As an expat in Hong Kong, you get used to spending a significant amount of time flying – whether it’s around the region for business, a short hop for holidays around Asia or back home to see family. With all these miles in the air, it makes sense to get smart with the various air miles and memberships to work them to your favour. Here’s a relatively brief overview of some of your main options.
First, pick your tribe…
Handy for those heading to central and western Europe, Singapore or North America, Star Alliance includes Air Canada, Air China, ANA, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines
A Popular choice for Hong Kong expats, this includes British Airways, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Malaysia Airlines and Finnair
French and American travellers may opt for Sky Team, as this group includes Air France, Delta, KLM, Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and China Southern
Though not part of any alliance Emirates, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic all have frequent flyer options that still stand up on their own. Virgin also has partnerships with Delta, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and others for earning miles.
Get earning the miles, then spend them
As the main currency of Cathay Pacific, Asia Miles are the easiest to collect in Hong Kong. You can earn Asia Miles by flying with Cathay or with any of the One World partners, but they can also be collected through various bank credit cards, American Express, healthcare providers, hotels, car rental, petrol, restaurants and even on the airport express. Miles can then be redeemed against flights with Cathay or One World partners, as well as hotels, travel experiences and car rentals.
A business class flight to London on Cathay will earn you 14,958 miles (11,966 in economy)
$10,000 on a credit card will earn you 834 miles
$2000 on a meal will earn you 1000 miles
A business class flight will cost you 120,000 miles (60,000 in economy)
Avios is probably the biggest contender to Asia Miles and tends to be favoured by British expats, especially if already tied into a BA/Avios account. BA miles can still be earnt on Cathay flights, as well as BA and all other One World partners. Premium bank cards, such as HSBC’s Premier and American Express’ Platinum cards allow you to transfer your earnt points into Avios (lower tier cards can normally only opt for Asia Miles), and there is one Avios-dedicated credit card, through Dah Sing bank.
A business class flight to London on BA will earn you between 8,969 and 20,927 Avios (1,495 to 11,958 in economy) depending on your card tier and ticket type.
$10,000 on a credit card will earn you 1,667 Avios (3,333 on flights)
A business class flight will cost you 75,000-90,000 miles (19,500 to 30,000 in economy)
Those regularly Singapore bound should make use of the KrisFlyer miles. These can be earnt on any Singapore Airlines flights, as well as any of the Star Alliance group. As well as in the air, miles can be built up by staying in a wide range of hotels and car rental companies. There are banks and credit cards that offer miles too, though these tend to be based in either Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia.
A business class flight to Singapore will earn you 1,993 miles (1,594 in economy)
A business class flight to Singapore will cost you 27,500 miles (15,000 in economy)
US flyers may want to stick with one of the big national carriers, such as American (One World), United (Star Alliance) or Delta (SkyTeam) to make the most of their flying miles, depending the airline that covers your most-used route. Delta’s SkyMiles can be earnt on flights with Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Air France, Vietnam Airlines and others. Miles can also be accrued from hotel reservations, car rental and many US retailers. Though there are US and international credit cards, there is currently no Hong Kong -based card.
A return business class flight to Seattle will earn you 16,180 to 32,035 miles (2,600 to 15,300 in economy)
A return business class flight to Seattle will cost you 280,000 miles (115,000 in economy)
Flying Emirates proves a popular choice for those flying back to Europe, particularly those non-London bound. Despite the added time of the change in Dubai, the flights are relatively affordable, the planes modern and spacious and the service friendly. Its own miles programme Skywards is only earnt with flights on Emirates, though it also has ties with a wide range of hotels, car rental companies and American Express.
A business class flight to London on BA will earn you between 6,000 and 14,400 skywards miles (600 to 9,000 in economy) depending on your card tier and ticket type.
$10,000 on an American Express card will earn you 667 skywards miles (1,333 on turbo membership)
A business class flight will cost you 150,000-207,500 miles (75,000 to 130,000 in economy)
Rise up the tiers, get lounge access and more
Though discounted and free flights is a big part of any frequent flyer programme, the biggest perks come from the tier points. Fly enough and move up the card levels until you are showered with priority check-ins and boarding, extra luggage, fast-track security (though not in HK) and the all-important VIP lounge.
Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club uses Asia Miles as its basis. There are four main tiers of card, Green, Silver, Gold and Diamond. The green card requires 100 points to join (5 return basic economy flights to UK or 1 business class), it gives you a dedicated check-in counter and allows you to redeem points against extra luggage and lounge access. The Silver card is available after 300 points (4 return premium economy flights to UK or 2 business class), this gets you Business Class check-in, extra and priority baggage, and access to the Cathay Business Class lounges. The Gold card is available at 600 points and allows more luggage and to bring guests into the lounges. The top tier Diamond card, at 1200 points (6-7 return business class flights to the UK or 5 first class) gives first class check-in, even greater luggage allowances and access to the Cathay first class lounges with guests.
British Airways’ Executive Club uses Avios as its currency and also has four tiers of cards. The entry-level Blue card is awarded after taking any BA flight and gives members the ability to collect tier points (for higher cards) and Avios miles. The newly introduced Bronze card is awarded after 300 tier points (5-15 one-way economy flights to the UK or 3 business class), giving you priority check-in and boarding, and allows you to collect 25% more Avios, but no lounge access. The Silver card, awarded after 600 tier points in a year (7 one-way premium economy flights to the UK or 5 business class) gives you extra luggage allowance, access to the BA business class lounges and lets you collect 50% more Avios. BA’s Gold card is its premium offering, awarded after 1,500 tier points (11 one-way business class flights to the UK or 8 first class), gets you first-class check-in and boarding, extra luggage, access to the first-class lounges and 100% more Avios per flight.
Emirates Skywards follows the four-card system, with the Blue card available when you sign up, getting you smart gate entry and exit in Dubai, welcome bonus miles and paid access to the first and business-class lounges in Dubai airport for your layover. The Silver card, available after accruing 25,000 tier miles (3-21 return economy flights to the UK or 2-3 business class flights) or taking 25 flights in a year, gets you free business-class lounge access in Dubai, and paid access for guests, priority check-in and boarding, and 25% bonus miles when you fly. Its Gold card is available after 50,000 tier miles (3-5 business-class return flights to the UK), and gives you free lounge access for you and guests in Dubai and across the Emirates network, priority baggage and 50% bonus miles. And at the top tier, its Platinum card, available after 150,000 tier miles (7-13 return business-class flights to the UK or 5 first class flights) opens up access to first class check-in and priority baggage, access to the first-class lounge in Dubai and worldwide, a Gold card for your spouse or partner and 75% bonus miles.
Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer keeps it simple with just three tiers of membership. On sign up you receive a digital version of your KrisFlyer membership card (a physical one after your first flight), which allows you to earn miles and points, as well as receive access to special promotions. The Elite Silver membership is given after accruing 25,000 miles (13 single business class flights to Singapore or 16 in economy). This gives you priority standby and wait-list and 25 percent bonus miles on future flights. The Elite Gold member is awarded after 50,000 miles (13 return business class flights to Singapore or 11 first class), and this allows you priority check-in, boarding and baggage, as well as access to its network of airport lounges.
KrisFlyer also has its PPS club for ultra-VIP members earning a total of 25,000 Singapore dollars or credit each year in Business, First and its suites.
The SkyMiles Medallion programme is Delta’s tier system, with four levels to climb. To reach the first Silver status you must reach 25,000 medallion qualification miles (MQM) which are different to total miles (two return economy class flights to Seattle), this gives you preferred seating, waived baggage fees and priority check in. You receive Gold status you must complete 50,000 MQM (three return business class flights to Seattle, or four economy). Gold status gives you Sky Priority boarding, priority security lines and baggage, and the all-important SkyTeam lounge access on international flights. Platinium status is achieved after 75,000 MQM (four return business class flights to Seattle), which adds one of its Choice benefits (upgrade certificates, exec membership, bonus miles and more). And finally, the Diamond status which is achieved after 125,000 MQM (seven return business class flights to Seattle).
*details correct at time of writing. Some values may have changed.
By Mat Gallagher