Booking Cathay Pacific Awards: Don’t Let Your Points Get Stranded!

Booking Business and First Class flights using points transferred from another loyalty program can be a logistical challenge. This is notoriously the case with programs like Virgin Atlantic, where sweet spots on ANA F can briefly appear and then disappear by the time you have your points converted to Virgin Miles and are ready to book. Instead, you are left with ‘stranded’ points.

Recently I encountered this same dilemma when trying to book a First Class flight on Cathay Pacific. Read on to learn about my experience and the approach I took to ensure I wasn’t left with stranded Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Prelude: Quickstart Guide to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is the loyalty program of Cathay Pacific, the largest carrier of Hong Kong. Cathay is well known, like many Southeast Asian airlines (EVA, JAL, ANA), for having fantastic hard and soft business and first-class products and service.

Read on to understand the bare basics of how to acquire and redeem Cathay Asia Miles.   

How to Get Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be earned through a welcome bonus on the Neo Cathay Pacific credit card (yet to be launched) and, more importantly, by transferring points from several flexible loyalty programs including:

For Canadians, the easiest path to acquiring a large sum of Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is through signing up or product switching to the RBC Avion Visa Infinite credit card and then transferring your Avion points to Cathay Asia Miles. 

RBC Avion Visa Infinite

The RBC Avion Visa Infinite card earns Avion Elite points and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 1.25x Avion Elite points on all travel purchases. In 2024, we awarded this card as the Best Flexible Points Travel Credit Card.

Check out our RBC Avion Visa Infinite card review for more details.

BONUS
55,000 Avion
MINSPEND
$5,000
NET VALUE
$925+
ANNUAL FEE
$120
FOREX FEES
Yes
EXPIRY
Apr 30, 2024

Related: Check out our Miles & Points Transfer Partner Tool for transfer routes and quoted transfer times for every program in Canada and the USA!

What Can You Book With Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

First and foremost, you can use Cathay Pacific Asia Miles to book flights operated by Cathay Pacific. Making such a booking is subject to a distance-based fixed award chart:

Distance(miles)Economy (Y)Premium Economy (PY)Business (J)First (F)
1 – 7507,50011,00016,000
751 – 2,750(Type 1*)10,00020,00028,00043,000
751 – 2,750(Type 2**)12,50023,00032,00050,000
2,751 – 5,00020,00038,00058,00090,000
5,001 – 7,50027,00050,00084,000125,000
7,501+38,00075,000110,000160,000
*Type 1: Includes cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Perth, Sydney, and Beijing.
**Type 2: Includes all cities in Japan, Indonesia, India, and Nepal.

Aside from Cathay Pacific-operated flights, you can redeem Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for flights operated by one of its Oneworld partners, or one of its many partners outside of Oneworld. A full list can be found on Cathay’s website

Airline partners of Cathay Pacific.
Travelers can redeem Asia Miles to fly the above partner airlines.

Booking partners with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is also a distance-based fixed cost in miles, but there is no official award chart published. Instead, there is an unofficial chart that has been compiled by the public (credit to suitesmile.com).

Distance(miles)Economy (Y)Premium Economy (PY)Business (J)
1 – 75010,00014,00020,000
751 – 2,750(Type 1*)15,00025,00033,000
751 – 2,750(Type 2**)17.5,00028,00037,000
2,751 – 5,00027,00043,00063,000
5,001 – 7,50040,00055,00089,000
7,501+47,00080,000115,000
*Type 1: Includes cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Perth, Sydney, and Beijing.
**Type 2: Includes all cities in Japan, Indonesia, India, and Nepal.

Finally, Cathay has a multi-carrier award chart that allows you to book complex itineraries that include two or more Oneworld partners. The pricing for the Cathay multi-carrier award is quite generous and even allows you to book first class on other Oneworld partners.


