My Take On Yesterday’s Cathay Pacific Vietnam Fares

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Yesterday evening I wrote about how Cathay Pacific published some insanely low first and business class fares for travel originating in Vietnam. For example, from Vietnam to the US, you could fly roundtrip in business class for under $700, or roundtrip in first class for under $1,000.

It goes without saying that these fares were incredibly popular, and proved to be a nice new year surprise for many.

I’ve already gotten a ton of questions from people about these fares, so wanted to share my general thoughts on this fare, now that it has been pulled.

The drastic measures Cathay Pacific took to “kill” this fare

Around midnight eastern time, Cathay Pacific took some really drastic measures to “kill” this fare. The airline zeroed out all first and business class inventory for several minutes. That’s a pretty extreme measure for a global airline to take.

Will Cathay Pacific honor these fares?

We don’t know yet, as I haven’t seen an official statement from the airline. People are always super pessimistic and say “there’s no way they’ll honor them.” However, I’ll note that:

  • Over a year ago Qatar Airways had insanely low business class fares from Vietnam to just about anywhere in the world (similar prices to what Cathay Pacific charged), and they honored, in spite of being an airline that doesn’t usually honor these types of fares
  • Just recently Hong Kong Airlines had a huge mistake fare for travel originating in the US in business class, and they honored it

So while not all super cheap fares are honored, they do get honored more often than you’d think.

In this particular case I’d say there are things both for and against Cathay Pacific honoring these fares.

On one hand, the airline recently had a huge data breach, and there was a lot of negative publicity surrounding it. They’d get bad publicity if they didn’t honor, so I guess the question is how much they’re trying to be on their best behavior.

On the other hand, it seems like a lot of people booked a lot of seats. It’s one thing if the fare were just for business class, but first class was impacted as well.

For example, looking at Hong Kong to New York tickets for Labor Day weekend, three of the four flights are completely sold out in first class. That’s right, eight months in advance 21 of 24 first class seats are sold out (when ordinarily I’d expect that maybe one seat per flight is sold at this point). Wow.

While airlines generally take an “all or nothing” approach, I could also see Cathay Pacific taking an inbetween approach. Maybe they’ll honor all the fares booked, but only in business class and not first class, or something like that. We’ll see.

Does Cathay Pacific have to honor these fares?

Back in the day, the US DOT required airlines to honor “mistake” fares, regardless of the circumstances. That rule changed in 2015.

Now here’s what airlines have to do:

As a matter of prosecutorial discretion, the Enforcement Office will not enforce the requirement of section 399.88 with regard to mistaken fares occurring on or after the date of this notice so long as the airline or seller of air transportation: (1) demonstrates that the fare was a mistake fare; and (2) reimburses all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase, in addition to refunding the purchase price of the ticket.

So as you can see, the current rule is that airlines don’t have to honor mistake fares, but they do have to “reimburses all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase.”

How does that work in practice? We don’t really know. In other words, if you make an expensive non-refundable hotel booking, I would think based on my reading of the rules that they’d have to reimburse you for that. The problem is:

  • How are “reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket” expenses defined?
  • Just because the rules technically say something, doesn’t mean it will be easy to recover these costs; in other words, is it worth going to court over something like this?

Random musings…

Maybe this is a good reminder to not be “that person” when a mistake fare happens:

Called CX to complain as not showing when I look. They seemed perplexed and would be looking in to it.

No, no, no, just no.

Also, to the people yelling at me for posting these fares, I’ve been doing this for well over 10 years and I won’t be changing my approach, no matter what you call me:

Are there maybe one or two other people who would have randomly stumbled upon this fare before it was pulled? Maybe.

My approach to mistake fares is to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people. We win some, and we lose some. I got yelled at when I wrote about the Qatar Airways “sale” out of Vietnam a couple of years ago, and I got yelled at when I wrote about the Hong Kong Airlines sale a few months ago.

People were complaining at the time, but were they complaining after? Nope.

I’d say collectively we did a good job maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number of people with those fares.

Bottom line

I’m really curious to see how Cathay Pacific handles this situation. This fare was live for quite a while, and a lot of people booked.

I don’t even want to predict one way or another what will happen here. If I say I think it will be honored, people will get their hopes up and I’ll be yelled at if it’s not honored. If I say I think it won’t be honored, people will yell at me for suggesting it’s okay for the airline to cancel these fares.

So I’m just sitting here on the sidelines watching. This sure made for an eventful New Year’s Eve, which otherwise consisted of me having Domino’s for the first time in years, and going to bed at 9PM. A perfect night, if you ask me!

What do you make of this Cathay Pacific fare out of Vietnam?

  1. I would be incredibly surprised if this was honored. The reason is simple: business class – sure. First class – no way. People also get super greedy with these and book 10x tickets. People WILL pay real money for the seats in F on CX, often 20k USD. If this was only business mistake, it would probably be honored but as First is involved I’d be surprised.

    And if they don’t honor one I have a hard time seeing them honor the other.

  2. It’s pretty bad that people have a go at you for publicising deals or error fares. Surely this why a lot of people follow you & other travel bloggers for such info.

  3. @Lucky: If these get honored, being that so much premium cabin space is booked up, do you think there will be difficulties (shortages?) finding decent outbound options to pair with this? Asking because in less then 24 hours these will be nonrefundable so it’s not like booking half a mileage ticket that can be canceled if nothing opens later….

    Traveling with a party of three so will be out $4k+ if I cant route there…


  4. Spot on lucky! I took advantage of the Hong Kong Airlines fare back in the fall. Got to experience four different versions of HX business class. I’ve done CX J a couple times before, but have yet to experience their first class due to the challenge of booking multiple award seats. If this one goes through, you’ll be responsible for allowing me to enjoy $60,000 in travel for a mere $3000. Thank you!

  5. I think all the bloggers should NOT stop posting these but SHOULD stop calling them ‘mistake’ fares.

    You should all refer to these as great Sale or Deals.

    More and more the airlines are using blogs to highlight that everyone knew these were mistakes and shouldn’t be made to offer them.

    If everyone refers to these as great deals or offers then they can’t use the blogging community to wriggle out of them.

    Just my 2c worth.

  6. I booked over Presidents’ Day and my booking isn’t showing on “manage my booking” but my seat assignments are still there according to EF and my itinerary on orbitz is there.

    I’m wondering if they’re deleting all fares over long weekends?

  7. There are quite a few private groups that work together to find amazing fares like these and share them with each other. Employing bots and other techniques to find them.

    Many of those fares come and go without them ever becoming public and only a few book them. I’d say max. 10-20% of those fares ends up on blogs, FT etc. Sometimes fares are available for days or even weeks before they end up on FT and blogs.

    So sharing a few of them doesn’t hurt. Those who really care have enough opportunities. And the ones that complain would not have known about the fare without it being on blogs anyway.

  8. I am curious the most about those that posted here and other blogs/forums last night that they had booked flights for today and tomorrow. Will they get turned back. Or does CX just honor it. If they honor them one could assume that a precedent has been set. Will be fun to hear from those people later if they actually got on the flights.

    My take is that they will probably leave the Business bookings and offer F passengers a rebooking in Business….that is if anything is still available this year, lmao!

  9. Read somewhere (your comments section…?) that someone booked nine roundtrip HAN-JFK flights. NINE. LOL. My vote is that they’ll honor the fare or else they’d have said something already, but it’s anybody’s game at this point.

  10. It is so easy for an airline to set up alerts so that even if they don’t catch mistake fares internally (which shouldn’t actually be hard) the second that an article is posted on FT or any blog they could be immediately notified and could respond. There is no excuse for a mistake fare to be live for hours after being publicized and then the airline to act like a victim.

  11. Lucky, may I ask which website / platform are you using to check seats availability at shown in the screenshots?

  12. While I love these fares. This one in particular screwed my ExPlat re-qualification plans for next year by drying up the HKG-JFK/EWR fare buckets. My departure point is fine but since the seats for the connection in HKG are gone it screwed my low fare. Was getting ready to book the year out once I finalized my work schedule next week, then this happened.
    While the fare is still good, the EQD to spend ratio isn’t as sweet.

  13. I guess people will always find something to complain about.
    I for one appreciate the heads-up on a great biz fare that I probably don’t have time to spend searching for, anyway.

    This is all quite helpful for sure, so thank you.

    Unlike the idiots in other blogs that ruined Plastiq 3X points with Chase for everyone by buying a car using Plastiq and bragging about it and getting Chase’s attention, leading to no more 3X. Those jerks should be banished to coach on Ryanair forever.

