A Miles Milestone

I reached a milestone today – I finished using all of our Cathay Pacific miles.

I started flying Cathay Pacific around the time my husband (then fiancé) relocated to Hong Kong in the fall of 2003.  After graduating from law school and moving to Hong Kong in 2004, I achieved Gold status by early 2006, thanks to the multiple HKG/JFK trips for the bar exam, swearing-in and lawyer 101 training.

My husband was also a constant Cathay traveler flying between Hong Kong and Beijing on a weekly basis for work.  So over a 3-year period, we had accumulated over 750,000 miles, including those earned on credit cards.

Cognizant of the pesky miles expiration rules, we — actually me, since I manage all our household assets, which include frequent miles and hotel points — tried to use these Cathay miles whenever we could in a way that generated the biggest bang for the buck.  For example, I preferred using miles for business class upgrades rather than for economy tickets since long-haul business class fares usually cost 3-4x more than economy.

I must admit that I derived great pleasure when I was able to use the miles effectively, more pleasure than a rational human being should be able to derive. This pleasure is more than just saving money, and it is infused with the pride of achievement.  It is like solving the most difficult Sudoku puzzle.

As of the beginning of this year, we still had 90,000 miles left in my account, set to expire on September 30, 2010.  90,000 miles is enough for a round trip economy class ticket from New York to a Cathay destination in Asia.   I was just in Shanghai last November — using all the miles from my husband’s account for a business class ticket — and was not ready for another 20-hour trip to China.  Also, because of these miles, I was spoiled and haven’t flown economy class on a long-haul international flight since my law school days.

So, it was a challenge to figure out how to spend these 90,000 miles.  Sure, I could use these miles on any OneWorld alliance carrier, but reserving tickets on partner airlines is a huge pain.  Then, ding ding ding ding ding!!!!

Recently, my husband and I had been contemplating a road trip around the American Northwest and the Banff National Park area in Canada, so why not use these miles for flights between New York and Vancouver?  Vancouver is a layover point between HKG and JFK or Toronto for Cathay.

I was able to use 60,000 miles for two business class one-way tickets from JFK to Vancouver for August 12, next Thursday, a saving of over $5,000. The return flight was tricky since we planned to return over the Labor Day weekend.  It turns out that the regular economy award ticket for 15,000 miles was all booked out, but I managed to find an “economy priority award ticket” for 35,000 miles. I had to buy 6,000 miles first (Cathay only sells at 2,000 mile increments) for $180, but $180 is still significantly cheaper than $850, the price of the one-way economy ticket that I bought for my husband.

Sure, it would have been better had I been able to use the remaining 30,000 miles for two one-way economy tickets, but given that I had only started focusing on planning this trip after I gave notice last mid last month, this is a big bang if you ask me.

Above all, after the tedium of finding available routes and figuring out the most efficient way to use our miles, I feel I have conquered some form of injustice.  All the miles were rightfully earned, but the airlines make it difficult to redeem them.  So, I’d rather go through some pain if I can make the airlines honor those miles. And I WON!

P.S., I have all sorts of tips and tricks for using miles.  Send me your questions (in the comment section) and I’d be happy to share!

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