Award Zone

Distance (miles)
Required Asia Miles
Economy (Y)Business (J)First (F)
010 – 1,00030,00060,00075,000
021,001 – 1,50035,00065,00085,000
031,501 – 2,00040,00070,00095,000
042,001 – 4,00045,00080,000110,000
054,001 – 7,50063,000100,000150,000
067,501 – 9,00068,000120,000165,000
079,001 – 10,00077,000135,000175,000
0810,001 – 14,00095,000170,000250,000
0914,001 – 18,000105,000210,000310,000
1018,001 – 20,000115,000230,000330,000
1120,001 – 25,000126,000250,000350,000
1225,001 – 35,000140,000265,000365,000
1335,001 – 50,000160,000280,000380,000

We won’t get into the details of multi-carrier award rules and restrictions in this post, but perhaps in a future article. 

Sweet Spots

There are several sweet spots in the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program. For starters, booking with partners that have little to no fuel or carrier-imposed surcharges including Finnair, Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, and Fiji Airways. The multi-carrier award chart also represents fantastic value if you book an ‘around-the-world’ style trip. 

Historically, it has been more points-efficient to book Cathay Pacific-operated flights using points programs other than Cathay Pacific, such as the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. However several award charts including Alaska are getting shaken up in 2024 which may change this.   

However, one advantage to booking Cathay Pacific flights using Cathay Asia Miles is the much better (and earlier) availability of award seats. This is the inspiration for my recent use of Cathay Asia Miles, and consequently this article!

How to Book With Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

For Cathay-operated flights, you can book online using the redeem flight award page. However, for partner awards, only certain airlines are bookable online. The following partners are bookable and will show in Asia Miles searches:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

For other airlines, you will need to search for availability via another Oneworld search engine, such as Seats.aero, Expert Flyer, or even American Airlines (AA.com). Once you find a desired seat, you can call Asia Miles to confirm availability and make the booking.

As with many airlines, award space is opened up first and in greater numbers to Asia Miles members than to partners (for example Alaska Mileage Plan or American AAdvantage). This also applies to how far out you can book. Asia Miles provides access to 360 days of advance availability, whereas other partners get access around 330 days out.

So even if the cost may be higher in points, it can make sense to use Asia Miles to book Cathay flights over using other points programs.

Now that you understand the basics of Cathay, read on to see how I recently made use of ticket holds to safely book Cathay Pacific First Class.

(ACT I) The Dilemma: Delays in Cathay Asia Miles Points Transfers

Transferring points to the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program can take varying amounts of time depending on the originating program. While Citi is quite fast (near instant), most programs including Amex Membership Rewards and RBC Avion Rewards can take up to 5 business days. 

The 5 business day waiting period presents a challenge because, as any savvy award traveler knows, award seat availability can be fleeting at best. 

So recently when I came across availability on Cathay First Class while trying to book flights back to North America from a planned Asia trip, I faced a dilemma. How do I get my points to Cathay without the seat getting snapped up during the agonizing week-long waiting period?

Cathay First Class from 125,000 Asia Miles per one way flight.

This led me down a rabbit hole of sorts where I learned about some airlines allowing “ticket holds”: essentially the airline will book and hold the seat for you for a period of time, giving you time to get your points transferred into their system.

The amount of time the airline will hold the ticket for you is airline-dependent and also appears to be a bit “your mileage may vary” with some airlines. For Cathay, it was apparently 3 weeks.

This seemed like a fantastic solution and almost too good to be true. I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it previously. So I went about calling Cathay Pacific to learn more…

(ACT II) Inconsistent Information From Cathay Asia Miles Agents

Based on published online information about Cathay ticket holds (mostly US points blogs), the following rules applied:

  • Call the Asia Miles reservations line at 1 (833) 895-3535 to place holds.
  • Holds can be placed for up to three weeks.
  • Seats for partners can still disappear. Only Cathay seats are truly on hold.
  • There is a ticket hold fee of $39 per reservation

However, upon calling Cathay, I was told some very different information about the process.

While they mentioned they could put a hold on a ticket, the ticket time limit was only 2 days

I explained that this would be a problem for me because my points, coming from Amex Canada, could certainly take longer than 2 days to arrive. 

