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.
I used to think that the Qantas site was accurate for Cathay availability, but it was terrible on my last few tries so I stuck with BA. Just booked a trip to Asia for December 2017, although I’ve done the route to JNB twice now as 62500 miles just can’t be beat. Unfortunately it looks like coming back to North America there is no space on Cathay for our days so we might have to fly other airlines. I’m intrigued by Hainan just because it has the same redemption rates btwn YYZ and Asia as Cathay. Maybe that could be your next one? Thanks for the great post.
Great post Jayce. Nailed it. Are you flying J or F to AKL?
Thanks for your question. We are are booked in J (Business Class) from LAX-HKG and again from HKG-AKL. My hope is that at least 1 seat opens up in F (First Class) closer to our date of travel. It looks like the HKG-AKL leg will be replaced by the two cabin A350 so if we do get into F, it will only be from LAX-HKG. Cheers
Good stuff. And good luck on the F! It does look like a solid product.
I managed to snag an F class ticket on Cathay, doing what you advised above. JNB-HKG-LAX-YVR for 70,000 Alaska miles. It’s a thing of beauty.
Looking forward to your review.
Thanks for your suggestion! It’s actually my next post. Kept an eye out. Cheers
Great post! But there are a couple of things that you should also mention.
There is also a $15US Call Center Ticketing Fee. This must be paid as there is no way to book CX award flights online.
Also, you stated that F award seats may be released at T-7 and to call in to make changes. Unless you are MVP Gold, it will cost you $125US to make any changes with 60 days of ticketed flight departure.
@ Richard- Last time I called the agent told me that they won’t charge the call center fee as that is the only way to book CX award flights.
Hmm.. I’ve booked CX award flights twice and I mentioned that to them and they still said they still have to charge the call centre fee. I have never been able to get that fee waived. At least it was in F class.. so I guess it’s a small price to pay.
“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.”
I have successfully ticketed a 3 day stopover at YVR on a JFK-YVR-HKG-CGK itinerary with JFK-YVR on CX889 and YVR-HKG on CX855.
I encountered an odd problem while booking my AS award. For my desired YVR-HKG departure date, I saw 4J seats on CX889 at ba.com; however, the AS agent couldn’t see any. On the other hand, the AS agent could see availability for J on CX855 despite CX855 only showing 2J seats vs. CX889 showing 4J seats on ba.com. I just went ahead and booked CX855. The available CX889 J seats stayed at 4 for the next 2 days, I have rung AS twice since and they still can’ t see any availability.
As YVR is a stopover possibility, you can do Asia-HKG-YVR (stopover)-JFK on your way back giving you a free YVR-JFK to use in the future.
Thank you so much for this! Great information and something that is very, very interesting. I’ll look into this a bit more but if it works and you live in Vancouver (or a close by city you can reposition from), it’s an excellent way to get two trips out of one redemption!
Can you share how you forced the stopover in YVR? Did you simply ask the agent to have the flight out of YVR-HKG 3 days out?
Thanks so much for sharing!
I initially asked whether it is possible to have YVR as a stopover between CGK-HKG-YVR-SEA/PDX-LAX — the answer was no.
Then I asked about JFK-YVR (3 day stopover) YVR-HKG on CX889 before continuing to HKG-CGK. She immediately okayed the route after giving me the choice of YVR-HKG on CX889 in PE or CX855/CX837 in J as she didn’t see any J seats on CX889.
In conclusion, looks like the only exceptions to HKG: If it’s an enroute city where CX flies direct with 1 stop, the stopover can be at that stop.
This makes me wonder about other 5th freedom CX routes such as NRT-TPE-HKG.– would I be able to stopover TPE in this case? I hope so. Having never been to YVR and TPE, these stopovers would make trips more interesting.
Hello Jayce and Faye,
I am trying to position myself to book a Cathay redemption from YVR-JFK with return in May 2018 (May 4- 12) for 2 people. I have two layers of questions here and would even be happy to just be pointed to where I can find the info.
The above post brought out a question on what I should redeem with and how I should do it because I didn’t understand that YVR could be used as a stopover. Originally I was planning on booking using Alaska points (which I now have enough of because the Marriott Arbitrage 7 night redemption article!), or by converting RBC points to Asia miles. I read somewhere that it would be 70,000 round trip for FC on Asia miles (40,000 one way) and 70,000 on Alaska points (35,000 each way), so I am not really sure the advantage of one over the other or if it matters for me. I have enough points in either. The part I am interested in is If somehow on the return I can create YVR as a stopover for another trip down the road. We hope to go to Japan at some point in the year following this trip. Is it worthwhile to split up the trip so that the return is a JFK-YVR (stopover for literally 6 months) -HKG…?
