How To Redeem Miles For Cathay Pacific First Class

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
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Back in the day Cathay Pacific used to be one of the most consistent airlines in the world when it came to releasing last minute first class award space. Unfortunately that has changed significantly over time, so in this post I wanted to take an in-depth look at Cathay Pacific’s current first class award availability trends.

Stuff has changed significantly with Cathay Pacific, as they no longer release first class award seats to partner airlines close to departure, even when cabins are wide open.

Why Cathay Pacific First Class Is Awesome

Cathay Pacific offers one of my all around favorite first class experiences in the sky. No, it’s not the world’s most private or modern first class product, but it’s the most consistent and one of the most comfortable, in my opinion.

Cathay Pacific exclusively has first class on their 777-300ERs, and there are just six seats — there are two rows in a 1-1-1 configuration.

Cathay Pacific first class cabin

For so long Cathay Pacific didn’t change much about their first class, but they’re finally changing some things up for the better:

Cathay Pacific first class bed

Cathay Pacific first class is such a great way to cross the Pacific.

How Cathay Pacific Used To Release Award Space

I think some historical context might be useful here. Back in the day Cathay Pacific would release up to one or two first class award seats per flight when the schedule opened, and those seats would be bookable either through Cathay Pacific’s own Asia Miles program, or using partner airline miles.

What was especially awesome was that closer to departure Cathay Pacific would release more first class award availability, both to members of partner programs, and to members of their own Asia Miles program.

The closer to departure it got, the more award seats they’d offer — for example, within a day of departure they’d usually make all but one first class seat available using miles. This created one of the most readily available opportunities to redeem for transpacific first class.

The catch is that this pattern has changed over the past year, though I wasn’t willing to draw too many conclusions. Why? Cathay Pacific had a huge first class mistake fare on New Year’s Eve last year, and this radically changed their first class inventory. Some flights 10 months out were already two thirds booked out in first class.

So when patterns changed, I wasn’t sure if it was just a temporary change given the circumstances, or a permanent shift. Well, we’ve now reached just about the one year mark since that mistake fare, so I think it’s finally safe to draw conclusions based on all of this.

Cathay Pacific first class seat

Overall Cathay Pacific Award Trends

Before I talk in detail about what Cathay Pacific’s first class award trends look like nowadays, let me note a couple of general trends we’re increasingly seeing from Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Award Availability Varies Drastically For Partners

Nowadays Cathay Pacific makes significantly more award space available to members of their own Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program, compared to members of partner frequent flyer programs.

This has always been the case somewhat, but never to the extent we’re seeing now. To me this also means that Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a useful program for the first time for those with transferable points.

This is true in all cabins, though it’s especially true in first class, where the difference is most noticeable.

Cathay Pacific first class caviar service

Heavy Use Of Married Segment Logic

Cathay Pacific has started heavily using married segment logic for award availability. Married segment logic has long been used for revenue airline tickets, but only in the past few years has it become common on award tickets.

Essentially with married segment logic, airlines may only be willing to sell you a seat (in cash or in miles) if you’re connecting to a certain place, rather than if you’re looking to fly nonstop.

In the case of redeeming miles, that means they might say there’s no award availability on a particular flight from Hong Kong to New York, but if you search availability from Taipei to New York via Hong Kong, suddenly there’s an award seat. That means the airline is willing to let someone book that if they’re connecting, and not if they’re flying nonstop.

There are a variety of reasons airlines use this method, thought he most common is that they know that generally people are willing to pay a premium to fly nonstop. So that’s why they may only make “saver” seats available with a connection, since they might think there’s less risk of that award seat cannibalizing a revenue booking if it’s not in a nonstop market.

Married segment logic is especially common in business class

Redeeming Partner Miles For Cathay Pacific First Class

Cathay Pacific continues to make up to one first class award seat available to partner airlines when the schedule first opens, just under a year before departure:

  • Not every flight will have a first class award seat, though many will
  • You’ll virtually never see two first class award seats available to partners

For example, Cathay Pacific has a few frequencies per day between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and virtually every date has at least some award availability when looking way in advance.

As you can see, sometimes you even have several flights per day with availability.

Cathay Pacific first class is still quite attainable using partner miles, but only for one person, and only in advance.

Conversely, you’ll virtually never find any long haul Cathay Pacific first class award space close to departure anymore through partner programs, even if the cabin is completely open. For example, on my recent trip the Hong Kong to Boston Cathay Pacific flight I was looking at had all six first class seats remaining for sale, but no award seats, even a few days out.

Looking at the schedule right now, the next award seat I see in first class from the US to Hong Kong is on January 16, over three weeks from now (and that’s from New York to Hong Kong).

Just to further drive home the point, that’s the case in spite of the fact that I see multiple flights between now and January 16 that have all six first class seats for sale (with other cabins wide open too), and no award seats.

So this isn’t an accident, but Cathay Pacific seems to be intentionally wiping out last minute partner award seats. This is something they said they were considering doing a while back, and it looks like they’ve followed through on that.

The closest to departure you should expect to see Cathay Pacific first class award seats through a partner is a few weeks, but even that is pushing it. Even then expect to see just one seat per flight at most.

How To Search Cathay Pacific Partner Award Availability

One of the general challenges with redeeming for Cathay Pacific first class is that there are some quirks associated with searching award availability, so at least be aware you may need to cross reference when searching space:

  • American AAdvantage has a useful award calendar, but sometimes struggles with accurately showing availability due to married segment logic (however, if you see availability on a nonstop flight then it should be bookable)
  • British Airways Executive Club sometimes inaccurately shows married segment award availability, and doesn’t show any Cathay Pacific award space within a week of departure (the latter part isn’t a huge issue for Cathay Pacific first class, since there’s no space close to departure)
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer is generally the most accurate website for searching partner award space, but is otherwise the least user-friendly

Cathay Pacific 777

Best Partner Award Values For Cathay Pacific First Class

If you want to redeem partner miles for Cathay Pacific first class, what are the best values?

The absolute best value is to redeem 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for a one-way ticket, and you’re even allowed a stopover. The catch is that sometimes Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t have access to the same award availability on Cathay Pacific as other partners. Sometimes hanging up and calling again does the trick, while other times it doesn’t.

See this post for the best credit cards for earning Alaska Mileage Plan miles, including the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Credit Card (review) and Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card (review).

Alternatively you could redeem 110,000 American AAdvantage miles for a one-way ticket between the US and Asia.

See this post for the best credit cards for earning American AAdvantage miles.

Earn AA Miles

Redeeming Asia Miles For Cathay Pacific First Class

Asia Miles is Cathay Pacific’s frequent flyer program, and nowadays they have access to a lot more Cathay Pacific first class award space than partner programs.

For the most part, when booking right when the schedule opens, Asia Miles also only has access to one saver level award seat per flight.

This assumes you want to redeem at the “standard” level and not the “choice” level, which I’d highly recommend. Sometimes you’ll see a second seat but it’s rare, and definitely the exception rather than the norm.

When you search award availability, don’t be thrown off by it saying “only a few seats left.” Logically you’d interpret that to mean “wow, they have a few more award seats on that flight in first class!” But nope, in reality it just means that only a “few” more seats are for sale (which is logical enough, since the cabin just has six seats).

There’s not a whole lot of movement with award availability two to ten months out, but then closer to departure you will see more award seats.

I don’t see a pattern that’s 100% consistent (I guess they’re trying to keep us guessing), but to give an example, the Boston to Hong Kong flight on December 26 (four days from now) has five first class seats for sale, and three are bookable as awards.

It seems like for the most part close to departure you’ll see them release award seats so that there are still two to three seats left for sale, even right before departure.

For example, tomorrow (December 23) two of Cathay Pacific’s Los Angeles to Hong Kong flights are pretty wide open. One has six first class seats for sale, and one has five seats for sale — the one with six seats for sale has three award seats, and the one with five seats for sale has two award seats. So on that flight they’re willing to release awards to the point that “only” three seats are remaining.