The agent presented a curious solution. While it was a bit hard to understand them, they suggested I make the hold, then transfer the points, and then call in again after the expiry to make the hold again for another 2 days. 

Because I had read about a 3-week ticket hold, and because this process seemed a bit obtuse (if they would allow me to extend the ticket hold repeatedly, why not allow a more reasonable amount of time in the first place?), I decided to HUCA (“hang up and call again”) the next day.

Keep Calm and Hang Up Call Again (HUCA) meme.

The next agent gave different information once again. While they still mentioned the ticket hold being 2 days, they said once the points are in transfer, they can do two things if I call back (presumably before the ticket hold expires):

  • Extend the hold further (they didn’t specifically mention 2 days)
  • Expedite the points transfer

By now I was skeptical, but I figured chances were fair that I could at least get the ticket hold extended beyond the initial 2-day limit. So at this point, I decided to go ahead and make the hold.

Also of note, there was no mention of any fee for the ticket hold, another difference from the published accounts of Cathay’s process. 

(ACT III) My Solution: 2-Day Ticket Hold + Many Calls to Customer Service

The agent confirmed all my information for both myself and my travel companion, including my Cathay frequent flyer number. From there, it was a straightforward process and I went ahead and confirmed the hold. I received the following confirmation of the itinerary via email. 

And this is how the held ticket showed up in my Cathay Pacific online account.

I then initiated the points transfer for the required number of points from both my Citi ThankYou account and my American Express Membership Rewards (Canada) account. While I knew Citi was expected to be almost instant or same-day, it was the Amex points I expected to take significantly longer.

The next day, I decided to try my luck by calling Cathay Pacific again and seeing what options I had for an extension or expedition. This time, the agent confirmed with me that I had initiated the transfer of the required points, and reiterated that the 2-day hold could now be extended… but only for another 2 days. They gave me an exact time of expiry of my hold and told me I’d have to call in again on the day of expiry if the points still hadn’t arrived, to add another extension.    

All in all, a rather tedious process but I was confident at this point that I’d be able to completely avoid the risk of losing the seat which was a relief. In fact, the Amex points ended up arriving in my account on the fourth day a bit sooner than expected. 

At that point, I called in to have the ticket issued, at long last.

Thanos resting after redeeming Cathay Asia Miles meme

I was also very pleased that I was able to get advance seat selection sorted at this point (seat selection wasn’t available beforehand for a non-issued ticket). Interestingly, seat selection on the app wouldn’t allow me to change the assigned seats, nor did Cathay agents when calling in. But, when I used the Cathay website I was able to make the selection…

Cathay First Class seats 1A and 2A

The icing on the cake: I was able to get myself and my partner into the two best seats on the plane, 1A and 2A 😀.

Conclusion

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a relatively easy-to-acquire points currency in Canada but may be overlooked by those who consider Cathay’s routes inconvenient or shy away from the idea of transferring large amounts of points with an uncertain transfer period. 

Ticket holds are a useful possibility when booking Cathay-operated flights, allowing one to mitigate the risk of points being ‘stuck’ in limbo. While I received conflicting information on how these ticket holds were administered, the Cathay service line was easy to connect to with virtually no wait time (a stark contrast with Aeroplan…). Even though I had to make many calls, I did not feel overly inconvenienced in securing my award seats.

In my opinion, the strong availability of Cathay Pacific flights for Cathay Asia Miles members presents a decent opportunity for award redemptions for Canadians, especially considering how hard it can be to find two award seats within most points programs these days.

If you have any unique experiences with Cathay Asia Miles, please share them in the comments below!

Reed Sutton

Reed Sutton

Founder at Frugal Flyer
Reed is addicted to the art of earning and redeeming travel points, and frequently pairs his trips with his other hobby: photography. Through Frugal Flyer, Reed aims to distill some of the complex and esoteric points strategies into digestible information. Furthermore, he hopes to use his technical expertise to develop invaluable applications and tools for the travel community.

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