Can Lightning Strike Twice? Cathay Pacific First Class Award Availability

Can Lightning Strike Twice?  Cathay Pacific First Class Award Availability

I wrote a post about how I was able to secure 3 seats in First Class for Cathay Pacific from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG).  That was 5 days before our scheduled flight and I was ecstatic to find the availability for two reasons.  First, it’s almost unheard of to score 3 First Class Award Seats on Cathay Pacific and secondly, we were the only passengers in the 6-seat First Class Cabin!

I thought that this was a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of good luck but it turns out that either I am incredibly lucky or just simply incredibly persistent … or maybe a combination of both?

Our Upcoming Flight

We have some pretty amazing upcoming flights to round out our trip.  We are currently in Sydney to watch the New Year’s Eve Fireworks and then straight onto our First Class Apartment flight with Etihad Airways … the one with the shower on board!  From there, we will spend some time in the UAE and then jump on a Business Class flight with Etihad from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK).  Once we get to JFK, we will have a good-sized layover and then onto a Fifth Freedom flight with Cathay Pacific from JFK to Vancouver (YVR).

On this flight, I was able to secure one First Class Award Seat and two Business Class Seats.  I had had a fairly negative experience with our Cathay flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to Auckland (AKL) on the A350 so I was somewhat looking forward to seeing if the service on the 777-300ER would be any different.  I suspected it wouldn’t be all that different but wanted to give Cathay the benefit of the doubt and do an unbiased review but alas … I won’t have the chance.

What Happened

Last night at about 8:00 PM Sydney time, I was checking to see what kind of availability there was on our flight.  Low and behold, two First Class seats opened up on our route!

I double checked using AwardNexus and sure enough, JAL showed availability as well!

Given that Sydney is 19 hours ahead of the West Coast of North America, I had to wait until the next morning to call Alaska Airlines to change my two Business Class Seats to First Class.

I was very excited so it was difficult to sleep but managed to get some shuteye before waking at 7 AM and making the call to Alaska Airlines to change the ticket.

Betrayal!

Before I called Alaska, I made a final check on British Airways Avios site to confirm that the seats weren’t snapped up by someone else.  Luckily they were still available so I made a call to Alaska Airlines.

I got a hold of an agent in fairly short order … by the way … voice recognition systems don’t do well over VOIP if you were wondering.

When I asked about upgrading the seats, I was told that they didn’t see any First Class seats available.

I hung up the phone and thought I would try again just in case the agent didn’t know what they were doing.

Second call … third call … fourth call … same result.  You ever feel like you are sooooo close to something and it all falls apart?

I Don’t Get It

Your first question might be why wouldn’t Alaska Airlines see the availability if both British Airway and JAL do?

Well, the answer is … it’s complicated but it has to do with how airline systems talk to each other.

Cathay Pacific is a OneWorld Alliance Member as are British Airway and JAL.  As such, one can presume that their systems are fully integrated, meaning that as soon as Cathay releases award inventory, OneWorld Alliance Members can see availability.  This is a very broad generalization and I know from personal experience that not all Alliance computer systems are well integrated.

Alaska Airlines, however, is only a partner airline of Cathay and not a full Alliance member so it would make sense that their systems are not a tightly integrated, which would explain why they didn’t see the First Class award availability.

This is a theory but I think a good one because of what happened next.

Never Give Up

One of my best and worst traits is that I NEVER give up.  This has served me well when I want to secure things like the Marriott 5-Night Travel Package but I know that I can be a pest to some people because I don’t give up when I really want something.

After four separate Alaska reps told me that the availability just wasn’t there, I went and had a great day at the Sydney Opera House with the family and came back home in the afternoon and tried again.

This time, on my first call, the rep confirmed that she saw the availability and was able to book the First Class Seats!

There was no difference in taxes and only an incremental cost of 10,000 Alaska Miles per person, so in the end, I only paid an additional 20,000 Alaska Miles to have all three of us up front again!

