Cathay Pacific business class upgrade guide

By Chris C., December 4 2018
Cathay Pacific business class upgrade guide

If you’re travelling with Cathay Pacific in premium economy, why not take the oportunity to upgrade to the comfort of business class?

You could use your Asia Miles to secure your upgraded seat, or even cold hard cash during special promotions. Selected frequent flyers can also be upgraded to business class for free in return for their ongoing loyalty.

Wherever your travels take you, here’s everything you need to know about landing a business class upgrade on Cathay Pacific from Australia to Hong Kong and beyond.

Cathay Pacific business class upgrades 101

Upgrades on Cathay Pacific are all one-class – meaning economy passengers can move forward into premium economy, but only premium economy travellers can grab a seat in business class.

There's an exception if you're on a Cathay Pacific flight where premium economy isn't offered, in which case you could indeed upgrade from economy straight to business class.

Also note that the number of upgrades available on any given flight can be limited, and even then, not all fare types can be upgraded using miles.

From premium economy, upgrades are permitted from the higher W- and R-class fares, but not the discounted E-class sale fares.

If you're in a position to upgrade from economy to business class you'll need to be booked on a flexible Y, B, H, K, L, M or V ticket: selecting anything else keeps you stuck down the back.

Provided you're on an eligible ticket, upgrades can be confirmed instantly via the Cathay website, wherever available.

Should you be booking a ticket and intending to upgrade, we'd strongly advise contacting the Cathay team to check what's available before paying for your premium economy ticket, as being flexible with your dates or schedule could help secure a coveted upgrade.

Here are the current rates for upgrades, listed per one-way sector.

You can upgrade to business class between Sydney and Hong Kong for 18,000 miles, or you could upgrade your full Sydney-HK-Sydney trip for 36,000 miles.

It's a similar scenario for journeys onwards from Hong Kong to the likes of London and Los Angeles, which can both be upgraded one-way for 25,000 miles.

Keep in mind, however, that upgrades are subject to availability, and you'll need to be booked on a Cathay Pacific (CX) flight number aboard a Cathay Pacific aircraft (not a codeshare flight).

Free Cathay Pacific business class upgrades using Status Points

An exclusive perk for Cathay Pacific's Cathay Gold and Diamond members, complimentary upgrades to business class are also possible using single-sector 'Bookable Upgrades': gifted by the airline to those top-tier travellers once they reach certain Status Points milestones. 

Both Gold and Diamond members receive four single-sector Bookable Upgrades when reaching 1,000 and 1,600 Status Points respectively, usable on flights of up to 3,700 miles in the case of Gold members, and of any distance in the case of their Diamond counterparts.

Again, those upgrades are subject to availability, and can only be redeemed on flights marketed and operated by Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific business class upgrades at the airport

Making a last-minute trip somewhere and didn't have a chance to upgrade online? No dramas: you can use Asia Miles to upgrade at the airport, too.

Available on all Cathay Pacific flights, you simply present your membership card and your itinerary to the check-in staff. If a last-minute upgrade is available on your flight, the seat is yours!

Sit back and relax... you're flying in business class now!
Sit back and relax... you're flying in business class now!

Airport upgrades are only available on your next onward flight – so if you’re travelling from Sydney to London via Hong Kong, you can only upgrade the Sydney-Hong Kong flight while on the ground in Australia.

These upgrades are also charged at the same ‘one-way’ rate as online.

Paying for Cathay Pacific business class upgrades

Even if you are not a Cathay member, make sure your current email address is attached to your Cathay Pacific reservation, as the airline routinely sends 'Upgrade Bids' invitations around seven days before departure. 

Similarly to Qantas Bid Now Upgrades, Cathay Pacific's Upgrade Bids allow you to bid for available upgrades in an auction-like system. However, while Qantas allows passengers to use both cash and points to place bids, Cathay Pacific only accepts cash.

Note, however, that participation in an Upgrade Bids promotion is by invitation only, and there's no way to 'request' a paid upgrade offer if you haven't received one. 

A few tips…

As with most airlines, upgrading from one class to another means you'll earn frequent flyer points and status credits as per your original premium economy (or economy) fare, rather than at the higher business class rates enjoyed by full-fare-paying travellers.

You also won't be able to upgrade when travelling on a ticket which was already booked using frequent flyer points, whether through Cathay Pacific's Cathay scheme, Qantas Frequent Flyer or any other program.

Also note that if you upgrade at the airport, you probably won't have a guaranteed meal aboard.

It's unlikely the crew would have nothing to offer you but expect to be served only after orders have been taken from the other passengers who confirmed their flight in advance.

Additional material by Brandon Loo.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

20 Apr 2014

Total posts 93

not such great value when you can only upgrade from prohibitively expensive W & R Class PE tickets

Outright business class redemptions are better value with Asia Miles

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2443

If your company will only pay for premium economy and you're the type of traveller who flies so often for work that they can't imagine taking another flight to go on holiday, using miles to upgrade an existing flight can be a good way to go. :)

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

I disagree. An R class fare MEL-HKG return is $2200 to $2800 depending on season. A redemption upgrade to business return is 22,500 Asiamiles. Business class fares MEL-HKG return start at about $6600. A business class redemption is 80,000.

