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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
Last month, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig flew with his family in Cathay Pacific first class. Here’s how he booked the award.
Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER has just six first-class seats, so naturally that can be a very tough award to score — which makes it all the more amazing that I was able to book three of them. I booked the award using 67,500 miles per person each way, some of which I earned with the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, which is currently offering 75,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after you spend $7,500 in the first three months.
Earlier this year, we reported on a rumor that Cathay Pacific would begin limiting first-class awards to its own frequent flyers, which would make it impossible to book the front cabin using American AAdvantage miles. Fortunately, that didn’t end up being the case, though there’s no telling what the airline will choose to do in the future. For now it’s difficult, though certainly not impossible, to book first-class seats on Cathay Pacific, particularly on the 777-300ER routes from JFK.
When I first went to reserve flights for this trip, I searched for availability using British Airways’ site, then called AA at (800) 882-8880 to book. Only one first-class seat was available on the 10am departure, which is the flight we wanted to book. I grabbed that for my mom, and reserved two business-class seats for my sister and me.
Roughly five days before departure, a second seat opened up, so I “upgraded” my sister by calling the AAdvantage desk and redeeming an additional 12,500 miles to move from business (55,000 miles) to first (67,500 miles). Then, 48 hours before the flight, a third first-class seat became available, so I repeated the process for my own reservation.
With a few hours of work (factoring in regular award availability checks on BA’s site), my entire family was booked in first class. While Cathay Pacific’s long-haul business is very nice, there’s no question that first is worth the additional 12,500 miles required. Based on my experience booking this award, Cathay Pacific ultimately releases one fewer seats for award bookings than the number available for sale — typically within 48 hours of departure. So in the example above, four seats were listed for sale, while three were available for awards.
If you’re looking to book several first-class award seats, I recommend booking as many as possible when you first make your reservation (usually only one seat is available weeks or months in advance), with the other passengers booked in business. Then, check availability again within a week of departure, then five days out and finally 48 hours before departure. If there are still at least two seats for sale, you’ll likely be able to book one (or more) with miles.
Update: When you make a new reservation (or after you move from business to first), your booking may show as “requested,” which means AA is waiting to confirm the flight with Cathay Pacific. The seat is reserved but the ticket is not yet issued (or re-issued). If you see “requested” for a flight departing within 24-48 hours, call AA and request that the agent check the status of the ticket. In my experience, the ticket will be issued a few hours later.