Phantom Cathay Pacific Award Space

For years I’ve been collecting American AAdvantage miles almost exclusively in order to redeem for travel in Cathay Pacific first class:

  • American charges just 67,500 miles for one-way first class between the US and Asia, which is a steal
  • Historically Cathay Pacific first class has been one of the most readily available transpacific first class products, given that they released two first class award seats when the schedule opened and often more close to departure
  • Cathay Pacific has one of my favorite first class products in the world — they’re one of the few airlines that does a truly all around solid job, from hard product, to service, to food

However, unfortunately for about six months now there has been a trend whereby Cathay Pacific has sharply decreased the amount of award space they’re releasing. I don’t really think it’s intentional on their part. The fact is that they’re retiring all their 747s, which feature nine first class seats, while the rest of their fleet is comprised of 777s with just six first class seats. With the economy recovering it’s much tougher to justify releasing a third of your first class cabin for awards 11 months out. And unlike during the recession people are actually paying for first class, meaning fewer award seats are available close to departure.

Cathay_Pacific_777_First_Class75
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER first class

But that’s not the point of this post. Today I literally received over 20 emails, messages, and comments asking what is going on with Cathay Pacific award space. The problem seems to be that people are finding award space on the British Airways and Qantas websites, and then trying to book through American AAdvantage, only to be told that the award space isn’t actually available.

Of course this was initially somewhat alarming to me, because up until now American has never voluntarily blocked partner award space. It’s alarming because this is a tactic US Airways has been implementing for a long while now, so I wondered if they were starting to rub off on American.

So as far as I’m concerned there are a few plausible explanations:

  • American is for the first time voluntarily blocking partner award space (seems unlikely to me)
  • OneWorld carriers are allotting different award inventory to different airlines (seems unlikely to me as well)
  • American is having computer problems and for whatever reason agents just can’t find the space (seems like a possibility)
  • British Airways and maybe some other online search tools are displaying phantom award space (seems most likely to me)

I used the British Airways website to search first class award availability for a random date between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and found one first class award seat.

Cathay-Pacific-Award-Space-101

I called up American AAdvantage, and sure enough they couldn’t see that seat. I called back again to be sure it wasn’t just a clueless agent. I got the same response again.

Then I decided to search award space through Japan Airlines MileageBank, and sure enough it wasn’t displaying that first class award seat.

Cathay-Pacific-Award-Space-103

Could British Airways have access to more award space than American and Japan Airlines?

At this point I decided to try and book the first class award seat through British Airways, and after it confirmed my transaction and claimed to be “processing” my credit card, I got the following error message:

Cathay-Pacific-Award-Space-105

So for the most part this seems to simply be a case of British Airways and Qantas displaying phantom award space.

Now there are some other weird discrepancies going on, but I think the above phantom award space displaying on the British Airways and Qantas websites explain 99% of the confusion. If you’re encountering phantom Cathay Pacific award space try using the Japan Airlines website to search for award space. If there’s a discrepancy in availability, then there’s your answer.

Hopefully this clears things up!

Comments

  1. Craig says

    I had some really odd experiences the past few months booking CX first class awards through AA.

    I would first go to the BA site to determine availability. Then I would call AA to book. AA said that the availability I saw on BA was not available. However, they were able to give me flights that were NOT showing up on the BA site!

    At first I thought I was seeing phantom availability on BA, but how does that explain how AA found flights that I could not see on BA???

    I did indeed book the flights (for August) and they are ticketed.

  2. Lacuadra says

    I see tons of wealthy Chinese that appreciate FC products and luxury items. It is not going to get any easier with Asian carriers any time soon. My 0.02

  3. says

    Data point – I booked 2 seats in CX F 11 months out a few weeks ago on BA. So at least a few weeks ago, that space wasn’t phantom – didn’t try with AA tho.

  4. says

    @ Joe — That’s a good point, I should clarify that only some space on the British Airways website is phantom. Most of the “legitimate” award space also shows up on ba.com.

  5. coalharbour says

    Oh no, this is not good.

    How about checking availability on Asia Miles? Or does CX release more seats to its own members?

  6. Craig says

    Ben — I was actually going to email you a few months ago (see above). Would you have any idea as to why AA was able to give me award flights that were not showing up on the BA site?

  7. says

    @ coalharbour — AsiaMiles does at least theoretically give their members access to extra space. So if you see the space on AsiaMiles it *may* be bookable with a partner, while if they don’t have space it’s safe to assume a partner won’t either.