  14. @Stuart not necessarily true. Last year BA had a mistake fare from LHR-MIA-Guayaquil for 787£ in first. Someone was able to go the next day and flew it. But everyone else who had future reservations were sent an email 5 days later and told them their tickets were being cancelled.

    And trust me I made this point to British Airways but they didn’t give two sh*its and canceled my reservation. However they are a different outfit, and they are known for being quite sleazy.

    I’m hoping Cathay makes the right decision here. The seats would go out empty anyway. So getting $1500-2k for them (roughly what they get for award) makes my intuition feel like they will honor the ticket.

  15. @ Lucky

    Never did call CX. Just wanted to see the reactions. Keep posting these fares. Highly doubt airlines are monitoring you and TPG site who also ran with these fares. In this case I think they caught it internally. When Hanoi and Da Nang r/t tickets to JFK in business are showing same exact fare for a whole year you know CX will discover it quick. Personally I think they will honor the business seats like it was a sale as it was 1) just on selected routes and 2) I’m sure not even a fraction of the seats were sold. First class may be different given what they can bring in on those fares.

  16. I booked two RT tickets. Biz and first. I tweaked my travel plans for 2019 but it’s not just a mileage run, I am making trips to Asia.

    Not saying they are “bad people” but I think those which booked nine F RTs as mileage runs are going to be the toughest situation.

    Rather than cancel first, it might be better to say “you can have two tickets, we are canceling all others”

    Where did I come up with two? It’s the # I bought 😉

    I really love Cathay and I hope they come through here

  17. I hope they don’t honor it. Been saving up miles for years for Cathay first or business. If they honor it, there will literally be no space left for people to book mileage tickets for the next year to North America. Seriously.

  18. The fact of the matter is they never sell out first class. I’ve been on approximately 36 longhaul Cathay F trips since 2014, and I’ve only had the cabin full ONCE when the flight was oversold. Another flight was 5/6. The rest ranged from just me to 4 passengers, including myself. Most of the flights were only 3 passengers. So if the seats in F are gonna go out empty, they might as well pick up $1500 for them. It would be wise for CX to just let the fare go. Not to mention the immense injection of cash flow this created for them.

    Also it’s not like it’s only $50. Cathay is still probably making a profit on those F tickets. The seats are fixed costs and are there, so as long as they’re making money, why cancel? If it was a HUGE mistake like the 89£ I’d say they’d cancel the fare. They cancelled in F or J a year ago I can understand. But this fare isn’t a totally unreasonable price.

  19. Maybe Cathey Pacific was hacked by some guys in Vietnam. The time on New Years was because no one is in the office. No one notices. Make as much damage as possible. Just my hunch. But my hunchs are usually about as correct as Trumps hunchs.

  20. It’s easy to say that “yelling over the internet” is absurd. However, when it keeps happening over and over again, I can see how it can get to your head.

    On the flip side, the same people who “yell” are the ones who believe that you can’t just be a regular dude. And that’s a compliment.

  21. When you KNOW it’s a mistake and you publish it , it’s very bad taste. If a bank hands you an extra $100 and you know it and walk away with it…. that’s not stealing ? When you know for sure a $10,000 product is being sold for $800, you know what’s going on. Have you ever seen a 92% off sale that’s legit ?

  22. Kudos to everyone who booked it! I just found out about this and it looked amazing! If I lived in Vietnam I would have bought a ticket for today. Happy new year everyone and to those booked it, good luck as I hope CX honors this fare. @Lucky, thx for sharing and please keep sharing great sales like these to your readers as I certainly appreciate them!

  23. @Ryan those examples are ridiculous. You’re comparing taking a publicly available offer that a company puts out to stealing? Where do you draw the line? How do you know when it’s a mistake, and when it’s not? We’ve seen fares like this before out of Vietnam in premium classes for these prices.

    We don’t get to decide what an airline puts out. So you’re a theif if you accept an offer someone makes to you? I don’t know where you got your logic from. The airline chooses to make an offfer. I choose to accept it. It’s two parties engaging in an agreed upon commercial transaction. That’s not theft, look up the definition. And frankly I’m not even sure if this is a mistake there’s always cheap fares out of Vietnam, Colombo, and Cairo.

  24. To those of you who keep checking your booking on the Cathay website, don’t you have an email from them with your e-ticket numbers?? If you do, and you are not actually flying this week, then just chill, chill, chill. You have tickets. Get on with your life. And wait until the dust settles and Cathay announces what it is going to do with these cheap tickets it sold.

