I went to Angkor Wat this February, and I was blown away.
The 900 year-old Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia is up there on the list of the most impressive historical sites I’ve visited with Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
And it isn’t just Angkor Wat. The rest of the Angkor Temples like Angkor Thom and Banteay Srei are just as amazing and all within a short drive of the very lively Siem Reap.
Beyond the destination, Southeast Asia happens to be one of the best places to go with miles in a premium cabin for five reasons.
- It’s super cheap! American Airlines charges just 55k miles one way in Business Class or 67.5k miles one way in First Class
- Cathay Pacific–an American Airlines partner–has one of the world’s best Business and First Class products.
- Award space is abundant in Cathay Pacific premium cabins.
- The flight between the United States and Hong Kong is around 16 hours, meaning you get to fully enjoy your flights and arrive rested.
- The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® are both offering huge bonuses, the two types of miles will be combined in early 2015, and American Airlines has committed to keeping the cheap prices I just quoted at the time of combination.
Right now is an amazing time to plan a 2015 vacation with luxurious flights to Angkor Wat.
- Where can you search Cathay Pacific award space?
- How can you book Cathay Pacific award space?
- What are the very regular rules that Cathay Pacific Business and First Class award space follow?
The Basics of Booking Cathay Pacific to SE Asia
To China and south of it, American Airlines charges:
- 35,000 miles each way in economy
- 55,000 miles each way in Business Class
- 67,500 miles each way in First Class
These are the cheapest prices in the world. Consider that United charges 80,000 miles each way to fly in partner Business Class.
While I can understand why some people would want to conserve miles and fly economy, getting to Southeast Asia involves a 16 hour flight to Hong Kong and then a few more hours beyond that, so the chance to fly Cathay Pacific First Class for less than twice the price of economy seems like a steal, especially when American Airlines miles are so easy to get in bulk right now.
Cathay Pacific award space is NOT searchable on aa.com. Search for it on ba.com like this. Any space you find will be bookable with American Airlines miles by calling 800-882-8880. You will be charged an unavoidable $35 fee for ticketing by phone.
Cathay Pacific has six current North American destinations and adds Boston in May 2015. All routes offer First Class except Newark, which tops out at Business Class.
If you don’t live in a city with a direct Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, you can connect to any of the cities that do in American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines First Class for no extra miles when flying Cathay Pacific Business or First Class internationally.
From Hong Kong to Siem Reap or anywhere else in Southeast Asia, you can hop in Cathay Pacific or Dragonair (a Cathay Pacific subsidiary) Business Class for zero extra miles.
Rules of Cathay Pacific Award Space
The patterns of Cathay Pacific award space are so regular that I am tempted to call them rules.
Eleven months out, Cathay Pacific opens up a ton of Business Class space.
Here is a search on ba.com (via Award Nexus to produce the calendar) of October 1-11 on four American routes to Hong Kong for two passengers in Business Class. Los Angeles has 6/11 days with award space on at least one flight for two passengers on flat beds. Chicago and Newark are both 5/11, and JFK is 2/11.
If you can book 11 months out and have even a little date flexibility, you and a travel companion can each easily snag a 6’6″ flat bed.
First Class award availability is very different. Cathay Pacific usually releases one seat per flight on certain routes in First Class, but almost never two on the same flight.
Here is a calendar of First Class space for October 1-11 for one passenger. This time I searched Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and JFK. Los Angeles has award space for one passenger in First Class 7/11 days and Chicago 4/11. The other two cities had no First Class award space.
Within 36 hours of departure though, Cathay Pacific releases all but one unsold First Class seat on every flight. This usually translates to 1-4 more seats on almost every flight.
Here are today’s flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. The far right column shows that the flights have 1, 1, 2, and 3 First Class seats respectively.
Here are tomorrow’s flights. They have 1, 2, 0 (not pictured), and 1 seats available in First Class.
If you can wait until the last 48 hours, you and your companion are very likely to be able to snag two of the six seats in Cathay Pacific’s mind-boggling First Class.
American Airlines does not charge a change fee to upgrade an award reservation, so a great strategy is to book two Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific when the schedule opens and then change the award to First Class in the last two days. This would cost 55,000 miles each way per person when first booked and 12,500 more miles per person at the time of the change.
From Hong Kong to Siem Reap, award space is available four days a week in economy and occasionally in Business Class. Ideally you’d get Business Class, but the flight is under three hours, so I wouldn’t worry about sitting in the back.
Award space shows the same
patterns rules coming back from Southeast Asia, so I won’t include any more screen shots.
Siem Reap is the largest tourist destination in Cambodia, so there are some very interesting destinations served from the airport. Instead of returning straight back home, you could catch a flight on a super cheap low-cost carrier to somewhere else that’s interesting and then return home in Cathay Pacific First Class.
While in Siem Reap, a great hotel option is Le Meridien Angkor Wat. Here’s my review.
Getting the Miles
You need 110,000 miles per person for a roundtrip in Business Class and 135,000 in First Class. You can easily get 103,000 by early 2015. You can get the rest by opening up a business card or an SPG card. Here’s how to get the first 103,000 miles:
Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® is offering 50,000 bonus miles and two lounge passes after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.
We know that the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® will no longer be offered to new applicants as soon as the US Airways and American Airlines frequent flyer programs integrate, some time in the second quarter of 2015. That means that the chance to earn 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase will disappear soon. Check out all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus.
All US Airways miles not redeemed on the US Airways chart by the time of integration will become American Airlines miles, and American Airlines has committed to not devaluing its award chart at the time of combination. The two types of miles are roughly equal in value.
A few more pictures of the Angkor Temples and my trip report on how I spent four days exploring them: