Cathay Pacific temporarily closing half of its lounges

Beginner's guide: how to use frequent flyer points on Cathay Pacific flights

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER
GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 6 minutes
POSTED: February 21, 2020
UPDATED: February 21, 2020
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

Political strife and health concerns around the coronavirus COVID-19 have reduced travel demand through Hong Kong so much so that its flag carrier is temporarily closing three of its six lounges.

From 17 February 2020 until further notice, the following lounges are closed:

It’s a real shame that The Pier is closing as it’s better than the other First Class lounge, The Wing, which will remain open.

The Pier First Class Lounge

The Bridge and The Deck are not a huge loss as The Pier and The Wing Business Class Lounges are both better than the former two.

The Qantas International Lounge is still a solid option for those flying on Qantas, Cathay Pacific or another oneworld airline.

Qantas International Lounge Hong Kong

Finally, those travelling on any airline and holding an eligible American Express card can enter the American Express Centurion LoungePriority Pass members can enter any of the three Plaza Premium Lounges.

This is a real shame for Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific, who this week announced they are cutting the number of flights to (but still serving) the five Australian airports it serves.


A beginner’s guide to using frequent flyer points on Cathay Pacific flights

Hong Kong-based oneworld alliance member Cathay Pacific is a favourite carrier of ours here at Point Hacks, offering one of the most superior and consistent First and Business Class experiences of any premium carrier in the world.

The airline offers flights between Auckland and Hong Kong on their modern A350 aircraft (including seasonal flights from Christchurch), comfortable lie-flat Business Class seats, and generous award availability onto a wide network of destinations.

In this guide, we explore Cathay Pacific’s routes, aircraft and premium cabin products, teach you how to calculate how many points you need for your next trip on the airline, analyse which frequent flyer programs offer the best value, advise how and when to book an award seat, and provide links to Point Hacks reviews of Cathay Pacific flights.


Routes, aircraft and cabins

Cathay Pacific has flights between its Hong Kong hub and:

  • Auckland
  • Christchurch (seasonal)

Further afield, here are Cathay Pacific’s destinations (as of February 2020), concentrated on Asia, North America, Europe and South Africa (in order of most to least destinations):

Its low-cost subsidiary Cathay Dragon destinations operates exclusively within Asia:

Cathay also operates a number of fifth freedom flights (services that do not originate or terminate in Hong Kong) between:

  • Taipei and Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka
  • Bangkok and Singapore

First Class

This cabin is flown exclusively by the Boeing 777-300ER mostly on long-haul flights with six open suites in a 1-1-1 configuration. It is renowned for its wide seat and excellent lounge access options.

Cathay Pacific First Class

Here are the routes with the First Class product:

North America

  • Boston
  • Chicago (First Class not offered from 1 June 2020)
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Vancouver (First Class not offered from 27 May 2020)

Europe

  • Frankfurt
  • London Heathrow
  • Milan
  • Paris
  • Zurich

Asia

  • Beijing
  • Tokyo Haneda

The airline used to operate First Class on intra-Asia routes to Taipei, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai and Seoul, but stopped selling these tickets in June 2019.

These are the cheapest ways to experience Cathay Pacific First Class using Qantas Points, with Hong Kong – Beijing/Tokyo being two highlights.

Departing Hong Kong, you’ll have access to two excellent First Class lounges. Which one is better?

Business Class

The majority of Cathay’s medium- and long-haul routes are serviced by a combination of Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft, featuring lie-flat Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

There are two exceptions to this:

  • Routes serviced by the Airbus A340 also have a lie-flat seat but in a 1-1-1 setup
  • Regional routes serviced by some Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-200 and -300 aircraft have angled seats in a 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 layout—try to avoid this aircraft if you can

The most modern aircraft in the fleet, the A350, is gradually replacing the older A330s. It has been introduced between Hong Kong and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

The Airbus A350 is quieter and more environmentally-friendly and reduces jetlag by circulating more oxygen through the cabin

Premium Economy

Premium Economy can be found mostly on medium- and long-haul routes in a 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 configuration.

