Cathay Pacific offers one of my all around favorite first class products. What I love about Cathay Pacific is how well rounded the product is — from the seat to the service to the bedding to the entertainment, it’s a fabulous experience.
Cathay Pacific’s first class seat
Cathay Pacific’s first class bed
Also, now that Cathay Pacific has more or less retired their entire 747 fleet, the only planes that still have first class are select Boeing 777-300ERs. These aircraft only have six first class seats, making the first class cabins among the smallest of any airline out there.
Cathay Pacific’s first class cabin
Despite the small first class cabins, historically Cathay Pacific has been excellent about releasing first class award space. They’ve been good about releasing first class award availability in advance and then again close to departure.
Back in August I wrote a post about Cathay Pacific first class award availability trends, in which I explained that Cathay Pacific typically makes all but one first class seat on each flight available for awards within a couple of days of departure. This makes it possible to guess with near certainty whether award availability will open up or not.
However, a lot of people have been complaining about Cathay Pacific award availability lately, so I figured I’d post an update, because there is merit to it.
Two first class award seats in advance are tough
During the recession it was normal for Cathay Pacific to make two first class award seats available as soon as they opened their booking window. That’s sort of crazy, when you think about it, given that they’re basically making a third of their first class cabin available on miles as soon as the flights become bookable.
Of course during the recession there was limited demand for first class, so the cost of doing that probably wasn’t huge, since most of those seats would have otherwise gone out empty.
So it’s true that Cathay Pacific is releasing less first class award space in advance, typically one seat per flight at most (and often none). And I certainly can’t blame them for that.
First class award trends close to departure haven’t changed
Last month I received a couple of dozen emails from readers asking why the hell Cathay Pacific wasn’t releasing last minute award availability. After all, I quite concretely laid out just how consistently Cathay Pacific makes first class awards available last minute.
In this case the answer was simple. Looking at the loads for the flights, virtually every flight was sold out in first class. I’ve never seen Cathay Pacific first class so consistently booked.
But I think what we’re seeing right now is more the exception than the norm. Keep in mind that October is a peak month for business travel. It’s after the summer holidays and before the winter holidays, so it’s a period where premium cabins are going to be most full. Conversely, over the holidays it’s typically quite easy to snag first class awards last minute, since it’s mostly leisure travelers flying.
I do think the past month has been especially bad as far as Cathay Pacific award availability goes, and that over the coming weeks last minute award availability will rebound.
Cathay Pacific has fewer four cabin aircraft
I also think it’s worth noting that many of the 777s that Cathay Pacific is taking delivery of are in a three cabin configuration, with business class, premium economy, and economy.
Looking at Cathay Pacific’s schedule for next summer, there are quite a few three cabin 777s flying to North America — one flight to Vancouver, one flight to San Francisco, one flight to Newark, one flight to Chicago, one two flights to Toronto.
It’s tough to offer first class award availability without a first class cabin. 😉
“I told you miles are useless”
I’m sure someone will comment below saying “see, miles are totally useless. You can only redeem them for one person in advance and have to be flexible.”
I’d like to point out that Cathay Pacific is still releasing tons of business class award availability in advance. As you can see in the above screenshot of availability for flights between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, there are 12 business class award seats that day. And that’s not unusual.
I don’t think any of us can play the victim card here when we can still redeem miles easily for Cathay Pacific’s excellent reverse herringbone business class product in advance.
Cathay Pacific’s business class product
Also keep in mind that there’s no change fee to upgrade American award tickets, in the event that first class opens up closer to departure.
I think Cathay Pacific is rational with how they’re releasing award availability.
There are airlines that are stingy about award availability that really tick me off, like American. A few weeks ago I was trying to fly from London to New York, and a few hours before departure two flights that day had completely open first class cabins with no one on the upgrade list. Despite that, American didn’t make a single saver first class award seat available.
When Cathay Pacific isn’t releasing first class award availability it’s not because they’re stingy, but rather because they’re selling the seats. At worst, they’ll make all but one unsold seat available on miles within a couple of days of departure. At worst.
And I still consider that to be generous…
What has been your experience redeeming miles for Cathay Pacific first class lately?