Why Doesn’t Alaska Have Access To All Cathay Pacific Award Space?

Nowadays the best way to redeem miles for Cathay Pacific first & business class is through the Alaska Mileage Plan program.

For years American AAdvantage was my “go to” program for Cathay Pacific awards, but after their recent devaluation, first class awards are prohibitively expensive (a first class award between the US and Asia increased in cost from 67,500 to 110,000 miles). Relatively speaking business class awards on Cathay Pacific are still a good value, as the cost “only” increased from 55,000 miles to 70,000 miles.

Meanwhile Alaska Mileage Plan still has very attractive redemption rates on Cathay Pacific. Specifically, Mileage Plan charges the following number of miles for one-way first class travel on Cathay Pacific (perhaps best of all, they allow a free stopover on these awards, even when booking one-way):

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-39
Cathay Pacific first class bed

That’s a great value, especially when you consider that Alaska frequently sells miles at a discount, and you can transfer points from Starwood Preferred Guest to Alaska.

How do you accurately search Cathay Pacific award space?

Generally people use the British Airways and Japan Airlines websites to search Cathay Pacific award availability. The British Airways website is more user friendly, while the Japan Airlines website is more accurate.

Cathay-Pacific-Award-Availability

For a long time there have been inconsistencies with Cathay Pacific award availability that go beyond Alaska’s ability to book those seats:

  • Sometimes Cathay Pacific award space showing on British Airways’ website is phantom, meaning it’s not bookable through any program
  • Sometimes there’s a delay in different airlines getting access to award availability, so while there might be space through one partner, another partner may only get access to that space some amount of time later, when their system refreshes

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-31
Cathay Pacific first class meal service

Why can’t Alaska see all Cathay Pacific award space?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from people trying to redeem Alaska miles for travel on Cathay Pacific, but having trouble booking space. While there have long been discrepancies with Cathay Pacific award availability (or for that matter, between airlines in general), there does seem to be an actual availability issue between Alaska and Cathay Pacific.

The problem is that the discrepancy isn’t consistent, and that there’s no way for Mileage Plan member to verify Cathay Pacific award availability online, so it can make the booking process a bit complicated.

What are we seeing, big picture?

  • In many cases, Alaska has access to one fewer Cathay Pacific first class award seat than other airlines do
  • Sometimes Alaska can’t see Cathay Pacific availability on a particular flight at all, while other airlines can

I’m not necessarily calling foul play on this, as I think it might be a legitimate technology issue. Alaska is well known for having really bad technology, so I suspect that’s part of it. I could be wrong, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here.

Cathay-Pacific-777
Cathay Pacific 777

Are there any ways to get around the availability issue?

In theory if an agent tries to manually request the space it should come back as confirmed (and match what other airlines have access to), but it seems like most agents have been told they aren’t supposed to do this. It’s still worth trying, though.

I’d also note that sometimes Mileage Plan agents just aren’t looking at award availability correctly. So if you think there should be space but they claim there isn’t, I’d always recommend calling at least twice to make sure they’re looking correctly.

Lastly, if you’re booking a multi-segment itinerary, give the agents the flights segment by segment, as sometimes the space doesn’t show up if they search all the way through.

In other words, if you’re going from New York to Bangkok via Hong Kong, first ask them about availability between New York and Hong Kong, and then once they find that, ask them about availability between Hong Kong and Bangkok.

Cathay-Pacific-The-Pier-Lounge - 11
Cathay Pacific’s first class lounge in Hong Kong

Bottom line

If you’re having issue booking Cathay Pacific awards with Alaska miles, you’re not alone. While there seem to be some discrepancies in availability, there’s no consistency to them. I’m going to give Alaska the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a system issue rather than something intentional.

But it is something to be aware of. Like I said, it’s still very possible to book Cathay Pacific first & business class awards with Alaska miles, it’s just that availability doesn’t always match what you otherwise see online.

What has been your experience with redeeming Alaska miles on Cathay Pacific?