  8. says

    I’ve actually had a similar problem with Asia Miles displaying award space that BA can’t find. For example, one March 7th, Asia Miles shows a seat in First Class from HKG-CDG, while the BA site doesn’t show it at all.

  9. says

    @ Craig — The phantom space seems to work both ways — sometimes American sees space that Cathay Pacific doesn’t, while otherwise they don’t see space that Cathay Pacific does show.

  10. says

    @ Steve — That’s actually pretty normal, since Cathay Pacific makes more space available to their own members than to partners.

  11. says

    I had heard that, though this was the first time I had seen it in practice. That, combined with your post, makes me curious about what’s going on with Cathay space generally.

  12. JohnB says

    Lucky, I have been searching for 2 F seats, ORD-HKG. They were available at the 11 month mark. Of course booked, soon afterwards. I didn’t have the miles at that time…. Now, patiently waiting to about 10 days prior to departure for the last 2 seats to be released as there are 2 seats that can be sold on our flight. Everyone says keep a check on Qantas, but now I’m wondering where I really should be checking…Japan, Qantas, BA, or calling AA?

  13. D says

    Thanks for the post, Lucky. Chased my tail with AA and BA today for those two coveted seats on the exact flights I wanted… Shoulda known it would be too good to be true. Guess I’ll keep waiting and checking.

  14. Tom R says

    Ben,
    I appreciate you putting up the posting so quick. Another data point, BA and QF sites were accurate this week and only showed a few random award seats. On Wednesday evening, CX F availability magically showed up for almost every day in May for LAX-HKG. It looked like someone flipped a switch.

  15. says

    @ JohnB — Ultimately the most accurate source would be to just call American. That being said, in most cases British Airways is still accurate, so I’d check their site as well.

    Generally Cathay Pacific won’t release their last seat into award inventory, and if they do, it’s usually only a day or two before departure at most.

  16. Greg says

    Lucky this has been around for a while. If you look at Flyertalk, and read the thread about booking CX awards with AA miles, there is lots of misinformation and basically people really can’t tell what the availability is by using BA, or Qantas websites, you are at the mercy of the AA customer service agents.

    Actually AA awards show up on the BA site as well. It appears that many AA trans Atlantic flights on AA are available on the BA website. AA.com says they are not available at the saver award.

    This is simply a case of BA website falsely advertising award availability. I think it should be illegal for such practices, as it makes customers believe that you can actually book your Avios points, when in reality it is not available.

    THERE IS NO SOURCE THAT SHOWS TRUE ONEWORLD availability. A huge weakness in earning oneworld points.

  17. says

    My experience this morning (that I shared with you and Matthew of Live & Let’s Fly) was QF + BA showed space, called AA, no space… found that the space did not show as available via JL (which has always been the most reliable source for partner CX inventory) or even via CX. So concluded it was phantom space.

    The Qantas site has historically shown lots of phantom space, especially on Iberia. Been better lately.

    The BA site has historically been really accurate, been worse lately.

    Most complaints about AAgents unable to see CX seats has been agent error and a failure to hang up call back.

    But right now we’re seeing folks led astray by bad data sources. Here’s hoping that gets sorted out!

  18. says

    @ Jack — Alaska doesn’t display Cathay Pacific award space online. They should have access to the “correct” partner inventory, though (the same space that American has access to).

  19. Tom says

    BA was having major issues in not showing any award space for CX and a few other airlines recently. This phantom space is probably a result of whatever “fix” they put in.

  20. BL says

    Seems like the BA site is caching. If you use cache busting headers, works just fine to pull up correct data. My recommendation is to just use cache busting headers. If I’ve to guess, BA is trying to save money that they have to pay the GDS for every query.

  21. Amol (@PointsToPointB) says

    BL – thanks for the recommendation. BA seems to be showing proper levels now. I can’t verify stuff close-in because JAL doesn’t allow searches inside of 4 days to departure.

    Lucky, thanks for looking into it. I just don’t get CX close-in, there are flights with F3 or F4 that have 0 seats in First, while random F2 flights have 1 seat available. And J on those flights isn’t oversold.

  22. James says

    @Ben & Jack.

    AS Data Point

    It’s interesting that Ben posted this today. I attempted to book CX YVR-HKG-PER. The BA website shows only J available (leaving March 20 arriving March 21). AS agents (I called three) only show Y+ to HKG then nothing to HKG. The JAL website shows the same as AS agents.

