Is Cathay Pacific releasing less first class award availabiltiy?

Lately I’ve gotten several emails and comments per day asking what’s going on with Cathay Pacific first class award availability. You guys are very observant, given that I haven’t really seen this discussed anywhere. šŸ˜‰

The reality is that as far as award availability goes, Cathay Pacific is the glue that holds the OneWorld alliance together. For me it’s actually what makes AAdvantage miles so valuable. OneWorld without Cathay Pacific would be like One Direction without Harry Styles… it jut wouldn’t work.

Cathay Pacific has small first class cabins — just six seats on their 777s and nine seats on their few remaining 747s. Historically they’d release two first class award seats on most flights when the schedule opened, and then within a week or two of departure they’d release any remaining seats into award availability that hadn’t yet been sold, save maybe for one seat they were still hoping to sell. I’ve gone so far as to call Cathay Pacific first class award redemptions anti-aspirational, not because of the quality of the product, but rather because of how easy the awards are to snag.

Something is changing, though, and I think there are two different scenarios at play. One is the lack of award space close to departure, and one is the lack of award space in advance. So let’s cover them separately, because I think they have different causes.

Lack of award space close to departure

I’ve gone so far as to book non-refundable hotels in Asia without actually having flights booked, knowing that Cathay Pacific would open up space. In the past it was more or less a guarantee, and I had even seen 747 flights with all nine first class seats available for awards a few days out.

If you look at award space from the US to Asia over the next two weeks in Cathay Pacific first class you’ll notice there’s nothing available. My initial thought was “okay, they’re just holding back space till really close to departure.”

But then I took a look at the actual flight loads — meaning how many seats are actually left for sale in first class — and then it became apparent why there’s no award space.

I’ve never seen this before, but almost every first class cabin over the coming weeks is sold out. As you can see below, most of the New York to Hong Kong flights are “F0,” meaning no first class seats are left for sale.


This is probably a combination of a few factors. One of them is that the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is really a peak business travel period, so if there’s a time that premium cabins should be sold out it’s now. Beyond that the economy is starting to recover, so while over the past several years premium cabins have largely gone to award passenger, more people are actually paying for them nowadays.

Basically I don’t think Cathay Pacific has changed their strategy for releasing award space last minute, it’s just that flights are outrageously full at the moment, so there’s no space to release.

Lack of award space in advance

Now this is where there actually seems to be a policy change. I’ve always found it oddly generous that they released a third of their first class cabins (two of six seats) into award inventory as soon as the schedule opened. Looking 11 months out it seems they’ve changed that somewhat.

While they’re still releasing two first class seats on many of their flights operated by 747s (which aren’t many, since they’re in the process of retiring them), I can’t find a longhaul flight operated by a 777 with more than one first class seat far in advance.


So I do suspect this represents an actual change in inventory management whereby they realized they were perhaps being too generous. I suspect they’ll continue to release most first class seats into award inventory as the departure date approaches, assuming seats are left for sale.

That’s my theory on the Cathay Pacific “situation.” Do you guys agree, or does anyone have a different theory?


  1. I spoke to you about this before if you recall. Makes me wonder if it has anything to do with them re-doing their F class cabins.
    2nd half of November looks much more open as far as retail. I think that will be a good indicator whether they really are changing policy or if this is just a fluke

  2. @ Michael — Really they’re just reupholstering their seats, so highly doubt that has an impact. At least I’d hope not…

  3. @ lucky, I know this is not your main interest but you need to talk about business class also. Did you notice any thing different there or it is business as usual.

  4. @ caveman — I haven’t mentioned business class because I didn’t notice anything changing there.

  5. Maybe just a glitch? I just checked the flights for the date I am flying CX F (10/23) and there appears to be plenty of F seats available. The seat map shows just 2 occupied. The availability screen on ExpertFlyer shows F4 and A3 for this particular flight. The other flights have 2 3 or 4 F showing as available.

  6. Noticed this too. Was hoping to book a JNB run with AS, and had all the flights figured. Transferred SPG to AS, and when it was done, the space disappeared without any reason (no new bookings, etc.). Shoot!

  7. @ RakSiam — Two weeks is about the outer limit for where they start releasing award space, so I suspect space will open up within a week or so.

  8. This is why I consider your blog to be the absolute best travel blog out there. I was literally thinking about this a few hours ago as I searched for potential last minute trips to HKG. TO my surprise, nothing came up. Thank you for looking into this, and giving me the answer to a questions before I even thought to ask!

  9. Have you checked the seat maps. I have been trying since July to find 2F seats available for miles on YVR-JFK. The only dates they had 2 were on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    I did find one Friday in September with 1 F seat available YVR-JFK but had to cancel it about a week before departure as something came up – (but two seats in F never opened up)

    However, after spending lots of time I notice on Expertflyer they are only willing to sell 2 seats this Friday (I am in business at present hoping a F will open up) but with only 2 for sale I don’t think my chances are great. EXCEPT, the seat map only shows 1 F seat taken??? This is often the case, they won’t sell the F seat, but for some reason, F seats are not previously selected. So who has those F seats?? If I purchased F, I would want my F seat pre-selected no?

    Its not a case of oversell either as business class in just over 50% full. And lots of coach seats for sale.

  10. I was checking this morning too and noticed nothing out of SFO either. But October is the month where the big semi-annual trade fair is happening in Guangzhou. I suspect that has something to do with it? Up until this month there was plenty of F space available for close-in departure dates. I am curious what Christmas would be like as I am hoping to move up departure date for my two F seats.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts, I requested them :).

    I guess I will cross my fingers and wait and watch how this plays out.

