Narrowing Down Dates/Routes For Cathay Pacific And JAL Premium Cabin Redemptions

Two of the most popular airlines for premium cabin redemptions are Cathay Pacific and JAL. Unfortunately, due to their popularity, it can be difficult at times to find the award space you want. Thankfully, Cathay Pacific and JAL are both great about releasing unpurchased premium cabin seats into award inventory. That creates the problem of how do you tell which flights are likely to have space open up on them? Here is my method for narrowing down which dates and routes I search regularly if I am looking for premium cabin space on Cathay Pacific or JAL.

The method I outline here works for every cabin, though for my examples I am going to focus on first and business class award tickets since they are the most coveted. I will also preface this by saying I have a premium subscription to ExpertFlyer and having a subscription is the only way I have found to accurately and quickly judge remaining space. You can get a free 5 day trial, or you can pay $9.99 for unlimited search queries for a month. Just remember to cancel your subscription after you have finished using ExpertFlyer for what you need. If you travel a lot, you should already have a subscription!

With that said, on to my method! The first thing I always do is determine what date range I am looking to travel during and how much flexibility I have those in dates. Once you have narrowed down your dates, sign in to your ExpertFlyer account and select “Flight Availability” from the ExpertFlyer Tools bar.

EF 1

That will bring you to this page:

EF 2

Now it is important to know which routes Cathay Pacific and/or JAL operate from the US to Asia and vice versa. As I previously wrote about in my Beginner’s Guide to Booking Cathay Pacific Flights Using AA Miles, Cathay Pacific operates the following routes from the US:

Flight NumberDepartureArrivalFrequencyFirst Class Cabin?
811Boston (BOS)Hong Kong (HKG)Su, Tu, W, FSu, Tu, W, F
899Newark (EWR)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyNo
845New York (JFK)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
841New York (JFK)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
831New York (JFK)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
889New York (JFK)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
829Toronto (YYZ)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyNo
825Toronto (YYZ)Hong Kong (HKG)Su, W, FNo
806Chicago (ORD)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
881Los Angeles (LAX)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
897Los Angeles (LAX)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
885Los Angeles (LAX)Hong Kong (HKG)DailySu, Th, F, Sa
883Los Angeles (LAX)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
893San Francisco (SFO)Hong Kong (HKG)Su, W, FSu
879San Francisco (SFO)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyM
873San Francisco (SFO)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
889Vancouver (YVR)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyDaily
837Vancouver (YVR)Hong Kong (HKG)DailyNo

While JAL operates from the US to Asia on the following routes:

Flight NumberDepartureArrivalFrequencyFirst Class Cabin?
JL 7Boston (BOS)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 3New York (JFK)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 5New York (JFK)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyDaily
JL 9Chicago (ORD)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyDaily
JL 11Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 61Los Angeles (LAX)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyDaily
JL 69Los Angeles (LAX) Osaka (KIX)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 65San Diego (SAN)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 17Vancouver (YVR)Tokyo - Narita (NRT)DailyNo - 787 Only
JL 1San Francisco (SFO)Tokyo - Haneda (HND)DailyDaily

Now that you know which routes each airline operates, you can plug in the routing that you want. For example, I searched for Cathay Pacific availability on February 17 from Hong Kong (HKG) to Chicago (ORD).

EF 3

That search returned the following results:

CX 1

Now you have to decipher what the available classes mean. F & A are going to be your first class seats; J, C, D & I are going to be your business class seats; W, R & E are going to be your premium economy seats; and Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N, Q and O are going to be your economy class seats. For purposes of our example, we will focus on classes F and J.

Within ~2 weeks of departure, both Cathay Pacific and JAL are extremely consistent in releasing all but 1 of their first class seats and all but 2 of their business class seats. They reserve these seats for last minute purchases, but ~24-48 hours prior to departure, will generally release those seats into award inventory as well.

So what does this mean? Well, let’s take a look at what the British Airways search tool is showing as available for award tickets on CX 806.

CX 2

Since CX 806 was showing J9, you can see they have released a ton of business class space for award tickets. The same goes for the premium economy cabin where they were showing W9 and have released 8 of those seats to award inventory. How about first class? First class was showing F2 and since it was less than 48 hours before departure for this particular flight when I did the search, you can see that Cathay Pacific has released both of those remaining first class seats to award inventory.

Trust me when I tell you this is not a bad way to spend a 14 hour flight!

IMG_2539 (2)

The same will hold true for JAL flights. For example, if we search Tokyo – Narita (NRT) to New York (JFK), we return the following results:

JL 2

Since this particular flight departs less than 48 hours from when I did the search, and since the flight is showing F1 and J9, we should see 1 first class seat and at least a few business class seats available for award tickets. Sure enough, we see that JAL has released their 1 remaining first class seat and 4 business class seats into award inventory.

JL 1

Again, trust me when I tell you flying this for 12+ hours will ruin you for any other type of travel:


So, now that we know the trends that Cathay Pacific and JAL use for releasing remaining premium cabin seats into award inventory, how do we put this information to good use? Pretty simply actually. All you have to do is input your date(s) and route(s) into the ExpertFlyer Flight Availability Search and check to fare class loads. For example, if you see F1 or F0 for a flight you want first class on, there is not much sense in searching for award inventory on that route any time before ~48 hours prior to departure.

CX 5

In the above example, I know that CX 888 and CX 830 are not likely to have any first class space open up as the cabins are currently sold out. Since CX 888 is showing J9 though, chances are good right now that they will open up some business class space ~2 weeks prior to departure. Alternatively, CX 840 is showing F2 and CX 846 is showing F3, which means if these flight times work for me, I should start checking award space religiously ~2 weeks prior to departure as it is highly likely that first class award space will become available on those flights.

For flights like the Chicago (ORD) flight where there is only 1 flight per day, if you see fewer than F2 or fewer than J7, you can write that flight off and exclude it from your award searches until ~2 weeks prior to departure as they are unlikely to release any of that award space until then.

I recently utilized this method when I was looking for an additional first class seat on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong back to the US. When I saw F0 on all of the flights to New York (JFK) and San Francisco (SFO), I was able to exclude them from my award searches which saved me quite a bit of time. By focusing on the flights where I knew there was still space available in the first class cabin, I also increased my likelihood of searching for the inventory around the time the inventory was released as I was focused on only a few key routes.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this helps shed some light on how to narrow down the date(s) and/or route(s) that you are searching for your premium cabin redemptions on Cathay Pacific and JAL. I use this method personally and have found it to be pretty much spot on 99% of the time.

Have any of you utilized this method with success?

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