I Made An American Agent’s Night By Redeeming Miles

I’m on a bit of a crazy trip at the moment (I’m excited to eventually share the reasoning), and am en route from Asia to Europe. Long story short, I saw a flight with four Cathay Pacific first class award seats, which is exactly what we needed. This was two days before departure, and not a single seat was taken in the first class cabin at the time.

For those of you not familiar with Cathay Pacific, they have just six first class seats on the 777. Typically they make up to one award seat available in advance, and then closer to departure they’ll often release more seats. You often see an extra seat, and sometimes even see two seats closer to departure.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777 - 1

However, four seats at a time — and more specifically, a completely empty first class cabin two days before departure — is extremely rare.

So I phoned up American AAdvantage to book, given that it’s not bookable online. As usual, I don’t want to tell the agents how to do their jobs, so I typically ask them to check availability, rather than telling them I found availability that should be bookable for them. The call went something like this:

Me: “Hi, I wanted to inquire about Cathay Pacific first class award availability between Hong Kong and London for February 15 for four people.”
Phone Rep: “For four people?!”
Me: “Yes, I know that’s rare, but I’m hoping there’s space on the afternoon flight.”
Phone Rep: “Oh. My. Gosh. There are four first class seats on CX___. I’ve never seen that before in my life. I can’t believe this.”
Me: “Wow, that’s amazing!”
Phone Rep: “You don’t understand, I’ve never seen this before.”
Me: “Great! Any chance I can briefly put this on hold?”
Phone Rep: “I can’t usually put tickets on hold this close to departure, but I’m so excited that I’ll do it.”

So we went through the booking process, and then at the end of the call I said “thanks so much for your help, this is great.”

“No, thank you. You made my night. You don’t understand how excited I am.”

Hah! With award availability often getting tough to find, you’ve gotta love when even airline agents get excited when they find availability. It’s great to feel like you’re on the same “team” as them.

Comments

  1. Ive actually seen it multiple times, especially when SFO had the 747. I flew SFO-HKG with my friends and had a blast in F. Miss the 747 so much better than the 777 in every way!

  2. Awesome! I kind of felt sad for the agent at first, thinking it didn’t seem like much to get excited about, let alone make a persons night, but then I thought about how happy I am to find award space, even when it’s not for me… there’s just something exciting about it! While I’ve never seen four seats, I often see 3 out of LAX near departure. Just flew them over Chinese New Year in F with a total of 71 passengers on the entire flight.

  3. @lucky – see this is why I feel WTF when you don’t publish your miles earnings like you used to. I know its your blog but your blog is also a business now that generates revenue, I”m not asking that you publish your earnings but it would be really helpful to your readers to summarize how you earned a certain amount of miles and status in those programs every year in some detail and how much you redeem vs pay for your flights.

    Else readers feel like the US citizens when Trump doesn’t release his taxes.

    btw, Congrats on grabbing 4 F seats on CX. 🙂

  4. @Melissa The taxes Ben would have paid on this flight would have been minimal. The flight referenced in the post originated in Hong Kong and would therefore fall under Hong Kong’s taxation system and not that of the UK.

  5. Meanwhile, as a CX Diamond-level member I can’t book any of those seats through CX meanwhile AA members have access to 67% of the cabin….

  6. And this is how that conversation will go in 3 years, given AA upgrade space availability:

    Me: “Hi, I wanted to inquire about AA business class upgrade availability between London and Chicago for February 15 for one person.”
    Phone Rep: “For one person?!”
    Me: “Yes, I know that’s rare, but I’m hoping there’s space on the afternoon flight.”
    Phone Rep: “Oh. My. Gosh. There is one business class seat on AA ____. I’ve never seen that before in my life. I can’t believe this.”
    Me: “Wow, that’s amazing!”
    Phone Rep: “You don’t understand, I’ve never seen this before.”
    Me: “Great! Any chance I can briefly put this on hold?”
    Phone Rep: “I can’t usually put tickets on hold this close to departure, but I’m so excited that I’ll do it.”

  7. @Debit
    why? if the ‘leaders’ do not release their financials you are insecure? do you need that data to feel not being lied to? always felt that way or just the past 8 yrs?

  8. @credit – trump situation was just a comparison ; I feel more unsecure as a reader when all I see on OMAAT is ” hey look, wow!! sign up for this and that card, it’s awesome!! yu get so and so and you can do this and that. ”

    I mean with all the credit card restrictions on signups, the miles tally just doesnt add up on earning rate vs redeeming rate like the way he does. But then I wonder how Lucky does all his trips with miles most of the time at the frequency and class of travel he does, its like am I doing something different or wrong here, how is it possible, Ofcourse this is excluding all the low cost paid premium trips he does. It made sense when he started out and published his miles earning rates

  9. @Debit — American citizens have a reasonable expectation of disclosure and accountability from those who seek to hold the highest public office(s) in the nation. Lucky is in a very different situation, and discloses at the bottom of each page (while some like Gary Leff post their compensation disclosures prominently at the top of each page) that he may have a financial interest/commission in the links here.

    It’s up to each reader to figure out whether any credit card being promoted (or airline award redemption, etc.) makes sense for them individually and to act (in their own interest) accordingly. Whether Lucky earns the equivalent of $75,000 or $500,000 annually in compensation is his own business (and he has no special obligation to disclose). You’re free to ask him, of course, but just saying…

  10. @ Debit — Keep in mind Ben flies a lot, and those low-cost premium trips earn a bundle of miles, which he includes whenever he writes about a fare deal or a publishes a trip report. And he has paid hotel stays as well. But the ratios haven’t really changed since this post: http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2015/01/21/earned-miles-2014/

    So I don’t think you’re missing anything on the earning side unless you are going to add in paid premium trips or want to move into hotels full-time 🙂

  11. I think I spoke with the same AAgent a few days ago. She was SOOOO excited when she “found” space roundtrip to MLE on EY and QR for the exact dates I requested. Didn’t want to burst her bubble and tell her I know how to search that space online 🙂

  12. I feel very insecure when the “leader” of a country refuses to release his tax returns, specially amid suspicion of financial ties to a foreign country that is accused on meddling with an election “won” by said “leader”…

    I know it is too complex a concept for the average deplorable to grasp or care about, but nonetheless a valid concern for any educated citizen.

