Lately I’ve gotten several emails and comments per day asking what’s going on with Cathay Pacific first class award availability. You guys are very observant, given that I haven’t really seen this discussed anywhere.
The reality is that as far as award availability goes, Cathay Pacific is the glue that holds the OneWorld alliance together. For me it’s actually what makes AAdvantage miles so valuable. OneWorld without Cathay Pacific would be like One Direction without Harry Styles… it jut wouldn’t work.
Cathay Pacific has small first class cabins — just six seats on their 777s and nine seats on their few remaining 747s. Historically they’d release two first class award seats on most flights when the schedule opened, and then within a week or two of departure they’d release any remaining seats into award availability that hadn’t yet been sold, save maybe for one seat they were still hoping to sell. I’ve gone so far as to call Cathay Pacific first class award redemptions anti-aspirational, not because of the quality of the product, but rather because of how easy the awards are to snag.
Something is changing, though, and I think there are two different scenarios at play. One is the lack of award space close to departure, and one is the lack of award space in advance. So let’s cover them separately, because I think they have different causes.
Lack of award space close to departure
I’ve gone so far as to book non-refundable hotels in Asia without actually having flights booked, knowing that Cathay Pacific would open up space. In the past it was more or less a guarantee, and I had even seen 747 flights with all nine first class seats available for awards a few days out.
If you look at award space from the US to Asia over the next two weeks in Cathay Pacific first class you’ll notice there’s nothing available. My initial thought was “okay, they’re just holding back space till really close to departure.”
But then I took a look at the actual flight loads — meaning how many seats are actually left for sale in first class — and then it became apparent why there’s no award space.
I’ve never seen this before, but almost every first class cabin over the coming weeks is sold out. As you can see below, most of the New York to Hong Kong flights are “F0,” meaning no first class seats are left for sale.
This is probably a combination of a few factors. One of them is that the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is really a peak business travel period, so if there’s a time that premium cabins should be sold out it’s now. Beyond that the economy is starting to recover, so while over the past several years premium cabins have largely gone to award passenger, more people are actually paying for them nowadays.
Basically I don’t think Cathay Pacific has changed their strategy for releasing award space last minute, it’s just that flights are outrageously full at the moment, so there’s no space to release.
Lack of award space in advance
Now this is where there actually seems to be a policy change. I’ve always found it oddly generous that they released a third of their first class cabins (two of six seats) into award inventory as soon as the schedule opened. Looking 11 months out it seems they’ve changed that somewhat.
While they’re still releasing two first class seats on many of their flights operated by 747s (which aren’t many, since they’re in the process of retiring them), I can’t find a longhaul flight operated by a 777 with more than one first class seat far in advance.
So I do suspect this represents an actual change in inventory management whereby they realized they were perhaps being too generous. I suspect they’ll continue to release most first class seats into award inventory as the departure date approaches, assuming seats are left for sale.
That’s my theory on the Cathay Pacific “situation.” Do you guys agree, or does anyone have a different theory?