Philippine Airlines (PAL) is the oldest Asian airline and has had its own reward program, Mabuhay Miles, for years. They offer inexpensive Economy Class and Business Class flights to more than 60 destinations. They are not part of one of the major airlines, so should you join Mabuhay Miles to earn miles when you fly PAL? Read my review to find out if it makes sense!
Reach – how far will it take me? Philippines Airlines is flying to 67 destinations in 18 countries. In addition to flights within the Philippines and across Asia, PAL also has flights to Australia, Canada, the US, London and the Middle East. They are investing into their long-haul fleet and are looking to grow their network around the world. Read all the Facts & Figures!
They also have select partnerships with Etihad and ANA, giving you additional chances to earn and redeem miles, with both airlines having large networks around the world. PAL is pursuing membership in one of the alliances – with the news reports suggesting StarAlliance to be the most likely (read more here).
Earning – what do I have to do to earn points? You earn points in the Mabuhay Miles based on flight distance and the class of service, ranging from 50% of distance flown for budget economy to 150% for regular Business Class. There is no minimum mileage for short domestic flights, so you’ll get very little for a budget economy ticket on a domestic flight! As a Elite member in the program, you receive a 25% bonus on all PAL operated flights and as a Premium Elite member the same 25% for most flights and 75% on flights to the US or Europe!
You can also earn miles on their partners Etihad and ANA at rates specific to each partner. Philippine Airlines has a number of credit card partners, allowing you to earn or transfer points with credit cards from most of the larger local banks as well as international banks like HSBC and Citibank cards (reviewed here). Mabuhay Miles also has hotel partners (including Hilton), car rental (including Hertz and Avis) and telecommunication partners, giving you a pretty long list of options to earn points, in addition to flying!
Redeeming – what do I get for my points? Philippine Airlines has structured their redemption table based on distance based zones and class of service as listed below. They have gone through a number of unannounced devaluations (read about the latest one here) and have introduced multiple award categories (EcoFlex 1, 2, 3 and Business Flex), making it more difficult and expensive to redeem:
All mileage awards are one-way and you’ll have to pay taxes and fees! Fortunately, fuel surcharges are not allowed for any flights from the Philippines, so the fees are as low as they can be.
Based on researching cash fares for the routes above, on average economy class tickets reflect a value of about 1 US cent/mile and business class tickets 2.5 cents/mile. The sweet spots in the Mabuhay Miles program are business class redemptions on long-haul routes, for example to Australia or the US.
You can also use them for tickets on Etihad or ANA, but they have their own, higher pricing and are only for routes from their hubs.
The biggest problem with the Mabuhay Miles program is the fact that you cannot redeem miles for flights online. You actually have to go to one of their reservation offices to get your ticket. This makes it inconvenient for anybody, especially if you are living outside the Philippines.
Status – what perks will I get? Mabuhay Miles has a base level, which allow you to earn miles (after paying PHP150 for your membership card!) and the only benefit is that you can earn/redeem miles in the program.
The next step up is the “Elite” level after flying 25,000 miles, which gives you priority treatment at the airport, Mabuhay Lounge access additional baggage allowance and 25% of bonus miles. The top level “Premier Elite” gives you all that plus 2 upgrade certificates and 755 bonus miles for flights to the US or Europe. There is also a “Million Miler” program, which should be pretty rare given PAL’s network. It gives you all the “Premier Elite” benefits and waives all the fees associated with the Mabuhay Miles program. Considering that PAL is not a member of any alliance and has a fairly limited network to earn status, these benefits are rather thin. If you are locked into PAL, it’s better than nothing, but I wouldn’t direct my spend to the airline just to earn status with them.
Customer Service: My experience with customer service is pretty mixed. It was very friendly when visiting their main reservation office in Manila (despite long waits in line), but they are non-responsive to email. In my 12 months as an “Elite” member, I was never able to actually receive my membership card, despite contacting them 5 times – I only received one email offering to fix the issue, but nothing ever happened!
On another occasion, one of our bags was damaged on a PAL flight (broken into, to be more precise), yet PAL did not respond to a request to take responsibility for the incident and reimburse us for the damage. So, trying to get anything done with PAL or the program via email or phone is pretty fruitless and visiting the office is very time consuming…
Recommendation: If you are based in Manila and fly Philippine Airlines regularly, I’d recommend to sign up for their program – you wouldn’t want to waste the points earning potential and you can top off your account with points from a credit card. The business class redemptions to the US, Australia or London are attractive and I’ve enjoyed it when traveling on paid business class tickets (read here). Once PAL updates their Mabuhay Miles website and allows award bookings online, it will become more attractive to travelers outside the Philippines, especially the many Filipinos abroad who return frequently to their families and friends at home. And then, there is hoping to Philippine Airlines joining one of the big airline alliances to give the program a needed boost!