Alaska Airlines has 18 partners but in my opinion, none of them are as attractive as the airline we will review today, Cathay Pacific.
Amongst seasoned travelers, Cathay Pacific ranks as one of the premier airlines because of their high levels of consistent quality, both in their hard and soft product. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to fly them as of yet but I do have a flight planned in December of 2017 which will take me from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) and onward to Auckland (AKL).
Cathay has also been known to be quite generous when it comes to releasing award availability to their partners. During my research, I have typically seen up to 5 Business Class seats (depending on the route) available 330 days from departure. Finding First Class availability is becoming more and more difficult as Cathay is phasing out many of their 777s on their long haul flights and replacing them with the more economical A350, which does not feature a First Class cabin. However, routes serviced by 777-300ER aircraft will sometimes show one available First Class seat 330 days in advance.
Alaska Miles Required
Redemptions on Cathay flights are very generous and there are certainly multiple sweet spots for redemptions though most of them are with Business or First Class flights. Now when it comes to measuring value we can look at the metric of points required per mile flown. While this metric is simplistic, it gives us a good measuring stick for comparing redemptions and gives us a quick quantitative measure to find sweet spots in the award chart.
To start, let’s look at the chart itself.
Hopefully I’m not disappointing too many people here but I am strictly looking at pricing for Canada to the rest of the world. This will continue to be the focus for the rest of this series. I am after all, a Canadian blogger first and foremost.
In order to find sweet spots, I have chosen the Cathay route that uses Hong Kong to connect the two most distant points.
For example, for Canada to Australia, I am measuring the distance from the eastern most city that Cathay serves in Canada (Toronto) to the southern most point in Australia that is also served by Cathay from Hong Kong (Melbourne). That distance is the distance used in my sweet spot calculation.
From there, I will use GCMap to find the distance flown.
Once I have the distance, I will use the following calculation:
Miles Required / Miles Flown = Points per Mile (PPM)
In the example above, the calculation would be as follows for a First Class redemption:
80,000 / 12,400 = 6.45 PPM
Hopefully with this metric, we will be able to see some glaring sweet spots in the award chart so we can find extreme redemption value. The lower the PPM number, the better.
Now, I fully understand that most people aren’t as crazy as I am so I’m not suggesting that you should fly from Toronto to Hong Kong and then onto Johannesburg in First Class because it’s the best value but at least you now have a chart that tells you specifically where the best value is.
Let’s look at it for each class of service.
We can now easily see that the routing of YYZ-HKG-AKL has the best value for economy class travel on Cathay. Asia is pretty close but the Canada to New Zealand route offers the best value at a redemption of 40,000 AS miles for a one-way ticket.
Here we can see that both New Zealand and Asia are the best value with a PPM value of 3.52. Interestingly, Africa and Australia are not far behind. You may think to yourself that the miles needed to redeem for Asia (35,000) are much lower than that of New Zealand (47,500) and you would be right but New Zealand is much further away.
Premium class travel is where we really start to see a divergence in the PPM calculation. We now see Africa take the lead in this category with a 4.33 PPM cost for redemption. If you look at India’s 5.97 PPM, you can see that the cost vs distance travelled between Africa and India is significant.
Remember the Sesame Street song, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other”, well this is what they were referring to. Africa clearly wins the day on this one, however, it’s really a bit deceptive because the HKG-JNB route hasn’t featured a First Class cabin for some time now. Even though Cathay flies a 777-300ER on this route, it inexplicably does not feature a First Class cabin. What makes it even stranger is that it is a 13:10 flight … who knows, perhaps the demand for First Class on this route just isn’t there. If Cathay ever does bring back the First Class cabin on this route, at least you now know that an award redemption is a tremendous value.
The next best PPM for Cathay in First Class is to the Middle East, Tel Aviv to be exact. The PPM here of 5.55 also represents great value.
Alaska allows for a free stopover on one-way flight but the stop has to be at the airline’s hub. Some airlines have multiple hubs, however Cathay’s hub is Hong Kong. Full stop. That means that if you want a free stopover with Cathay, it’s going to be in Hong Kong. While you are limited on where you can stop, Hong Kong is a great city to visit.
On our trip to New Zealand next year, we will be taking advantage of the free stopover in Hong Kong to get accustomed to the time difference and to take in all the culture Hong Kong offers.
As I had mentioned, there is typically very good availability 330 days out from the date of travel. My experience has been that even peak times for travel seem to show good availability.
Cathay is also an airline that is very strategic when it comes to load balancing of their aircraft in that they have historically released First Class seats about 7 days before departure. The reason for this is that Cathay believes it is less likely that they will sell full revenue First Class seats that close to departure so they make the seats available for award bookings. In the past, Cathay would very predictably release all but two First Class seats for award booking at T-7 (7 days before date of travel) but things have changed and while First Class may be available, many partners are not showing availability at T-7.