Sometimes they’re more conservative, though. For example, also tomorrow (December 23), the evening flight from London to Hong Kong has all six first class seats remaining for sale, but only one is available for an award seat. That’s odd, especially since other cabins don’t seem to be oversold.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Award Chart

While you’ve seen a sample of some redemption rates above, here’s the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles award chart:

As you can see, the chart is distance based, and it’s based on the entire distance of your one-way journey (including connections). So when it comes to first class redemption rates for long haul travel:

  • A 5,001-7,500 mile journey costs 100,000-110,000 miles
    • The cost is 100,000 miles if you’re not flying to the Americas
    • The cost is 110,000 miles if you are flying to the Americas
  • A 7,500+ mile journey costs 125,000 miles

Cathay Pacific does have some mild carrier imposed surcharges they add to awards, but they’re not too crazy. For example, I booked a one-way Cathay Pacific first class award from Beijing to Hong Kong to Boston, and that cost me 125,000 Asia Miles plus a total of $140 in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Change & Cancelation Fees

If you end up booking a Cathay Pacific award through Asia Miles, the fees you’ll potentially face are as follows:

  • An award ticket refund costs $120 per person
  • An award ticket rebooking (on the same route — just changing the date and/or flight number) costs $25 if done online and $40 if done by phone
  • An award ticket change (changing the award type, cities, etc.) costs $100

How To Earn Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Asia Miles is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One:

  • Amex and Citi points transfer at a 1:1 ratio
  • Capital One points transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio
  • We occasionally see transfer bonuses to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles; for example, in the past year we’ve seen a targeted 30% transfer bonus from Amex, and a publicly available 20% transfer bonus from Citi

If you transfer points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles during a transfer bonus, then the value of redeeming for Cathay Pacific first class last minute might not be too bad.

Bottom Line

A lot has changed with how Cathay Pacific releases first class award availability.

Nowadays you can expect Cathay Pacific to release some first class award availability to partner programs a year out, though don’t expect more than one seat per flight, and don’t expect any award availability at all last minute (even if the cabin is open).

Nowadays if you want to book multiple seats in Cathay Pacific first class, booking through Asia Miles is your only option. They also typically only have one seat in advance at the lowest award level, but as the departure date approaches you’ll often find flights with two or even three award seats.

However, across the board don’t expect as much Cathay Pacific award space as they used to make available. They’re no longer consistently willing to make all but one seat available as an award last minute, so if you want multiple seats you’ll have to look for flights with really wide open first class cabins.

Historically I’ve never really focused on the Asia Miles program, but going forward I could see myself transferring points there when there’s a bonus for doing so.

If you’ve tried to book a Cathay Pacific first class award lately, what was your experience like?

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Comments
  1. I booked an award on Cathay First earlier in the year from JFK-HKG using Alaska Mileage Plan, however I was connecting via Toronto on a separate booking. Due to horrible weather in Toronto and congestion in the NYC area, I missed the first and second Cathay departures. When I finally made it to the Cathay check in desks the agent told me they had called me for both flights. I ended up on the departure via Vancouver, was a very long travel day and was amazed Cathay were able to re-accomodate me on 2 alternate flights. I am afraid that with the recent changes such a travel hiccup would have resulted in re-booking in another available cabin (Y/PE or J).

  2. I regularly fly with Cathay in First (Paid ticket only / no points). Although their quality of service has slightly decreased lately, it remains one of my favourite airlines along with Japan Airlines. Although a pleasure to spend some time in the Pier class as well and network with like-minded achievers.

  3. Thanks Lucky, very helpful post. Cathay Pacific credit card is another way to earn Asia Miles. Unfortunately it is offered through Synchrony which is terrible. In a nutshell, it’s a non-prime credit card company serving a premium airline, so you get all the non-prime restrictions such as low limits, payment holds, etc. Their website is also antiquated. CX really needs a different partner when it comes to credit cards.

