Cathay Pacific offers one of my all around favorite first class products. While I don’t necessarily think they’re the very best in any one area, their first class product is very well rounded — it has a great seat, fantastic bed, good food and entertainment, and generally excellent service (though there are exceptions).
The other great thing is that it’s one of the best uses of American AAdvantage miles. American charges just 67,500 miles for one-way Cathay Pacific first class between the US and Asia, and Alaska has similarly good prices.
Back in the day Cathay Pacific would consistently make two first class award seats available when the schedule opened. Nowadays you’ll generally at most see one first class award seat per flight when the schedule opens, if you’re lucky.
But the great thing about Cathay Pacific first class award space has been that they’ve been very consistent about releasing it last minute. As I’ve explained previously, Cathay Pacific seemed to make all but one first class seat available as an award no later than 24 hours before departure.
In other words, if three first class seats were still left for sale 24 hours out, two of them would become award seats. This wasn’t an exact science, but I’ve found it to be true in 95%+ of cases. And that’s why I’ve always recommended locking in Cathay Pacific business class when you can, and then hoping for first class space as the departure date approaches (American even makes it really easy to “upgrade” award tickets).
Anyway, in May we learned that Cathay Pacific is considering restricting awards to those redeeming miles through partner airlines. At the time, The South China Morning Post published an article with the following excerpt:
Cathay Pacific is to set aside more free seats for its seasoned frequent fliers, under the latest proposal to revamp the award- winning airline’s loyalty scheme.
The plan is to slash the number of free air tickets available for partner airlines and to reallocate those to Cathay’s own Marco Polo Club members, sources close to the ongoing review say.
Cathay had been examining the feasibility of shifting its focus to members of the Marco Polo Club and another rewards scheme, Asia Miles, well before the Consumer Council criticised unnamed carriers last month for operating mileage schemes like “a lucky draw”. No decision had been made yet, the airline said.
The sources say Cathay believes it is time to stop allowing external redemptions when the airline is capable of filling aircraft with paid passengers – boosting long-term profitability.
I’ve received several emails from readers over the past few days noting the lack of last minute Cathay Pacific first class award seats, and asking if this is the start of the above.
I did some digging, and there does seem to be something to this. The flight in a few hours from Hong Kong to New York (CX830) has five first class seats for sale, yet there are no first class award seats:
The flight tomorrow from Chicago to Hong Kong has four first class seats available, yet there are no first class award seats:
What conclusions do I draw from this? Is this the end of Cathay Pacific first class awards between the US and Asia? I’m not concerned just yet:
- Cathay Pacific isn’t blocking partner first class awards. Our fear (based on the linked article from earlier in the year) is that Cathay Pacific is blocking off partner first class awards. For what it’s worth, the above seats aren’t bookable through Cathay Pacific’s program either.
- Cathay Pacific is still making first class awards available in advance. I’m not reading into this too much yet, since Cathay Pacific is making first class awards available in advance (~11 months out, when the schedule opens). If they really intended to block off all first class awards, you’d think they’d start by blocking them in advance (when they could possibly still sell the seats), rather than last minute (when it’s unlikely they’ll still sell the seats).
- Cathay Pacific is still making first class awards available last minute intra-Asia. Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong to Tokyo Haneda flight for tomorrow has several first class award seats, so this seems to be restricted to longhaul award tickets.
- This could just be temporary. There are often anomalies when it comes to award availability, and that might just be the case here.
Personally I’m not reading too much into these changes yet. But to those of you who have noticed the lack of last minute Cathay Pacific first class award space, you’re not alone. Something weird is going on, especially since Cathay Pacific was previously extremely consistent with making last minute awards available.
What gives me some hope is that Cathay Pacific isn’t exclusively restricting this space for partner awards (Cathay Pacific’s own program has the same lack of availability), and they’re still making some first class space when the schedule opens.
For now let’s mark this as “developing,” and I’ll be sure to post when I have an update.
What do you make of Cathay Pacific’s lack of last minute first class award space?