Is Cathay Pacific Releasing Less Award Space?

Cathay Pacific offers one of my all around favorite first class products. What I love about Cathay Pacific is how well rounded the product is — from the seat to the service to the bedding to the entertainment, it’s a fabulous experience.

Cathay Pacific’s first class seat

Cathay Pacific’s first class bed

Also, now that Cathay Pacific has more or less retired their entire 747 fleet, the only planes that still have first class are select Boeing 777-300ERs. These aircraft only have six first class seats, making the first class cabins among the smallest of any airline out there.

Cathay Pacific’s first class cabin

Despite the small first class cabins, historically Cathay Pacific has been excellent about releasing first class award space. They’ve been good about releasing first class award availability in advance and then again close to departure.

Back in August I wrote a post about Cathay Pacific first class award availability trends, in which I explained that Cathay Pacific typically makes all but one first class seat on each flight available for awards within a couple of days of departure. This makes it possible to guess with near certainty whether award availability will open up or not.

However, a lot of people have been complaining about Cathay Pacific award availability lately, so I figured I’d post an update, because there is merit to it.

Two first class award seats in advance are tough

During the recession it was normal for Cathay Pacific to make two first class award seats available as soon as they opened their booking window. That’s sort of crazy, when you think about it, given that they’re basically making a third of their first class cabin available on miles as soon as the flights become bookable.

Of course during the recession there was limited demand for first class, so the cost of doing that probably wasn’t huge, since most of those seats would have otherwise gone out empty.

So it’s true that Cathay Pacific is releasing less first class award space in advance, typically one seat per flight at most (and often none). And I certainly can’t blame them for that.


First class award trends close to departure haven’t changed

Last month I received a couple of dozen emails from readers asking why the hell Cathay Pacific wasn’t releasing last minute award availability. After all, I quite concretely laid out just how consistently Cathay Pacific makes first class awards available last minute.

In this case the answer was simple. Looking at the loads for the flights, virtually every flight was sold out in first class. I’ve never seen Cathay Pacific first class so consistently booked.

But I think what we’re seeing right now is more the exception than the norm. Keep in mind that October is a peak month for business travel. It’s after the summer holidays and before the winter holidays, so it’s a period where premium cabins are going to be most full. Conversely, over the holidays it’s typically quite easy to snag first class awards last minute, since it’s mostly leisure travelers flying.

I do think the past month has been especially bad as far as Cathay Pacific award availability goes, and that over the coming weeks last minute award availability will rebound.

Cathay Pacific has fewer four cabin aircraft

I also think it’s worth noting that many of the 777s that Cathay Pacific is taking delivery of are in a three cabin configuration, with business class, premium economy, and economy.

Looking at Cathay Pacific’s schedule for next summer, there are quite a few three cabin 777s flying to North America — one flight to Vancouver, one flight to San Francisco, one flight to Newark, one flight to Chicago, one two flights to Toronto.

It’s tough to offer first class award availability without a first class cabin. šŸ˜‰

“I told you miles are useless”

I’m sure someone will comment below saying “see, miles are totally useless. You can only redeem them for one person in advance and have to be flexible.”

I’d like to point out that Cathay Pacific is still releasing tons of business class award availability in advance. As you can see in the above screenshot of availability for flights between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, there are 12 business class award seats that day. And that’s not unusual.

I don’t think any of us can play the victim card here when we can still redeem miles easily for Cathay Pacific’s excellent reverse herringbone business class product in advance.

Cathay Pacific’s business class product

Also keep in mind that there’s no change fee to upgrade American award tickets, in the event that first class opens up closer to departure.

Bottom line

I think Cathay Pacific is rational with how they’re releasing award availability.

There are airlines that are stingy about award availability that really tick me off, like American. A few weeks ago I was trying to fly from London to New York, and a few hours before departure two flights that day had completely open first class cabins with no one on the upgrade list. Despite that, American didn’t make a single saver first class award seat available.

When Cathay Pacific isn’t releasing first class award availability it’s not because they’re stingy, but rather because they’re selling the seats. At worst, they’ll make all but one unsold seat available on miles within a couple of days of departure. At worst.

And I still consider that to be generous…

What has been your experience redeeming miles for Cathay Pacific first class lately?


  1. @Ben – What about TAM? All routes look very dry…..They used to be awesome on JFK-GRU but now is almost impossible to find a seat even in coach.

  2. is it worth calling British Airways to search for availability on LAN/TAM? This would GREATLY reduce the value for any oneworld currency in my eyes (travels to south america often)

  3. @ Angel — Earlier in the year they released a ton of space in first class, though they’ve never released much economy or business space, and that hasn’t changed, unfortunately.

