You know me – I’m all about getting the most value possible when redeeming frequent flyer miles. And when I say “value” I mean both the key metric, cents per mile, but also having an amazing travel experience. One of the most important aspects of frequent flyer miles is that they enable average travelers to have extraordinary experiences, ones they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. How many of us can pay $10,000 or more for an international first class ticket?
One of the absolute best ways I’ve found to redeem frequent flyer miles is for first class tickets on Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag carrier. Like many other Asian airlines, they are known for great hard and soft products. That is, their seats transform into comfortable flat beds and their staff provide excellent service. If you’ve ever flown business or first class with a U.S.-based airline and have received surly service, you’ll understand exactly the contrast I’m making.
With an airline like Cathay Pacific, the premium experience starts long before boarding. Upon arrival at the airport, first class travelers can proceed to check-in with a dedicated first class area. These dedicated service areas for first class passengers have become more common in recent years, with some airlines going so far as to offer separate, private check-in areas like this. Lufthansa even offers a First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt hub. Following are pictures, video and a little bit of description of the Cathay Pacific First Class experience. At the end I’ll help you understand how you can enjoy this experience yourself – without breaking the bank!
After expedited check-in comes a fast track through security lines, which comes in especially valuable at airports like London Heathrow, which seem to be perpetually congested. From there, it’s a very short walk to the first class entrance to The Wing, Cathay’s premier lounge at its Hong Kong hub.
Airline lounges are always a welcome refuge from the hubbub of the general terminal. But if you’re used to the pay-for-play model of U.S.-based airlines, foreign carrier lounges are a special treat. At The Wing, I was seated restaurant-style to enjoy a proper meal, and the lounge itself was so luxurious that it included private cabanas that can be booked on demand. Yes, seriously – take a look:
After some lounging and relaxing at The Wing, I proceeded to check out the other Cathay Pacific lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, including The Pier and The Bridge. Both are lovely, but The Wing had the best amenities for first class passengers, as The Pier’s first class section is currently being overhauled.
As you might expect, the pampering continued once I boarded the aircraft.
While not as private as the suites offered on Emirates, Etihad or Singapore Airlines, Cathay’s first class suites are more than adequate for an exceedingly comfortable journey, no matter how long your flight. If you want to sleep, the seat transforms into a fully lie-flat bed, which flight attendants will make up for you, complete with sheets and a duvet. As you’d expect, Cathay’s cabin service is attentive and outstanding, putting most other airlines to shame.
While my latest flight in Cathay Pacific First Class was away from Hong Kong, if you’re arriving into Hong Kong on Cathay, either in first or business class, you can also enjoy their Arrivals Lounge.
The cost of my Hong Kong-London flight in first class (one-way) would have been about $9,000. That means my 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles yielded 12.9 cents per mile, a phenomenal return for a frequent flyer redemption. This is just about the pinnacle of frequent flyer mile redemptions.
It’s not as hard as you think to be pampered by Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore Airlines or many others. All it takes is a little strategic planning and an understanding of the best ways to earn and spend frequent flyer miles. Here are a few tips:
- If you can earn miles (including buying them) at 2.5 cents per mile or less, I recommend doing so.
- Pick the right program. Currently Alaska Airlines and American Airlines offer the most lucrative frequent flyer programs.
- Be careful how you redeem miles – the key metric is how many cents per mile you receive when you redeem. Go for redemption options that give you five cents or more per mile redeemed.
Running some basic math, if my Alaska Airlines miles cost me even four cents each to earn, and I redeemed them for 12 cents each, that’s an arbitrage of 8 cents per mile. For the 70,000 mile cost of this ticket, that comes out to a net profit of $5,600. Is it any wonder that frequent flyers become mileage junkies?
There’s a lot to this game, but you can benefit greatly if you learn even the basic ins-and-outs. Learn more about frequent flyer programs and how to maximize your mileage redemption, and you’ll be a savvy traveler, ahead of nearly everyone else. And way ahead of those travelers two cabins back in cramped economy seats.