Comments

  1. I was looking for CX availability through British Airways and what I could see when I searched was different to what my friend could find when he searched. We called Alaska and they could only see what I could see, not what my friend could. But then later when we called again to book flights on different dates they could see the availability my friend could see. So I think it’s definitely worth calling more than once and that some British Airways accounts may see different availability to others.

  2. Jono, I’ve seen this happen a lot on BA.
    Think some of it is based on geographic locations of the account holder (my brother has an account based out of India, while mine has a US of A address )

  3. Anecdotally, I had an issue booking two F award tickets (1 each on different flights) when I called and just spoke to an agent without first asking to be transferred to the partner desk. The agent couldn’t see the seats available, even though they were showing up on BA. But when I called back and asked to be transferred to the partner desk, there was no issue with the agent seeing the award seat on one of the flights, which was a morning departure. But then she couldn’t see the other flight I wanted (which was an after midnight departure) at all. A call to a third agent resolved the issue with the midnight flight. Apparently when searching for Cathay award availability they need to reset the time of departure, or the flights departing around or soon after midnight won’t show up at all. Bottom line: persistence pays!

  4. Lucky, why don’t airlines want CSAs performing manual requests? Does that open a different can of worms? If the seat is there, it is there. Why wouldn’t they allow the redemption via manual request?

  5. I just booked 12 roundtrips on CX business/first between NYC and HK/HK Dubai thanks to your tips on buying miles and am so grateful! I was wondering why I can’t book NYC – hk – osaka/sapporo? There seems to be no award availability on cx direct from hk to those Japanese cities. Also, I booked separate dubai – hk and hk – nyc trips, but then I realized it’s less miles to just do dubai – nyc with a stopover in HK. How do I tell the agent this? Do I have to cancel both segments and rebook it as one? Thanks Lucky!

  6. – their policy has changed and they are finally benefitting passengers who FLY their own airline and also have paid for flights in the past with CX –

  7. My wife and I have a business class booking on Cathay from Brisbane (Australia) to San Francisco with a stopover in Hong Kong this September. Made booking as soon as availability was showing, about qq months out.
    As an Australian citizen I cannot join BA (without a lot of hassle!) so I checked Cathay availability through JAL, which was easy to join.
    Could not find Brisbane to San Francisco availability, but could see Brisbane to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to San Francisco.
    When I booked with Alaska by phone they were very helpful and combined the two legs in to one award (fewer points) with a stopover.
    The only problem is that I can’t log into “manage booking” on Cathay site with the booking/ticket numbers advised by Alaska – I Like to look at seat availability online, but had to go,through phone bookings after looking at seat layout on Seat Guru
    Does anyone have a fix for this problem?

  8. Just a data point for my HKG-ORD in business route last month. Every time I checked with Alaska, the agent could see 2 less business class seats than what BA showed (I didn’t compare to JAL search tool). It was frustrating but finally kept an eye and booked last minute when space opened up

  9. Alaska is not a member of the One World alliance so it is not exactly out of the realm of possibility that Cathay releases fewer award seats to Alaska than it does to actual member airlines of One World. There’s really no reason why Cathay would be required to give Alaska the same access to award seats is there?

  10. Hi there, have a question regarding CX awards on Alaska:
    does it include flights on Dragon Air? I would like to book a SFO-HKG-PNH, but HKG-PNH is on Dragon Air…
    Can I combine into one US-Asia award?

    Don’t want to book on KE as they charge the same amount for one-way as they do for return…

    Many thanks!

  11. @Dean

    You cannot book a ticket on Dragon Air (now Cathay Dragon) using Alaska miles. I just called asking the same question and was told no sadly.

  12. Having the issue now actually. BA/Qantas/American all show award availability for Cathay flights from Hong Kong to Melbourne in January 2018. Alaska on the phone says no availability because they cannot access the same awards. Really disappointing from Alaska that Cathay gives OTHER partners a better deal.

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