How I Booked A Cathay Pacific Award By Breaking ‘Married Segment’ Logic

by Chris Dong

Alaska’s Mileage Plan can provide incredible value when it comes to partner redemptions. One of my favorites (and a favorite of many in the points and miles game) is using Alaska miles to book Cathay Pacific premium cabin awards.

One of the best uses of Alaska miles is to book Cathay business and first class awards from the US to Asia as well as Europe to Hong Kong.

Of course, this is all subject to finding availability. And it feels like Cathay Pacific has gotten increasingly stingy with partner award availability (both for its Oneworld partners and Alaska Mileage Plan).

(Part of the issue is the dearth in first class availability between Hong Kong and certain US markets after the great mistake fare of 2019.)

This is a quick post about my recent experience searching for and booking a Cathay Pacific award with Alaska Mileage Plan when seemingly there was no availability. The key was to creatively use (and break) married segment logic to your advantage. 

What Are Married Segments? 

Like many other airline programs, Cathay Pacific often employs a married segment logic when it comes to releasing seats that you can use miles to redeem.

What does that mean? Married segment logic simply means an airline is controlling their flight inventory by processing two or more segments together. When these segments are booked, a marriage is established and they must be processed as a unit. Matthew over at Live and Let’s Fly has a great breakdown on married segments if you want to learn more.

In award booking terms with Cathay Pacific, here is how married segment logic would work.

Cathay Pacific Married Segment Awards 

Searching for a direct Cathay Pacific flight to and from Hong Kong might result in zero partner award seats. But what about searching for a Cathay Pacific flight that had a connection in Hong Kong onwards to another destination that Cathay serves? Suddenly, seats become available for the entire itinerary using partner miles.

That in and of itself isn’t particularly groundbreaking. However, what was new (at least to me) was that Alaska’s Mileage Plan program has the ability to break the married segment. A divorce is good in this case.

Using Alaska Miles To Break Cathay Pacific’s Married Segment

Cathay Pacific A350 business class

I was searching for an award flight in business class from Europe to Asia. As mentioned, one of the best options is Cathay Pacific, using Alaska miles. A one-way Cathay Pacific business class flight from Europe to Hong Kong requires just 42,500 Alaska miles.

Note that on Alaska’s award charts above, flying from the US to Asia on Cathay Pacific allows you to transit (and stopover) in Hong Kong with just one award. However, when flying from Europe, you can only fly direct to Hong Kong on one award ticket. If you wanted to fly elsewhere in Asia on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong, this would require two separate awards. 

What I Searched For

I searched for Cathay Pacific availability on British Airways’ website, one of the best ways to look for a Cathay award seats. Keep in mind that you can’t see Cathay award space on BA’s website within a week of travel. In that case, use Qantas’ website.

For my search in early October, there was zero business class award space on any Cathay Pacific direct flight to Hong Kong from a European gateway. I searched for London (Gatwick & Heathrow), Manchester, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Milan, and Rome. Nada.

No award seats direct from BRU to HKG but plenty of seats from BRU to HKG to BKK

However, it dawned on me that Cathay might employ married segment logic — so I searched for flights from Europe to Bangkok out of curiosity. Besides the Qatar and British Airways options, suddenly, a plethora of business class award seats opened up from a few European cities. Still, there was nothing available from Frankfurt, my preferred choice.

However, there were at least eight business class seats going from Brussels to Hong Kong and onwards to Bangkok. That Brussels flight is a 4x weekly frequency on Cathay’s new Airbus A350.

Calling Alaska To Book The Cathay Pacific Flight

Alaska is one of those airlines where calling an agent actually isn’t a pain. In my experience, their reservations team is consistently friendly. After doing my research about availability, I gave Alaska a call to see if they could book my award from Brussels to Bangkok via Hong Kong. While I did not mind flying onwards to Bangkok, I was hoping Alaska would be able to just book the segment from Brussels to Hong Kong.

After putting in my request, the agent put me on hold to calculate the two separate awards. When I inquired if I could just book the Brussels to Hong Kong direct flight, the agent said that wouldn’t be a problem. Score.

The Upshot 

While this might not be new information, I thought it could be helpful for someone hamstrung by Cathay Pacific’s married segment award logic.

It is not possible to book Cathay Pacific awards on Alaska’s website so calling an agent is the only way to do it. I suspect part of the reason why breaking the married segment is possible is because Alaska requires two separate awards — one for Europe to Hong Kong and another for intra-Asia. I did not try breaking a married segment between the US and Asia.

Have you had luck breaking married segment logic on a Cathay Pacific award booking? 

Related: A Guide To Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

10 comments
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10 comments

Andre September 16, 2019 - 6:19 pm

THANK YOU FOR THIS!

Reply
Slinky September 17, 2019 - 2:37 pm

Can AA agents do this too?

Reply
Chris Dong September 17, 2019 - 4:57 pm

YMMV but let us know how it goes. I know this works with Alaska, I’ve done it twice.

Reply
Pete December 5, 2019 - 12:24 pm

I would think that Alaska agents should be able to break up the US-Asia married segments because they search for availability separately anyway. But until someone tries it and it works…
But great idea.

Reply
Christian December 5, 2019 - 1:29 pm

Great to know. Thanks.

Reply
debit December 5, 2019 - 1:40 pm

US is unique in that you have claim your bags at first port of entry even if you are just transiting. This can be used aggressively advantageously in married segments. Which other countries are like these. Destinations in those countries are prime targets for married segments.

Reply
Jacob December 5, 2019 - 8:05 pm

Thanks Chris!!! Very useful info.

Reply
Linmoron December 6, 2019 - 3:56 am

good job donger

Reply
Chilangoflyer December 6, 2019 - 5:09 am

This problem exists the other way, too. I have a ticket from FRA to SYD on Thai with a forced two night stopover in BKK (no flights BKK-SYD before, Miles&More Ticket). When space opened on BKK-SYD, I tried to change the booking. The M&M agents were not able to put this open seat into my booking…

Reply
Sam January 25, 2020 - 11:17 pm

I booked a first class seat over a month ago on CX using Ak Air points from LAX – HKG @ 70K pts. Once award space comes open, Ak Air will add the HKG – SIN in business class two days later, for a free stopover in HKG. I also spoke with the agent and they are trying to figure out a way to get me from IAH – LAX in first. They have added a comment to my notes saying that the addition from IAH to LAX and HKG to SIN are still considered part of the original itinerary. Another agent tried to charge me a change fee for trying to add the domestic portion.

Reply

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