Post by 10xT Reader Eric August

Hello 10xers!

In February 2018, I took my second points-paid vacation and got to see Hong Kong AND South Africa, and take my first business class flight on Cathay Pacific. This is how I did it!

Hong Kong using points and miles
Golden pavilion of absolute perfection in Nan Lian Garden in Chi Lin Nunnery, Hong Kong, China

American Express Membership Rewards points - Airline Transfer Partner - Cathay Pacific

In April of 2017, I started working on a cruise ship (Whiskey* Cruise Line).  When working on a cruise ship, you don’t get days off. They all come in one big lump, or “vacation.” My good friend on the ship was from South Africa and suggested I visit him during our time off, and I knew exactly what I had to do, and how I wanted to get there. Points!

I remembered that Alaska Airlines is a partner of Cathay Pacific, and Alaska allows one free stopover when using their miles. Furthermore, I remembered they only charge 62,500 miles from North America to Africa in business class. So, over the course of 2017, I used the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card to earn the 62,500 points I needed to make this trip.

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I knew my destination but wanted to use the free stopover Alaska Airlines allows too. Since Cathay Pacific is based out of Hong Kong,  I decided this would be a great opportunity to check out Asia for the first time.

Year of the Dog (2018)

Previously, the longest flight I’d taken was 13 hours from San Francisco to Auckland, but the 15 hour Chicago to Hong Kong flight beat it out by a couple of hours (we actually arrived an hour ahead of schedule).

I was ushered to my business class seat by the friendly flight attendants, and at 6’ 3”, the immense joy I felt realizing I had enough leg room in business class to move around almost overwhelmed me. Couple that with the free champagne and I was in for an enjoyable flight.

Hong Kong and South Africa Using Alaska and American Miles
Cathay Pacific Business class using Alaska Miles

Cathay’s business class was spacious enough for the full 15 hours. As someone who can’t usually sleep in the air because I’m too tall for economy seats, it was refreshing to stretch out and relax in the lie-flat seats, or walk about the cabin if I felt the need to. The seats are set up in a 1-2-1 configuration, and since I chose a window seat, my flight felt very private. The flight attendants were friendly and helpful, and never too far away.

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Hong Kong and South Africa Using Alaska and American Miles
Cathay Business class food to Hongkong using Alaska Miles

The food itself was good, but nothing really “wowed” me (although their specialty drink was delicious).

Hong Kong and South Africa Using Alaska and American Miles
Food service – Cathay Pacific Business Class to Hongkong-South Africa Using Miles

I will say they did have a decent sized menu of extra snacks and drinks you could have made at any time, including some local Hong Kong flavors, and wanting to make the most of my first business class experience I ordered a few items here and there.

The flight also came with an amenities kit that included some toothpaste, lotion, and a face mask (or whatever it’s called).

Arriving in Hong Kong, I collected my bag and took the amazing rail system to my first stop: Disneyland Hong Kong. As an employee of Whiskey Cruise Line, admission to the park was free, so I enjoyed the rides at no extra cost.

Due to my work schedule, I could only stay a day and a half in Hong Kong, so after a few hours enjoying Disneyland I set my sights on my next destination, the Chi Lin Nunnery. After a few train switches, I got to see one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever visited. The nunnery is almost a Buddhist temple, so certain parts were off limits, but most of the garden is available to tourists and well worth a visit (and admission is free).


My time in Hong Kong was growing short, so I headed to the airport and boarded my flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Intro to Africa

I arrived in Johannesburg and boarded my next flight to Durban, South Africa. I used a local South African carrier for the flights within the country because flights were cheap enough that I was ok with just paying cash.

My friend picked me up from King Shaka International Airport and I got my first view of South Africa. I stayed with him, his father, and brother to cut costs (no 7-star hotels this time), but his family was extremely welcoming and was more than willing to make me all the Indian food I desired.

I told him that I really wanted to see animals, so they took me to a nearby Nature reserve. I saw wild Zebras, elephants, cows, lions… even a Liger!

South Africa on points and miles

After a few days in Durban, my friend and I flew to Cape Town for the last few days of my trip. Our former boss picked us up from the airport and took us to dinner with some other ship friends at a restaurant on the beach a bit north of the city.

The following day, we met up with him again to hike up Table Mountain. There are quite a few different hikes, but we chose the 2-hour trail and began our ascent. The view from the top was well worth the difficult climb!

South Africa using miles and points
Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa

After that, we said goodbye to our friends and set off for a relaxing day at the beach. The view of the mountains right next to the ocean and the South African landmarks provided some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed every minute of it.


