Anatomy of an Award: Getting Extra First Class on Cathay Pacific

Last month, I mused about my dream trip combining Cathay Pacific First Class, Singapore Suites Class, and the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. I took the first step toward booking the awards necessary for the trip yesterday by putting Cathay Pacific First Class on hold.

In the process of researching my Cathay Pacific flights, I discovered I could add an extra four hours in Cathay Pacific First Class, that I can take a ferry from Hong Kong International Airport to Macao, and where to look for the best First Class space on Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific First Class. Soon to be pictured: me.

Originally when I looked at combining Singapore Suites, Cathay Pacific First, and Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt, I thought I would want to fly Cathay Pacific from Asia to Europe.

I thought about Hong Kong to Frankfurt in Cathay Pacific First Class. Image from gcmap.com

But I searched Hong Kong to London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Milan in First Class and didn’t find any award space for months on any of the routes!

That made me look at flying Cathay Pacific from the US to Asia.

map

Cathay Pacific flies from JFK, ORD, LAX, and SFO to HKG. Image from gcmap.com.

I honed in on flying from New York for a few reasons.

New York has the best award space with 3.5 direct flights per day. (Three nonstops to Hong Kong plus one that routes via Vancouver and means four extra hours of travel.) San Francisco and Los Angeles have two flights each, and Chicago has one daily flight.

New York has the longest flights. The difference isn’t huge, only about two hours of extra flying compared to the shortest flights from San Francisco.

Data from gcmap.com

And finally, I owe New York a visit. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been there, and I want to see a few shows.

Searching for JFK to Hong Kong

The most important leg of the trip is the transpacific segment, so I started my search there. I plan to use American Airlines miles for the award, but aa.com doesn’t display Cathay Pacific award space, so I searched ba.com for award space. (Here’s a tutorial on doing that.)

Award space is excellent at the end of the winter when I’m planning my trip. Most days there are multiple options in Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong.

The two most common flights with space were the 9 AM and 1:55 PM departures.

But I also saw award space on the 10 PM departure that lays over briefly in Vancouver. It’s easy to tell apart from the nonstops, which are 4-5 hours shorter.

Knowing that award space wouldn’t be a problem, I considered the other elements of the trip, namely where in Asia the award would terminate and whether to add a free oneway.

Where to Go in Asia

I want most of my approximately one month trip to be spent in Southeast Asia. Right now I’m thinking Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Because I’m pretty flexible about where I want to arrive and because intra-Asia flights on low cost carriers are dirt cheap, I actually spent more time solving my other concern: I really wanted to fly Cathay Pacific First Class out of Hong Kong to see the ground experience instead of just into Hong Kong.

I assumed that Cathay Pacific only had business class intra-Asia, so I figured I was out of luck, but I googled Cathay Pacific’s routes with First Class and found this FlyerTalk thread: “OW first class routes thread.”

From it I learned that there are a number of short intra-Asia routes that do have First Class at least occasionally (presumably because Cathay Pacific doesn’t want its 777s idle for very many hours.). On the list, the most intriguing First Class option was Singapore because it would get me four more hours in Cathay Pacific First Class and put me at a low cost carrier hub, from which I could easily connect anywhere I wanted.

To determine which flights to Singapore had First Class, I searched kayak.com for First Class flights between HKG and SIN. The few that showed up tended to have award space when I searched for them on ba.com using the same process as my New York to Hong Kong search.

The beauty of adding a Hong Kong to Singapore flight to the award is that Hong Kong and Singapore are in the same region on the American Airlines award chart (Asia 2), so the extra four hours in Cathay Pacific First Class add zero miles to the award’s price and just a few dollars in taxes.

23 Hour Layover

I have mixed feelings about 23 hour layovers, which are always possible on international award tickets. I know one can’t get a full experience of a city in 23 hours, but they’re still lots of fun.

If my award was going to be New York to Hong Kong to Singapore, I could layover in Hong Kong just enough time to connect to Singapore or up to 24 hours to explore the area a bit.

I decided to stretch the layover as long as I could because I have been interested in going to Macao for years to see how the world’s highest revenue gambling destination compares to Las Vegas.

I learned from Cathay Pacific’s site that there are direct ferries from the airport to Macao. If there’s any place I can fully experience in 23 hours, it will be Macao, since I love the glitz and energy of Las Vegas, but my enthusiasm fades quickly.

from google maps

With the 23-hour plan made, I matched up a Hong Kong to Singapore First Class award seat with a JFK to Hing Kong First Class seat that landed as close to 24 hours beforehand as possible.

Now I’ll get to see Macao and experience departure services for First Class passengers leaving Hong Kong.