The other question is a practical one about this route. I see you both have talked about securing the Cathay FC YVR-JFK. Ideally, I would like 2 FC. I have never flown first class! Just got into travel hacking slowly over the last year and am making progress (good bye Avion redemptions for 50,000 points round trip in Canada with taxes/fees on top!). Anyways, I am having trouble finding award availability outside of J class. Showing now on on my saved awards.flight searches 😉 (thanks for that article too!) are 2 J class rewards seats both days, no FC. Do you know how likely this route is to get in FC for two people and have any idea when I might expect availability? Is there an option with booking J class awards seats to upgrade to FC if it becomes available closer to the date?
Thanks for your very well thought out question. I’ll attempt to answer your inquiry.
For your question on whether to use RBC –> Asia Miles vs Alaska miles, I would personally use the RBC points and get out of the program as there are much better programs to invest your spend in. If you can get out of the program, I would personally do so. RBC transfer to Asia Miles (Cathay) at a 1:1 ratio. If all things were equal, I would definitely use RBC points. That being said, I don’t know that you read the CX Award Chart correctly.
I see from GCMap that YVR-HKG is 6,396 miles so a RT redemption in F would actually run you 180,000 Asia Miles or 105,000 one way. This is much more than what you expected so based on that, I would have to assume Alaska miles are your best option.
In terms of availability, I am actually flying JFK-YVR as the return on our upcoming Round the World adventure in December/January and here’s what I have found. I was able to find 1 F seat and 2 W (Premium Economy) seats. I have searched daily with my saved searches and nothing else has come up except economy seats. I know for a fact that nobody has purchased a revenue ticket for F because I have an alert set on ExpertFlyer to let me know if that happens. My assumption here is that some more F seats will open up when we get closer to the date of travel (still 6 months out). Interestingly, no J seats have opened for the flight either.
Historically, F seats get released on CX at T-7 (7 days before departure) so I’m still hopeful that I can snag a couple more F seats. I would say you have a pretty good chance at securing F seats but I would recommend securing your J seats first and then upgrading them to F if/when they become available. I am an MVP Gold member with Alaska so there would be no cost to change my seats but if you don’t have status, they could charge you a fee but from my conversations with agents, they don’t charge if you upgrade to F as long as the flight date/times stay the same.
As a way to protect yourself, when you book your J flight, ask the agent to put a note on your PNR to state that you wanted F seats and will be checking to see if any become available. Ask them to put on the note not to charge a change fee if that happens.
Hope this helps.
Yes! Thanks. You’re blog has helped me sooooo much! I will book the J and keep checking, I just wanted to see if this was reasonable. As for the Avion points, yes I agree not good, but they are a vestige from a few years ago when I went to an expensive program that let me put tuition on a credit card and I didn’t know about the Hobby. I have slowly been transferring them to Avios as I need them when there is a 35%-50% bonus and redeeming them on Alaska Air. This is the best way I’ve found. It gets me to Hawaii round trip for under 20,000 initial Avion points person in economy and I’ve been happy with that but Avios do not get me any FC value on Alaska. Trust me, any other ideas for Avion points welcome.
I know that the YVR to HKG would be 70,000 one way… but I guess what I meant is would this be a possibility:
If I fly:
YVR- JFK (35,000 -40,000 one way either points)
JFK-YVR (stopover up to 364 days) – HKG… (70,000 Alaska miles)
HKG-YVR (70,000 Alaska miles)
YVR-JFK and JFK-YVR (70,000 either aisa miles or alaska)
and as a separate trip
YVR-HKG and HKG-YVR (140,000 alaska miles)
Would way one save me 30,000-35,000 points and even if it is theoretically possible, is it practically possible? I am just beginning this path of looking into more international higher class routes and finding the practical bits challenging and time consuming.
I’m not 100% sure but if Faye was able to ask for a 3 day layover on her trip, it would stand to reason that you could stay up to 364 days. I haven’t called in to Alaska to try this so I don’t know if it’s practically possible or not. If it is, here’s what I would do personally:
Cathay Pacific First
35,000 Alaska Miles
JFK-YVR (stop) – HKG
Cathay Pacific First
70,000 Alaska Miles
Stay as long as you want in YVR
HKG-YVR (stop) – JFK
Cathay Pacific First
70,000 Alaska Miles
Stay as long as you want in YVR
So basically, you get a RT YVR-JFK-YVR, a RT YVR-HKG-YVR and a OW from YVR-JFK for 170K Alaska.
