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.
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.
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.
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:
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!