  13. As someone that holds a lot of AA miles currently I don’t know which is more disturbing. The excitement that someone was able to book award seats on any flight. Or…the lack of ability to do something like hold a reservation but then able to override that rule anyway.

    I love AA but they really need to get more award availability going across Oneworld partners and on AA metal. Not to mention get BA to at least lower the YQ on those routes.

    Gosh I sound bitter. Did I mention that I flew Delta this week for the first time in years and had a great experience with the staff and aircraft?

  14. I think I understand the enthusiasm. Consider a job where the majority of people that you deal with are rude and demeaning and have a wicked sense of entitlement. And even when people aren’t like that, you often have to still say no more often than you’d like, often disappointing people. I think in the customer service world being able to give someone who is polite and not demanding exactly what they want especially when what they want is pretty unusual, would make them pretty happy. Customer service, and any retail job, is so very hard to do. And when it’s over the phone and customers don’t have to look you in the eye, they’ll say really horrible things. So sure, why not be excited to give a nice customer something positive and unusual

  15. @debit

    That is not me. Some asshole is using my identity. Lucky needs to a better job of comparing the name to the email address before allowing a post to show up.

    Remember I am never rude to an individual on this board (or try not to.) I just hate the trumpets and the orange trump as a group. People have problem with that.

    I am the real credit the other one is an impostor.

  16. @Tiffany – Agreed, but all I ask as a reader is that it would be really fun and informative to summarize lucky’s miles earnings annually on OMAAT whether it be by credit card signup bonuses or buy miles or miles earned via travel.

    The 2014 data is still old, the game has changed considerably like the post Chase 5/24 rule, Airline earning rates and other similar restrictions and limitations, an update to 2016 or 2017 would be nice for the readers to see, strategize and think differently as well.

  17. @debit See the credit card sign-up links? They are referral links. When a reader signs up via those links, he will equally earn sign up bonus points.

  18. I’m finding the small behavioural quirks you describe on here to be increasingly bizarre… Telling the agent that you found award space and want to book it isn’t remotely “telling them how to do their job”. How on Earth you could even consider it as a possibility I have no idea.

    I also hope you are exaggerating or she was lying to you – if this is what “makes her day” then I truly feel sorry for her!

  19. Flew HKG-LAX F on Feb 6. We were the only 2 passengers in the cabin. Our FA was so happy when she saw us (she instantly knew she had very little work on this shift… being HKGers and very familiar with the product… neither Caviar eater nor Champagne drinker…) She insisted to give us 2 extra PJs as a token thanks. (I actually wish it was a box of chocolate instead but then learned now they did not have big chocolate box any more! Too many cost cuttings going on.)

    Oh for the poster asked about the HKD500 gift for PYE product… A polo shirt started at HKD1800 last time I checked. So HKD500 does not go far at PYE.

    Really I dont get why people are so excited at the dine face to face idea. We have flown 6 or 8 times CX F in the past 3 years. We only had dine face to face the first 2 or 3 flights, and only did so at the urge of our FAs. Can’t see any special about it.

    The Chinese foods on our flight were terrible though food is never the strong point of CX. The cost cutting again is very obvious. A year ago the Chinese main often would see lobster, even though just 3 pieces of tail meat. These days? On the Feb flight it was Onion Duck. The one back in Sept was some Dried Shallot Chicken. Those should be business class foods, not in F. Also in Sept flight they ran out of dim sum breakfast in F. Then they sourced some from J for me but they were inedible, awful looking and taste. I asked for another bowl of congee instead. They ran out the original version but someone with creativity found some shrimps and put it in the congee which originally was with fish. Luckily the shrimp worked.

    The biggest advantage of CX F is the bed – among the most comfortable in the sky. Ny husband slept the whole flight and only woke up 45 min before landing to have a bowl of congee before landing.
    QR’s A380F actually is more comfortable but lack privacy, especially when you had a full cabin with 6 Qataris with you…as our DOH-BKK flight – it was empty up to 2 days before departure then it filled up completely…
    QR’s plane is so much more nicely done than CX’s which is getting old and the bathrooms are getting quite shabby. IIRC it used to have a drawer storing the cloth towels, shaving kits and dental kits. Now only one F Lav has cloth towel. The other one only has very coarse paper towel. No drawer. Very poor quality facial tissue.

    All in all CX premium cabin products are very overrated. But it is still the most convenient for us to go between US and HKG so we stay with it as we dont care for JL’s product with the added inconvenience of routing thru NRT.
    However as premium cabin products go, CX is very behind its competitors from both Middle East and Asia.

  20. How do you find out if there are award or upgrade seats available? I can check the routes I want to go on for award travel, but is there another way? And how about available upgrades on American?

  21. @FLL

    I can’t agree with you anymore!
    I have not flown with CX for at least three years, just tried them JFK to HKG last week.
    Service great, the PYE PJ is close to Shanghai Tang quality. The male Amenity kit is shiiit.
    Food is merely acceptable as F, should be considered as J.
    However, the bed and service are great! I should say the bed is better than EK’s apartment.
    I found the quality of toilet and soooo surprised! Cutting too much.

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