The anti-aspirational aspirational award

I just booked a pair of Cathay Pacific first class tickets to Bali for next year using American miles. Okay, what’s wrong with me that I’m calling Cathay Pacific first class to Bali an “anti-aspirational aspirational award?” Let me ‘splain.

I’m all about the aspirational award. And in theory Cathay Pacific first class to Bali is about as aspirational as awards get. Bali is my favorite relaxation destination on earth, and Cathay Pacific has one of the best first class products, in my opinion. But at the same time there’s no satisfaction for me in booking a Cathay Pacific first class award 11 months out. Why? Because it’s easier than taking candy from a baby. Cathay Pacific consistently releases two first class seats on every San Francisco to Hong Kong flight 11 months out, so there’s no challenge in booking. There’s just more satisfaction in doing something aspirational if it’s a challenge to accomplish, in my opinion. Last night I decided I wanted to go to Bali, and 15 minutes later my ticket was booked. Let me take this a step further. I didn’t even look at availability online, but I just immediately called up American since I knew how great award availability is and knew Cathay Pacific’s flight schedules.

And the Cathay Pacific schedule to Bali out of San Francisco works out beautifully, since the redeye flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong both leave a layover of just a few hours in Hong Kong, so they’re perfect.

So while I love Cathay Pacific and Bali, I just didn’t get the same rush out of the actual booking process as I do from other aspirational awards.

Lufthansa first class? Now there’s an award that gives me a rush, since it can only be booked within a week or so of departure, and it’s a real challenge. Or my favorite aspirational award in terms of the actual booking process is booking Qantas Airbus 380 first class between Los Angeles and Sydney or Melbourne. They by no means consistently release first class award space on every flight, though they do release two first class award seats on at least a few flights a month. It’s the only award where 11 months out I’ll actually stay up overnight until the schedule opens, because I don’t think there’s another award where space actually disappears as quickly.

Last week I even stayed up throughout the night for a client to snag Qantas Airbus 380 first class award space. Was it worth it for my fee? No, but I got a rush out of it. I called every hour starting at midnight since I saw the award availability was there but American just didn’t have access to it yet. I called shortly after 3AM and they still hadn’t opened up the calendar, but then when I called at 4AM the space was already gone, so obviously I wasn’t the only one doing that. Fortunately there was space on the Melbourne to Los Angeles flight in first class on the Airbus 380 which worked equally well, but it just goes to show you how quickly the space disappears. But I really did get a rush out of the booking process.

I’m also happy to report that I’m actively taking a new approach to destinations. Some of you may remember my last Aeroplan first class award that I flew in March, where I had day-long stops in a handful of cities. While it was a fun trip, it’s far too exhausting. For the trip I booked I’ll be spending a week in Bali without any other stops, enjoy the culture, people, and of course the pools/beaches. I can’t wait, and for once it’s something to look forward to for 11 months (all my other bookings lately seem to be last minute).

Now I just have to figure out where to stay (though there’s no rush for that)…

Does anyone else enjoy the challenge of booking an award that doesn’t “put out” on the first date try?

Filed Under: Awards, Cathay Pacific
  1. You’ve face directly into my problem, exactly.

    I’ve had 5 Cathay first trips over the last couple years. I’m lazy. I don’t want to push my wife to fly contortion routings to get a better product.

    If I want to fly to Asia, I just book Cathay first and be done with it, the JFK or Chicago flights, in order to get decent connections and a good solid product.

    I think you once called CX F my ‘second home’.

    I’ve got a booking with them coming up again…

    Very very good seat. Good amenities. Good service. Decent but not amazing food (I love the breakfast, the rest is ok at best).

    Very reliable. You know what you’re going to get and you get it.

    But it also means I’m missing out on many new products, I still haven’t done the new SQ F. Or the EK A380 F.

    After having flown F though on LH, LX, TG, QF, UA, AA, OZ, NH, CX, BA etc many times you stop worrying about trying to get new products, willing to take positioning flights and extra segments to do it.

    You just want to get where you’re going comfortably and efficiently. Boy I never thought that’s how I’d describe CX F but I suppose that’s how I think of it, and that’s why I keep booking it.

    At least I have an upcoming EY F award booked as well, and will be flying AA business class in a few days 😛

  2. @ Matt — Nevermind my entire post. Did I mention how much I love easy awards? 😉

    @ Gary — Very well said!

  3. Yeah +1 to Matt. I’ve got my whole 2013 summer trip planned out in my head, and I’m just hoping Skymiles won’t do anything more insane than they already do. I *wish* life was so easy and boring on Skyteam

  4. Ben, since you are ex plat and can get
    Rede posited for free, do you ever book with AA and then if LH opens up, just cancel Cathay?