  25. @Matt, That is nonsense, leave Lucky alone. 1) Its his business and he is good at it and this is part of it, whether you like it or not 2) Yes, I have seen 92% sales, and if somebody puts a piece of gold jewelry (rarely discounted) on sale at 8% of the typical price… I am sure there are plenty of bloggers who would write about it. And I am certain I would buy it if I could.

    Airline tickets actually ARE heavily discounted all the time, probably one of the best examples around. The people who bought these (including me) and those that promoted it have done nothing wrong. It is up to Cathay to manage it, if they did a poor job of that it is on them. I recall plenty of times Lucky saying “I genuinely don’t know if this a mistake fare or not”. So what is he going to do about that? He has no idea for certain what it is, maybe it is black and white here to many people, most the time it is pretty grey.

    Sounds like your take on it is “its ok for me to ‘profit’ from buying it, but not ok for Lucky to do so from promoting it”. Lucky got no short term profit out of it, but it certainly helps his business; I bet the numbers on this blog have been very high lately. Though I am guessing his main motivation is that he geniunely likes to help the people that read his blog.

    What is he supposed to say? “I have heard that the entire air/travel blogosphere is talking about a possible mistake fare, but I am a monk who has sworn off talking about it… so go figure it out yourself”. Not only is that not wise… its not Lucky; anyone who has read this blog for any period of time knows it is 100% not possible he could do that, so stop bringing up a useless point that will never be taken into account.

    Its like complaining that rain is wet… we get it… move on.

  26. These fare was meant for travelers from Vietnam to here. Like my ciusin just came for a visit. She would definitely pay that amount to come here. But 3000 to 4000 or more no way! So it’s not a mistake.

  27. We bought 17 roundtrips each. We will spend the entire year flying between our homes in Hanoi and New York and will earn OW Emerald in 4 different programs. I’ll probably gain 100 pounds just eating eating and drinking everything I can. Best year ever. Thanks, Ben!

  28. @Leslie, I understand your logic, but even “good” CX sale fares from low-yield SE Asia markets (VN and PH) are still north of $2,000 R/T in J; I live in Bangkok and have never seen under $3,000 R/T. This was definitely some kind of error, though I imagine it will end up being honored since it hasn’t been canceled yet.

  29. I booked 3 RT in F HAN JFK. It does make me curious as to how CX let this go on for hours. I personally do not see the F sticking. They will offer to J with a refund. Hope I’m wrong 🙂

  30. The real problem is the DOT failing to enforce the rules. If an airline does honor a fare, they should be fined $1,000,000 per ticket not honored and if they don’t pay lose their certificate to operate to the USA.

  31. @abe absolutely is not stealing in this case , but very immoral for bloggers who know it’s a mistake to advise people to book it. It’s very damaging to the industry , the companies and to other passengers. I am an avid traveler and I like the advise I read from most posts but telling thousands of tens of thousands of people about a mistake fare that you know can serisouly damage an airline is just poor taste and that’s my opinion. The analogy I made was about right versus wrong. I treat other how I expect to be treated. I could only imagine how I would feel if an IT error put me in this horrible position CX is in.

  32. “More and more the airlines are using blogs to highlight that everyone knew these were mistakes and shouldn’t be made to offer them.” – Its quite obvious in the case of CX that it was a mistake when an F ticket is being sold for 1.4 K when the same exact often goes for 14k up to 26K. To try to say the reason it can be deemed a mistake is because a blog called it a mistake is nonsense at least in extreme cases. A blog calling this a sale, without some indication from the airline that it is a sale, would be extremely misleading to the readers and may result in people getting burned by relying on a price and booking other rooms/flights/taking off vacation time etc. Blogs should warn people in situations like that there is a chance the fare won’t be honored, so they can decide if they want to risk it.

  33. I booked the deal from SGN to SEA for $1300 in J. I would not be surprised if the deal is not honored, but I do not think CX will cancel tickets. All CX has to do is to downgrade all tickets to Y and offer a free refund (my ticket has $250 penalty for refunds). This way the airline does not need to pay non-refundable expenses per DOT rules and is only obligated to refund fare difference between F/J and cheapest Y at the time of purchase, which we know is 0 for J and only a few hundred $ for F.

