Are Last Minute Cathay Pacific Award Seats Being Blocked?

Cathay Pacific has one of my favorite first class products in the world, so I always try to stay on top of their award availability trends. They have just six first class seats on their 777-300ER aircraft, so it’s quite an intimate cabin. Typically in advance you can hope to score at most one first class award seat, while within a few days of departure you’ll reliably see them open up additional awards.

Until recently this has been a pretty consistent pattern. I’d typically check Cathay Pacific award availability through the British Airways award search tool a few days before departure, and if there were still a few seats for sale, they’d almost always make them available as award seats.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777 - 1
Cathay Pacific first class

British Airways is blocking Cathay Pacific awards

Something strange is happening right now — British Airways doesn’t have access to any Cathay Pacific award seats within six days of departure. It doesn’t matter when you’re searching online or calling British Airways, they just don’t have access to the space. This applies across all their routes, and all classes of service.

For example, take the below flight between Hong Kong and Taipei (one of Cathay Pacific’s most high frequency routes) for this coming Thursday, where you’ll see they have access to no award seats at all.

cathay-award-availability

Meanwhile if you search through Qantas’ award search tool, you’ll see plenty of award availability:

cathay-award-availability-1

This problem is consistent when searching within six days of departure. However, outside of that range, you’ll see that British Airways shows Cathay Pacific award availability as usual:

cathay-award-availability-2

What’s causing this award seat blocking?

This blocking has been happening for a while on select Cathay Pacific routes. For example, the problem of award seat blocking has existed on their Hong Kong to Taipei route since this summer, and at the time British Airways provided the following explanation on FlyerTalk:

Unfortunately as a result of significant levels of fraudulent activity CX have removed access to redemption availability -5 days to departure until further notice.

It was a joint decision, the availability itself has to be restricted by CX.

I’m not sure what this “fraud” looks like in practice. Perhaps there were mileage brokers who were selling people these seats closer to departure? I don’t know, the whole explanation is a bit strange.

However, that statement was made back in June, and at the time longhaul Cathay Pacific awards most definitely weren’t being blocked. Now they’re blocking all routes close to departure, which is a real shame.

To me it seems like this might have more to do with a cost saving measure that’s conveniently being blamed on “fraud,” though I certainly could be wrong.

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Cathay Pacific 777

What does this mean for redemptions through other programs?

The good news is that the above problem seems to exclusively be with British Airways Executive Club. Qantas’ website continues to show Cathay Pacific space as usual, and American continues to have access to Cathay Pacific award space (however, they don’t show the space on their website, so you’ll have to call to book).

Alaska Mileage Plan also continues to have access to Cathay Pacific redemptions, though keep in mind that they don’t always have access to all Cathay Pacific award seats.

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Dining in Cathay Pacific first class

Bottom line

For now you’ll want to use Qantas’ website in order to search Cathay Pacific award availability within a week of departure, as it’s the best way to determine availability if using American AAdvantage or Alaska Mileage Plan miles.

The current situation with British Airways Executive Club is rather odd. They’ve been blocking last minute Cathay Pacific award availability between Hong Kong and Taipei for a while, which sure is convenient given their distance based award pricing, which makes these redemptions quite lucrative.

I’m not sure whether to hope that British Airways brings back this availability, or to just hope that this problem doesn’t spread to other airlines.

What do you make of this situation?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Comments

  1. Of course I was hoping to get a last minute award in December. Ugh. Do you think I should transfer some Amex points to Asia miles and go that route?

  2. I can confirm it’s a fraud issue. CX has a similar internal memo. Used to only block short haul Hong Kong-China flights.

  3. Tried searching on Qantas for the first time. Why does it only give me options to go through London or New York when I want to fly from Vancouver to HKG? How can I change the search? Thanks!

  4. This must’ve happened within the past few days. I successfully used the BA site to find F availability on CX JFK-HKG r/t for the past 6mos until last Sunday. I have been moving a few pre-deval AA awards I booked in late 2015 and Feb 2016 every few weeks since June of this year.

