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A Guide to Getting a Cathay Pacific Upgrade

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Flying a long-haul flight in economy class isn’t fun, so if you have the miles to upgrade to a premium cabin, you should always explore that option to make your trip more comfortable. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has some of the most coveted first, business and premium economy products out there. While upgrading isn’t cheap, it’s a good value compared with paying full business class fares, especially if you’re traveling regularly and crave a more enjoyable experience.

Here’s what you need to know about upgrading your ticket to premium economy, business class or first class under Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles loyalty program.

What miles do you need for upgrades?

Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program is Asia Miles. Aside from flying on the Hong Kong-based carrier, points from three credit card programs — Marriott Bonvoy™, Citi ThankYou® and American Express Membership Rewards® — can be transferred to Asia Miles.

Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and the program awards you 5,000 bonus miles each time you transfer 60,000 of them. Citi ThankYou points transfer to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio (1,000 points to 1,000 miles). American Express Membership Rewards also transfer to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio.

Keep point transfer times in mind when planning your flight with Asia Miles because they may not post immediately and need to be in your account to upgrade. If the upgrade space disappears while you are waiting for your points to convert to miles, there is no way to transfer them back.

How much do upgrades cost?

You can only upgrade to one cabin class above your purchased fare, outlined below:

  • 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 cost of the upgrade is based on the distance of your flight and the class of service. In most cases, the sweet spot is upgrading Premium Economy tickets to business class. Unfortunately, not all fare classes are eligible. In the table below, upgrade prices are listed, one way.

Cathay Pacific Tailored Upgrade

What fares can you upgrade?

  • J, C, D, I (business class) for upgrades to first class
  • W, R (Premium Economy class) for upgrades to Business Class
  • Y, B, H, K, M, L, V (economy class) for upgrades to Premium Economy class (for flights with Premium Economy class)
  • Y, B, H, K, M, L, V (economy class) for upgrades to business class (for flights without Premium Economy class only)

Upgrades can be booked up to 360 days before departure, while airport upgrade awards can only be booked during check-in at the airport. To confirm upgrades, a traveler must have a confirmed seat and ticket issued in an eligible fare class.

How much are upgradeable fares?

If you want to upgrade to business class, you need to buy 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 Cathay Pacific’s international flights offer Premium Economy, we will focus on flights that do.

Prices in the table below are based on round-trip bookings based on sample travel dates in September 2019.

How much are upgradeable fares example
Route Non-Upgradeable Price Upgradeable Price Business Class Price Additional Miles (Roundtrip)
HKG – LAX $853 $1,600 $7,600 55,000
JFK – HKG $675.60  $1,342.60 $4,825.60 65,000
LAX – SIN $699.69 $1,380.69 $4,203.17 35,000

If you book a last-minute flight and work for a company that will pay for premium economy but not business class, you’ll find good value using miles to upgrade.

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 35,000 miles each way, compared with redeeming many more miles for a full business class award, outlined below.

Asia Miles Standard Award

A Standard award, based on one-way zones, costs the most to redeem at 125,000 Asia Miles round-trip to sit in business class.

Asia Miles Choice Award

Choice awards offer more seat availability and the chance to book from Premium Economy to business class up 360 days in advance. However, choice awards can only be used on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights.

Asia Miles Tailored

Tailored awards can be used for upgrades booked up to 360 days in advance on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon only. Tailored economy, Premium Economy and business class are available on all flight lengths. However, tailored first class flight awards are only available on ultra-short and short hauls.

Can partner flights be upgraded with Asia Miles?

Usually, partner flights are not eligible for upgrades, but Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles does allow some upgrades on partner flights among its oneworld alliance airline partners.

British Airways flights 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. 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. The Y fare class is eligible for economy to business class upgrades. Fare classes W and P are eligible for upgrades from Premium Economy to business class. And fare classes J, D, R and I are eligible for business class 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 buying 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 waitlist if no upgrades are available?

If no upgrade space is available after calling Asia Miles, you can ask the agent to put you on a wait list in case a seat in a premium cabin. After hanging up, check the status of bookings for Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights any time on its website. Log in with your Asia Miles account, and click “Manage booking.” After that, you can select your booking to review the latest status, including the wait list.

Once your flight is confirmed, you will receive an email from Cathay Pacific saying you successfully upgraded your ticket. Go to the website, log in, click the “Manage this booking” button and select “Issue award ticket.”

Do upgrades get lounge access?

If you upgrade with miles, you get lounge access based on your ticketed class. A business class ticket gets you into that lounge and the same with first-class tickets. Premium economy upgrades don’t come with lounge access.

How to book an upgrade

The easiest way to book an upgrade is by calling Asia Miles directly at 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.

The bottom line

The Asia Miles loyalty program allows travelers to get good deals when they upgrade to Cathay Pacific’s business and first-class cabins. And thanks to its oneworld membership, passengers can also use their American Airlines AAdvantage® miles or British Airways Executive Club Avios for seat upgrades.

Like any airline, if you take the time to research the upgrades you want and plan your trip far enough in advance, your odds of receiving an upgrade are better. It also helps if you can be flexible with your travel dates, since it may be harder to snag upgrades during peak travel times.