  4. @lucky – But they released some…now there is nothing. Also, intra-South America they were awesome releasing J and Y space….now try to find anything between GIG or GRU and EZE and you’ll get nothing!! I’ve been trying to get a GRU-EZE (I already have DCA-DFW-GRU with AA) with TAM without any luck. Plan B is to use some UA miles and fly TK in J from GRU to EZE. Anyhow, any other ideas on how to get to South America in December šŸ™‚ More importantly, any way to get BACK in January?!?!?….lol..

  5. Hi Lucky,

    Using Cathay.

    How to know which route has new seat, example Ord-hkg or lax-hkg?

    In your opinion which one is better, first class ord-hkg or lax-hkg?

    Thanks for your input

  6. Lucky

    During non peak biz travel season (late spring) from HKG to North America, what is the F magic formula (days in advance combined with number of unsold revenue seats per ExpertFlyer)? Also, is more likely for F award availability to jump from 1 to 3 or from 0 to 2 open award seats? Trying to decide to book 2 open J and hope for F release vs just wait for 2 in F last minute

  7. On my past trip to SE Asia (Sept-Oct), I had no issue booking First Class using my AA miles. However, I tend to book things last second and am flexible with my travel dates. It also helps being EXP and able to rebook with no penalty.

  8. Lucky, I think I recall you saying that you had a chance to talk to Suzanne Rubin when AA announced its integration plan for AAdvantage and Dividend Miles last month. Did you bring up the issues with seats in empty cabins not being released for saver redemptions? If so, what did she say?

  9. TAM historically has been terrible about releasing any award seats. Now that they are part of OW is there any alliance requirement that they at least release some minimal amount of award space?

  10. @Lucky – I managed to get two F awards for next May from ORD-HKG. Is it true that Cathay has gotten rid of their 747’s? I have reservations for two F awards on 747 from HKG-HND. I just checked my reservations on Cathay’s website and it still says Aircraft Type 744 for the HKG-HND flight.

  11. I have been very lucky with their 1st class award space, for their new HK-Zurich route starting next year, i was able to snag 3 1st class seats during July, 50% of the capacity upfront. Also recently obtained 1st class to Vancouver for end of this month depart. If one is flexible with their dates, and stay away from premium days, you will usually find a seat or 2. For the 744 aircrafts, they are still using them for selective asian flights, especially Japan(chitose,hanada) and also Seoul.

  12. Lucky – Cathay is indeed changing availability. Head over to the CX forum on FT to understand.

    Basically, Cathay is changing the situation for its own MPC elites to score upgrade and awards tix. Theyre mking it easier for CX elites and probably harder for partners as a result. A beef of MPCs was it was very hard to burn miles for upgrades because of the hoards of AA folks who would book 1-2 F awards seats months in advance. CX would thus hold back any remaining potential award inventory . So CX is adding multiple priority tiers for the MPC program (MPCs can pay more miles now to score a previously-unavailable award), and as a result CX MPCs will end up taking more award space, and thus cutting out more last-minute awards than they had in the past. There is a lot of pent up demand by CX MPCs for upgrade awards, which is allowed with CX mileage currency. And the feeling around CX has always been the cheap AA F award tix were leaving revenues on the table, as well as ticking off MPC members who couldn’t get availability as a result. Now, CX will offer them as higher-cost upgrade awards to its own members first.

  13. i 100% believe what @bobtrial said.

    and please, can we finally be able to reply to posts? it’s obnoxious to quote like this.

  14. @lucky – if now you check the availability F and J class SAVER awards between US and Asia on AA.Com, you will find them nearly nonexistent. Only a few seats to ICN 11 months out.

  15. On a single itinerary, I have 2 F and 1 Y ticket booked from HKG-NRT (CX) & HND-SFO (JAL) booked on a Tuesday in early January. What you think the odds are of me getting this switched over to 2 F and 1 J directly from HKG-SFO on CX? There is plenty of Y availability on the direct flight, but nothing in F/J.

  16. I’ve been fortunate enough to fly CX F transpac around 20 X. I hated the coffins in the old J set-up that my 1st RT was my last. It was easy to talk myself into F. These days, I love the J seats & have a hard time talking myself into using up the extra miles. I miss the Krug the most. The caviar was always low grade, mushy (no pop), & served with a METAL spoon – an outrage.

  17. About a 6 weeks ago I was able to snag 2 F seats on HKG – ORD for this upcoming March (departing on a Thursday night and arriving back into ORD Thursday ~830pm)

  18. @ JH — They don’t publish which routes have the refreshed product. That being said, it’s such a subtle difference between products it really doesn’t matter, in my opinion.

    ORD-HKG and LAX-HKG are basically the same in terms of experience, in my opinion.

  19. @ Ven — With a bit of date flexibility the chances aren’t horrible. The only issue is that only one of the daily HKG-SFO flights has a first class cabin, so we’re working with literally six first class seats per day.

