Cathay Pacific Asia Miles added as US Membership Rewards transfer partner

I love the timing of this. Just yesterday I posted my analysis of what credit card points with the three “major” programs are worth, and included the following in the section about American Express Membership Rewards:

I sure hope they’re talking to either Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan or US Airways Dividend Miles for a potential partnership, as either would greatly improve the value proposition of the program.

The good news is that Membership Rewards has a new transfer partner — Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. While Asia Miles partners with some international Membership Rewards programs, this is the first time they’re partnering with the US program.

The bad news is that as far as I can tell it’s not really all that interesting for most of us.

As it stands you can redeem British Airways Avios points for travel on Cathay Pacific (or any other OneWorld partner), and while their award chart isn’t especially lucrative for longhaul flights, Membership Rewards is offering a 50% transfer bonus for British Airways through May 31. Still, even without the bonus their award chart is still more lucrative than Asia Miles’ in most instances.

Asia Miles has a distance based award chart (based on roundtrip travel), which can be found here, or you can use their mileage calculator here.

For example, first class roundtrip between San Francisco and Hong Kong will run you 180,000 Asia Miles, plus about $400 in taxes and fuel surcharges (as a point of comparison, business class will run you 120,000 Asia Miles and coach will run you 60,000 Asia Miles).

So that is a bit cheaper than booking through British Airways (which charges 70,000 miles for coach, 140,000 miles for business class, and 210,000 miles for first class), though that’s not factoring in the frequent transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards to British Airways.

For short-haul awards, booking through British Airways is a much better value. For example, Hong Kong to Bangkok in business class costs 30,000 miles roundtrip through British Airways and 40,000 miles roundtrip through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Between Hong Kong and Singapore the roundtrip cost is 40,000 miles through British Airways while it’s 70,000 miles roundtrip through Cathay Pacific.

So while I suppose more options are a good thing, I don’t suspect there will be many instances in which this is useful. When it comes to short-haul awards on OneWorld carriers, you’re better off transferring points to British Airways. For longhaul flights Cathay Pacific’s costs are sometimes a bit lower, though with the transfer bonuses British Airways frequently offers they’re still cheaper.

At the end of the day if you want to fly Cathay Pacific first class you shouldn’t be accruing Membership Rewards points. You should be earning American miles, given that they don’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on Cathay Pacific and also have lower redemption rates (between the US and Asia they charge 70,000 miles for coach, 110,000 miles for business class, and 135,000 miles for first class).

So I guess it’s nice to have a new partner, and perhaps with some transfer bonuses in the future transferring to them could be a good value. I still find Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to be a more valuable foreign transfer partner.

Filed Under: American Express, Cathay Pacific
  1. Lucky… please correct this part “between the US and Asia they charge *70,000 miles* for coach”

    the rest is correct. Thanks!

  2. I just noticed Asia Miles last night on the Amex website and I was a little surprised.

    I figured it had been there and doesn’t get much attention since their award chart doesn’t provide the best value for OW.

    Very useful comparison, thank you!

  3. Lucky,

    I have no experience with Asia miles, and agree with you and Gary on your assessments. It will all depend on the promos and the itinerary. The interesting thing I noticed is the companion award; and neither of you pointed to it.

    That may seem to tip it towards Asia miles if 2 are traveling or 4 on the same itinerary. Not sure what the exact rules are pertaining to combining airlines. I don’t think it applies to the one world chart.

    On the other hand, I (and probably many others) also receive the companion voucher every year on BA through the Chase Visa card.That strictly limits to BA metal.

    Still nice to have another option.


  4. Don’t forget using Alaska miles for Cathay, really some of the best bargains out there. Also, with the Citi Aadvantage credit card, that 135k AA redemption on CX can be had for 125k.

  5. AMEX will become even more of a mixed bag when they up the yearly fees on their Platinum cards as they have done in the UK, mexico and now Canada.

  6. Transferred all my MR points to Avios yesterday and looking to close the card in a few months when it’s at one year. Many other cards offer better value than Amex Gold MR at this point in the game.

    My bf works at CX so we get to fly at deep discount! 🙂

  7. Sweet – Maybe we’ll get to take advantage of the one year Marco Polo Gold status for having Amex Plat that I’ve seen offered up on a couple of the non-US Amex sites (AUS Amex for instance).

  8. Seems mostly valuable for intra-Asian flights. When I lived in Asia I flew Cathay exclusively and redeemed award tix, and was surprised at how “cheap” the awards were. But now that I’m back in the States I haven’t collected AsiaMiles due to the high mileage requirements for booking awards. Maybe I’ll transfer just enough MR points to balance out the miles I still have in my AsiaMiles account, and book one final award ticket.

    I really do hope that Alaska Airlines (or even USAir) becomes a transfer partner. One day I really hope to book South Africa via HK in Cathay 1st, using AS miles. Maybe I’ll just have to start flying AS, especially now that they just started flying to my home airport of PHL. Dilemma is that it would probably be better to get status on AA rather than AS, to get the benefits AA offers.
    @Lucky, what do you think is the better value? AS or AA miles and status?

  9. @Ed as I explained in the comments to the post on my blog, the ‘companion award’ is a discounted award ticket that can only be booked in conjunction with a paid ticket, it’s not a discounted award for a second passenger where he first passenger is also traveling on miles.

    @Coutoureguy the value of AS vs AA status will depend on whom you fly, if you are going to be top tier with one you would want it to be the airline you’re traveling with more frequently so that you get your upgrades 🙂 but in terms of which *top tier* of an elite program is more generous in the abstract I think that’s unequivocably American for the 8 systemwide upgrades valid from any fare… (Alaska upgrades just don’t get you as far 😛 )

  10. Hi Gary, thanks for the info. Currently I don’t fly with either AA or AS. Domestically I almost always fly USAir or DL. However I just booked an award trip to use up most of my DL miles and am looking to replace DL as my preferred airline. I guess really the main reason I was considering AS was to be able to book the trip to SA in Cathay 1st with one award ticket, vs. 2, which AA requires. Your point about the AA SWUs though is very compelling. I think that trumps using just one award ticket for the aforementioned itinerary. Thanks for helping me reason it out! 🙂

  11. I have 15k which is just enough for me to fly from SIN-PEN round trip. I priced reward ticket and they have availability through Malaysian Airlines but reward ticket will cost over $200 in fuel charges! I could fly Air Asia for a lot less expensive! Doesn’t make sense to use the miles…

  12. Ben, do you know off hand what the surcharges would be for a one-way LAX-BOM (via HKG) on Cathay using Asia Miles?

    I tried to get to the payment screen online, but it won’t let me as I have 0 balance.


  13. Thanks Ben – I just put 3 award seats on hold with AA (flying Cathay). 57,500 miles one-way + $2.50 each.

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