Do the maths and it is clear you get about double the value per Asiamile by upgrading instead of redeeming outright. 

Also in my experience, the strike rate on redemption upgrades is excellent. I have been travelling this route for about 2 years and I have been upgraded about 90% of the time.

21 Aug 2016

Total posts 1

I'm new to Cathay Pacific and I find the Asia Miles program pretty much a scam.  I transferred 400,000 miles from my Starwood account to Asia Miles so I could reserve first class tickets on points.  Byt even though the first class cabin in completely empty on the days I wanted to book, I'm on a "waitlist".  I called Cathy Pacific to see what I could do.  The reservation agent told me I'd have better luck booking a business class ticket and then upgrading.  So I paid $10,500 for two busines class tickets and asked to use 205,000 points I transferred to Asia miles to upgrade the tickets. Again I'm on a "waitlist", even though first class is completely empty.  What the point of miles if you can't use them?  Absurd.  

02 Jun 2016

Total posts 8

yes they are notorious for that I'm a Gold Asia Miles member and I've been denied upgrade even there were empty seats it's infuriating ...and they are more expensive then Qantas!! I've flown with them for nearly 20 yrs and now I'm walking away!! anyway they seem to be going down the gurgeller's Karma !! when they treat loyal customers that way as I've heard that from other travellers being denied seats when there's empty ones as well !!

14 Jan 2018

Total posts 4

Anyone knows what fare bracket award or RTW premium economy is booked in CX? If they book in W/R then you might be in luck.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Dec 2012

Total posts 20

We (×2 pp) flew with the religiously for about 8 years with more than half of those years as Gold members and paying biz class fares on flights. The last year we had to cancel a flight due to family illness. They gave us a credit on our fares but when we tried to use the credit, they wouldn't let us use it against the CX website published fares. We had to pay an exorbitant rate to use the credit. Since that time about 3 years ago, we have not given them any more of our hard earnt money but instead spread the love around. We have not flown below biz class fares since then...

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

In my experience, CX seem to have tightened up their upgrades over the past year or two.

I generally book about 2-3 months out and at that point most flights are on waitlist for an upgrade.

I generally only get the upgrade confirmed ahead of my flight if the J cabin is half full. If there are 5 or 6 seats left, no dice.

However, upgrades at the airport are a different story. I generally get one if there are any J seats left at all, although often they won't confirm until an hour or so before departure.

It helps a lot to be MPO Gold though - they give preference to elite MPOs.

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 99

I have been a MPC member for over 20 years and supported the airline which has been reciprocated with excellent redemptions via Asiamiles however that all changed in June 2018 . Award seats are extremely scarce and even at elite level I have found it impossible to secure redemption seats either outright or as an upgrade regarless of cabin loads even at half capacity . On Many flights I have been waitlisted for a PE to J upgrade and been denied only to discover on board the J cabin is less than half full . I have approached the MPC for comment ,they avoided an explanation..I have managed to secure an award seat on the rare occasion but only two days prior to departure as it seems the majority of award seats remain on waitlist until just before departure. In my experience Asiamiles has been downgraded considerably and for Australian based members the redemption rates are considerably higher e.g. J class Syd Hkg return now 90,000 points up 10,000!

As a result CX is no longer my preferred airline. Unfortunately Loyalty is no longer reciprocal.

21 Apr 2017

Total posts 47

In recent times I have had very good success with premium economy > business class redemption upgrades particularly at check in however business class loads can be heavy sometimes. It is common for the waitlist not to clear and only to get the upgrade at check-in or just prior boarding. I think CX treats its MPC elites very well indeed relative to the competition and I have no complaints at all.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

02 Mar 2018

Total posts 10

I'm going to be flying PE from BCN -> SYD in September of next year (one way).

Looks like I need 50k asia miles to upgrade us both on the BCN HK leg. A few questions:

1. What credit card has the best sign up deal.
2. Given its instant upgrade, what are my chances of getting an upgrade around jan - 9 months out?


22 Aug 2023

Total posts 1

The Cathay Pacific Business Class upgrade using Asia Miles mileage is a scam. I booked a flight from LAX to HKG 10 months ahead of the departure date. I called the Cathay Pacific phone number, the agent said the Business Class seat for upgrade is available. Once I made the Premium Econ Flex ticket booking and paid cash for the ticket, I can call back and request an upgrade from Premium Econ Flex to Business Class using Asia Miles mileage (I have more than enough Asia Miles mileage for this upgrade.) When I called back, another agent at Cathay Pacific call-center told me that I am on the Waitlist for the upgrade. I won't know if I can get an upgrade until couple of days before the departure date. So, even though I paid full price of a Premium Econ Flex ticket with CASH, I still could not secure a Business Class upgrade. Of course, Cathay Pacific wants to sell ALL of their Business Class tickets in full price to the passengers. There is no such thing as "some Business Class seats are available for upgrade." Only if there is an unsold Business Class seat available just a day before departure, it is available for Waitlist passengers. If no Business Class seat available on departure date, whoever paid for the Premium Econ Flex ticket would not get the upgrade. In this case, why one pays hundreds of dollars more for the "Flex" ticket just to be on the Waitlist and eventually could get no upgrade after all. Is this a scam or not. No wonder Cathay Pacific is making tons of money recently.

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