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How to upgrade Cathay Pacific flights with miles

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Flying long haul in economy isn’t often fun, especially when you know you could be flying up front. Cathay Pacific has some of the most coveted First and Business Class products out there, and while upgrading isn’t cheap, it’s a good value compared to full Business Class fares, especially if you’re traveling for work and looking to make the trip more comfortable.

Here’s what you need to know about upgrading your ticket to Premium Economy, Business Class, or First Class with Cathay’s Asia Miles.

What miles you’ll need

In order to upgrade your Cathay Pacific flight, you will need Asia Miles.

Asia Miles can easily be obtained by transferring from Starwood Preferred Guest®, Citi ThankYou® or American Express Membership Rewards®.

SPG® points transfer at a 1:1 ratio (with a bonus 5,000 miles if you transfer in increments of 20,000) and transfers usually take 10 days.

American Express Membership Rewards also transfer to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio and transfers generally take one to seven days.

Keep these long transfer times in mind when you are planning to upgrade your flight because you will need the miles in your account in order to upgrade. If, however, the upgradable space disappears while you are waiting for your miles, there is no way to transfer them back.

How much do upgrades cost?

With Cathay Pacific, you can only upgrade to one cabin class above your purchased fare. This means…

  • Economy tickets upgrade to Premium Economy (unless there is no Premium Economy cabin, in which case they upgrade to Business Class)
  • Premium Economy tickets can be upgraded to Business Class.
  • Business Class tickets can be upgraded to First Class.

The upgrade cost is based on the distance of your flight and the class of service you would like to upgrade to.

In most cases, the sweet spot is upgrading Premium Economy tickets to Business Class.

Unfortunately, not all fare classes are eligible.

You must purchase an R or W fare in order to upgrade Premium Economy to Business Class. If you want to upgrade Business to First Class, you need to purchase I, D, C, or J fares.

If you upgrade a round trip flight, there is a discount compared with upgrading two one way flights. In the table below, upgrade prices are listed as the one way upgrade price / round trip upgrade price.

RouteEconomy to Premium EconomyEconomy to Business*Premium Economy to BusinessBusiness to First
Los Angeles - Hong Kong20,000/30,00040,000/70,00020,000/30,00050,000/85,000
Los Angeles to Bangkok27,500/45,00045,000/80,00027,500/45,00060,000/105,000
New York JFK - Hong Kong27,500/45,00045,000/80,00027,500/45,00060,000/105,000
New York JFK - Bangkok27,500/45,00045,000/80,00027,500/45,00060,000/105,000
New York JFK - New Delhi35,000/55,00055,000/100,00035,000/55,00070,000/120,000

*Only available on flights without a Premium Economy cabin.

Are fuel surcharges added onto the upgrade?

You’re in luck: Cathay Pacific doesn’t charge fuel surcharges, so you won’t have to worry about those being added into your cost if you decide to upgrade. Do keep in mind, however, that Hong Kong airport taxes will be added in for premium cabin upgrades. These aren’t too terrible. To give you an idea of some of the prices:

  • 70 HKG charged for upgrading from Economy to Business, one way, transit flight
  • 20 HKG charged for upgrading from Economy to Business, one way, destination Hong Kong
  • 90 HKG charged for upgrading from Economy to Business, round trip, transit flight

At time of writing, none of these charges amount to over $15 U.S.

What fares can you upgrade?

  • Economy Class fares Y, B, H, K, and M are eligible for upgrade to Premium Economy, or Business Class if there is no Premium Economy.
  • Premium Economy fares W and R are eligible for upgrade to Business Class.
  • Business Class fares J, C, D, or I are eligible for upgrade to First Class.

How much are upgradable fares?

If you want to upgrade yourself to Business Class on an upcoming trip, you will need to purchase a W or R Premium Economy fare if your flight has Premium Economy, or a Y, B, H, K, or M fare class if your flight doesn’t have Premium Economy. Since many of the international flights operated by Cathay Pacific offer Premium Economy, we will focus on flights that do.

