Earlier I posted about the incredible amount of first class award availability American has on their international flights, including between Dallas and Hong Kong. Some flights even have four or more first class award seats, which represents at least half of the eight seat cabin.
At 67,500 miles one-way, it’s a heck of a value, especially in light of American’s upcoming award chart devaluation. Would everyone rather redeem for Cathay Pacific first class? Presumably so. But you’re not going to find four Cathay Pacific first class award seats, especially in advance.
Anyway, while I get asked award questions all the time, over a dozen people emailed me virtually the same exact question today regarding the award availability. So I figured I’d address it here. The question consists of two parts:
- Would you rather book Cathay Pacific business class or American first class?
- If I book American first class now, can I change to Cathay Pacific first class closer to departure if it opens up?
American first class vs. Cathay Pacific business class
For some context, I’ve reviewed both of these products before:
I’ve also written a comparison between Cathay Pacific first class and Cathay Pacific business class, so maybe that provides some useful context as well.
Cathay Pacific business class is really solid. Their reverse herringbone seat is probably my favorite hard product out there. The soft product is solid, but unmemorable. The food is fairly good and flight attendants are typically friendly, though the whole service does feel like it’s a bit of an assembly line.
American first class, on the other hand, is really hit or miss. The first class hard product is only marginally better than their excellent reverse herringbone business class seat (the same offered by Cathay Pacific). And frankly the food probably won’t be much better than in Cathay Pacific business class. Service could range from very good to absolutely horrible, as it’s inconsistent.
American’s first class seat
American’s first class food
The one huge advantage, if you value it, is that American offers wifi on their 777-300ERs. That’s a benefit I value immensely, especially on a 17 hour flight.
Wifi on American’s 777-300ER
Given that the difference in mileage cost between American first class and Cathay Pacific business class is just 12,500 miles, I’d definitely choose American first class if you value wifi. If you don’t value wifi, I’d still say American first class is marginally worthwhile.
Lastly, if you’re not oneworld Emerald, keep in mind that departing out of Hong Kong it’s especially valuable to be in first class so you can use the Cathay Pacific Pier First Class Lounge, which is one of my favorites in the world.
Can you later switch to Cathay Pacific first class?
American is devaluing their award chart for bookings as of March 22, 2016. The cost of a first class award between the US and Asia 2 is increasing from 67,500 miles to 110,000 miles one-way. I’ve written in the past about how American will handle changes to award tickets after the devaluation. Here’s what I was told by an American spokesperson:
We have advised our agents that voluntary changes to date/time only will be permitted without forcing new higher/lower award levels, and we’ll have more information once the new award levels are applicable. This means the origin and destination need to remain the same.
Technically this means that any change other than the dates and times will trigger a reprice, so switching from Cathay Pacific business class or American first class to Cathay Pacific first class will trigger the new award levels.
In practice I wouldn’t necessarily count on that being the case. I can’t guarantee it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the award cost stays the same as long as the origin and destination remain the same, and the type of award remains the same.
Let’s say you book an award from Tampa to Dallas to Hong Kong to Bangkok, with the first two segments on American and the last segment on Cathay Pacific. I suspect the itinerary could probably be rebooked without a reprice if you changed it to Tampa to Chicago on American, and then Chicago to Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific. That’s speculation on my part and contradicts American’s stated policy, but in practice that wouldn’t change the award type.
The key is that you’ll want to mix American with partners on the award to maximize your chances, and then later when you make a change you’ll still want to have a segment on American and a segment on a partner, so the award type doesn’t change. When you switch from an award that’s exclusively on American, to an award which also involves partners, that requires a redeposit and reprice.
Just speculation on my part, but I think booking American first class in conjunction with a connecting flight on Cathay Pacific maximizes your odds of later being able to switch to Cathay Pacific first class without changing the award type.
The amount of award availability American has at the moment is unreal, so I’d definitely consider taking advantage of it. As much as we like to make fun of US carriers, the truth is that American’s 777-300ERs are quite nice, and I especially love that they have wifi. At the cost of 67,500 miles one-way, and with the ability to find multiple seats on a single flight, I’d say it’s a fantastic option.
Which would you prefer — Cathay Pacific business class or American first class?