Free Oneway

American Airlines allows stopovers on international awards at the North American International Gateway city, in this case New York. That means I could fly a free oneway from somewhere in North America to New York any time between now and the Asia trip in first class.

(There’s more to it than I could explain in those two sentences. See Master Thread: Free Oneways on American Airlines Awards.)

I decided against adding one because I don’t live in New York, so the free oneway would be much harder for me to use.

If I had the chance to add a free oneway after the award, as you can on awards that return to the US, I would add one speculatively, since it would just add a few dollars in taxes and no miles to the award’s price. But I can’t add one speculatively before the award. If you don’t fly the first segment of an award–even if it’s a free oneway–the whole thing is cancelled. And if I realized I couldn’t fly the award, so I called in to cancel the free oneway, the change fee would be $150.

So I left the free oneway on the table.

Booking the Award

The award is not booked yet. A day before I expected the 43,000 American Airlines miles from the Citi AA business card I got last month to hit my account, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to put the award on hold.

I fed the agent the two segments I had found and asked to put them on the five day courtesy hold American Airlines offers. The award priced out at 67,500 + $43. That was $18 in taxes plus an unavoidable $25 phone fee.

The American Airlines miles are now in my account, so I will call in to ticket the award in the next day or two.

Recap

I love that frequent flyer miles can take a trip from a fantasy to an actually ticketed trip to a memory–even trips that I could never afford in a million years. Last month I had a crazy plan to check off three incredible First Class products I’ve wanted to try, and now I’m one third of the way through booking the trip. This third of the trip costs $15,699 for people without frequent flyer miles.

Hopefully I’ll book the second part from Singapore to Europe in Singapore Suites Class on an A380 in the next few weeks, and then I’ll book Frankfurt to the US in Lufthansa First Class within a few weeks of that flight. That’s the plan anyway.

Have you booked any aspirational awards lately?



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24 Responses to Anatomy of an Award: Getting Extra First Class on Cathay Pacific

  1. You might be the only blogger I read that advocates for spending more time in transit via indirect routings – not exactly how I want to spend my “vacation.”

    I also find it odd you tend to select your destinations by the number of hours they can get you in first class, then turn around and sleep in a hostel or other low class joint. I’m pretty sure I’ll never understand this blog.

  2. If you want to spend some time in New York, why wouldn’t you start your ticket from where you’ll be (LA?) to NYC and a stopover in NYC? Stopovers are international gateways are allowed on oneways for AA awards, right? Is it because you don’t know where the starting point will be?

  3. From what I learned on No Reservations, it’s completely different from Vegas. The food is awesome, and so is the artchitecture. Lots of Portugese influence. I’m going to do that same trip in 2 months, spending a week between the two cities.

    • Would love to see a trip report on your visit to Macao. I have a friend gigging in one of the casinos (maybe he could get me on a gig for a couple nights!), he loves it there. Wondering if I might stopover myself enroute to Thailand/Laos/Cambodia over winter holidays.

  4. Are you allowed to look for segments at a time seperately and just feed each one to the operator on the phone as long as it’s less than 24 hrs at the layover?

  5. Genius tip on the ferries! I am going to seriously consider visiting a friend in Macao, if he’s around when I am.

  6. I’d be very careful about expecting First Class on your HKG-SIN leg. CX is notorious for swapping equipment on their inter-Asia flights all the time. Looks like you have given them about 8 months to change their mind on using a 3 class B77W on the route. I’d bet better then even money that you’ll end up in Business on a 2 class B773.

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  8. Correct me if I am wrong, I assumed time that you will arrive to Hong Kong by 19:00 and depart for Singapore the next day at 20:00 flight. Isn’t that a 25hr layover instead of 23hr? Would AA consider that a stopover?

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  10. Getting around Macau is pretty easy, if you take all of the free casino shuttles. We only took a cab to get to an infamous pork chop sandwich restaurant. For my money I prefer HK, but I’m not a huge gambling guy.

    Some more info, if you’re interested: http://theselfishyears.com/2013/04/12/exploring-the-casinos-in-macau/

    http://theselfishyears.com/2013/04/13/the-non-gambling-side-of-macau/

    Having not been to the only two, I can only recommend Vietnam – which is amazing and undeveloped, especially compared to the rest of SE Asia, like Thailand. I’d hit up Hoi Anh, and maybe the intercon Danang.

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  15. Scott – I’ve got CX F r/t SFO-HKG booked with AA. Can I belatedly add a one way to Hawaii?

  16. I have spent months trying to use my Enrich points to get a Cathay Pacific business class ex HKG to YVR and not successful.What am I doing that is not right?

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