multi-carrier award mode would not work for me this time, I’ve to revert to the other Asiamiles Award mode. Eventually, I have to opt for a rather simple route of HKG-EWR (by CX: 8,065 mi), open-jaw to JFK, JFK-YVR (by AS: 2,449 mi), stopover, then YVR-HKG (by CX: 6,392 mi), self-paying for the rest. The max distance one-way would be 8,841 mi, hence well within Zone E (7501-10000 mi), hence 90,000 award miles required. I have a personal reason to fly in to NY via Newark Airport (EWR), and as there is no flight from EWR to YVR, only JFK, so l need to leave from JFK. But I have an allowed open-jaw which I can use, so no problem there. Open-jaw is typically flying from airports from different cities, but for some reason unknown to many (many online are puzzled by the same question), EWR and JFK (which is only just over an hour apart by shuttle) is considered as open jaw! From above, you see that I still have about 1200 mi before I’d use up the limit, but after many hours of exploring, there just weren’t any other legs I wanted to fly and was available. AA flights were the main obstacle, couldn’t even get any one working. I could also minimise the no. of stopovers and transfers such as by using JFK only, but the additional distances e.g. if I fly to ANC too, would make the max one way distances exceeding 10,000 mi, which would bump it to Zone F requiring 110,000 mi. So again, no go!
Some other notes and tips, if you find a workable leg under CX online Redeem Flight section, you need to note the award miles required, if it’s not the lowest miles required, then you need to use the premium economy class award miles to redeem it, and any one leg like this, you may as well move all your legs to premium econ as a mixed itinerary would be considered as a higher class travel under redemption. One more frustration I met was that even the online CX web after immediate refreshing on my computer showed availability, the AM operator told me no. When asked why, she just answered as a matter of fact, she could only give information as of real time based on availability- no more, no less! and you can always call in later to check again, as frequent as you like! Sometimes, I’m not really sure if that’s how they justify their job as they would mind spending a couple of hours with you on the phone each time (but you first have to get an answer first!). But then again, I met a couple of helpful guys who gave me some good advice on alternatives, these were important for my final success in this booking. They obviously know many tricks and tips which I didn’t know, and it’s just a matter of whether they want to be helpful which obviously saves tremendous clients’ effort and time, and I think theirs too.
Other good and useful resources I found online include: PointHacks redemption guide, here is some practical examples of itineraries for award bookings in chinese including some to Japan, this one in English
Credits and Sources:
(2017). Asiamiles.com. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from http://www.asiamiles.com/am/en/redeem/charts
Great Circle Mapper. (2017). Great Circle Mapper. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from http://www.gcmap.com/
Mason, K. (2016). How to use Asia Miles for Round the World redemptions. Point Hacks. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from http://www.pointhacks.com.au/asia-miles-around-the-world-redemption-guide/
兌換獎賞機票實例全集 – Fly For Miles 小斯 – 飛行里數部落格. (2014). Fly For Miles 小斯 – 飛行里數部落格. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from https://flyformiles.flyday.hk/2413
Macomber, D. (2016). Best Use of Asia Miles (Cathay). Travel is Free. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from http://travelisfree.com/2016/11/14/best-use-of-asia-miles-cathay/