As I am an Alaska MVP Gold Member, I was not charged the regular $125 change fee but even if I wasn’t, I’m pretty sure I would be able to talk them out of charging the fee because most airlines don’t see an upgrade to a higher class as a change but rather an upgrade.  Upgrades don’t usually attract any fees but your mileage may vary on this front.

The Total Cost

The flight from JFK-YVR is just over 6 hours which isn’t long enough on Cathay but it’s a great way to travel.  For each First Class seat, I paid 35,000 Alaska Miles and $6.78 in taxes so for three seats, I am out 105,000 miles and $20.34.  Not bad at all, considering that if I were to book the same award with British Airways Avios, it would be 50,000 Avios and about $90 in taxes for each ticket!  This once again verifies for me that Alaska is the best award program out there right now.

Given that I have been able to earn a lot of Alaska Miles by churning the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Credit Card, this flight has cost me very little money out of pocket.

Conclusion

Close-in availability for premium cabins exists and is something that you can book for yourself but persistence is key.  Even if you have your Economy or Business Class seat secured, do yourself a favour and read my series on Close-In Availability so you can understand why you might want to keep your options open in the event an upgrade opens up.

It looks like there is a paid fare in First Class so unfortunately, we have to share the cabin with someone outside our family but I’ll live 🙂

Hopefully, this example of Premium Cabin success will inspire you to try and do the same!


Also published on Medium.

7 Comments
  1. What a great story! Your tenacity is amazing – congrats!

  2. That’s awesome! Love that flight from JFK to YVR, and availability (especially in business class) is generous.

    I find the lag with Alaska seeing availability annoying. Sometimes they see it very shortly after (like in your experience), and sometimes never. Well worth the effort in calling back though. Plus, I find Alaska agents some of the friendliest in the industry.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip! Looking forward to reading more of your flight reviews!

    1. Hey Tyler,

      I agree. The availability in comparison to what partners like BA and AA see can be a bit frustrating but the value that Alaska Miles provides is worth the persistence and you are 100% right in that almost every Alaska rep I have dealt with is friendly and more importantly, competent.

      Cheers
      Jayce

  3. My experience with Alaska has been discouraging over the last couple of years booking travel to Asia from Vancouver on japan airlines and Cathay.

    The first issue is that they always see one seat less than American Airlines does.
    Sometimes they see no seats when American or ba see several, and this is over several days, not just a single day.

    It is particularly difficult to get four seats for a family, so I have had to book using advantage miles instead on a number of occasions, including times that American charges more miles.

    Finally, there is the nuisance agent fee, which I have asked them to waive, but they say they cannot even on Cathay or other airlines which are not bookable online.

    Turning to Europe travel, there tends to be all of these — poor schedules with multiple segments , large cash copayment for bogus taxes, the worst legacy us airway planes if one tries to minimize the copays. And poor availability as well, including reserving 11 months prior . This still applies, though to a lesser degree, if I make my own way to seattle

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your comments and everything you say is a legitimate concern. I have been blessed in that I had Alaska MVP status so things like the call centre fee were waived for me, though that has since expired so we’ll see how it goes going forward. I haven’t tried AS miles to Europe yet but the major carrier partner, BA, is known for ridiculous taxes and fees and as they are losing Air France/KLM as partners, it makes it very difficult to get to Europe without using BA. You could always try Icelandair though I am unsure if they charge fuel surcharge or not.

      Award travel with a family of even 4 can be challenging but certainly doable. You just have to have a lot of flexibility and maybe a willingness to split the party into groups of 2. Keep on pluggin away and I wish you the best success. Cheers

      Jayce

  4. I’m glad this worked out for you. I have taken this flight a few times in first and unfortunately it is not a full first class service probably because of the length and also because some passengers travel through so some things would be repeated. For example there is no caviar service between jfk and Yvr . It is still pretty great and very comfortable. The leg jfk to Yvr I find much better service then Yvr to jfk probably do to the time of the flight as the later is at 2am. Last time I took it out of jfk I found too much service . Just kind of wanted to rest as I flew in from Brussels but was pretty consistently pestered and encouraged to order drinks food etc. I was the only passenger so that might have been it. Looking forward to your opinion. Enjoy the rest of your flights.

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