What has happened to award availability for Cathay Pacific flights over the past two months?

A beginner's guide to using frequent flyer points on Cathay Pacific flights

GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 9 minutes
POSTED: August 9, 2018
UPDATED: August 9, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

Historically, access to Cathay Pacific awards was extremely generous, however, since changes made to the Asia Miles program in June 2018, availability of their cheapest Saver awards has tightened on many routes, likely due to the introduction of the third type of award fare, where previously there was just two.

A test: what has happened to award availability?

Our search criteria included the following:

  • Searches were conducted on 7 August and covered the following time period out from departure:
    • 1 week
    • 3 months
    • 353 days
  • Routes covered included flights between Hong Kong and the six airports Cathay serves in Australia, as well as the following international routes:
    • London Heathrow
    • Los Angeles
    • New York JFK
    • Chicago
    • Vancouver
    • Tokyo Narita
    • Singapore
    • Shanghai
  • Award redemptions were for Business Class to/from Australia and both Business and First Class for non-Australia and intra-Asia routes
  • Search was for Saver award type rather than the more expensive Choice or Tailored options

Australia – Hong Kong

Your chances of grabbing a reward seat increased the closer out from departure you booked.

At least one redemption flight was available for booking within one week of departure from all Australian airports with the exception of Brisbane and Cairns to Hong Kong in both directions and Adelaide to Hong Kong. For our Queensland-based readers, you may wish to consider adding on a cheap domestic leg to a southern capital before proceeding on to Hong Kong.

Redemptions for three months out were harder to come by, with only the return leg from Hong Kong to Australia showing availability—at least one flight was available for redemption to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. Again, Brisbane and Cairns had no availability, along with all routes to Hong Kong.

It was near impossible to find an award seat when the calendar opened, which is 353 days out for a Saver award type, with no flights available for any Australia – Hong Kong route—the Asia Miles site defaults automatically to the more expensive Choice or Tailored fare types for these searches.

The Asia Miles search engine showing the more expensive ‘Tailored’ award type

Hong Kong – North America/Europe

Award availability for routes beyond Hong Kong was a mixed bag, with more flights being available within one week of departure and at 353 days out than at three months out.

Within a week of departure, there was at least one award flight available in Business Class from Hong Kong to New York JFK and back. There was also plenty of availability from Hong Kong to London Heathrow and Chicago to Hong Kong. All other routes did not have Business flights available.

For First Class awards, only London Heathrow, Los Angeles and New York JFK to Hong Kong, as well as Hong Kong to Chicago had a First Class award flight available for booking.

However, First Class availability was actually very good a year out, with all routes in both directions having at least one flight available and, in some cases such as Los Angeles and New York JFK to Hong Kong having at least three flights available in both directions.

It was a different story when trying to book a Business seat three months out, with only Hong Kong to New York JFK having just a single flight available. All other routes showed no availability.

First Class flights were also limited, with only one flight available in both directions from Hong Kong to New York JFK.

Intra-Asia

In general, Business Class flights were not difficult to find, with plenty of flights available at each timeframe, and, in many cases, the number of flights available was in double digits.

First Class award availability, on the other hand, was extremely difficult to find, with only Singapore – Hong Kong at one week out showing availability—no other routes or timeframes had flights available.


In this guide

Hong Kong-based oneworld alliance member Cathay Pacific is a favourite carrier of ours here at Point Hacks, offering one of the most superior and consistent First and Business Class experiences of any premium carrier in the world.

The airline offers a high-frequency schedule between Australia and Hong Kong and onto a wide network of destinations, comfortable lie-flat Business Class seats, and generous award availability.

In this guide, we explore Cathay Pacific’s routes, aircraft and premium cabin products, teach you how to calculate how many points you need for your next trip on the airline, analyse which frequent flyer programs offer the best value, advise how and when to book an award seat, and provide links to Point Hacks reviews of Cathay Pacific flights.

Cathay Pacific routes, aircraft and cabins

Cathay Pacific has one of the most extensive offerings of any international airline servicing Australia, with flights between its Hong Kong hub and:

  • Adelaide
  • Brisbane
  • Cairns
  • Melbourne
  • Perth
  • Sydney

Further afield, here are Cathay Pacific’s destinations (as of August 2018), concentrated on Asia, North America, Europe and South Africa (in order of most to least destinations):

Its full-service subsidiary Cathay Dragon destinations operates exclusively within Asia:

Cathay also operates a number of fifth freedom flights (services that do not originate or terminate in Hong Kong) between:

  • Vancouver and New York JFK (an excellent transcontinental option in First or Business Class)
  • Taipei and Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka
  • Bangkok and Singapore

First Class

This cabin is flown exclusively by the Boeing 777-300ER mostly on long-haul flights with six open suites in a 1-1-1 configuration. It is renowned for its wide seat and excellent lounge access options.

Cathay Pacific First Class

Here are the routes with the First Class product:

North America

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Vancouver

Europe

  • Frankfurt
  • London Heathrow
  • Milan
  • Paris
  • Zurich

Asia

  • Bangkok
  • Manila
  • Seoul
  • Singapore
  • Taipei
  • Tokyo Narita and Haneda

One of the cheapest redemptions is Hong Kong to Taipei in First Class for only 26,000 Qantas Points (one of the best uses of Qantas Points in our opinion).

