Cathay Pacific Business Class Award Space is Hidden, Here’s How to Book It

This is going to be a fairly technical post but I’ll do my best to explain it simply. There have been plenty of reader concerns the last few weeks that Cathay Pacific no longer offers business class award space to American AAdvantage or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members. It turns out there’s just a trick to find and book the space.

Cathay Pacific Zeroed Out Business Class Award Space

Ever since just before Cathay Pacific devalued their award chart last month business class award space on the airline appears to have completely dried up, at least for partners.

If you’re using miles from American AAdvantage, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, British Airways Executive Club and other partner programs you won’t find business class long haul award space.

For instance here’s a search for New York JFK – Hong Kong next June 11 using Qantas miles (search performed with the KVS Tool):

You’ll see there’s first class and premium economy award space on these Cathay flights, but nothing in business class. Here I repeat the search via British Airways Executive Club:

We get the same result, although the BA.com website returns not just whether space is available but the number of award seats available in each cabin.

You Can Still Book Cathay Pacific Business Class With Asia Miles

It turns out that this doesn’t mean you cannot book Cathay Pacific business class awards.

There’s plenty of business class space being offered to Cathay Pacific’s own Asia Miles members.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and they have a US-issued co-brand credit card of their own as well.

Book Awards Using American Miles For Travel Beyond Hong Kong

This space shown to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles members is bookable with partner miles. It turns out Cathay Pacific is using married segment logic (HT: TravelSort) which means that non-stop space New York JFK – Hong Kong won’t show available, but if you call and ask for New York – Bangkok or other destinations it will show up as available.

I don’t see the space at BA.com, which appears to be showing availability for each segment individually. Over the phone it should be bookable.

This turns the usual advice to search segment-by-segment on its head. Normally you want to have an agent search for long haul award space you know is available, and then for the onward connection. In the case you want to search for the whole award.

The Trick to Book Non-Stop Hong Kong Flights With Partner Miles

What if you really do just want to go to Hong Kong? Or what if you want to connect on another airline besides Cathay Pacific beyond Hong Kong?

That’s possible too. I called up American AAdvantage and asked for a business class award from New York to Hong Kong. They confirmed what I already knew from the BA.com and Qantas websites, that this wasn’t available.

Then I asked the agent to search for New York JFK – Bangkok. She happily set up an award and put it on hold for me.

I thanked her and hung up. Then I called right back and asked the next agent if she could just end the award in Hong Kong, removing the last segment of the itinerary for me? Again, no problem. Once I held the award the segments were no longer married.

So the trick here is to find available business class award space using Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles website (so you know what’s available) and then call and ask for an award from that city, for that date, beyond Hong Kong to a city with plenty of award space like Bangkok, Singapore or Taipei.

Or just call up your airline’s frequent flyer program and ask them to search the space themselves. Just don’t ask to travel “to Hong Kong.” Ask to go to Bangkok, or to Singapore, on Cathay Pacific.

And then if you don’t want to travel all the way to those cities, have the next agent drop the connecting flight. This is especially easy with American since they allow you to put award space on hold for 5 days without ticketing.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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Comments

  1. Hopefully this is a temporary glitch and not indicative of some change at Cathay. If CX is going to start blocking partner awards in premium cabins, that’s basically an AAdvantage devaluation.

  2. I am wondering since Alaska airlines allows stopover on one way ticket can we book an itinerary such as DFW-LAX-HKG-BKK Stop BKK-HKG-JNB as a single one way ticket using Alaska miles. Similarily BKK can be changed to other Asian destinations in the above itinerary and it should work also.

  3. @unclesam
    I tried to pull that with alaska and it didnt work
    They only allow stopover at the gateway, in this case, with CX, it would be in HKG

  4. I have always had good luck booking with AA miles by calling in to book, seldom any luck with the AA site showing anything useful.

  5. I kept looking at BA.com for award space every day for about a week. Eventually Business class award space opened up one day and I got a sweet Business Class flight on CX: SFO-HKG-SIN for just 50k miles.

  6. For Alaska miles, will the agent be able to grab say JFK-HKG-BKK and then tell her to ditch just the HKG-BKK portion before purchase? or do you have to get it ticketed and take the $125 fee to change it?

    Any tips on how to do this with Alaska and add HKG as a stop over then continue to another destination?

  7. Booked PVG-DPS via HKG but I don’t need the PVG-HKG leg. Do I need to just call AA to drop the PVG-HKG leg?

  8. Gary, I tried this yesterday, since it seemed like a good method. However, after doing the hold and remove segment thing, which worked, the ticket went ‘on request’ as usual (it takes 24-72 hours for Cathay awards to be ticketed by AA). One day later it showed as ‘canceled’ in my AA account. It seems that Cathay will check before confirming the space, and if it’s not what they’d released to partners, deny it. You may need to actually ticket all the way to BKK or whatever connection you added, and then, when it’s ticketed (long after the 24-hour grace period), pay AA $150 to remove the unneeded segment. As far as I can see, that is the only way to make this work.
    Annoying, for sure. On the other hand, it’ll deter a lot of people so there’s more space for the rest of us!

