The best value is found in return trip upgrades, rather than redeeming separately for two one-way flights, and the number of points required depends on how far you’ll be travelling. Logically, more points are needed on longer flights, while fewer points can see you moved forward on those shorter hops.
On most Sydney-Hong Kong and Sydney-Singapore getaways, 22,500 Asia Miles is enough for a return upgrade to business with both British Airways and Cathay Pacific.
From Hong Kong, longer flights to London and Los Angeles can be upgraded for 30,000 Asia Miles on the round trip, which is terrific value.
Here’s what you need to know to turn those lingering Cathay Pacific Asia Miles into a business class seat on your next journey abroad.
Cathay Pacific business class upgrades
Cathay Pacific upgrades are all one-class – meaning economy passengers can move forward into premium economy, but only premium economy travellers can grab a seat in business class.
The more expensive W- and R-class Cathay premium economy fares are eligible for upgrades, although the cheaper ‘E bucket’ fares don’t allow this.
British Airways business class upgradesBritish Airways is a little more generous, offering upgrades from all World Traveller Plus premium economy tickets.
For both Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, that’s anything in the Y, B, H, K and M fare buckets.
American Airlines and British Airways are less generous in this regard, capping upgrades to travellers on full-fare Y, B and H economy tickets.
Prior to check-in, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair upgrades can be confirmed immediately through the Asia Miles website, provided that upgrades are available on your flight. If they’ve all been snapped up, you can also join the ‘waitlist’, where requests are assessed closer to wheels-up.
Upgrades on British Airways and American Airlines have to be processed manually.
With these airlines, requests can be lodged online or over the phone to the Asia Miles team. Australian residents can call 1800 129 264 for assistance, which is toll-free from most fixed phones.
In any case, not every seat is available for upgrading – Cathay and its other partner airlines typically hold back a number business class seats for high-value sales, even on departure day.
If that’s a concern, we’d recommend giving the Asia Miles team a call and checking for available upgrades before paying for your premium economy flights.
Cathay Pacific business class upgrades at the airportTravellers can also use their Asia Miles to upgrade at the airport when booked on any Cathay Pacific flight, and on most Dragonair 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 to London via Hong Kong, you can only upgrade the Sydney-Hong Kong flight while on the ground in Australia.
That being the case, upgrades are charged at the higher ‘one-way’ rate, which is a little less generous than a pre-arranged return trip upgrade. If you have the chance to upgrade online, it’s the best option.
Exclusively available in Cathay’s city-state hub, Asia Miles members also have the option to upgrade with only 70% of the required mileage, using cash or a credit card to cover the spread.
Top-up miles are sold in blocks of 2,000 at US$60 per block, converted into Hong Kong dollars on departure day.
If you’re breaking that Sydney-London journey with a stopover in Hong Kong, the onward Hong Kong-London sector could be upgraded from premium economy to business class for the full 20,000 Asia Miles at check-in.
A budding road warrior with only 14,000 miles in their account could also secure an upgrade on that flight with a co-payment of just US$180 – or around A$192 on today’s rate.
Cathay Pacific business class upgrade auctionsPassengers travelling on selected routes between June 20 and November 12 2014 can bid for a business class upgrade through the Cathay website, with bump-ups going to the highest cash bidder.
Dubbed Enhance, the upgrade auction scheme is currently available on selected flights between Hong Kong and Perth, London, Paris, New York/Newark, Toronto, Moscow, Seoul, Surabaya and Cebu.
Like Asia Miles upgrades, the auctions are also one-class – so you’ll need a premium economy ticket in order to bid for business class.
Cathay Pacific says that travellers who are eligible for Enhance will receive an instant invitation on the booking confirmation page if they book online, or will receive an email invitation seven days before departure if they booked through a travel agent.
"Follow the steps on the invitation, submit your personal information, and make an offer." the airline explains. "If your offer was accepted, we will contact you 2-3 days before your flight to confirm the upgrade."
A few tips…
If your upgrade to business class is successful, you’ll only earn Asia Miles and Marco Polo Club miles and sectors as applicable to your original premium economy fare.
Also, upgrades aren’t available when travelling on most frequent flyer award tickets, whether booked through Asia Miles, Qantas Frequent Flyer or any other program.
One final tip: if you upgrade close to wheels-up, the full on-board menu might not be available to you.
On full flights, that could severely limit your meal choices, so if you have any food allergies, it’s best to inform the crew before orders are taken.