Cathay Pacific offers what may just be my favorite all around first class product in the world. Not only are they incredibly consistent, but I think they’re one of the few airlines that scores nearly perfect in all categories.
Great service? Check!
Amazingly comfortable seat for both lounging and sleeping? Check!
Top notch bedding? Check!
One of the best entertainment systems out there? Check!
Great food and especially good midflight snacks? Check!
Did I mention they serve Krug? 😉
I’ve flown Cathay Pacific first class about a dozen times, so here are a few of my most recent reviews:
- Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER New York to Vancouver
- Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER Hong Kong to San Francisco
- Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER Chicago to Hong Kong
American and US Airways miles are great for Cathay Pacific first class
And the great thing is that for now, it’s possible to redeem both American and US Airways miles for travel in Cathay Pacific first class at a very good rate:
- Between the US and “Asia 2,” American charges just 67,500 miles for one-way first class
- Between the US and “North Asia” (which includes Hong Kong), US Airways charges 120,000 miles for roundtrip first class
I have a lot of American and US Airways miles, so if I didn’t have any commitments (or if Cathay Pacific offered inflight wifi) I’d probably just take a month long vacation in Cathay Pacific first class. I don’t think there’s an airline where I arrive more well rested, thanks to their great bedding and ultra longhaul flights.
Why we’re seeing less Cathay Pacific first class award space
Anyway, there’s no doubt that Cathay Pacific isn’t quite as generous about releasing first class award space as in the past. They’re still really good, but just not amazing. Keep in mind that the backbone of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is the 777-300ER, and they have just six first class seats in the cabin. So the fact that they consistently release any space is a miracle and something to be thankful for, in my opinion.
During the recession they would consistently release two first class award seats per flight. It seems crazy to literally make a third of your first class cabin available on awards 11 months out, when those seats could otherwise be sold.
As you might expect, as the economy has recovered, Cathay Pacific has tightened up somewhat on first class award space. They still release a fair amount of first class award space once the schedule opens. In my experience the norm is one first class award seat per flight, while some will have zero seats and others will have two. As a general rule of thumb I find that availability is better out of Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, than out of New York or Vancouver.
For example, looking at award space around 11 months out between Los Angeles and Hong Kong over the course of two days, you’ll see that most flights have one seat, while one flight has two seats.
The trick to snagging Cathay Pacific first class awards
But the real key to easily snagging Cathay Pacific first class award space is understanding just how much award space they release as the departure date approaches. Along with Lufthansa, I don’t think there’s an airline that more consistently and reliably releases first class award space as the departure date approaches.
So what’s the rule of thumb with Cathay Pacific first class award space? Typically within 24-36 hours of departure they’ll make all but one first class seat available for awards.
How consistent are they? Let’s take a look.
Between Chicago and Hong Kong for tomorrow there are four first class seats for sale:
And Cathay Pacific is making three of those seats available for awards:
Between San Francisco and Hong Kong tomorrow they have three seats for sale on the earlier flight and two seats for sale on the later flight:
And Cathay Pacific is making two seats available for awards on the earlier flight and one seat available for awards on the later flight:
Between Los Angeles and Hong Kong tomorrow they’re selling one, five, four, and two first class seats:
And for awards they have all those seats available, minus one, meaning the first flight has no award seats, the second flight has four award seats, the third flight has three award seats, and the fourth flight has one award seat:
The same is true out of Hong Kong. On the flights to Los Angeles tomorrow they have two, zero, two, and two first class seats for sale:
And as you’d expect, they have one, zero, one, and one first class award seat on those flights:
Looking at Hong Kong to New York, they have two, three, two, and two first class seats for sale:
And in terms of awards they have two (yes, they’re releasing all seats on miles in this case), two, one, and one award seat in this case:
As you can see, literally without exception they’re at least releasing all but one first class seat for awards as the departure date approaches.
There’s not an airline as consistent when it comes to releasing award space.
Why do Cathay Pacific’s award availability trends matter?
Yesterday I made a post about airline award ticket change fees, and the growing importance of locking in some award ticket as soon as possible, and then trying to “perfect” it as the departure date approaches. This “hobby” is simultaneously more challenging and more rewarding than ever before. There’s no doubt it’s tougher to find award space than before, but at the same time we’re also redeeming miles for better first class products than ever before.
I think there’s no better example of “locking in” something you’re okay with when the schedule opens than with Cathay Pacific. They release tons of business class award space, so lock that in 11 months out, and then as the departure date approaches you can lock in first class award space. If you book through American, they won’t even charge you to “upgrade” the ticket from business to first class.
Cathay Pacific has well over a dozen flights per day to North America, and of those, ~11 feature first class cabins. While Cathay Pacific has small first class cabins, they generally don’t sell out. So if you’re flexible as to the gateway you fly out of or the exact time you fly, you should have no problem snagging first class award space.
As the departure date approaches, simply look at how many seats are still for sale in the cabin to gauge your chances of space opening up.
As I mentioned above, generally all but one first class seat become available for awards 24-36 hours before departure. But space does open up before that as well — typically about one to two weeks out, Cathay Pacific will open all but three first class seats for awards. I haven’t found an exact science there, but it is clear that they release more space as the departure date approaches, all the way up to 24-36 hours out, when they release all but one seat.
Cathay Pacific bottom line
Cathay Pacific first class is as accessible as ever before. If you’re not traveling alone it can require some flexibility, but the consistency and quantity with which Cathay Pacific first class is available last minute can only be matched by Korean Air.