I would be interested in whether or not this would ticket or not … if I have time, I might give Alaska a call to see. Let me know if you manage to get it ticketed. Cheers
Yes, your routings are actually straightforward and theoretically possible. However, it’s not easy to find 2F on the same flight especially ex-YVR (ex-USA is easier).
Another problem is Alaska sees less space than Cathy’s Oneworld partners, further slimming down your chances of finding 2F.
Like Jayce mentioned, I would add JFK after HKG-YVR as you never know you might use it.
One thing I would do differently is not fly F between YVR-JFK for 35k miles as it’s only a 5h flight and you are not maximising the route with stopovers (would instead save F for JFK-YVR as it’s a longer flight due to headwinds making it a 6h journey – which you plan to be doing anyway on JFK-YVR-HKG). That’s just me… you might very well find F worthwhile for 35k miles.
The only problem I see with booking a stopover for 6 months after your May 2018 flight (making the last leg depart Nov 2018) is that you will have to wait until at least Dec 2017 to book the last leg. Seems like it shouldn’t be a problem if you add on a leg before your travel commences (But do take my word with a grain of salt as I have never personally tried this – better check with AS). However, after your travel commences, you most likely won’t be able to add a leg your itinerary.
This is very confusing for me as Im pretty new at this. I have Alaska miles and it seems i can get good value with them. I am looming for the best rewRd value to get from the Middle East (Tel Aviv) or Egypt down to Kenya or there about. Do you have any recommendations to get good value with Alaska miles. I plan to come home from Kenya to Canada or Seattle with a stop along the way in Indonesia or there about. Im not concerned about that portion of my trip as much as i am getting to Kenya using points. Any ideas would be very helpful and thank you for all of your great information and lessons!
While Alaska is a great program, I don’t think it’s going to be very helpful to you on what you described above (Middle East to Africa). You see, Alaska has partners, including Cathay, but they negotiate which routes or destinations that they want to allow award travel. Unfortunately, there are no awards at all for the Middle East to Africa. You can go from the Middle East to Asia, Canada, the US (including Hawaii) and Mexico.
On your way back, you can certainly go from Africa back to North America with Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay, Condor or Emirates.
I took a quick look for NBO-SEA and found that both British Airways and Emirates service those routes and availability looks wide open. To check for yourself, go to the Alaska Airlines website and search for NBO-SEA and make sure you click on “Use Miles”. That will pull up your options.
Hope that helps.
Thanks for the article, made me think of a future plan to book CX F for YYZ – YVR – HKG (stopover) – HND. Is this possible? I see CX has a codeshare for YYZ-YVR with AC; would Alaska allow such an award?
Unfortunately not. The rule is that it MUST be only 1 partner flight, specifically on their metal (meaning no codeshares). In your example, the YYZ-YYC is considered an AC flight and thus would not be bookable using AS miles. Your best bet is to try to find JFK-HKG (stop) – HND as this would be operated 100% on CX metal. Hope that helps.
I’m planning for a trip to Australia/New Zealand from YYZ. What itinerary would you recommend with the highest probability of finding four J tix and the minimum number of connections. My points are split between Amex MR (CAD/USD), Aeroplan and SPG.
That’s a tough question to answer as Australia and New Zealand are amongst the hardest awards to find. As I understand it, YVR-BNE has decent availability using Air Canada but you will pay an arm and a leg in fuel surcharge (YQ). United has quite a few different routings to Sydney (SFO, LAX, IAH) so you could try them as well, though I don’t know that United would be my first choice as a premium cabin provider. If you are willing to connect, start looking at routes through Asia. You could try AC from YYZ-HND and then NH (All Nippon Airways) from HND-SYD as both AC and NH are Star Alliance carriers and routes out of Japan do not attract YQ.
Suffice it to say, everyone wants to go to Australia so it’s a very difficult destination to get to on points but it’s possible. You just have to plan far in advance and likely split up your party. Hope that helps.
Hi, I realize this post is old now, but this is a booking I’m researching so it came up in a search. I’m trying to use Alaska miles to fly Cathay for YVR – HKG – AKL in business class. I’ve been searching into Oct/Nov 2019 and finding CX J seats for the YVR – HKG leg on various dates, but nothing comes up for HKG – AKL. I’m using the BA site and Qantas but the only thing that comes up are routes through SYD or MEL (and even those don’t show much in the way of business class seats) generally with Qantas only. Any tips or tricks or is HKG – AKL on CX J just rare and you have to be lucky?