  34. @Anton, this is exactly what Swiss Air did to those of us who bought the Yangon mistake fares. But they didn’t bother to offer it in advance, they “ambushed” us when we checked in for our flights.

  35. For what its worth, I called to cancel my booking as wasn’t sure if I did online if I would be charged $250 fee. As soon as I gave my booking number to the agent, she said “First of all, this ticket was booked as part of the “system glitch” and I will need to cancel the ticket. The actual cost of the ticket is approximately $11,000″
    It was the exact outcome I wanted, so not a big deal for me but a word of caution to anyone else making plans around these bookings. Apparently their headquarters will be analyzing and suspending any tickets booked.
    As they say – Don’t shoot the messanger!

  36. Is it possible to estimate how many tickets were sold yesterday? I’d imagine CX will take into account the remaining capacity as one of the top factors in determining whether to cancel the bookings or not. I did a quick search between US cities and HKG and there is availability for pretty much every day.

  37. What do people think the COGS/cost of revenue is for each first and business seat that would otherwise be empty?

    Any possibility CX actually makes money on these fares due to the volume of booking, or impossible?

    Lounge + champagne + food + fuel > $1k?

  38. Anyone’s guess as to how long we can expect them to take action one way or another?
    I’m hoping that no news is good news, but how long is no news a good thing?
    Could they technically dishonour a booking made for Sept in (say) July??

  39. Glad I snagged the CX biz reward with AS miles when I did.

    These things are always exciting and watching the feeding frenzy is always fun. My issue is that I never figure out how to do the positioning flights in a way that makes sense for me.

  40. Well, anyone going to vietnam, do check out Eco Beach Resort Phu Quoc!!! They have their own beach. Very nice.

  41. Part of me hopes they do honour this fare, however I have a few issues/concerns:

    1. The loss of revenue from selling these seats at normal prices – some of these fares are at peak times on flights from HKG – US, which in Business cost around £4k and First upwards of £10k…surely they can not justify this, even as an exercise in public relations?

    2. If they do honour the fares, award seat availability will drop dramatically, which will severely frustrate their loyal frequent flyers, so negating the positive effect of honouring them for others

    3. How do CX explain this to their Oneworld Partners, who would be awarding a number of their own FF miles and TPs for these flights, leading to an impact on their revenue (more people using their lounges with higher status/using air miles to book flights etc)?

    Don’t blame Lucky or the other bloggers at all – just surprised at how slow the CX response was and continues to be

  42. Have to agree with @BlueHorizonUK . Essentially, bloggers and consumers can’t really determine if it is a “mistake” or “error”. So they shouldn’t say it’s a mistake or error. And by not saying that, airlines can’t use those blog post as “evidence” that consumers purchase those tickets knowing they are mistakes.

    Regardless what Lucky calls it, I do agree that it’s very difficult to predict whether CX will honour those fare or not. But what’s even worse for CX’s image than not honouring those fares is taking a long time to make a decision. They should act fast, because regardless the outcome, people need to make (alternative) plans.

  43. BTW, does anyone has any clue on how much CX charge AS for First Class redemption? Because for 70,000 miles, the cash value isn’t as high as CX actually selling those seats to fare-paying passengers. And for CX, they will release all but 1 first seat for award redemption from within 72 hours of departure anyway. So what’s the real loss here if they honour the ticket?

  44. As a random DP – I have a friend who booked a ticket but couldn’t make the dates work. He called Cathay to cancel within 24 hours, not mentioning anything, and they immediately said it had been booked as part of a system glitch and they would be forced to cancel the booking.

  45. CX has just confirmed the fare will be honoured.

    Cathay Pacific

    Verified account

    9 minutes ago
    Happy 2019 all, and to those who bought our good – VERY good surprise ‘special’ on New Year’s Day, yes – we made a mistake but we look forward to welcoming you on board with your ticket issued. Hope this will make your 2019 ‘special’ too!
    #promisemadepromisekept #lessonlearnt

  46. Happy 2019 all, and to those who bought our good – VERY good surprise ‘special’ on New Year’s Day, yes – we made a mistake but we look forward to welcoming you on board with your ticket issued. Hope this will make your 2019 ‘special’ too!
    #promisemadepromisekept #lessonlearnt

    From Cathay Pacific

  47. Yes.. latest is that Cathay will honor said fares…kudos to them and wont do their business an harm…

  48. It was the right thing to do. It will not effect earnings, and the publicity and good will is immeasurable.

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