No More Last Minute Cathay Pacific First Class Awards?

Cathay Pacific offers one of my all around favorite first class products. While I don’t necessarily think they’re the very best in any one area, their first class product is very well rounded — it has a great seat, fantastic bed, good food and entertainment, and generally excellent service (though there are exceptions).




The other great thing is that it’s one of the best uses of American AAdvantage miles. American charges just 67,500 miles for one-way Cathay Pacific first class between the US and Asia, and Alaska has similarly good prices.

Back in the day Cathay Pacific would consistently make two first class award seats available when the schedule opened. Nowadays you’ll generally at most see one first class award seat per flight when the schedule opens, if you’re lucky.


But the great thing about Cathay Pacific first class award space has been that they’ve been very consistent about releasing it last minute. As I’ve explained previously, Cathay Pacific seemed to make all but one first class seat available as an award no later than 24 hours before departure.

In other words, if three first class seats were still left for sale 24 hours out, two of them would become award seats. This wasn’t an exact science, but I’ve found it to be true in 95%+ of cases. And that’s why I’ve always recommended locking in Cathay Pacific business class when you can, and then hoping for first class space as the departure date approaches (American even makes it really easy to “upgrade” award tickets).

Anyway, in May we learned that Cathay Pacific is considering restricting awards to those redeeming miles through partner airlines. At the time, The South China Morning Post published an article with the following excerpt:

Cathay Pacific is to set aside more free seats for its seasoned frequent fliers, under the latest proposal to revamp the award- winning airline’s loyalty scheme.

The plan is to slash the number of free air tickets available for partner airlines and to reallocate those to Cathay’s own Marco Polo Club members, sources close to the ongoing review say.

Cathay had been examining the feasibility of shifting its focus to members of the Marco Polo Club and another rewards scheme, Asia Miles, well before the Consumer Council criticised unnamed carriers last month for operating mileage schemes like “a lucky draw”. No decision had been made yet, the airline said.

The sources say Cathay believes it is time to stop allowing external redemptions when the airline is capable of filling aircraft with paid passengers – boosting long-term profitability.

I’ve received several emails from readers over the past few days noting the lack of last minute Cathay Pacific first class award seats, and asking if this is the start of the above.

I did some digging, and there does seem to be something to this. The flight in a few hours from Hong Kong to New York (CX830) has five first class seats for sale, yet there are no first class award seats:


The flight tomorrow from Chicago to Hong Kong has four first class seats available, yet there are no first class award seats:


What conclusions do I draw from this? Is this the end of Cathay Pacific first class awards between the US and Asia? I’m not concerned just yet:

  • Cathay Pacific isn’t blocking partner first class awards. Our fear (based on the linked article from earlier in the year) is that Cathay Pacific is blocking off partner first class awards. For what it’s worth, the above seats aren’t bookable through Cathay Pacific’s program either.
  • Cathay Pacific is still making first class awards available in advance. I’m not reading into this too much yet, since Cathay Pacific is making first class awards available in advance (~11 months out, when the schedule opens). If they really intended to block off all first class awards, you’d think they’d start by blocking them in advance (when they could possibly still sell the seats), rather than last minute (when it’s unlikely they’ll still sell the seats).
  • Cathay Pacific is still making first class awards available last minute intra-Asia. Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong to Tokyo Haneda flight for tomorrow has several first class award seats, so this seems to be restricted to longhaul award tickets.
  • This could just be temporary. There are often anomalies when it comes to award availability, and that might just be the case here.


Bottom line

Personally I’m not reading too much into these changes yet. But to those of you who have noticed the lack of last minute Cathay Pacific first class award space, you’re not alone. Something weird is going on, especially since Cathay Pacific was previously extremely consistent with making last minute awards available.

What gives me some hope is that Cathay Pacific isn’t exclusively restricting this space for partner awards (Cathay Pacific’s own program has the same lack of availability), and they’re still making some first class space when the schedule opens.

For now let’s mark this as “developing,” and I’ll be sure to post when I have an update.

What do you make of Cathay Pacific’s lack of last minute first class award space?


