Cathay Pacific vs. Singapore Airlines

These evenly matched international carriers both have a lot to offer U.S.-based points and miles travelers.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Despite being based on the other side of the world, both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are beloved by mileage collectors in the United States. Both airlines offer a superior onboard experience and valuable loyalty programs.

If you have a choice between the two airlines, which should you choose? Let's dig into five metrics to determine the winner in the battle of Cathay Pacific versus Singapore Airlines.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines operates a slightly larger route network and flies to more U.S. destinations than Cathay Pacific. Plus, Singapore Airlines operates flights from the U.S. to two destinations in Europe, plus Tokyo. Meanwhile, the only nonstop Cathay Pacific destination from the U.S. is Hong Kong.

Singapore Airlines

As you might be able to determine from its name, Singapore Airlines is based in the small but mighty city-state of Singapore. As of January 2023, Singapore Airlines operates flights to 76 destinations in 34 countries. Singapore Airlines destinations in the United States include the following:

  • Houston-Intercontinental.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-John F. Kennedy.

  • Newark.

  • San Francisco.

  • Seattle.

In addition to flights to Singapore, the airline also operates a few flights from the United States to non-Singapore destinations. As of the time of writing, Singapore Airlines fifth-freedom flights include the following U.S. routes:

  • Houston-Intercontinental to Manchester.

  • Los Angeles to Tokyo.

  • New York-John F. Kennedy to Frankfurt.

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is headquartered in — and centers its operations around — the beleaguered city-state of Hong Kong. After being decimated by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the formerly mighty airline is rebuilding its route network. As of January 2023, Cathay Pacific flies to 74 international destinations across 30 countries — including five destinations in the United States:

  • Boston.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Los Angeles.

  • New York-John F. Kennedy.

  • San Francisco.

Travel credit card availability

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Singapore Airlines partners with all five major transferable points programs but doesn't currently offer a credit card in the United States. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles offers a solid credit card to U.S.-based travelers, plus partners with most of the major transferable points programs. That gives Cathay Pacific a narrow victory in this category.

Singapore Airlines credit cards

Singapore Airlines doesn't currently offer a credit card in the United States. However, it's very easy for U.S.-based travelers to accumulate KrisFlyer miles. That's because you can transfer points to Singapore from many transferable point programs — including all five of the major transferable points programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards® (1:1).

  • Capital One Miles (1:1).

  • Citi ThankYou Points (1:1).

  • Marriott Bonvoy (3:1).

That means you can effectively collect KrisFlyer miles through dozens of bank cards — including favorites such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, American Express® Gold Card, Citi Premier® Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. Terms apply.

Cathay Pacific credit cards

U.S.-based travelers can earn Asia Miles directly through the Cathay Pacific Visa Card. Currently, eligible new cardholders can earn 35,000 bonus Asia Miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days after account opening. Cardholders earn 2 Asia Miles per dollar spent on Cathay Pacific purchases and 1.5x miles on dining purchases and all purchases outside the U.S. All other purchases made in the U.S. earn 1x Asia Miles.

In addition, you can transfer points to Asia Miles from four of the five major transferable points programs. The only missing major program is Chase Ultimate Rewards®. That means you can transfer points to Asia Miles from the following programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio).

  • Capital One Miles (1:1).

  • Citi ThankYou Points (1:1).

  • Marriott Bonvoy (3:1).

Airline loyalty programs

Winner: Singapore Airlines

Both Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles have been hit with devaluations over the past few years. However, Singapore Airlines wins this battle by providing an easier booking experience and more achievable sweet spots for U.S.-based travelers.

Singapore Airlines loyalty program

Despite being headquartered on the opposite side of the world from the U.S., the Singapore KrisFlyer mileage program is full of sweet spots for U.S. travelers. Even after a July 2022 devaluation of the KrisFlyer award chart, U.S. travelers can book Alaska award flights for as few as 8,500 miles, fly to Europe from 25,000 miles or from the mainland to Hawaii for 19,500 miles. 