  4. The last four times I saw Cathay First availability on Oneworld sites and called Alaska to book…all four times Alaska didn’t have it available to them. Getting to be a significant reduction in the value of Alaska miles.

  5. This is useful information. I am wondering if anyone can tell me if there is a lag in time from transferring miles from American Express Membership Rewards to Asia Miles. I know that with Aeroplan, the transfer is instant. This way, I can find the inventory, and THEN transfer the miles to book it. But, that works best when the mileage transfer is immediate.

  6. Asia Miles has long been my preferred way to find CX availability. For me, just finding premium award space when I want overwhelms the higher award redemption requirements.

    That said, with both United and Singapore adding nonstops, I haven’t flown CX in years – routing thru Hong Kong just adds too much time.

    A very annoying problem is finding award space to Australia/New Zealand from the west coast/US. Can find paid flight availability but when booking award seats, not available unless you price two separate tickets, which then require significantly higher number of miles (which then makes paying exorbitant 200K one way Standard rates on United palatable for a nonstop that shaves at least half a day off travel times)

  7. After reading article after article about CX F, I was really excited for my trip from BKK -> SFO, first in J then in F across the Pacific. I was pretty disappointed to be honest as my expectations were set very high. I’d say the lowlights were: (1) The restaurant at the Pier was so slow (30+ minutes for a burger) that I watched many parties have to leave before they got their food to catch their flights. (2) The seat was very dirty. Not the kind of dirt you get from a vacuum, but grungy, stuck on dirt. (3) The attendants’ friendliness seemed forced, as if they were reluctantly reciting a script. Having flown SQ Suites and EK Suites, CX F wasn’t even close in every category. Much closer to KE F, with the exception of the food which CX wins in a landslide. Great flight, don’t get me wrong, but not up the standards that I expected.

  8. A last minute opportunity to travel to St Petersburg via Mongolia by train arose last week so I tried to find 2 J seats on CX flights departing any West Coast city for any flight in the last two weeks in May.

    Nothing

    Have had no problem booking at least one trip in J or F for the last 10 years so this is a sad turn of events. Space seems to be very restricted even a year out.

    Only semi bright spot is that CX has announced that starting now Asia Miles will no longer expire which they used to do.

  9. @ Endre

    I was in the Pier this past July. The last thing I wanted to do was to network with a douchebag like you.

  10. For RTW2020 BDay Trip I used Alaska miles JFK-HKG IN 1st, but then to get to Perth for Qatar First PER-DOH, I had to use Asia Miles (45,000 for Biz, no 1st although my 1st A350 Flight). I have the CX CC and not unhappy with it It seems to generate unadvertised bonuses, although I’m still waiting for bonus on US spend to post. Other than new card spend requirements and some other cc uses I.e. AmEx Plat for 5x on Airline buys, Ink @ Staples, etc, I’m putting spend on CX and Barclays Lufthansa cards!

    And I did get the United card offered that hacked Chase’s 5/24 rule 🙂

  11. Lucky,

    What’s your last minute booking analysis on CX J these days? Does it follow the same pattern as F? With the holidays going on, I imagine doing a search for the next couple weeks won’t provide relevant data points.

  12. @jfhscott , You wrote you were at the Pier this “past July”… wow… and you seem proud about it. You clearly don’t qualify as the type of “regular” Pier guests I was referring to with your once in a lifetime visit… so I suggest you keep your opinion for yourself to avoid further embarrassment. Try to visit the lounge more frequently (once a month) and you may increase your chances of getting a glance from us…

  13. Whats the best way to look for what routes airlines fly? Finding married segments etc. Route maps are hard to find, and difficult to maneuver. whats do you recommend?

  14. Ah, @Endre continues to amuse with his pomposity!
    The Pier F lounge is certainly not known as a place to ‘network’ with anyone, as everyone values the privacy it affords.
    I regard myself as fortunate never have to encountered @Endre in this or any other lounge. His apparent MO would certainly stand out like dogs balls!