  1. As per flyertalk, J is oversold these days given fall is a busy period for business travel, and they are probably keeping seats for operational upgrades – not change in any policy.

  2. And they’re still making last minute F available on Europe routes, eg right now there’s F space on 2 of the HKG-LHR flights on Tuesday 10/27.

    Just a couple of weeks ago I had no problem with day before/day of availability when there were F seats left though I agree checking today on US routes I wasn’t seeing it.

  3. Hi Ben – on a kinda related topic, have you noticed any difference in the release of Biz and First saver awards by SQ KrisFlyer recently? It’s just I was having a look a couple of weeks ago and they seemed to have way more of the flights only available as Waitlist at the Saver level compared to when I checked earlier this year (when again in particular they seemed quite good at close-in availability). Thanks!

  4. @eponymous coward

    I don’t see how that would affect award availability though. I could see them holding a couple seats back to deal with IRROPS for people not able to get to the airport from HKG, but if there are 4 or 5 seats available, I still think they would release 1 or 2. Especially when you factor in the data points that intra-Asia F and Europe-HKG F seems to be available.

  5. What you are saying about 1st class redemptions is generally correct, although it is more applicable to the most popular routes. I note that this morning (an hour ago) the SYD-HKG flight departed with 8 free Business award seats, plus whatever revenue seats remained unsold. This is not uncommon and there are frequently many unsold award seats dumped into inventory at literally the last minute. A claimed award seat is better than an empty one surely; something Cathay should realize.
    F awards close-in have pretty much disappeared; I have no idea why. On the bright side J availability is reasonable, and the product is pretty good.

  6. Glad to see a post like this to confirm what I’ve been seeing (or, more appropriate, to confirm what I have NOT been seeing). But thanks for this post and staying on top of it. It helps when planning to know what to expect.

  7. On a related topic. I was looking at CX J awards last night and found CX J seats using the BA and JL search tools, but when I called AA, they could see seats on one set of CX flights (LHR to HKG) but not the other set (HKG to MEL).
    Is there something that the AA agent should be looking at in particular to “find” these seats?

  8. Doesn’t make sense. Seems like the best time to open up award space is last minute – when the seat would otherwise go unfilled.

    Also, are there certain rules or guidelines that OneWorld partner airlines have to abide by regarding awards? Otherwise, what’s the point?

  9. I guess the only potential reason they might not want to reliably always open up remaining space as reward inventory was if they felt it would cannibalise their revenue sales for premium cabins (as in if folk knew there’d almost always be a space then they might not buy a paid-for ticket)

  10. Maybe CX decided to end first class availability for award redemptions. To quote Colonel Kurtz,”The Horror…The Horror.”

  11. I’ve been in AP looking to get on the NS HKG JFK today…I’ve been watching that very flight with 5 open seats and have been very surprised to see that go out empty.

    For me it’s the long way around confirmed on CX to LHR then BA back to NY. A total waste of gas…and time – but beggars can’t be too choosy. Maybe the guy/gal who releases award inventory is on vacation this week 😉

  12. BTW, and have been showing wild results for the day I’m looking for (Jan 2016). They would show availability one minute and not the other, or the first search after login it would be there, but not after. Meanwhile showed something entirely different (which were not available per BA and QF), and that was the one AAgent was able to see. Anyone else notice these phantom AND missing space?

  13. Is it me or is ba not showing any of cx award availability for any class right now? I’ve even search for hkg-tpe(a flight that should have a lot of availability) and was not able to find anything

  14. @intaldesign~ what you describe is a fairly frequent thing lately. My theory is that CX are refreshing and adding to inventory at the very time you are looking! If you see your desired flight up on at least 2 sites for a few minutes, get on the phone to AA right away. Their agents all have different skill levels though, and differing degrees of helpfulness. If they can’t see it, HUCA! The QF search engine is often not reliable, as is BA; JAL is best. FYI, CX seems to input new inventory around 2100 HK time.

