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