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This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.
While Cathay Pacific’s Australian flights don’t come with first class – except for a few select flights to Sydney where business class passengers can select a seat in the first class cabin – you’ll find it on the longer legs from Hong Kong to the likes of London, Los Angeles and New York.
However, the Asia Miles program underwent a major revamp in June 2018, and not for the better.
Previously, return trips could be upgraded with a discount. Under the new rules, upgrades are charged on a one-way basis, making a return trip upgrade cost exactly the same as two one-way upgrades.
How many Asia Miles do you need?
The number of Asia Miles you’ll need depends on how far you’re flying. As you’d expect, longer flights require more points, while shorter hops are easier on your hard-earned balance.
Between Hong Kong and London, 50,000 Asia Miles gets you a one-way upgrade to first class when flying with Cathay Pacific. The figure jumps to 55,000 Asia Miles for a similar upgrade to Los Angeles.
In number, that’s now comparable to one-way first class upgrades on Qantas’ own flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, which are a similar distance and command between 45,000 to 56,500 Qantas Points in each direction.n.
That’s not quite the ‘sweet spot’ of the Asia Miles program. On those longer flights to London and LA, you’d only need 25,000 or 28,000 Asia Miles respectively for a one-way upgrade from premium economy to business class, where the difference is much more noticeable than between business and first.
But, if you’re already flying high in business class, here’s how to swap those Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for a first class upgrade on your next journey abroad.
Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon first class upgrades
Cathay Pacific upgrades are all one-class, which sees economy passengers moving forward into premium economy and premium economy passengers jumping into business class, but only business class passengers having a shot as a first class suite.
Whether you’ve booked the cheapest sale fare or the most expensive J-class flexible ticket, the number of Asia Miles you’ll need for the upgrade is the same.
The full upgrade award chart is here:
That also applies to Cathay Dragon, Cathay Pacific’s regional offshoot. The airline offers first class between Hong Kong and a handful of major business cities including Shanghai and Beijing in China:
Prior to check-in, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon upgrades can be confirmed immediately through the Asia Miles website, provided that upgrades are available on your particular flight(s). If they’ve all been snapped up, you can also join the ‘waitlist’, where requests are assessed closer to push back.
You can request your upgrade using an online form on the Asia Miles website, or you can chat to the Asia Miles team over the phone to get the ball rolling. Australian residents can call 1800 129 264 for assistance, which is toll-free from most landline phones.
In any case, not every seat on the plane is open to those who are upgrading – Cathay typically holds back a number first class suites for high-value sales and displaced customers from other delayed flights, even on departure day.
If that’s a concern, we’d suggest giving the Asia Miles team a buzz to check for available upgrades before confirming your business flights.
Cathay Pacific first class upgrades at the airport
Jetsetters can also use their Asia Miles to upgrade at the airport when booked on any Cathay Pacific flight, and on most Cathay Dragon flights too.
At check-in, simply present your membership card and your itinerary, and if a last-minute upgrade is available on your flight, the seat is yours!
Airport upgrades are only available on your next onward flight – so if you’re travelling from Sydney all the way through to London via Hong Kong, you won’t be able to trade in your business class seat as there’s no first class on Cathay Pacific between Sydney and Hong Kong.
(On the return, you could upgrade from London to Hong Kong as it’s the first flight of your journey that day and the aircraft comes with first class.)
If you snag an upgrade at the check-in desk, you’ll pay the usual online ‘one-way’ rate.
A few tips…
If you upgrade closer to wheels-up rather than ahead of time via the Cathay Pacific website, the full onboard menu might not be available to you as in-flight catering is often finalised several hours in advance.
When first class is otherwise full, that could see you without the terrine of foie gras with winter truffle, asparagus and freshly toasted brioche or the scrumptious lemon and vanilla tart with confit, so if you have any food allergies, it’s best to inform the crew before orders are taken.
To cap things off, upgrades aren’t available when travelling on most frequent flyer award tickets, whether you’ve redeemed Asia Miles, Qantas Frequent Flyer points, or miles through other programs like American Airlines AAdvantage.
Additional material by Brandon Loo.