If you know a trick to find close in F availability, I’m all ears.
While First Class is somewhat difficult to find, Business Class seats are fairly easy.
Now if you have been someone that has searched for award availability for Cathay before, you will know that Alaska’s online award booking system does not play nice with Cathay’s booking system. The result here is that you cannot see the available Cathay Pacific award seats on Alaska’s site.
I once asked an Alaska Airlines representative why this occurs and she told me that their backend systems just do not communicate well with each other. Now this is not to say that you can’t book Cathay flights with Alaskan, it’s just to say that you need another way to search for the award flight availability. Alternatively, if you didn’t want to go through all the work, you could call the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan folks and they can help you find a flight.
Personally, I like to have a lot more control than that so I’ll show you how to find availability on your own so you can spoon feed the route to the Alaska Airlines reps.
British Airways Avios
Outside of the partnership with Alaska Airlines, Cathay belongs to the OneWorld Alliance. Because they are part of OneWorld, the other Alliance partners need to be able to see Cathay’s availability. The partner airline that tends to have the easiest interface to find availability with Cathay is British Airways and their Avios program.
Once you log into the British Airways Avios site at www.britishairways.com, look to the left hand side of the page. There is a dropdown menu (highlighted). Make sure to choose “Book with Avios”. Once you do that, searching is just the same as you would do with any other search engine. The only thing to keep in mind is to search segment by segment and build your own itinerary.
If we were to look for YYC-HKG-AKL, we would first look for the YYC-HKG leg first. The other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t really need to specify the number of seats or class of service. I’ll show you why just a little bit later.
Once you search, you will be asked if you want to break up your journey with a stopover. Choose no. If you choose yes, British Airways will try to route you on BA with a stopover in London. While that can be great, it’s not what we’re after here.
On the next page is where you get to the meat of the matter.
As you can see, not only do you see availability, you see how many seats are available. This is tremendously helpful, especially if your plans are still up in the air. Knowing how many award seats are available helps you determine how much of a rush you should be in to book. You can also use the calendar at the top of the page to search for other dates easily.
Once you find the flights that you want, make note of them and then call in to Alaska’s call centre at 1-800-252-7522 to book your flights. Just tell the representative that you have already found the flights you want and then just feed them the flights you want segment by segment.
Alternatively, you can look for Cathay availability on JAL’s website as they are also a OneWorld partner that shows Cathay availability. Word of warning though, the JAL site is difficult to navigate.
It should also be noted that Cathay Pacific is not an airline that is serviced by the ExpertFlyer website so if that’s a tool you use to find availability, unfortunately it will not work.
Taxes and Fees
Cathay Pacific does not charge Fuel Surcharge (YQ) so taxes are typically affordable depending on the airports/cities you are flying from and to. As an example, my taxes for my upcoming trip to New Zealand are listed below. However, keep in mind that my routing takes me from YYC-SEA-LAX-HKG-AKL so I touch a few airports, thus driving up my taxes. Depending on where you are flying from/to, you may see more or less taxes.
You will have to pay a $12.50 “Partner Award Booking Fee” because Alaska has to pay it to their partners.
Also keep in mind that all these prices are in USD.
Rules of Thumb
I know I’ve given you a lot of information in this post but I truly believe in empowering my readers so you can start to do this for yourself. That being said, here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Award availability is good 330 days in advance for all cabins
- First Class availability tends to be better close to the date of travel (usually T-7) so keep checking back on British Airways or JAL’s website to see when F seats open up. Alternatively, you can call the Alaska call centre and have them look it up.
- If you are looking for First Class seats and willing to make your changes closer to the date of travel, make sure you position to an airport that has multiple Cathay Flights daily to increase your chances of getting that F seat. This is why we are flying out of LAX for our trip to New Zealand. For more information about this, please read Travel Codex’s article on Cathay operated flights from North America.
- Watch for the aircraft that is servicing the route you are after and keep in mind that many of Cathay’s 777-300ERs are being replaced with A350s that do not have a First Class cabin.
Get In On The Action
If I haven’t convinced you that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a great program, then I’m either really, really bad at writing or you just haven’t read all my articles.
If you want a quick jump start to get in on the action, read my review on the Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard. In the review, I detail how you can sign up for the card, and get 25,000 Alaska Miles for only $15.
With that sign up bonus, you are only 5,000 miles away from a one-way trip to anywhere in Asia Cathay Pacific services. That’s C-R-A-Z-Y. As a comparison, it would be 37,500 – 45,000 Aeroplan miles for the equivalent flight and MUCH higher taxes.
I still have not decided which airline I will feature next but the amount of work these articles take to write (~ 4-5 hours for Cathay), I may buck my trend of completing a series from beginning to end in a week. Please be patient and if you have a burning desire to see one of Alaska’s partner airlines covered, please make mention of it in the comments below.