  5. Ben, you said “Cathay Pacific consistently releases two first class seats on every San Francisco to Hong Kong flight 11 months out”, but what about Hong Kong onwards? Is it the same way to Bali? And then once two awards are booked, then do they release more awards immediately or at a later time or it is totally unpredictable. I need 4 awards preferably in first but at least in business, so knowing that it is pretty tough, what strategy do you suggest?

    Bye the way, I remember once you mentioned about Thai airways. They constantly release two awards at one time no matter what and once they are booked, two more award space is available immediately. That is what I did exactly to book 4 awards all the way to Bangkok.

  6. I booked the only biz/first space on QF I saw available to AA in all of Feb. 2013. Definite rush staying up late.

  7. Mind if I ask how would you get to SFO for the trip? Can you reopen the booking to add TPA-SFO on the front and SFO-TPA on the back? Or is that another award booking or paid ticket you would need to do to get there? Thanks

  8. @ BothofUs2 — I could indeed include those segments on the award at no extra cost, though I haven’t added them yet (I can add them at a later date for free). Frankly I’m not sure where I’ll be living next year as I’m considering a move. I might just take advantage of American allowing a free stopover at the gateway city, and booking TPA-JFK-SFO for an earlier trip in Flagship First.

  9. @lucky Thanks for the explanation. Is the reason you are able to add your home airport on the going/return at a later date for free due to status on the airline? Reason I’m asking is because I don’t have status on any airline (OK, I do on Kingfisher but that’s another story) and for AA at least I’ve been told by their agents that there is an additional $150 fee for changing origin/endpoints on an award. I’m looking at trying to book a coveted USA(ORD)-Australia/NZ trip likely for July 2013 and trying to do some advance work. Sorry for the noob question I’m still learning some of the ins and outs of this – thanks!

  10. @ BothofUs2 — No worries, ask away! You’re correct that the reason there’s no fee for me is because of my status. Otherwise you’d get charged for changing the origin or destination.

  11. Thanks for the details of what you went through to book our award flights back from Australia to LAX. We are looking forward to the Airbus 380 First Class on Qantas. We are glad you got a rush out of booking our dream trip. (And the check is in the mail.)

  12. Don’t call it anti-aspirational… I am flying the same award in November and looking forward to it very much.

  13. The obvious aspirational award, using US Dividend Miles:


    That should price out as a South Asia award in business, no? 😉

  14. Bali is a big island, will you get out of the tourist areas? What about Lombok? I heard it Is way better than Bali. My wife and I head to ubud Once a year, well to be fair the hotel is 5 miles outside of ubud

  15. @ stephen — It’s only anti-aspirational in the sense that it’s easy to book. Otherwise aspirational in every way!

  16. @ Db — This will be the most time I’ve ever had in Bali, so definitely want to explore the area.

  17. Seems very bizarre to call it anti-aspirational. What does that imply for us that still consider it aspirational?

  18. @ beachfan — Did you read the rest of the post? I said it was an aspirational award, but the only thing that doesn’t make it aspirational is how easy it is to snag.

  19. Ive never flown first class so it would take quite a few trips in first class to make any trip anti aspirational for myself.

  20. I’ve only flown on revenue tickets so far, but I still get a buzz when booking a last minute trips. There’s just “something” in making totally impulsive booking at the last minute and in the best of cases be in a plane the next morning heading somewhere…again. 🙂

  21. Amandari.

    Go visit Sean and Lindsay at Amanusa.

    You saw Aman in India. Why try anything else in Bali? 🙂

  22. BTW, don’t forget to get your Swedish visa before you head to Bali 🙂 , now that you have been checked for a Chinese visa en route to Singapore! You never know with the kinds of check in personnel these days!

  23. Even though you already explained what you meant by “anti-aspirational” please keep in mind that these sorts of top-end awards still remain few and far between for many of us. Most of the world’s population will never travel a single foot in any premium cabin in their entire lives.

    As for your week’s stay I hope you make the most of it and really dig in. If there is one thing that I find to be missing from your reviews it’s the lack of on-the-ground reports from beyond the plane, airport, and hotel. Trust me, we already have so many people covering that areas inside our safety nets.

    One of my favorite television shows is The Amazing Race, but I can’t recall the last time they showed more than a few seconds of any airplane or hotel and they never comment on the service. I’m not saying you need to take it that far; I’m simply saying it would be nice to see you move further and further away from your safety net.

