Anatomy of an Award: Cathay Pacific First Class and Qantas First Class on a Trip to Australia and Hong Kong


Recently a friend came to me with an award request along the lines of what I have done for hundreds of clients of the MileValue Award Booking Service.

He wanted to visit Sydney during its summer and Hong Kong on the same trip. He wanted to fly in some of the world’s nicest airline products. And he wanted to maximize his weekends because he could only budget seven vacation days for the trip.

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Through several rounds of Free Credit Card Consultations, he had built impressive six-figure balances with United, American, Delta, US Airways, and Ultimate Rewards.

I suggested that we use his US Airways miles now–before they are devalued next year–to get him into Cathay Pacific First Class and Qantas First Class, two of the world’s nicest First Classes. I helped book him an 11 day trip that uses only seven vacation days, gives him time in each city, and costs only 140k miles roundtrip.

He had gotten all of his US Airways miles from The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, which currently offers 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

  • How did I know that using US Airways miles would be the best value?
  • How did I search for the very rare Qantas First Class space on an A380 between the United States and Australia?
  • How did I search for Cathay Pacific First Class?
  • With what routing rules did I have to comply?
  • What were his options for a free oneway?
  • How exactly did I book the award?

Why US Airways Miles

When I saw the destinations of Sydney and Hong Kong, I knew that US Airways miles would be the best to use.

US Airways just joined oneworld this year, and both cities are hubs for oneworld alliance members–Qantas in Sydney and Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong.

Of course American Airlines is also a member of oneworld, but American does not allow routings to Australia via Asia on a single award or stopovers on awards. That means that American Airlines would treat a routing like

  • Los Angeles to Hong Kong (67.5k miles)
  • Hong Kong to Sydney (45k miles)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles (72.5k miles)

as three separate one way awards and charge the full price for each award–listed in parentheses above–of 185k miles total.

US Airways allows routings to Australia via Asia and allows one stopover OR one open jaw per roundtrip award, so the award my friend had in mind would be only 140k US Airways miles in First Class.

Beyond the low price in miles, US Airways’ partners are also ideal for someone who wants to fly the world’s nicest airline products. I loved Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong, and I stared forlornly at the empty First Class cabin when I flew Business Class on a Qantas A380.

This Bed for 15 Hours in Cathay First

Searching for Award Space

For all award bookings, start your search with the most difficult segment.

I knew that finding a flight in Qantas First Class between the United States and Australia would be the most difficult segment of this trip. Those seats are extremely rare. Luckily my friend doubled my chances of finding him one because he didn’t care whether he flew to Hong Kong or Sydney first.

I headed to, the best place to search Qantas award space, and searched for Los Angeles to Sydney and Sydney to Los Angeles award space for early 2015–Australia’s next summer. Here’s how to search

US Airways miles have access to all of the Qantas space that appears on

As expected, space was rare, but I found two dates with award space on the direct flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in First Class next February.

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The flight is great for maximizing vacation time, since it takes off at 10:20 PM, meaning you can work all day and then catch the flight.

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With the outbound out of the way, I moved on to the return. The ideal way to use his seven vacation days would be to return on a Sunday flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

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Leaves Wednesday the 11th after work. Seven vacation days in red.

I searched for Cathay Pacific First Class space on (here’s how) for a Sunday return. All the Cathay Pacific award space on is available to US Airways miles.

There was award space in First Class on two different flights that day between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. That didn’t surprise me since Cathay Pacific routes have the most award space during the low season of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.

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With the beginning and end of the trip decided upon, the last step was to find award space for the leg between Sydney and Hong Kong.

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Unfortunately the direct Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights between Hong Kong and Sydney in 2015 do not have First Class. Luckily on almost any award, you can include a flight in a lesser cabin. You don’t get a discount though.

Cathay Pacific flies the route with an A330 with an awesome Business Class product in which all seats have aisle access and convert to fully flat beds.

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Space was widely available on the route in Business Class, so he chose a flight that gave him six days in Sydney and three in Hong Kong.

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Routing Rules and Free Oneways

US Airways awards allow one stopover OR one open jaw.

My friend wanted to use his stopover in Hong Kong, which means he could not use an open jaw. Since he flew into Sydney, he had to fly back out of it. And since he started in Los Angeles, he had to end there.

If he wants to see more of Australia like Melbourne or the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, he’ll have to book that excursion as a separate roundtrip award. (I’d recommend using British Airways Avios.)

Using his stopover in Hong Kong also precludes my friend from booking the possible, but complicated, Free Oneways on US Airways Awards.

Booking the Award

To book this award, my friend called US Airways at 800-622-1015. He gave the agent the date, cabin, cities, and flight number for each flight I had found for him. She was able to put the three segments onto one award in just a few minutes.

The total cost was 140k US Airways miles + $226.31. That was $176.31 in taxes plus a $50 award processing fee. The award processing fee is reduced or eliminated for US Airways elites. US Airways never charges a phone fee to book awards that are not bookable online. (Online you can only book awards with US Airways and American Airlines flights.)

Getting the Miles

Right now The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

The three reasons to get this card now are:

  1. Big sign up bonus.
  2. No minimum spending requirement in an age of $3,000, $5,000, and $10,000 spending requirements to unlock sign up bonuses.
  3. Your ability to get the 40,000 bonus miles will end when the card stops accepting new applications in early 2015. (If you get the card now, you can use them on the current US Airways award chart or on the future American Airlines award chart after the programs combine.)

Also, you can often buy US Airways miles for 1.88 cents each including through the end of this month.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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    • Very, very difficult although earlier this month there was space for July 2014 between LAX and Australia in Qantas First for multiple passengers. Would be easier in economy or business for multiple passengers.

    • You used to be able to get the card more than once. Now you can transfer in Starpoints or buy the miles for 1.13 cents during SHARE MILES deals or 1.88 cents during BUY MILES deals.

  1. So what do you think is the most “value” redemption of travel time in F class you’ve been able to book for a client one way. I was able to do a NRT-BKK-FRA in TG F then tag on flights in J but was wondering if anything is bookable one way on 4+ F segments if not more.

    • All the best one way F award redemptions are gone since United has a new chart and American has strict rules for which continents you can transit. The best I can think of would be with AA miles and would be something like JFK-LAX (AA), LAX-NRT (JAL), NRT-HKG-??? (trying to find a short route with Cathay First, though there are often aircraft swaps).

  2. Hi Scott,
    I tried to book 2 business awards using US Airways miles from LAX to SYD with a stop over in Hong Kong on the outbound. Then on the return, it’s SYD to LAX but with a transit (less than 24 hours) through Hong Kong. The US Airways agent said it is backtracking and therefore in valid. Do you think it is doable? Any help is appreciated! 🙂

  3. I tried to book (for March-April 2015) LAX to Hong Kong, stopover in Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Auckland and back to LAX, and the system wouldn’t ticket it because it was over some maximum mile limit that they follow. I tried three different agents, all of whom were willing to ticket it, but the system kept kicking it back out. Then they’d put me on hold for a long time to figure out what the problem was, and it was always this maximum mileage thing. One agent said they’d been getting extra training that very week on the issue. FYI. I ended up booking an open-jaw LAX to Hong Kong then AK to LAX and used an economy award from AA to get from Hong Kong to AKL, only 25,000 miles. And US Air (which had no first class or biz seats) charged 60,000 round trip for the rest of it.


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