    As expected award space in F was released on schedule the Sunday evening (9pm ET) two weeks before my preferred date, and that release schedule had been the case fairly regularly for months. All open seats, but for one, would be made available for award bookings on all flights departing JFK with F2+ and would generally be gone within 2 hrs.

  5. I use the JAL award search tool when BA doesn’t work or even when BA does work. The JAL award search tool is more accurate.

    @Michelle – Try using the JAL search tool.

  6. CX F space for last Friday from HKG to JFK was showing avail on BA.com on Thursday – though space was not seen or bookable by Alaska….

  7. It was predominantly a greater china region driven issue. BA’s award chart makes short haul redemptions on CX and JL especially attractive in Asia. PEK/SHA/TPE-HKG are all very high fare business markets. Load is typically not that good so awards can be available. However if you look at RASK these routes are sometimes even better than LH routes as fares are very high. What CX discovered over time is that there’s massive amount of mileage tickets being sold via online brokers. CX therefore started in the summer restricting last minute short haul redemptions in the greater china region and now this has been rolled to long haul markets. JL awards are still open last minute but since early 2015 they have been cracking down on redemption tickets at PEK and PVG at check in. They often will check if the BA account holder where the mileage came out of is the same person as the traveler. If not they often ask the traveler about details of the BA account holder and occasionally require the traveler to contact the account holder. There has been a number of denied boardings by JL at ex-china stations due to this.

  8. I concur with Bo. Anecdotally, I have heard that the selling/brokering of miles in and around China is rampant, not just for inter-Asia routes but for international routes as well. It does not surprise me that CX and JL are concerned about fraud.

  9. @lucky I’ve not really saved miles to OW before.. I have a tiny bit like 2K from a qatar flight banked to BA which is rubbish.. before I bank some more to BA( since BA is becoming nonsense) should I maybe consider banking my miles with Alaska or AA or Asiamiles? I have an upcoming trip on MH in J from asia to LHR….

    I would be looking to redeem flights within Europe or within asia…

  10. One datapoint: On 10/17, I was able to find a CX in first on BA and book it using AA miles. This was about 4 hours prior to departure.

  11. I’m actually experiencing the same problem with AA. Have a CX award ticketed in biz JFK-YVR-HKG for nov 05, w an overnight in YVR connecting the next day to CX’s day fly !!! Been calling AA almost every hour, for a week now, nothing opening up on the non stops Nov 5, 6 & 7. Yet when i check with Cathay, there’s plenty empty seats on those dates. Anyone have any suggestions ?

  12. Definitely fraud issue. BAEC accounts were being hacked and the avios were emptied out to redeem for last minute Cathay flights. There was a similar problem on domestic Russian flights on S7 I think.

  13. Used the Qantas search engine to look for business class availability from JFK to HKG. Called American and just booked the seats. Nothing showed up on BA

  14. Booked one F seat ORD-HKG using BA Avios when booking opened up. Booked a J seat using Asia Miles same day. Waitlisted F and it cleared T-8. Flew last week after the typhoon cancellations. Only three of us in F. The F seats also showed up on BA as I was data gathering for next time.
    First time for us in Cathay first. While excellent service we both felt Qantas first is superior. Better bedding and we prefer the seven course paired tasting menu to the caviar service and dinner. Pol Roger IMHO is every bit as good as Krug. But the better bed is our priority one.

  15. Things are getting so bad now, it used to be so easy to snag 2 CX F seats (Asia-US or US-Asia) a few days before departure. J class was even easier. Yesterday and today, I couldn’t even get ONE J seat whether it’s flying today or up to 10 days later. AS miles just got less value as far as I am concerned.

  16. Hi Lucky,
    I’m looking for F and J award space on BA for 2 persons from BNE – HKG – JFK in mid-Sept and not seeing anything at all. So I thought I’d check closer in to see if there may be availability within 10 days of today and there is absolutely nothing for the first leg. Do you know if there are any issues with using the BA website? I tried Qantas and no luck there too

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