  24. I am sitting in the Bali GH as I type this.Did it on AA miles on CX in F out of LAX.Originally booked from SFO as there was nothing from LAX but seats opened 44 days before departure. Enjoyed flight over but was not impressed with UD J of 747.What is your favorite beach here in Bali? We’ve tried Jimbaron, Sanur,Kuta and Nusa Dua.

  25. I am going to Siem Reap and then Bali for 5 days, Cathay coming home-thanks to your blog-would you mind spending a column on things to do in Bali so I don’t lazy out and spend 4 days at the beach/pool?

  26. At 135000 per person that’s a milesaver award on first? That’s terrific! Any tips on how to find milesaver awards on AA on coach? I recently booked a trip SGN to LAX (one way) with 67500 miles with the milesaver first class option. Unfortunatley, SGN to NRT is coach while NRT to LAX is first. This was all done thorugh the AA phone agent. If I could search online first that would be better cuz calling in every day is a hassle.

  27. Lucky – have you ever flown the new Business product on Cathay for their long haul? Maybe I missed it in your blog but couldn’t find it. Would like to get your review of it…

  28. Lucky, I think I read somewhere that if you book an AA award ticket with the AA Citi card you will get 10% back on miles redeemed (up to 10K). I think it’s a new benefit of the card. Is that right or am I dreaming? I am planning on booking a one way BOS-JFK-HKG F ticket on CX for January 2013 and was thinking I would get back 6,750 miles.

  29. You weren’t by any chance trying to book QF 11 SYD-LAX for March 19, 2013? If so, I am the one who snagged the two F seats. I was also calling every hour from midnight.

  30. @ ace — I’ll give it a shot. When are you going?

    @ webzoid — Correct, that was MileSaver first. The key is to search for availability on your own instead of relying on the agents. Here’s a tutorial I wrote about how to search for availability online:

    @ Dale — I haven’t, though I have plans to try it soon.

    @ Rebecca — Correct, I wrote about the benefit here:

    @ Jeff — ROFL. Small world, isn’t it? Congrats, Sir, you’re better than I am.

  31. Lucky, I did read the post. The elegance and comfort is what makes it desirable, the cost (whether in dollars or in miles) is what makes it aspirational.

  32. HA! This post will now make it more difficult to snag these seats so you should indeed feel more “fulfilled” 😉

  33. Yo B,

    Whose website is that you’re using to book the CX Award to HKG? Is that Cathay or

    And how did you book to the segment from HKG to Bali?

  34. @ ThunderStorm — That’s actually British Airways’ website (I didn’t book through it, but just used it to demonstrate availability).

    I booked the segment from Hong Kong to Bali by phone as well.

  35. Lucky, I was trying to search availability from HKG to DPS on British (thinking about a similar trip next year), but nothing is showing up on the online search engine. Any easy way to check these flights or should I just use Cathay’s revenue ticket search and call for availability with BA? Planning to fly out on BA miles and back on AA miles. Thanks.

  36. @ Matt — Be sure you’re searching business class award space and not first class award space, since they don’t have a first class product on the route. Could that maybe be the issue?

  37. Lucky, you notice any particular pattern in terms of CX releasing more F award seats after the first two are taken up? How about close to departure (7 days, 3 days, etc)?

  38. @ MKM — Beyond the 11 month period there isn’t really any discernible pattern other than them releasing space last minute (within about two weeks of departure). They’ll sometimes release space inbetween, but I can’t pinpoint any dates.

  39. Assuming you are using AA points or Alaska partner awards vs the 420000! Avios needed for CX F to HKG?

  40. @MKM-At 9 months out I couldn’t find any F out of LAX so I went with LAX-SFO-HKG-DPS. Then at 90 days out started watching LAX-HKG and at 44 days out 2 F showed up.

  41. Hi Ben

    I was hoping you may have an answer for this since you have experience with cathy pacific 🙂

    I am trying to book a trip with my AA miles to take the wife to Maldives some early next year. Using both the BA and Qantas website I was able to see 2 first class seats for cathy pacific. Upon calling AA(I talked to two different reps), I was told they could only see 1 and was able to put that one on hold.

    I am not sure what to do at this point as I clearly see that there is 1 more award seat on both the BA and Qantas website but the reps that I’ve talked to aren’t seeing it. Is it a case of phantom availability?

    Thanks for the help!

  42. @ Dan — Sadly there are occasionally some availability discrepancies. All I can recommend is maybe waiting a day as it could be American’s system just hasn’t updated availability.

  43. Ben

    Do you have a favorite seat that you like when flying first on cathay? I will be flying LAX-HKG and back.

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