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On New Year’s Eve in the US, Cathay Pacific offered business class and first class round-trip tickets from Vietnam to the US at incredibly low fares for a short time. On Wednesday, we got the good news from Cathay Pacific that the airline plans to honor the fares. For as little as $700 for one of the most luxurious ways to fly long-haul, it was a spectacular steal, and lots of TPG readers jumped on it.

The first travelers have departed on these tickets and at least one couple has faced serious issues that resulted in their ticket from Da Nang being cancelled. If you booked this Cathay Pacific New Year’s deal, here’s what you need to know.

Cathay First Class on a 777-300ER. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)
Cathay First Class on a Boeing 777-300ER. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

Direct Returns Are Illegal

As Hong Kong-based Dom from HKTravelBlog learned, direct returns aren’t possible. He booked a flight on a separate ticket from Hong Kong (HKG) to Da Nang (DAD) and expected to direct return to Hong Kong on his way to New York. However, his plans unraveled when local officials claimed that direct turns — when you return to the airport you just came from without entering the arrival country — are illegal in Vietnam.

There’s No Staffed Transfer Desk

Presumably because direct returns are illegal in Vietnam — at least according to Da Nang airport officials — and travelers don’t usually transfer in Da Nang, there’s no staffed transfer desk. Reports show (and Dom confirmed in the comment section below) that you can make arrangements with Cathay Dragon, the Cathay Pacific subsidiary flying there, ahead of time to get checked in and boarding passes printed if you have a tight connection. But, direct turns without a visa to enter Vietnam are still prohibited and many airlines won’t let you board a flight to Vietnam without a Vietnam visa even if you’re planning to only transit there.

You’ll Need Multiple Visas

The best way to comply with these potential issues is to apply for tourist visas ahead of time and plan to enter Vietnam before and after each Cathay New Year’s deal ticket. You’ll need to give yourself enough time between tickets to clear immigration and customers, check in at the Da Nang check-in counters and clear back through immigration and security. This means you won’t be able to catch the same aircraft out that you flew in, unless its time on the ground is significant — which isn’t the case for the Cathay Dragon flights to/from Da Nang. On positioning flights, I’d recommend spending at least one night in Da Nang before and after each round-trip ticket if possible.

If you bought one round-trip ticket, this means you’ll need to enter Vietnam twice. The easiest way for US citizens to apply for a Vietnam visa is to use the official Vietnam e-visa page (beware, there are many fake websites that rank well in search engines). Applying for the e-visa is quick and easy. You’ll need to pay $25 for each single-entry 30 day e-visa and the processing time is usually less than three days. Vietnam does offer visa-free entry to citizens of some countries, so if you happen to be a citizen of, or have a second passport from, a country that isn’t the US be sure to check whether that other passport can provide visa-free entry.

Tickets Will Likely Reprice When Changed

As options started drying up, my husband JT and I seriously considered buying two back-to-back Cathay New Year’s deal tickets that would’ve required a very short direct turn in Da Nang. Hopefully, none of you did this since reports so far show this won’t work due to short connection times and the requirement to enter Vietnam and check in at the check-in desks outside immigration, customs and security.

So, if you miss your Cathay flight in Da Nang you’ll likely be faced with the following choice: cancel your ticket and get a refund (potentially after a cancellation fee) or pay a change fee to rebook on a later flight. If you cancel you’ll need to wait for your next ticket if you booked multiple, or use your points and miles as an insurance policy to get you home. But if you pay the change fee, Dom’s report shows that tickets reprice to current prices, while others claim that the fare rules allow changes without repricing if there’s availability in the same fare class you booked. However, availability in these fare classes is currently very limited, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make any changes without facing a substantial fare change.

Dozens of seats would end up going out empty.
Cathay business class on a A350-1000. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

Where to Credit

For US-based flyers, there are two popular options for crediting these flights: American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. For the purposes of evaluation, let’s consider how two of the round-trip tickets I booked would credit to American Airlines and Alaska Airways.

American: Here’s a chart from American that describes how Cathay flights credit to American.