  20. AsiaMiles allows waitlisting as well. So if a seat becomes available, and AsiaMiles has a waitlist for it. Poof, it will be gone, before anyone can possibly see it was available. AsiaMiles also get award seats the fastest T- 360 days. Bobtrial commented about MPC, all the flights I have checked recently have 1 or 0 seats showing on BA, QF and JL and AsiaMiles is showing 2 seats available. This was confirmed by a friend who is MPGold. As the 747 flights disappear, inventory for F is much less, and snapped up quicker. Cathay is releasing unsold seats later than ever, as few as 12 hours prior to flight time.

  21. myself and husband just flew DEN-ORD-HKG-DPS-HKG-LAX-DEN in CX F

    had to be flexible with routing and pay BA a few change fees to get exactly what we wanted, but with patience it happened.

    $52,000USD in tickets, or miles and $100 in change fees?

    I think we won…

    @lucky – miles are not useless…. šŸ™‚

  22. @ Lucky — I can confirm what you said with some added info. I flew SFO – HKG roundtrip in mid-October and I was able to snag a First Class seat leaving from SFO 3 days before departure. I stayed with my business class award seat on the HKG – SFO leg even though I saw one First Class availability 3 days before departure. I would also note that the SFO – HKG leg was much fuller in the premium cabins than HKG – SFO throughout Oct and Nov. I am traveling again next week on the same route. I got a First Class award seat a month ago on HKG – SFO leg. There was nothing on the SFO – HKG leg until 2 days ago, which is about 10 days before departure. In all instances, the First Class award was released when there were 3-4 unsold seats at the time.

  23. @lucky Havent all F class cabins been refreshed to the new design?

    Also does the formula for F seat release (close to departure) apply to J?

  24. I think @bobtrial is quite believable in what he says. So be it, if that is the case. I guess just thankful that there’s still remote chances to get F seats.

    Getting 2 F seats in almost any circumstance on any carrier (a couple not mentioned are excepted) is nearly always a challenge.

    I think people who decide to get into the miles game need to be ready to accept the swings and roundabouts in it. Sure, the miles game can really open up premium flying for people who would not normally pay the standard cash price, but it isn’t a carte blanche affair and anyone lead to believe it so is an idiot.

    The tightening of award space (or loosening, as the case may be – if rarely!) is just part and parcel of risks in the game that those who are playing should and do know about.

  25. I was able to snag a seat on HKG-LAX for next Tuesday two days ago. I had booked CX+JL F last month but was able to switch to the nonstop a week in advance.

  26. This sounds similar to what’s happening to LH (decreasing FC seats and only releasing seats to partners a few days before departure.) At least CX has not done what LX has done restricting first class only to its elites.

    In addition, given how stingy AA is with its First Class seats, I don’t blame CX for preferring its own elite members before its partner members in regards to CX First Class availability.

  27. @Angel – doesn’t Qatar fly GRU-EZE as well? They used to have a 5th freedom route.
    I just e-mailed Ben about availability from Brazil to US, but I found quite a lot of seats from GRU to JFK in Y for late January. Don’t know if it helps.
    Also, if you want to fly from SĆ£o Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, try the domestic airports: CGH and SDU. Many more flights, and much closer to downtown – especially CGH. Also, if you want to use UA miles, try VCP-SDU (AD – Azul flies that route and is a parter of UA), but you will have to call. Or, as a last resort, paying cash for those tickets is not a bad idea, as off-peak times are not expensive, and remember that in Brazil the baggage allowance is 50 pounds for domestic itineraries, regardless of airline and status, and you can check multiple pieces.
    One last tip: try using DL miles to book and open jaw: GRU(CGH)-GIG(SDU)-EZE(AEP). DL partners with AR, which flies the second route and Gol (G3) which flies both routes.

  28. @Denis – Yep, Qatar flies the route but the typically only release J seats ad I’m flying a family of 4 in coach since AA only released that on DFW-GRU….At least we’ll be seating in the MCE section of the 77W šŸ™‚
    Thanks for all the suggestions. I’ve been checking all of those DAILY šŸ™‚ I guess the problem is that we want to fly around Christmas so award tickets for 4 are hard to come by. Also, paid tickets are expensive around the dates we want to fly. As I said earlier, my back up plan is to fly Turkish on J on a separate award from GRU to EZE.
    I’m also trying to avoid VPC and CGH since my kids don’t have an Argentinian passport (my wife an I do) so i’m trying to avoid paying for their visa unless nothing opens up. My biggest concern is the return. There is basically nothing coming back at the saver levels….I guess I can try Korean on GRU-LAX as a last resort.
    Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to write and send your suggestions/ideas!!