    It appears BA isn’t reliable anymore but JAL is good.

  23. Ivan Y says

    Hope BA goes back to displaying true results. In my experience (about a month or so ago), BA matched what AA agents saw and AA was able to book the flight on a date I found on BA site.

  24. TC says

    I had called BA yesterday to inquire about booking a specific CX intra-Asia route with Avios, and they had mentioned their systems were either down or buggy and in the process of being fixed, so hopefully this is temporary.

  25. says

    @ Nick — Availability isn’t as good last minute as it used to be, though I definitely have still seen some last minute space.

  26. Josh says

    Had this same problem at the end of February, while trying to move up to first on an Alaska award. Parents were up in first already and I was stuck in PE. It would show space on our flight on BA, I would call Alaska from either South Africa or HK and they would tell me they couldn’t see it. Two nights before we left, a “real” seat opened up in business and I got it. The next day, First opened and I switched again.

    So it worked out, but it was pretty frustrating for a while.

  27. Steve says

    At AA- I picked a number of random dates thru the next 11 months attempting to redeem mileage from JFK to Singapore and the reverse route- no availability whatsoever showed up on aa.com for any date- does one need to speak directly to a customer service rep or is this simply a route with limited availability ?

  28. desiblogger says

    Any strategies on booking CX in F for a flight in Sept for HKG-LAX (or HKG back to anywhere in the U.S.) using US miles? I need two tickets, i know seats are available, but only one seat is shoing as avial. Should i book one now, (i right now have to seats on AA first returning to LAX from Asia), and just wait for another one to open up?

  29. says

    @ desiblogger — Depends how flexible you are, as that’s pretty risky and US Airways does charge a $150 per person change/cancellation fee. If you’re flexible I would just wait until close to departure, as they’re pretty good about opening up more space as the departure date approaches.

  30. desiblogger says

    thanks @lucky, appreciate it. I guess I’ll wait until right before we leave for two to open up at the same time. A second choice could be to find an AA from HKG-DFW, at least that is the 777-300 first. I wish USAIR awards would allow some more flexibility, similar to AA (no change fees, can change tickets after travel commences). that would be a nice change!

  31. jrap says

    Hi Lucky,

    Had to book a CX F seat using 105k avios from HKG-JFK today. Would have preferred to use 67.5k AA but AA could not see the space. I had been monitoring for a few days and, while JAL and BA could both see the space, AA could not. This seems to differ from other reports of “phantom” CX space as it was ultimately bookable using avios. Any idea what is going on here? thanks.

  32. Chase says

    I’ve had this same issue with a BUCH of JFK-HKG and HKG-JFK flights. In fact, I’m staring at 2 online (one each way; one about 6 days out and the other about 20 days out) that JL, QF, BA, and CX all see but I’ve called 10 times and none of the AAgents are able to see either. It’s terribly frustrating.

  33. Chas says

    @Lucky- yes, sorry, should have mentioned. Shows up on all of BA, QF, JL, and (though of course less relevant) CX sites.

  34. says

    @ Chas — Hmmm. They should be able to see it then. You may just need to call a few times until you get an agent who can find the space.

  35. Chas says

    That’s the weird thing about it. Have called about 10 times now, asked for a long sell (denied), asked for a supervisor (same), asked to search by specific flt # (no luck), and even asked to search for the day after and “tab back” to the day was looking for, per advice received in the FT thread. Nothing seems to get this seat to show on AA’s end.

    If you are curious enough to have a look for yourself I can email you the flight details, just let me know.

  36. NB says

    Same thing just happened to me, albeit with US and not AA. BA, QF, JL, and CX all show one seat and US can’t see it. frustrating!

  37. hahaha03 says

    Another data point – I’m also having the same problem. Seeing multiple available F seats on different flights from HKG to JFK on JL/BA/QF/CX and AA cannot find any of them despite many calls. Some available seats have been released for more than 24 hours and they still do not see them.

  38. ET says

    Same for me with US Air. Can see 1 Business seat availability on British Airways site for JFK -> HKG, but call up US Airways, and they see only coach, no Business.

  39. lucky says

    @ ET — Sounds like it’s phantom space, I would use the Japan Airlines website to check availability.

  40. HGG says

    ummm….I have encountered the same problem.

    Have been trying to book a MEL-HKG business class seat in Nov. While there is availability on BA, Qantas and JAL websites, AA cannot see this seat being available.

    I have called them about 5 times, to both call centres in Fiji and USA, same answer.

    :(

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