R fares aren’t the lowest Premium Economy fares available, so expect to pay over $2,000 roundtrip for the privilege of getting a shot at an upgrade, or around $500 more than the cheapest Premium Economy fares, and over double the cheapest Economy fares.

Prices in the table below are based on round-trip bookings based on sample travel dates in September 2017.

RouteNon-Upgradable PriceUpgradable PriceBusiness Class PriceAdditional Miles (Round Trip)
LAX - HKG$1,878 $2,307 $6,539 30,000
JFK - HKG$2,031 $2,461 $7,573 45,000
LAX - SIN$1,630 $2,510 $5,049 45,000
RouteUpgradeable fare is this much more expensive than the cheapest fare...Savings vs Business Class FareMiles NeededSavings per Mile (cents)
LAX - HKG$429$4,231 30,00014.1
JFK - HKG$430$5,111 45,00011.4
LAX - SIN$880$2,539 45,0005.6

If you’re lucky, you can sometimes find discount Business Class fares available for round $2,500 roundtrip, making an upgrade a poor use of miles.

But if you book last minute and work for a company that will pay for Premium Economy fares, but won’t pay for Business Class, you’ll find good value using miles to upgrade.

And upgrades cost a lot fewer miles than straight up awards. You can upgrade a Premium Economy ticket to Business Class from Los Angeles to Hong Kong for 30,000 miles roundtrip, compared to 120,000 miles for a full Business Class award.

Can partner flights be upgraded with Asia Miles?

Usually partner flights are not eligible for upgrades, but Cathay Pacific Asia Miles does allow some upgrades on partner flights.

British Airways flight booked in economy classes Y, B, and H can be upgraded to Premium Economy. Flights booked in W, T, and E can be upgraded from Premium Economy to Business Class. When there is no Premium Economy on an aircraft, upgrades from economy to Business Class are allowed. Fare classes J, C, D, I, and R are eligible for upgrades from Business Class to First Class.

Upgrades are also available for flights on American Airlines. Fare classes Y, B, and H are eligible for economy to Business Class upgrades. Fare classes J, D, and I are eligible for Business Class to First Class upgrades.

If you’re flying Cathay Dragon, fare classes Y, B, H, K, and M are eligible for economy to Business Class upgrades while J, C, D, and I are eligible for business to First Class upgrades.

No other partner flights can be upgraded.

How to know upgrade space is available

The easiest way to find out if upgrade space is available is to call Asia Miles directly at 1-866-892-2598. If you know you want to upgrade before purchasing your ticket, it is best to confirm that the availability exists ahead of time.

The space that is available for Cathay Pacific upgrade awards is the same space for regular awards.

This means that if you can use your frequent flyer miles for a full ticket, you can use your miles to upgrade.

The best place to check Cathay Pacific award availability online is directly through the Asia Miles site. Flights that have ‘Business Standard’ awards available are open for upgrades to Business Class.


Can you wait list if no upgrades are available?

It is possible to waitlist for an upgrade, but you’ll need to pay close attention to your email. You will receive a notification if your upgrade clears, but you will have to call in to have the upgrade ticketed before a deadline that will be listed in your email or you will lose access to that upgrade.

Do upgrades get lounge access?

If you upgrade with miles, you will get lounge access into the lounge for your ticketed class. This means that Business Class lounge can be accessed with a Business Class ticket and the First Class lounge can be accessed for First Class tickets. Premium economy upgrades do not come with lounge access.

How to book an upgrade

The easiest way to book an upgrade is by calling Asia Miles directly. They can be reached at 1-866-892-2598. This is the method recommended by Asia Miles representatives, especially if you have a connecting itinerary.

It is theoretically possible to book upgrades online through the ‘Manage Booking’ feature on Cathay Pacific’s website, but the feature isn’t always reliable, especially on itineraries with a connection. A better bet is to call Asia Miles and have a representative process the upgrade. That way you’ll know it’s a sure thing.

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January 26, 2017