  29. @Angel – so you are only transiting Brazil? Too bad, you’d be very welcome here.
    Well, you wouldn’t be saving on the visa, but did you try flying further south in Brazil and then getting a paid ticket from either POA (my hometown!) or CWB? Even MVD might work. You might save a few bucks by using these circuitous routings. Best of luck!

  30. @ Samuel — Nope, J isn’t quite as consistent, in my experience. I don’t believe all the 777s have been refreshed yet.

  31. Hi Lucky — I am hoping to snag a couple of F awards on CX soon. I want to use AAdvantage miles, but I know that Avios opens up the award calendar sooner. Can I book with Avios, then cancel and rebook with AAdvantage later? Will the cancelled awards go back into inventory? Thanks for your advice.

  32. “So CX is adding multiple priority tiers for the MPC program (MPCs can pay more miles now to score a previously-unavailable award)”

    That is only for Y, not for J & F.

    As far as CX F… I just flew it ORD-HKG-ORD a few weeks ago. Meh. Not worth the huge premium, unless you are paying with AA Miles (when it’s NOT much of a premium). You get a few classes of champagne/premium booze, caviar, and ability to dine on demand… none of which can justify the premium. You get a bigger seat, but I didn’t find it to be any more or less comfortable than the J seats. The FA’s hid in the galley most of the time, same as they do in J.

    So to bring this back to topic, perhaps the F cabin is filling up faster, primarily due to the low cost of award tickets acquired through AA or Alaska Air. But is it really that big of a deal, when J is not really much of a “downgrade”?

  33. @ Christian — They usually go back into inventory, but not always. So I wouldn’t count on it as a guarantee.

  34. Back in May, I was able to book 2 seats in J using AA miles from LAX-HKG, exactly 11 months out. I set up an alert on AwardNexus to let me know if 2 seats opened up in F, and a few weeks later, they did! I immediately called AA and redeemed the extra miles for the F seats, and will be sitting up front with my wife in CX F for our first time this coming April. Then to MLE, DXB, LGW, and back to LAX! All on miles, except for MLE-DXB, which only seems to open up for partner award booking about 2 months out, if at all.

  35. I know this article is six months old, but I remembered it while searching for flights on Cathay Pacific. We’re booked on two Cathay Pacific business class tickets from JFK-YVR soon. I’ve been keeping a close eye on flights every day to see if First Class seats become available and to gauge what time of day to check for when those first class seats might be released. So, for June 1 (tomorrow), Expert Flyer shows F4/A4 first class seats available, but Cathay Pacific is showing 0 seats available. Same thing for June 2 and June 4. F4/A4 on Expert Flyer, 0 available on Cathay Pacific. Do you know why this might be the case? It looks like the YVR-HKG leg is showing less availability in First Class, so do they not fill those F seats on the JFK-YVR leg?

  36. (I should point out that it’s showing 0 award seats available when I search on British Airways. I also tried calling American Airlines, and they also showed 0 available for those days)

  37. @ Melissa — I suspect space on JFK-YVR will still open up for tomorrow’s flight within the next few hours/by tomorrow morning. If it doesn’t, that would be interesting indeed.

  38. Just wanted to let you know that it’s still not showing any first class award seats for the flight that departs at 9:55 tonight (about 14 hours from now). Expert flyer shows 4 seats available. For almost all of May, I had been keeping a spreadsheet tracking award availability and comparing it with Expert Flyer information for Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR flights. I was basically trying to figure out how far in advance, given how many seats were showing on Expert Flyer, would the award seats open up. I was hoping to identify a decent pattern, that way I’d be fully prepared when it was time to upgrade our June flight. Well, for the entire month of May, it was very consistent. Any flights that were showing 4 seats on Expert Flyer in Cathay First, had at least 1 F award seat available (showing up on BA). Even a week or more in advance! Then, it was a little less consistent for F3 or F2 available on Expert Flyer, but usually within 5-7 days, there would be one additional one that opened up, and then for same day flights, all but one seat would be available.

    Now looking ahead to June, that pattern is gone. The only flights that seem to be showing 1 award seat available on CX show FIVE seats available on Expert Flyer, not 4 like before. And now the flights that have four seats showing up on Expert Flyer have zero availability on CX. Even for flights departing today, tomorrow, and Thursday.

    Do you think this might have been a change that went into effect for June 1?

  39. I went to see if there was availability using Asia Miles via MPC. I know sometimes you can get award flights via MPC that are not available through partners. There was no availability. If you try to book a paid ticket for the June 1 flight it will sell it to you, but shows all seats as full. (I know that is not always an accurate indicator, but it’s another data point anyway.)

    You should post your data on FlyerTalk… would be interesting to see what kind of feedback you’d get.

  40. Thanks for checking! That’s good to know. I took your advice and posted it to Flyertalk. I’m curious now too what they’ll have to say.

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