According to NerdWallet analysis, Singapore KrisFlyer miles have a baseline value of 1.1 cents per mile for economy redemptions. However, you can get much more value than that from KrisFlyer miles by taking advantage of the right redemptions or perks like a free stopover on round-trip awards.

Cathay Pacific loyalty program

Travelers can take advantage of several Asia Miles sweet spots, from reasonable award rates to Europe to first class awards on Cathay Pacific. However, the Asia Miles program can be frustrating to use.

For example, a major limitation of the Asia Miles program is the inability to book many awards online. Travelers wanting to book awards on American Airlines — or eight other partner airlines — will need to submit an online form and hope that an agent reaches out to them before the award space disappears. Also, Cathay Pacific no longer makes it easy to find out how much a partner award will cost.

NerdWallet doesn't currently have a valuation of Asia Miles. However, Asia Miles are generally valued at around 1.1 to 1.3 cents per mile.

Travelers who want to get really creative can piece together a Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Oneworld multi-carrier award. These complicated awards give determined travelers a way to book a single award with up to five stopovers, two transfers and two open-jaws. For example, you can fly up to 25,000 miles in business class for a reasonable 185,000 Asia Miles.

Extra fees

Winner: Tie

From baggage policies to seat selection fees, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific essentially tie in this category. Both airlines include a free checked bag and free standard seat selection for most fares. Seat selection fees for basic economy fares are reasonable on both airlines.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines fares generally include a free checked bag and standard seat selection. Extra legroom, forward zone and other types of preferred seats require a fee to select. Travelers booking "Lite" or "Value" economy fares must pay for a seat selection, with fees starting at $8 each way.

Note that some premium cabin seats require extra payment — such as the solo seats in the back of the Singapore Airlines premium economy cabin on the Airbus A350-900ULR.

Cathay Pacific

Baggage allowance varies by type of fare, route and even when you booked your flight. However, even Cathay Pacific light fares include a complimentary checked bag on routes from the U.S.

Standard seat selection is free for many Cathay Pacific fares and travelers. Only passengers booked in Economy Light fares who aren't elite status members or traveling with a child have to pay a seat selection fee. Regular seat selection fees start at just $12 each way.

In-flight experience

Winner: Singapore Airlines

Travelers can't go wrong when determining whether to fly Cathay Pacific versus Singapore Airlines. Both airlines offer an excellent onboard experience whether you're flying in economy or first class. With that said, Singapore Airlines narrowly wins this category for continuing to roll out improvements and new cabins.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines provides an excellent onboard experience from the nose to the tail of the aircraft. Every single one of Singapore's cabins — from Singapore Airlines economy to Singapore Suites first class — ranks among the best options worldwide.

Even in economy, you'll enjoy Singapore Airlines' renowned service, meals and complimentary drinks, like the signature Singapore Sling cocktail. Meanwhile, the double beds in the new Airbus A380 Singapore Suites first class are one of the most luxurious ways to fly across any ocean.

Cathay Pacific

Like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific offers an elevated in-flight experience no matter which cabin you fly. From economy to first class, Cathay Pacific has clearly invested in its onboard product to provide a comfortable and entertaining experience for the long flights to and from Hong Kong.

With that said, the airline hasn't done much to improve its product in a few years. While its Cathay Pacific first class is still considered to be one of the best products in the sky, the seat has barely changed from what the airline introduced in 2007.

Cathay Pacific vs. Singapore Airlines, recapped

In the competition of Cathay Pacific versus Singapore Airlines, there isn't a clear winner. Both airlines offer excellent onboard experience, fly to nearly the same number of destinations (both worldwide and in the U.S.) and only charge extra fees on basic economy fares.

It's easy to accumulate miles on either airline, thanks to extensive transferable points program partnerships. Both airlines offer quirky sweet spots that savvy mileage collectors can take advantage of.

With that said, Singapore Airlines edges out Cathay Pacific in several metrics — from number of routes and inflight experience to transfer partner programs and sweet spots.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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