  12. National Day of China? Traditionally it’s a busy travel season for Chinese tourists during the month of October.

  13. Does ExpertFlyer now show CX award space? That was the major concern when I choose not to subscribe it. It seems like it was fixed.

  14. On the seatmaps, which seats are blocked for bassinets / premium? I did a dummy booking for a 747 and can buy 4 seats but the seatmaps only show 1 seat available (middle) to select.

  15. Phone Agent: Mr. Lucky, are you sure that Cathay flight arrives in SFO the day before it leaves HKG? šŸ˜‰

  16. Thanks for spreading the word on this. I was searching regularly throughout the calendar on most routes (using automated techniques) and noticed a huge drop about a month ago. The thread on the AA forum on FT didn’t get a whole lot of discussion in response, but several seem to think that the availability is still there if you just call AA vs. using jal/ba/asiamiles/etc to search. YMMV.

  17. It seems like selling first class tickets is good news in that the airline will retain the cabin and not go to an businessfirst model

  18. Pretty sure I caused this by putting a CX F award (LAX-HKG) on my “to get” list.

    P.S. I never tracked LH F award space but while looking at FRA-IAH F space for M&M members today I noticed they don’t have anything for Nov. 7 through 19. Weird. Decent availability before that but, to reiterate your point, EF shows few F seats at that time period.

  19. 1D with Harry Styles is the equivalent of Spirit Air. 1D without Harry Styles is the equivalent of riding from IAD-LAX on a pony. Either way, they both suck.

  20. @ Greg — It’s not uncommon for people to be booked in first class and not to have seats assigned, so I’d assume it’s actually booked to what the load and not the seatmap suggests.

  21. @ Yi — You can’t see Cathay Pacific award space on ExpertFlyer, but you can see the number of seats for sale in revenue fare buckets.

  22. @ Dave — On the 747 1A & 1K are sometimes blocked, but that’s usually it. What flight/date were you looking at, if I may ask?

  23. I booked a First class award to AUH, using CX888 YVR-JFK en route. There was only Business availability, and the award took 48 hours to clear, but was confirmed the Thursday prior. When I checked in at the airport, I was placed in First (happened automatically), and I headed to the lounge. A good looking woman walked in just before me and turned out to be Heather Graham. Anyway, there were only three people (myself included) booked in First that evening. As far as I know seats were not opened up until the very last moment. I’d definitely hesitate to book a First class award to HKG and book in business, but could be a viable option if these planes are otherwise leaving with empty seats (e.g., in 2nd half of November).

  24. I’d guess the loads are high because many Chinese, especially people in Hong Kong, have become surprisingly wealthy in a surprisingly short time.

  25. I’ve noticed this for the past two weeks. Ex-HKG seems to be slightly better than EX-NA right now for some reason.

  26. I had some positive experience in booking on JFK-HKG about 11 months out, last one being for next summer (July), there are usually 2 seats in F-Class about 4 times a week. I usually noticed they load it about 330 days out, just my experience.

    Good luck to everyone.


  27. As AA GLD, would you be charged a fee for changing an already ticketed award from DPS-KUL(MH)-HKG(CX) to direct DPS-HKG(CX)?

  28. Ben…any idea why on some flights when searching for F space the BA site says “Cabin not operated on this flight”. Fox example, searching 5/3/14 EWR-HKG this message appears, although business shows available on the BA site. Checked Cathays site and F space is for sale on this flight. Any ideas?

  29. Regarding business class availability on Cathay, I have been searching for the whole month of January on BA’s site for Hong Kong to LAX or JFK and all that shows have been occasional British airways flights. Am I just too close to the dates or am I doing something wrong? Are there routes with more availability in Cathay business? Just trying to use Cathay to connect Asia to the US one way- thanks!

  30. @ TimmyD — They’re just really stingy nowadays. Unless it’s far in advance or really close to departure it’s tough to find space. If you wait longer it’s fairly likely that space will open up.

  31. Thanks for the quick reply! When do you think the close to departure availability opens up? About a month before? And I assume there is no point in calling AA about it now because if I can’t see it on BA it just means that it doesn’t exist, right? There wouldn’t be hidden availability that the agent can see? Appreciate your help

  32. I have been following USA to Asia space recently and while sporadic seats seem to get released I am finding that the excess award space is not common and plentiful close to departure.

  33. Been looking for a F or J seat for next week and haven’t seen anything open up for the past month or so. Less than a week away now. Seems like,they changed the way they do things. Shame.

  34. I’ve been having a lot of issues with booking Cathay Pacific awards using AAdvantage miles. I search on BA for the Cathay flights and see availability on the flights in business/first but then when I call up AA they don’t have the same availability. This has never been an issue in the past. I thought maybe it was phantom space but it appears that BA will let me book the flights (granted I only go to the screen right before you hit Confirm Booking but I can’t imagine it would fail at that point on Any thoughts or advice? Thanks!

  35. I want to use my BA Avios points to go LAX- Auckland on Cathay Pacific. (BA flies all the way to London first.) How soon can I ask BA to check Cathay Pacific business class? My trip is Feb. 2015. CP said they don’t do that. BA has to. Is that correct or can I find that anywhere online to check it myself?

  36. Just snagged one F BKK-HKG-JFK following that great fire sale to BKK ex-Europe. What do you think the chances are that Cathay will open up more F space? I would be just a tinge sad to sit in biz while my boyfriend enjoys the spoils of my points and miles labor. And yes, I put him up front. My J ticket is on hold w AA for 5 days FYI.

  37. They no longer use b747 fir long-haul flight,
    And they sell the first class seat as business class for short haul flight,

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