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Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles recently implemented a couple of significant changes to its award program, including a new “Miles Plus Cash” feature. The Hong Kong-based loyalty program sunset its higher-priced ‘Choice' and ‘Tailored' award tiers. Instead, Cathay loyalists are gaining the ability to book flights via a new ‘Miles Plus Cash' option. That is, the ability to book cash fares while covering some of the cost with miles.
Some points and miles travelers seem to think it's a sign that the beloved loyalty program plans to pivot toward dynamic award pricing (think United or Delta). However, I'm not so pessimistic. In fact, I think this new ability could spell even greater flexibility for award travelers—provided Asia Miles' conversion rate turns out to be reasonable.
Asia Miles Ends Choice and Tailored Awards
Prior to this change, Cathay Pacific offered three tiers of award flights: Standard, Choice, and Tailored. Each was subject to a unique distance-based award chart, offering more benefits for the higher tiers:
Standard awards are exactly as they sound—the standard (minimum) award price for a given itinerary. To book these, loyalists need to find suitable award availability. And if the availability doesn't exist for your desired dates, you could either search different dates or book a higher-tiered (and more expensive) Choice or Tailored Reward.
To give you an idea of the price difference, check out these two charts. These represent one-way Standard and Choice awards when flying Cathay Pacific:
Now, award travelers no longer have the option to book Choice or Tailored awards. Moreover, any unconfirmed Choice or Tailored awards—including waitlisted awards—will be canceled. Check out Asia Miles' FAQ page devoted to this news for more details.
Introducing Miles Plus Cash Awards
Starting March 30, 2021, Asia Miles introduced a new option to book flights with “Miles Plus Cash” awards. This allows travelers to book flights with any combination of Asia Miles and cash they'd like. Simply choose the percentage you prefer when booking.
Like all major updates, this prompts several questions. Thankfully, Asia Miles has preemptively answered several of them:
- Asia Miles members can make Points Plus Cash bookings for any available seat on Cathay Pacific or qualifying partner airlines.
- For these bookings, the cash value rate on your points varies by any combination of origin, destination, fare, cabin, or date.
- Miles Plus Cash bookings will likely code as a cash rate, meaning you'll earn elite-qualifying and redeemable miles for the flight.
- You can book these awards exclusively through Cathay Pacific's website—not through Asia Miles.
- Booking a Miles Plus Cash ticket includes instant confirmation (no wait listing necessary).
- A minimum of 5,000 miles is required for a Miles Plus Cash booking.
There's no denying that this option represents a more dynamic pricing model. Since Miles Plus Cash tickets are essentially cash fares, the number of miles required will go up or down with the price. However, whether or not this booking method presents a good opportunity depends entirely on how Cathay Pacific determines mile value.
Furthermore, Cathay Pacific hasn't done away with Asia Miles' standard awards—which is ultimately what award travelers really care about.
When Does a Miles Plus Cash Fare Make Sense?
Points and miles fanatics inherently seek to find the best deal possible. That's why most of us search high and low for standard award availability, delivering maximum value for our hard-earned points. However, even the most dedicated award traveler won't find standard availability all the time. And this is where more flexible award options (like Miles Plus Cash rates) come in.
While delivering less-than-ideal value, Miles Plus Cash can add a lot of flexibility for award travelers. Now, you can access virtually every available seat with your miles. Whether or not the value is worthwhile is another story.
With that in mind, it seems that Miles Plus Cash rates can make sense in at least three situations:
- If you don't have enough Asia Miles for a standard award, you could potentially utilize the miles you do have in conjunction with a decent cash fare to save out-of-pocket expense.
- If there's no standard award availability on your desired travel dates, you could use miles to heavily discount or pay for the best options.
- Since Miles Plus Cash rates earn miles like a normal cash fare, booking them could be a good way to utilize miles to earn airline elite status.
As data is still mixed for the cash value Cathay assigns to mile values, all of this is obviously conjecture. But seeing as how standard awards aren't going anywhere, the potential upside outweighs the downside for me.
Asia Miles recently eliminated Choice and Tailored awards and added a new Miles Plus Cash booking option. The latter makes it possible to use miles for any available seat on any Cathay Pacific or partner flight—although it probably won't make sense for high-priced business and first class seats.
I'm cautiously optimistic about this new award booking opportunity. Standard awards are sticking around (at least for now), so die-hard award travelers can still maximize their miles. Meanwhile, others can potentially use Asia Miles to fly on exactly the flight they want while also earning miles in the process.
How do you feel about Cathay Pacific's new Miles Plus Points booking option?
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