How to Book Cathay Pacific Award Space that American Tells You is Unavailable

Cathay Pacific first class award seats especially have gotten much tougher to book in recent months. Cathay still regularly makes unsold seats available in the week and even day prior to travel, but advance award availability can be scarce. Business class awards aren’t as easy as they used to be, but aren’t as restrictive as first class.

  • Cathay Pacific has fewer flights with first class. They operate Newark and Toronto – Hong Kong with aircraft that do not have first class.

  • Retiring 747s and replacing them with 777s means fewer first class seats. The 747s had nine seats up front, 777s only 6.

  • Planes are full. Seats are selling, which means fewer unsold seats for awards.

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat

Cathay Pacific has suggested they’ll restrict a portion of their award seats to their own members. The common narrative is that their premium cabins are filled by American AAdvantage members booking cheap awards (remember that business class is just 55,000 miles one way between the US and Southeast Asia, and first class 67,500) and they need to be able to reward AsiaMiles members.

So when you see award seats available online using the customary sources for this data — the Qantas frequent flyer website and the British Airways site — but an American telephone agent says it isn’t available, it’s natural to think that the space is being blocked (either on the American side, or that Cathay is imposing point of sale restrictions to prevent American’s members from booking the space).

That’s not my experience. And this isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve seen this for years. There can be agent issues, IT issues, and likely data sync issues as well.

Here are my tips to get the available Cathay Pacific award seats you want when American agents say they aren’t available:

  1. Always ask for the specific flight you want. Don’t ever tell the agent you want to fly from Chicago to Bali, for instance, even specifying Cathay Pacific. When they search from origin to destination they may not see all of the flight options like Chicago to Hong Kong to Bali. Ask for Chicago to Hong Kong and then ask for Hong Kong to Bali.

  2. Hang up and call back. Some agents will see the space and some will not, I do not understand the reason or whether it’s just that time has passed between my first class and my fifth one. A reader yesterday was told nothing available on their first 4 calls, but the fifth agent booked the seats.

  3. Wait. As I say I’m not 100% sure whether it’s the agent or the passing of time, but seats that can be seen by other oneworld airlines like Qantas and British Airways will usually show as available to American but there could be a lag.

Very occasionally you’ll be stymied no matter what you try. And that’s not just true for Cathay Pacific. I generally see a perfect match between the award space Etihad shows its own members and what American needs to book. One of the only times that didn’t hold was a single flight I needed to book for myself. There are three Abu Dhabi – London flights a day. The one flight I wanted showed first class (“O”) seats available, but no American agent could ever see the space and I wound up having to fly Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf – London.

Booking award space can be complicated since in most cases we’re not talking about published inventory. It’s booking classes that don’t show up in standard systems, and that can’t just be booked by anyone. Depending on the alliance or partnership they may require two airline systems to speak directly to each other, and things can go wrong. Be persistent.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Phew! For a moment I thought you were going to spill the beans on the big secret….

  2. Will AA allow you to book a business class ticket and allow you to downgrade the CP segment to Premium Economy on CP? I am looking at booking 6 tickets to Hong Kong next year, however, they only ever release 5 in business class (from what I have seen), but always also have availability in premium economy, so I want to get the 6th person on the same flight, but AA doesn’t offer premium economy award tickets. Eventually, I would hope to upgrade the 6th person into either business or first on the same flight, but I would want to make sure they were on the same flight right from the start even if they ended up flying in premium economy..

  3. I don’t have time to call 10 agents and hope I win the lottery
    I simply cut back my revenue business with American stopped using the program and signed up in other International frequent flyer programs
    If I can see it on other One World partners American should be able to book it too
    They need to fix the problem!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *