Booking Cathay Pacific First Class

The other day, I booked my first award ticket through a phone reservations office. I wanted to spend 67,500 American Airlines miles to fly from the US to Bangkok in Cathay Pacific first class. Cathay Pacific awards can’t be booked via the website, so you have to call American at 1-800-433-7300 to book your award where they’ll charge you a $25 per person booking fee for this (in)convenience.

My award wasn’t completely straightforward, though, since I wanted to add on a free one-way to my ticket. The most important part of my ticket was SFO to HKG to BKK in Cathay Pacific first and business (the flight that I booked from HKG to BKK is served by a 2-cabin plane), but American allows for stopovers at international gateway cities. Since SFO is my international gateway city, that means I could add a free domestic one-way in first class (subject to some rules that are better explained on other blogs) prior to my trip to BKK. I decided that I might as well use this opportunity to get a free one-way ticket from NY and get the chance to experience American’s Flagship Service, so the actual routing that I wanted to book was JFK to SFO, stopover in SF for several months, then SFO to HKG to BKK.

After calling the reservations line and inputing my information, I was given the option to hang up and get a call back later. This took about 30 minutes. When I got called back, the agent on the line was initially quite friendly, but as soon as I asked if I could read her some flight numbers, her mood quickly turned. At this point, I probably should have hung up and called again. It’s not that she was unfriendly per se, but she definitely seemed a little resentful that I wasn’t letting her find my flights.

I read her the flights that I wanted, and at first, everything was fine since I had already confirmed that space existed using the British Airways website, but she wanted to price out the award at 100,000 miles–32.5k for JFK to SFO + 67.5k for SFO to HKG to BKK.

Here’s a brief version of the conversation:

Me: “Is there a reason why this award priced as two separate one ways and not a single award with a stopover?”

Agent: “You can’t stopover for so long. You’re flying to SF in July and not continuing on for several months.”

Me: “Is there a time limit to a stopover? I thought that they could be of any length, and you’re allowed to take a stopover at the international gateway city.”

Agent: “Yeah, I think you’re right about the stopover. Let me put you on hold… So you’re allowed to have a stopover if you’re transiting from Asia 1 to Asia 2, but you’re just going straight to Asia 2 from the US, so it’s not allowed”

Me: ????

Agent: “Yes, if you wanted a stopover in Tokyo, that’d be fine, since Tokyo is in Asia 1 while Bangkok is in Asia 2. But Hong Kong and Bangkok are both in Asia 2, so you can’t have a stopover.”

Me: “So you’re telling me that I can only have a stopover in San Francisco if I transit from Asia 1 to Asia 2?”

Agent: “Yep, that’s right.”

Me: (this agent doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so I know that I need to hang up and call again) “Can I just put this ticket on hold for now and book it later?”

Agent: “Why do you want to put it on hold? I’m just going to put a note on your account saying that I told you that you can’t have a stopover unless you transit from Asia 1 to Asia 2”

Me: (eff me, this is not good) “What if I just drop the JFK to SFO leg? Can I just put the SFO to BKK part on hold”

Agent: “Yeah, okay”

So at the end of my very lengthy phone call, I only got the SFO to HKG to BKK part put on hold, but I figured that I’d try calling back later to add on my free one way.

To my surprise, about 20 minutes later, I got another call from American. This time, it was a supervisor who said that she had heard about the award that I was trying to book and she thought that what I was doing was fine, so she had contacted the rate desk to force through my original award for only 67,500 miles. Score!

It still took quite a while for the whole thing to get booked as she had to contact the rate desk multiple times (partly because the taxes weren’t calculating correctly), but at the end of the day, I got my routing booked for 67,500 AA miles and only $5 in fees since she waived the phone reservation fee. The supervisor was also really apologetic for how long everything had taken me, and I really commend her for taking the extra step and making sure that things were right.

All in all, it took me about 2 hours from my initial call to the reservations line to the time I got everything booked. Granted, most of that time was being put on hold so I was able to get some other work done, but I definitely have a newfound appreciation for all of the award-booking services out there.

13 thoughts on “Booking Cathay Pacific First Class

  1. David

    The one-way from JFK-SFO appears to be within the rules (as many bloggers are so apt to remind us), but why was it so hard to do? I am also based in SFO, and was surprised that the stopover could be added to a one-way award.

    1. Edward

      I think it was hard to do just because the agent was unfamiliar with the stopover rules and because I had somehow gotten off to the wrong start by not letting her do the searching herself (I think she was offended that I didn’t let her do her job). It seems like a large part in determining the helpfulness of telephone agents is based on whatever rapport (or lack thereof) that gets established at the beginning of the conversation. If you somehow piss off the agent, then you’ll likely run into many problems even if you’re in the right; if you get the agent to like you, you’ll probably be able to get away with things that might not generally be accepted.

      In general, it is very generous that I can have a free one-way from JFK to SFO months before my trip, and even though JFK-SFO-HKG-BKK is a relatively direct routing, having a lengthy stopover at SFO violates the intent of the award, which Lucky talks about in one of his blog posts ( So even though the stopover is technically within the rules, agents might use the memo on intent to try to say it’s not allowed.

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  3. Shannon

    I am sorry you had a horrible agent! The U.S Airway agents, on the other hand, would be very happy I just read them my flights.

    1. EfficientAsianMan

      Haha, US Airways can be great for exactly that reason.

      For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t classify my AA agent as horrible: I ended up getting the itinerary that I wanted at the end of the day, and I don’t think I would have received that call back from a supervisor if she hadn’t been trying to help.

      1. Shannon

        The second one definitely knew the rule better and tried to fix it but I think the first was not so nice while threatening to take note…I think I probably will lose it.

    1. EfficientAsianMan

      I will do a trip report once I actually take the flight! Cathay Pacific first class award availability is best right when the schedule opens (i.e. 11 months in advance) and right before the flight takes place (i.e. within 2 weeks of departure). In this case, this anecdote is from an award that I booked 11 months in advance, so the bulk of the trip will be taking place in February. I’ve already flown the JFK to SFO leg and am currently in the midst of the 6-month stopover that the phone agent originally did not want to ticket.

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