The A350 has a newer product with more legroom and an upgraded inflight entertainment system…
…whereas the 777 and A330 product is more dated

To understand why we focus on premium cabin redemptions rather than Economy Class ones, check out our guide to maximising value from points.

How to calculate points pricing and taxes

Say you want to book an award flight from Christchurch to London.

  • Step 1: To calculate the distance between the two airports, go to Great Circle Mapper and enter the airport codes CHC-LON in the search box (Google ‘Christchurch airport code’ if you don’t know the code). We measure distance for frequent flyer programs in miles, not kilometres:
CHC-LON-Cathay-Pacific
  • Step 2: Depending on which points currency/ies you have access to, go to the distance-based Asia Miles or Qantas Frequent Flyer award chart to determine the points cost of your redemption relative to the distance, cabin and one-way/return trip. AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan have region-based award charts, so you don’t need the exact distance for those ones.

When clicking through to the Asia Miles award chart, I can see my 11,783-mile trip to London would cost 85,000 one-way/170,000 return in Business Class.

  • Step 3: To calculate the taxes payable on your award flight, you have a few different options:

If you are an Asia Miles member, go to the Asia Miles online booking tool, enter the flight details and if there are open seats, you will see the taxes displayed on the results page.

If you are using another frequent flyer program like Qantas or AAdvantage, the taxes will show on the results page there (again, as long as there is award availability).

If there is no award availability, you might consider using the more advanced ITA Matrix method.

Sweet spots

  • Alaska Mileage Plan: offers overall the best value redemptions on Cathay Pacific but you’ll probably have to buy miles to get a hold of them; no fuel surcharges; redemptions from Australia to Africa, Europe, India and the Middle East via Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific must be booked as two separate awards; all other redemptions can be booked as one award with a free stopover; you cannot use Mileage Plans miles for redemptions on Cathay Dragon—only Cathay Pacific
  • AAdvantage: this program offers the second best value overall, especially when travelling from the extreme of one region to another, e.g. Auckland to New York, Melbourne to London; again, best to buy miles; no fuel surcharges; only layovers up to 24 hours permitted for free, otherwise, two separate awards needed
  • British Airways Executive Club: offers good value for intra-Asia trips; as BA calculates cost based on each leg, you may as well book two one-way segments and have a stopover in Hong Kong (if that is not your final destination); fuel surcharges applied
  • Asia Miles: allows one stopover on one-way and two on roundtrip awards; fuel surcharges applied
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: not much good news here – amongst the highest redemption rates and fuel surcharges applied; only layovers up to 24 hours permitted for free, otherwise, two separate awards needed

How to search for award availability

American Airlines AAdvantage is the best website to use for searching for availability on Cathay Pacific.

Do you need to call to book or can you do it online?

  • Asia Miles: online
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: online
  • British Airways Executive Club: online
  • AAdvantage: phone
  • Alaska Mileage Plan: phone (booking fee applies)

When does award calendar availability open up?

Cathay will release award seats to its own Asia Miles members 360 days before departure for it Choice and Tailored awards, and 353 days before departure for its Saver awards.

British Airways and Qantas get next dibs at 354 and 353 days, respectively.

And then AAdvantage and Mileage Plan members can access Cathay award seats 331 days before the flight.

Cathay will also then release some unsold First Class seats 24-48 hours before departure.

Summing up

If you’ve got access to Asia Miles, Qantas Points, Avios, AAdvantage or Mileage Plan miles, then a Business or First Class redemption on Cathay Pacific will most likely get you good value out of your points, as well as a professional and comfortable experience both on the ground and in the air.

Do try to line up your flights so they provide you with a modern aircraft and product, and take advantage of free stopovers with Asia Miles and Mileage Plan redemptions.

Links to related guides and reviews

Guides

Flight reviews

Lounge reviews

Supplementary images courtesy Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific temporarily closing half of its lounges was last modified: February 21st, 2020 by Matt Moffitt