The Flights Home

I used 75,00 American AAdvantage miles — most of which I’d earned via the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select — to book my return flights to Chicago. Due to the routing, the only leg I could secure in business class was LHR – ORD on British Airways, but my other flights (JNB-MAD-LHR) on Iberia in economy class. The flights weren’t so bad despite the fact that the plane was struck by lightning while we flew through a thunderstorm. Fortunately, it didn’t result in any problems.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the return flight on British Airways, but the flight felt much less private or cozy. There was a privacy window but this flight used a 2-4-2 seat configuration so without the window up. I felt like I was imposing on an older couple’s day, making it a bit awkward.

How to Book American Airlines Award Flights With British Airways Miles
My return flight cost 75,000 American miles plus $350 in taxes and fees to book Johannesburg to Madrid to London to Chicago. Even though I only flew business class from London to Chicago, that ticket could have easily cost $4,500. | Photo Credit: Stuart Bailey / British Airways

I don’t remember the food on this flight. Honestly the only memorable thing about my return flight was that J.J. Watt was on it, otherwise, it was just a run of the mill flight in business.

As my second business class flight, I wasn’t necessarily impressed by British Airways, whereas Cathay seems to have a much more enjoyable Business class product.

Clifton Beach CapeTown South Africa on miles and points
Clifton Beach in Cape Town, South Africa at late afternoon in a beautiful sunset.

Final Thoughts

All in, I used 62,500 Alaska miles and about $200 in taxes and fees to pay for my business class flight from Chicago to Hong Kong to Johannesburg on Cathay Pacific. A one-way flight on that route could have easily cost $5,500 — though, a round-trip can often be found for about the same.

My return flight cost 75,000 American miles plus $350 in taxes and fees to book Johannesburg to Madrid to London to Chicago. Even though I only flew business class from London to Chicago, that ticket could have easily cost $4,500.

Had I not used miles to book my flights, my total cost would have been closer to $10,000 instead of 137,500 miles and $550. That means I was able to fly comfortably (on most flights), see two amazing countries and do so for a fraction of the price.

Well worth it in my opinion!

Eric August

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About the Author

Bryce Conway is the Founder of and Author of Takeoff: How to Travel the World for Next to Nothing and How to Fix Your Credit: Do it Once. Do it Right. Get on with Your Life. Bryce’s work has been featured in multiple national media outlets including Good Morning America, Money Magazine, and ABC Nightline News. Bryce created 10xTravel in 2014 and has been hanging out in the points and miles community since 2011....

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3 Responses to “Reader Success Story: Exploring Hong Kong and South Africa with Points & Miles”

Earl Lee

Thanks for posting. Can you post what website you used to find the USA to Hong Kong to Johannesburg? I tried using BA’s website which is really slow and doesn’t show many dates at a time. I used Quantas and also couldn’t find seats.

I’m trying to do LAX (or anywhere in the USA) as I can use positioning flight if I have to to Hong Kong to Johannesburg using Alaska’s 62,500 points but I can’t seem to find any availability for September 2019. I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong?

M Snyder

Having just done the this trip 2 months ago, from SFO via HKG to JNB using Alaska Miles on Cathay Pacific, it was a terrific couple of long flights. But yes, we too were in business class on both flights, with 62,000 Alaska miles and $60 in taxes, for each of us. However, I arranged these flight through the Alaska Partner Travel Desk, as you cannot reserve them on Alaska’s website. And as I reserved these flights almost 11 month before we flew, I called Alaska repeatedly every week, sometimes several times a week, up until 1 week before we flew, but we were never able to reserve the a flight from HKG to JNB a few days later, so that we too could visit Hong Kong. We had three days leeway, so each time I called I asked Alaska to check dates allowing us to stay in Hong Kong 1, 2, or 3 days, before flying to JNB. Cathay never loaded the seats. So we had all of a 4-hour layover in HKG, then our flight left for JNB. While I that agree that stopping in Hong Kong is a great idea, It did not pan out for us. Alaska Air is wholly dependent on when Cathay loads seats into Alaska’s system.

Moreover, we could not get home using Alaska points on Cathay; again there was no seat availability that fit our general schedule. So, I called the American Airlines Partner desk, and I was able reserve business class seats using our AA miles on Qatar Airways to get home. Note, Cathay’s business class is very nice, but Qatar’s business class, beats it. Those tickets cost us 75,000 American miles and $70 in taxes, each.

Note, to reserve flights using miles on with most of their partner airlines, you must call the partner desks for AA and Alaska, as it cannot be accomplished on either AA’s nor Alaska’s websites.

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