I’m not sure how helpful this post will actually be, but since my wife is eager for me to book us into Cathay Pacific first class before the American AAdvantage devaluation kicks in, I’ve been doing more research than usual on how to accomplish this feat. I think it’s one of the better uses of American miles at only 135,000 round-trip between North America and Asia, but awards booked after March 22, 2016, will cost 220,000 miles.
Cathay Pacific has made this more difficult in recent years by ending its 747 service to North America and now uses the Boeing 777-300ER on all routes. This aircraft has only six seats in the first class cabin vs. nine on the 747. Making matters worse, some 777s are not configured with any first class cabin, and certain flights only offer the first class configuration on certain days.
I set out to determine which cities I should focus on for my search to find either business or first class award space. What follows are a list of flights with their frequency and the presence or absence of first class cabins. This matters because availability is still pretty good close to departure. If it’s the day before departure, you might find all but one unsold first class seat available as an award. (In other words, if there are four seats left for sale, you’ll find three available as an award.) Thus, knowing how many seats are for sale, in total, could help predict which routes are most likely to see remaining seats made available for awards.
Advance bookings are another story. I searched four months out for travel from Los Angeles and New York and found fewer than five days total that have two or more business class seats. Los Angeles is the only real option for us as we live in Seattle. Still, business class seats can be a safe bet as American will let you upgrade to first class for just the additional miles and no change fee.
The best places to look are going to be Los Angeles and New York – JFK, although San Francisco and Vancouver aren’t bad picks, either. LAX and JFK each have four daily flights with first class cabins on all or most of those planes. Because Cathay Pacific now uses the Boeing 777-300ER for all its routes to North America, that means six first class seats per flight, or up to 24 seats per day.
San Francisco and Vancouver only offer one flight with first class on most days, but just the fact that they have additional flights means you might face less competition as travelers resign themselves to business class in exchange for a better schedule.
Boston, Chicago, and Newark are going to be tough as they have only one daily flight — and sometimes not even that. The Newark and Toronto services don’t offer a first class cabin on any of their aircraft.
Note: I made an effort to confirm the frequency of each flight, but I found conflicting information between Cathay Pacific’s website and ExpertFlyer. I’m happy to make corrections.
|889||1:25||7:00 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|837||13:25||19:00 + 1||Daily||No|
With only 6 first class seats per day, don’t forget that you also have to compete with any passengers connecting from JFK.
|893||00:10||7:05 + 1||Su, W, F||Su only|
|879||11:55||18:55 + 1||Daily||M only|
|873||23:05||6:00 + 2||Daily||Daily|
Although most days have 6 first class seats, a couple bump this up to 12. The only problem is that Sunday and Monday are not ideal dates to begin a vacation. You might be better off flying this route on the way back.
|881||00:10||7:40 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|897||8:25||16:00 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|885||11:25||19:05 + 1||Daily||Su, Th, F, Sa|
|883||22:35||6:00 + 2||Daily||Daily|
With one of the most generous schedules and a convenient West Coast departure, you can find 24 first class seats on most days, and a minimum of 18 seats on the rest. Friday and Saturday are among those days with greater first class availability.
|806||14:05||19:55 + 1||Daily||Daily|
One daily flight, but that flight has first class on every day. This provides an opportunity to book one of 6 first class seats.
|899||1:10||6:00 + 1||Daily||No|
Newark is the only city with no first class service. However, it may provide an overlooked opportunity to snag business class.
New York – JFK
|845||12:45||5:40 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|841||9:00||14:05 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|831||13:55||14:05 + 1||Daily||Daily|
|889||21:10||7:00 + 2||Daily||Daily|
With the most first class capacity of any city, you can find four daily flights to Hong Kong and 24 first class seats per day. However, flight 889 stops in Vancouver, and you may be in competition with other passengers who originate there.
|811||1:30||6:20 + 1||Su, Tu, W, F||Su, Tu, W, F|
As the only city without daily service, you might find it more difficult to get a seat — or maybe that means demand is so low that it will be even easier. Fortunately, all flights from Boston include a first class cabin.
|829||1:20||6:00 + 1||Daily||No|
|825||14:15||18:50 + 1||Su, W, F||No|
Like Newark, there is no fist class service from Toronto despite one or two flights each day. You’ll be better off taking a commuter flight to Boston or JFK.