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

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat | Point Hacks
GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 5 minutes
POSTED: August 9, 2018
UPDATED: April 15, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

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, I 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 February 2019), concentrated on Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East 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
  • Beijing
  • Manila
  • Seoul
  • Singapore
  • Taipei
  • Tokyo Narita and Haneda

These are the cheapest ways to experience Cathay Pacific First Class using Qantas Points, with Hong Kong – Taipei and New York – Vancouver being two highlights.

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.

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. It has been introduced between Hong Kong and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with Sydney to follow from 27 October 2019.

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, HK$345 = ~AU$60):

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; you cannot use Mileage Plans miles for redemptions on Cathay Dragon—only Cathay Pacific
  • 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: allows one stopover on one-way and two on roundtrip awards; fuel surcharges applied
  • 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

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 and Mileage Plan redemptions.

Links to related guides and reviews

Guides

Flight reviews

Lounge reviews

Supplementary images courtesy Cathay Pacific.

A beginner’s guide to using frequent flyer points on Cathay Pacific flights was last modified: April 15th, 2019 by Matt Moffitt