  15. I booked a ticket to the South Pacific using Alaska Miles on the outbound and Etihad on the return. The very nice Alaska agent I spoke to was unwilling to book any segment by segment trips. Another agent would not cancel a segment of the award ticket. She told me they just had a training about this very thing. I asked if the training included “married segments” vs nonstop and she said “wow, how did you know”? It looks like Alaska is training their reps to only book what is available to be booked online. The reps seem pretty confused by this, not really knowing what they could and could not do. I used to work for America West Airlines and I understand fare booking codes inside and out as well as the rules of all the FF programs. Even knowing this, it’s hard to book what is actually allowed. The agents reallllly hate it when you explain the rules to them.

    Conversely Etihad told me that my flight from AKL>LAX>BOS would be 87,500 miles instead of 62,500 because there were 2 segments on my one way award… I asked if the booking class “u” was available all the way through and they said yes. The layover in LAX was only 2 hours. I’m explaining to a supervisor…. If it’s a one way ticket, and there is no layover longer than 24 hours, it is allowed to have up to 6 segments per one way… That didn’t get me anywhere but the supervisor honored the 62.5K because that’s what I had originally been quoted.

    It’s getting too complicated, and I’m sure the reps are denying valid itineraries and issuing tickets they are not supposed to because no one can understand the rules.

  16. @ Endre – I was in the Pier last Thursday and I think I caught a glimpse of you (with a small group of achievers sitting by the bar drinking Rothschild) but you looked so intimidatingly successful that I bottled it. Were you with Mike_Asia? I thought I recognised him.

  17. @Lucky and others – I need to book an one-way J Award for the SFO-HKG-BLR Route on CX. I have AS and BA miles. AS can not book the HKG-BLR route as it is operated by Cathay Dragon. So I am planning to book SFO-HKG on CX with AS Miles and HKG-BLR on KA using Avios. Will it be possible to link these two separate segments into one continuous trip after reservation ? Will CX be able to issue Boarding Passes /check bags through for both flights at SFO ? If necessary; With a 2 hour transit; Is it easy to get Boarding Passes while in-transit at HKG without clearing immigration (Assuming no checked bags) ?

  18. Lucky — It is not clear that you took into account the earlier 2020 Chinese New Year celebration and how that may have skewed your trend analysis?

  19. Query: With Alaska miles one can have a stopover on a CX award itinerary.

    CX flies between Bangkok and Singapore.

    Can I route an award ticket: JFK-xHKG-oBKK; BKK-oSIN?

    @Endre: Have never run into you in the Pier. How very odd.

  20. Endre,

    I think I was there at the same time as you. Was that you in the Hawaiian shirt asking for their most expensive single malt? I could smell your success from my seat.

  21. Good info.
    I would be interested in a post about how folks time the transfer of miles. I would hate to transfer miles and miss the open seats.

  22. Well, super happy then that the wife and I were able to take advantage of last minute <24 hour) booking in F HKG-JFK a couple years ago using AA miles. Like you on your recent flight, we got the entire cabin to ourselves!

  23. currently in Hong Kong looking to fly back to lax/sfo/vancouver on jan 4 or 5. all of cathay award space stop exactly on jan 1. everything after that is waitlist only. is award space going to open up closer to the 4th?

  24. @john, it’s not going to happen. On Jan 5 every CX flight HKG-LAX is zero’d out except for sporadic F or J seat (singular) for sale. SFO looks even worse. YVR has 6 revenue seats for sale still, but with all those coach classes oversold, it’s likely going to be op-ups rather than award seats released.

    @lucky, I think patterns are changing. I was able to book 3 seats through AS, on CX SIN-HKG in business, HKG-LAX in first, for 70K miles each. This was about 6 days in advance of departure. The space was showing on aa.com as well. Interestingly, it was married segment – the agent could see HKG-LAX, but when I tried to add the SIN-HKG segment it was showing 0 availability until she tried it as SIN-LAX. Anyway, just wanted to pass along that it IS possible still to redeem for CX F through partners. In fact CX 880 is showing up as available in F on January 3 through aa.com.

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