Business Class

The majority of Cathay’s medium- and long-haul routes are serviced by a combination of Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft, featuring lie-flat Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Read our review of Cathay’s 777 and A330 Business Class

There are two exceptions to this:

  • Routes serviced by the Airbus A340 also have a lie-flat seat but in a 1-1-1 setup
  • Regional routes serviced by some Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-200 and -300 aicraft have angled seats in a 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 layout—try to avoid this aircraft if you can

The most modern aircraft in the fleet, the A350, is gradually replacing the older A330s and has been introduced between Hong Kong and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

The Airbus A350 is quieter and more environmentally-friendly and reduces jetlag by circulating more oxygen through the cabin

Premium Economy

Premium Economy can be found mostly on medium- and long-haul routes in a 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 configuration.

Read our review of Cathay’s A330 Premium Economy Class

To understand why we focus on premium cabin redemptions rather than Economy Class ones, check out our guide to maximising value from points.

How to calculate points pricing and taxes

Say you want to book an award flight from Hong Kong to London Heathrow.

  • Step 1: To calculate the distance between the two airports, go to Great Circle Mapper and enter the airport codes HKG-LHR in the search box (Google ‘Hong Kong airport code’ if you don’t know the code). We measure distance for frequent flyer programs in miles, not kilometres:

When clicking through to the Asia Miles award chart, I can see my 5,994-mile trip to London Heathrow would cost 65,000 one-way/130,000 return in Business Class.

  • Step 3: To calculate the taxes payable on your award flight, you have a few different options:

If you are an Asia Miles member, go to the Asia Miles online booking tool, enter the flight details and if there are open seats, you will see the taxes displayed on the results page (in this case, HKD345 ~ AUD60):

If you are using another frequent flyer program like Qantas or AAdvantage, the taxes will show on the results page there (again, as long as there is award availability).

If there is no award availability, you might consider using the more advanced ITA Matrix method.

A comparison of points pricing

Here is a side-by-side comparison of one-way redemption values for five easily-accessible frequent flyer programs for Australia-based travellers aiming to book awards on Cathay Pacific:

Route and cabinAsia MilesQantas FFBA Exec ClubAAdvantageAlaska Mileage Plan
Hong Kong to Bangkok Business25,00026,00012,750 off-peak/15,000 peak20,00022,500
Hong Kong to Johannesburg Premium Economy40,00075,00045,500/70,000Cabin N/A35,000
Melbourne to Tokyo Business65,00092,00075,000/90,00040,00030,000
Sydney to Vancouver Business85,000139,000125,000/150,000Route N/A60,000
Brisbane to London Business85,000139,000125,000/150,00085,000Route N/A
Hong Kong to New York First125,000152,000170,000/200,00080,00070,000

Sweet spots

  • Alaska Mileage Plan: offers overall the best value redemptions on Cathay Pacific but you’ll probably have to buy miles to get a hold of them; no fuel surcharges; redemptions from Australia to Africa, Europe, India and the Middle East via Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific must be booked as two separate awards; all other redemptions can be booked as one award with a free stopover; since early 2018, it has become a lot harder to redeem Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific First Class seats
  • AAdvantage: this program offers the second best value overall, especially when travelling from the extreme of one region to another, e.g. Perth to New York, Melbourne to London; no fuel surcharges; only layovers up to 24 hours permitted for free, otherwise, two separate awards needed
  • British Airways Executive Club: offers good value for intra-Asia trips; as BA calculates cost based on each leg, you may as well book two one-way segments and have a stopover in Hong Kong (if that is not your final destination); fuel surcharges applied
  • Asia Miles: return trips are now the same as double the one-way amount, which is in line with all other programs; no fuel surcharges; allows one stopover on one-way and two on roundtrip awards
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: not much good news here—amongst the highest redemption rates and fuel surcharges applied; only layovers up to 24 hours permitted for free, otherwise, two separate awards needed
  • Airport taxes: flying out of Hong Kong is cheaper than flying into it

How to search for award availability

See our guide to searching for award space most efficiently.

Do you need to call to book or can you do it online?

  • Asia Miles: online
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: online
  • British Airways Executive Club: online
  • AAdvantage: phone
  • Alaska Mileage Plan: phone (booking fee applies)

When does award calendar availability open up?

Cathay will release award seats to its own Asia Miles members 360 days before departure for it Choice and Tailored awards, and 353 days before departure for its Saver awards.

British Airways and Qantas get next dibs at 355 and 353 days, respectively.

And then AAdvantage and Mileage Plan members can access Cathay award seats 331 days before the flight.

Historically, Cathay will also then release most unsold First Class seats 24-48 hours before departure.

Summing up

If you’ve got access to Asia Miles, Qantas Points, Avios, AAdvantage or Mileage Plan miles, then a Business or First Class redemption on Cathay Pacific will most likely get you good value out of your points, as well as a professional and comfortable experience both on the ground and in the air.

Do try to line up your flights so they provide you with a modern aircraft and product, and take advantage of free stopovers with Asia Miles, Avios and Mileage Plan redemptions.

Links to related guides and reviews

Guides

Flight reviews

Lounge reviews

Supplementary images courtesy Cathay Pacific.

What has happened to award availability for Cathay Pacific flights over the past two months? was last modified: August 9th, 2018 by Matt Moffitt