Many people I know rave about flying Cathay Pacific first class. I haven’t yet tried it, but of course I want to (I stupidly didn’t book the infamous mistake fare from Vietnam!). So, for an upcoming trip, I booked business class, but also waitlisted for first class awards. I’ll happily pay the change fee ($100) if it means flying first class.
In the course of searching for first class awards, I stumbled upon something very interesting. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles averages award prices when an itinerary involves multiple classes of service. This is very similar to how Avianca Lifemiles prices their mixed cabin awards (see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing. First Class for less).
This means that you can save miles by flying farther. Here’s an example…
Save by going farther in business class
First class from JFK to Hong Kong costs 125,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles:
Suppose you don’t want to stop in Hong Kong? Suppose you really want to fly JFK to South Africa via Hong Kong? Cathay doesn’t currently offer first class from Hong Kong to Johannesburg, so you’ll fly the first segment in first class and the second segment in business class. The total for this trip comes to only 106,900 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. You will actually save over 15,000 miles by adding on the Hong Kong to Johannesburg business class flight!
Save more by going farther in economy class
Cathay charges a lot less to fly economy than business or first class. So, I figured that flying JFK to Hong Kong in first class and onward to Johannesburg in economy would drop the overall price by quite a bit. I was right. I couldn’t price this online, so I called Asia Miles (+852 2747 3838) to price the award.
The total mileage price for flying JFK to Hong Kong in first class and then to Johannesburg in economy comes to only 87,500 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Remember that JFK to Hong Kong first class by itself costs 125,000 miles. You will actually save 37,500 miles by flying farther. The addition of the Hong Kong to Johannesburg economy class flight makes the whole thing cheaper!
How this works
The first key to this trick working is the fact that Cathay Pacific cuts off their award chart at 7,501+ miles. Longer flights beyond 7,501 miles don’t cost more. You can fly 15,000 miles for the same price as you’d pay to fly 8,000 miles. But it gets better…
Great Circle Mapper shows that the flight from JFK to Hong Kong is 8,072 miles and the flight from Hong Kong to Johannesburg is 6,631 miles. This means that the first segment is approximately 55% of the total.
To price this award, Cathay averages the cost based on the percentage of the total distance flown in each class of service. For example, when flying JFK to Hong Kong in first class and Hong Kong to Johannesburg in business class, we can calculate the award cost as follows:
- JFK to Hong Kong First Class: 125,000 miles x 55% = 68,750
- Hong Kong to Johannesburg Business Class: 85,000 miles x 45% = 38,250
- Total = 107,000 (Cathay actually priced it out at 106,900)
And when flying JFK to Hong Kong in first class and Hong Kong to Johannesburg in economy class, we can calculate the award cost as follows:
- JFK to Hong Kong First Class: 125,000 miles x 55% = 68,750
- Hong Kong to Johannesburg Economy Class: 42,000 miles x 45% = 18,900
- Total = 87,650 (Cathay actually priced it out at 87,500)
Given the above, we can estimate other trips. Suppose, for example, that you decide to return in business class to Hong Kong and then fly economy to New York (note that our own Stephen Pepper actually enjoyed flying over 15 hours in Cathay Pacific’s economy class). Let’s estimate the total cost:
- Johannesburg to Hong Kong Business Class: 85,000 x 45% = 38,250
- Hong Kong to JFK Economy Class: 42,000 miles x 55% = 23,100
- Total = 61,350
It works with some other partners too!
Below you’ll see that Cathay uses mixed cabin awards not just for their own flights, but for British Airways flights too. I don’t know if it works with all partners or if British Airways is special. Either way, this opens up many interesting possibilities (I’ll leave those as a fun exercise for the reader). Note though that if you add two partners to the same award they’ll price the whole thing in a completely different way and with a different award chart (the Oneworld multi-carrier award chart).
Why do we care?
You may be aware that Alaska offers better first class award pricing for flying Cathay Pacific and that both Alaska and AA offer much better business class pricing for flying Cathay Pacific. So why bother with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles? Two reasons: Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are easier to get, and they give you better award availability.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are easy to get
As shown in our Transfer Partner Master List, you can transfer to Cathay Pacific from Amex (1 to 1), Citi (1 to 1), Marriott (60K to 25K), or Capital One (1,000 to 750). Chase Ultimate Rewards is the only major transferable points program that doesn’t support transfers to Cathay Pacific.
Plus, Cathay offers a credit card (found here) where you can earn miles through the welcome bonus and through spend. Those who spend a lot of time away from home may find it very interesting that this card earns 1.5X on all purchases outside of the US.
Cathay Pacific offers better award availability to their own members
Unlike Singapore, which sometimes offers excellent award availability to Alaska’s members, Cathay keeps most of the good stuff for their own members. I’ve often found awards available with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles when nothing was available to their partners. Don’t get me wrong: first class awards are very hard to find. But they’re more likely to be found with Cathay miles.
Plus, they allow waitlisting for awards with their own miles. In order to do so, you need to have 70% of the required miles in your account. Fortunately, Asia Miles can now be kept alive indefinitely with regular account activity, so it’s not a terrible waste to transfer some over, especially if you do so when a transfer bonus is in effect. Also, the miles are not deducted from your account when you waitlist so it’s possible to waitlist for multiple awards at once.
Current Transfer Bonuses
If any current transfer bonuses to Cathay Pacific exist, you’ll find them here:
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