  15. a simple call to CX diamond hotline would have revealed the following: There was a system enhancement yesterday which has caused some issues, that is why every flight to and from HK-JFK in Nov for redemption 1st class says “all flights are full and there is no waitlist available”. you can all breathe a sigh of relief – should be up and working normally tomorrow

  16. “Houston, we have a problem”

    Even HKG-BKK which normally has at least six flights a day open for business awards is not showing any availability.

  17. Today searching on BA, QF and JL websites, all turn up with nil awards. CX award search engine is “under maintenance”.

  18. Great News. Last minute First class availability has opened up. Only thing is, the availability is going from Hong Kong to the US.

  19. @Steve I’ve been following trends for Hong Kong to US to try to determine the best day for my flight home next fall. It seems to me like Friday/Saturday flights in the evening are the best bet. I’ve consistently seen 2-4 seats in first open up on the HKG-JFK flights for those days/times. If you can snag one F seat as soon as the space opens up you’re pretty much golden and should have no problem getting a second as departure time nears.

  20. When you can’t decide whether something is a stuff-up or a conspiracy, it is usually a stuff-up.
    Two days ago awards were appearing and disappearing every few minutes on BAEC, JAL and QF sites.
    Maybe they had some Lifemiles IT people on work experience doing their maintenance?
    Seems better now, as noted above.

  21. I am booked on Cathay business using oneworld award departing LAX->BKK via HKG on NOV 15. I’ve been watching the last minute availability trends closely. I noticed around the beginning of October they seemed to stop releasing last minute tickets on first and business. Prior to that date I saw all sorts of first/business tickets become available within 1-2 weeks of departure.

    If they have stopped releasing these tickets last minute, what is the best hope for using AA miles to get a oneworld upgrade on Cathay from business to first? Can you upgrade at the gate with AA miles if there are seats available? It’s my husband’s birthday so I’m hoping that may help!

  22. I was able to score 2 first class seats for my wife and I from Boston to HKG for tomorrow (1:30am). I took a look yesterday and there was none and this morning (via BA) three popped up.

  23. I did see some first and business open up on the LAX->HKG route today for the first time in about a month so I hope the drought is over!

  24. Very interesting. Q. If i want to book a CX award with AA miles, do i have to call it in to the Advantage dept ? I never see any of those flights on AA’s website. Anyone know the answer ? Thanks.

  25. Hey folks,
    I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a First award on Cathay for my upcoming trip based on their Award release behavior lately (as documented on this thread). I knew they had 4 empty seats on a particular LAX-HKG but from 4 – 10 days out, nothing was being released.

    I am happy to note that for a 12:10am Friday morning flight, Cathay finally released one First ticket on Monday around 12noon Pacific time. (Which I just grabbed). After it was ticketed, I can confirm there was one fewer seat available for purchase in First in that flight.

    (Incidentally, I had heard/read somewhere on the internet that Cathay refreshes inventory at 2100 HK time (5am Pacific), but this was definitely not available at 1030am Pacific, and was available when I checked again at 1230pm.)

    Strangely enough… Still no business seats were released.

    So there is still hope for the whole process on Cathay, even on well traveled routes!

    (Now I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for on the way back!)

    Thanks for a great blog!

    (Oh, and though I’ve been reading your blog for a while, congrats on a nice feature on CNN!)

  26. I picked up a last minute F seat LHR-HKG last week. It was put up about 36 hrs before departure. I did note that the flight left with 2 vacant F seats.

  27. I travel on CX889 and CX888 a few times each month, usually on miles. I can confirm that starting in August they greatly reduced award availability on both legs of these flights. They wouldn’t open any business class seats for example on one of my flights so I bought it. I kept tabs on it since it was a cancellable fare. In the end the flight took off with about 40% of the biz seats empty and 4 out of 6 F seats empty and they never opened any business or F award space.

    So yes, they have greatly reduced award space and are not opening them as often last minute.

    Real bummer 🙁

  28. Can confirm today that no CX availability for -7 days on BA. I was able to book the reward on AA but BA doesn’t show any rewards. Looks like this is a BA restriction rather than CX.

  29. I’ve been watching flights very closely lately and there has definitely been a change. Some flights with 3 seats are having none open to partners, some with 4-5 will have 1. It’s very inconsistent though. Not fun.

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