Before considering elite status bonuses, here’s what our earnings look like for these two round-trips:

Fare Class Miles Flown EQDs Per Mile Flown EQDs EQMs Per Mile Flown EQMs Redeemable Miles Per Mile Flown Redeemable Miles
DAD-HKG J 570 25% 143 150% 855 125% 713
HKG-JFK F 8,072 30% 2,422 150% 12,108 150% 12,108
JFK-HKG F 8,072 30% 2,422 150% 12,108 150% 12,108
HKG-DAD J 570 25% 143 150% 855 125% 713
First Class Round-trip 5,128 25,926 25,642
DAD-HKG D 570 25% 143 150% 855 125% 713
HKG-JFK D 8,072 25% 2,018 150% 12,108 125% 10,090
EWR-HKG D 8,065 25% 2,016 150% 12,098 125% 10,081
HKG-DAD D 570 25% 143 150% 855 125% 713
Business Class Round-trip 4,319 25,916 21,597

If you have status with American Airlines, you’ll earn more redeemable miles, As an Executive Platinum elite, I’ll earn 46,382 redeemable miles for the first class round-trip shown above and 42,329 for the business class round-trip. In terms of elite qualifying, since Cathay Pacific business and first class both earn 1.5 EQMs per mile flown, one round-trip between Da Nang and New York/Newark credited to American will get you Gold status while two will get you Platinum status and three will get you Platinum Pro status.

Alaska: Alternatively, you could credit your long-haul flights between the US and Hong Kong (HKG) to Alaska. Here’s a chart from Alaska detailing earning rates, but note that the additional bonus is only for redeemable miles and not for elite status.

Note that you won’t be able to credit your short-haul flights between HKG and Vietnam to Alaska unless the two-letter airline code preceding the flight number is CX and the flight number is between 0100 and 0999. All of the flights I booked during the New Year’s deal have KA airline codes for the short-haul flights, so for the business class and first class round-trips shown above, my earnings would be as follows:

Fare Class Miles Flown Redeemable Miles Per Mile Flown Redeemable Miles Elite Qualifying Miles Per Mile Flown Elite Qualifying Miles
DAD-HKG J 570 0% 0 0% 0
HKG-JFK F 8,072 350% 28,252 150% 12,108
JFK-HKG F 8,072 350% 28,252 150% 12,108
HKG-DAD J 570 0% 0 0% 0
Total for First Class Round-trip 56,504 24,216
DAD-HKG D 570 0% 0 0% 0
HKG-JFK D 8,072 225% 18,162 125% 10,090
EWR-HKG D 8,065 225% 18,146 125% 10,081
HKG-DAD D 570 0% 0 0% 0
Total for Business Class Round-trip 36,308 20,171

These tickets earn great redeemable miles. From an elite-qualification standpoint, one first class round-trip won’t even earn you MVP status though. However, if you’re more interested in redeemable miles than in elite-status, Alaska may be the place to credit.

If you credit your long-haul flights to Alaska, you’ll want to credit your short-haul flights between Hong Kong and Vietnam elsewhere since most won’t earn credit through Alaska due to not having CX airline codes. Cathay does allow you to credit each flight separately.

I’ll be crediting all three of my round-trip tickets to American and, with a couple other trips I’ve already booked, I’ll easily re-qualify for Executive Platinum very early in 2019. I simply value having American Executive Platinum status higher than having Alaska MVP Gold and these tickets provide excellent EQD earning for American. This being said, the redeemable miles earned through crediting to Alaska are tempting. Of course, there are many other options for crediting that may be better for your specific situation.

A Cathay Pacific 777-300ER in Hong Kong. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, most of this information would have been more useful when booking since changes will likely be expensive at this point. However, if you only booked one of the New Year’s deals, you still have to opportunity to make sure your positioning flights get you into Vietnam with ample buffer room. You also still have to opportunity to change where you credit your flights. If you’re interested in obtaining Oneworld status, you’ll want to credit to American. But, if you’re more interested in maximizing the redeemable miles you earn, Alaska will be the place to credit the long-haul flights.

I’d recommend at least a night or two of buffer in Da Nang on either side of your round-trip — but remember that if your travel is affected by tropical storms or monsoons, even a couple days may not be enough. If you have the time, planning trips in Da Nang and nearby Hue on either end of your round-trip may be a safer option; you can even go see the nearby giant bridge suspended by hands. And, next time you’re jumping on a crazy deal like this, be sure to add in some buffer between each round-trip ticket and remember that these type of fares aren’t always honored.

Featured photo of Cathay Pacific business class on an A350-1000. Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy.

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