  9. Great post. But, I’m too spoiled by flying first class from tips you’ve given me that now business class is The Great Unwashed

  10. SINCE WHEN DOES TAKING A PAGE OUT OF AA’S PLAYBOOK MAKE ANY SENSE? C’mon, CX, you’re better than this!

  11. @gus “You may need to actually ticket all the way to BKK or whatever connection you added, and then, when it’s ticketed (long after the 24-hour grace period), pay AA $150 to remove the unneeded segment. As far as I can see, that is the only way to make this work.”

    No need to pay a change fee. This would qualify for a free change under american’s ‘drop a segment rule’… you can drop a segment of travel for free as long as it doesn’t change the origin or departure region.

  12. This “trick” may not always work. Because the segments are married, meaning some systems do not allow canceling a single segment of a married trip. Really depends on the reservation system in the back.

  13. Wow thanks for this information but anyone have any idea how to book cathay business through Alaska right now. I have some points there right now i am trying to use for a flight

    Thanks!

  14. @ Gary

    does this work for Alaska? are they able to see the married segment space? not too concerned about dropping a segment as HKG would likely be used as free stopover anyway.

    really just trying to figure out whether i want to get 120k AA or AS miles from Marriott before August 1st…at least with AA i can fly on Qatar

  15. Would LAX-HKG-SIN work if you made HKG a stopover after initially reserving on hold (or ticketing) as a non-stopover? Understand more AA miles would be needed/collected for it but will it avoid the CX logic that cancels when a married segment is removed.

    What good reason is there for CX to want you to fly another routes on another of their aircraft for an award? Seems that it does the opposite of minimizing their cost of fulfilling awards.

  16. When I call Alaska and ask for Cathay space from Vancouver to Bangkok in any class of service, I tend to get no space these days. That is despite seeing sometimes as many as three seats in ba site.

    But I am not booking 330 days in advance. Booking that far in advance means two one ways, and two change fees as for health reasons I often need to cancel such speculative bookings

  17. I booked dps-hkg prior to the marriage segment issue and just need to change the date, which should be free.
    Now that dps-hkg is no longer showing, I have to do dps-hkg-tpe for my new date to show and have to pay $150 since I am forced change my destination from hkg-tpe
    What a mess!!

  18. Thank you!

    Been trying to book BOS-SIN for a month now, but the HKG-SIN leg was not available when searching by segments at BA.COM. Used Qantas.com and searching BOS-SIN shows that biz was available BOS-HKG-SIN. Called Alaska and was booked in 10 minutes.

  19. @gary leff

    i thought american’s rule was no change to origin or departure AIRPORT, not region. if there is change to airport i thought it triggers change fee?

  20. @AC – except that you can drop the last segment on a one way itinerary for no charge as long as there is no change to the region. You could not change Chicago – Hong Kong – Bangkok to Chicago – Hong Kong – Singapore for no fee. However you can change it to Chicago – Hong Kong for no fee. Not all agents may be aware of this, but definitely the rule.

  21. I can confirm that this works with both Alaska and American, as I have just successfully booked business class trips using AS and AA miles.
    With American, I had to have the ticket issued fully (after it was on request for a wile), and only then, when it was issued, I called in and dropped the unneeded segment. When I tried to do it with a hold, the ticket was canceled by AA before ticketing.
    Ticketing takes 24-72 hours – right now it’s faster because few people manage to do any Cathay tickets so those agents at AA in charge of the Cathay bookings have less to do.

    With Alaska, I gave the agent the married-segment itinerary, and once she grabbed the award space, she agreed to drop the unneeded segment right then. Ticketed within an hour or so. The Alaska system is much easier. However, you cannot book any flights operated by Cathay Dragon with Alaska miles, only actual CX flights are possible. Don’t forget about the free stopover on the one-way you get with AS too!

    Availability far out (spring through mid-June 2019) is great – 2-4 business class seats per flight. In the fall there is much less. If there is no space on the ‘extra’ flight (HKG-BKK for example), then this trick can’t work — so this requires a bunch of searching.
    Usually there is only 1 first class seat per flight, and Cathay releases more space very close to the date of the flight if there is space — however first class can be booked normally without any trickery

    One last tip: use Qantas, not BA — BA is extremely inaccurate when it comes to CX flights. For example, the BKK-HKG-EWR flights I booked did not show as available on BA, only on Qantas.

  22. Has anyone tried this with alaska but with a multi day stop over? so LAX-HKG -TYO with a multi day stopover?

  23. Unfortunately this trick doesn’t really work for those starting their journeys ex-HKG? Anyone with any workarounds for that?

  24. I actually tried something like this last month. I put an itinerary on hold with AA, then called again to cancel the unwanted segment, and continued to hold the award. Within 24 hours, Cathay cancelled the reservation from their end; an AA agent told me the notes from Cathay said it was “canceled due to O/D abuse.”

    So… they’re not completely stupid, after all.

  25. Gary,
    Great post. Just a quick question. How do you use this trick to find award spaces back to the States from HKG?

    Pat

  26. How do you get AA to book married segments? When I call, the agent tells me there is no availability on one of the legs, even though I see that leg available on the BA website as part of a married segment that I would like to fly. The agent tells me that they can only book segment by segment and can’t book married segments. Do I need to keep calling until I find an agent that knows how to?

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