Sad news for Canadian travellers, and Vancouverites in particular: Cathay Pacific will be ending their fifth-freedom route from Vancouver to New York as of April 2020.
As reported by The Points Guy, the tag-on flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver and then to New York (Flight 888 in the eastbound direction and Flight 856 in the westbound) has been unprofitable for the airline for many years. As a result, the Hong Kong-based airline will be discontinuing these flights as of April next year, although no official date has been set for the final service.
The Best Transcontinental Flight?
There’s certainly an argument to be made that Cathay Pacific’s Vancouver–JFK flight was the single best way to fly between North America’s two coasts. If you’re flying with any of Canada or the US’s leading airlines, you’d be lucky to get a lie-flat bed in business class and a meal that doesn’t taste like reheated cardboard.
But if you happen to catch Cathay Pacific’s Vancouver–JFK service, you’d be able to enjoy the spectacular onboard product of what is widely known as one of the world’s leading airlines without having to leave the continent.
Best of all, you could even treat yourself to the magnificent Cathay Pacific First Class experience for the short five-hour journey, including the full ground experience at either the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Vancouver or the American Airlines Flagship First Lounge JFK, where you’d be invited for a meal at the lounge’s signature Flagship First Dining room.
In particular, this flight has always been a fan favourite among Vancouver-based travellers – what better way to head to New York than pampering yourself in the Cathay Pacific Lounge, stepping onboard in the highly intimate six-person First Class cabin, enjoying a full gourmet meal shortly after take-off, catching up on your beauty sleep in Cathay Pacific’s incredibly spacious First Class suite, and landing in New York in the morning ready to go?
Alas, there are only about eight months left to take advantage of this niche little opportunity to get a taste of world-class luxury on what would otherwise be a rather uninspiring transcontinental journey. If you want to book a flight in business class or First Class on the Vancouver–JFK route, there are several different ways of making it happen using miles that you can easily earn in Canada.
If you use Alaska miles, it’ll be 25,000 miles one-way for business class and 35,000 miles one-way for First Class – that is to say that a single MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard application, plus a little bit of casual spending, would get you enough miles to sample this First Class opportunity before it’s gone.
You could also redeem British Airways Avios. The route clocks in at 2,449 miles in distance, so you’d pay the mileage pricing for Zone 4 in Avios’s distance-based reward chart. That means you’ll pay 38,750 Avios for a one-way journey in business class or 51,500 Avios for a one-way in First Class.
The last option? Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. As a distance-based award program, Asia Miles will charge you 25,000 miles one-way for business class and 40,000 miles one-way for First Class. These prices are pretty reasonable, and best of all, Cathay Pacific usually makes more award space available for its own members than for its partner programs, so your chances of snagging an award seat on this route are significantly higher.
You can transfer Amex MR points to Asia Miles at a 1:0.75 ratio, or RBC Avion points at a 1:1 ratio, so it’s also pretty easy to earn the 40,000 Asia Miles required to make this special experience happen.
The End of a Popular Alaska Miles Sweet Spot
Not only does the discontinuation of the Vancouver–JFK fifth-freedom route spell the end of the best way to fly across North America, but it also kills one of the most lucrative Alaska Airlines sweet spots – or should I say, sweet-spot-within-a-sweet-spot – that Vancouver-based travellers have enjoyed for many years.
Namely, Alaska Mileage Plan allows you to add a stopover for free on a one-way itinerary, and when you’re flying Cathay Pacific, you’re allowed to designate the stopover point as the intermediate city on one of Cathay Pacific’s fifth-freedom routes.
This means that it’s been possible to book a First Class flight from New York to Vancouver, do a stopover in Vancouver, and then continue on to Hong Kong in First Class before flying onwards to anywhere else in Asia, the Middle East (Dubai, Bahrain, or Tel Aviv), or South Africa (Johannesburg or Cape Town) – in First Class if it’s available, otherwise in business class – all for 70,000 Alaska miles!
If you live in Vancouver, this means you’re basically using the Alaska sweet spot to build two separate trips – one as the return journey from a New York getaway, and the other as the outbound flight for a trip to Asia, the Middle East, or South Africa (or the other way around). For 70,000 Alaska miles, that has been a simply unbeatable value.
Of course, with the Vancouver–JFK route being phased out, so too will this sweet-spot-within-a-sweet-spot be consigned to the history books.
You’ll still be able to book First Class awards to Asia and beyond for 70,000 Alaska miles, of course, but no longer will Vancouverites be able to use it to make two trips out of one – so if you’re interested in taking advantage of it, you don’t have long left to plan those two trips!
(If you get a generous Alaska agent when you’re booking Cathay Pacific over the phone, you might even have been able to book a trip departing from Vancouver, going to JFK, and then backtracking across the Pacific to get to Hong Kong and then onwards to your final destination for the same 70,000 Alaska miles – netting you an incredible 21+ hours in First Class. Creative routings like these will also be off the table by April 2020.)
Vancouver Will Be Served By Three-Class 777s: No More First Class
Alas, the sad news doesn’t stop there.
The cutting of the Hong Kong–Vancouver–JFK service means that Cathay Pacific’s services to both Vancouver and New York will now be one short. The airline would therefore need to reassess how to continue serving both of these markets in an effective way.
Their decision does not paint a pretty picture for Canadians. While they’ve decided to add a fourth-daily service to New York using the Airbus A350, they’ll be keeping their frequency to Vancouver at the new post-April 2020 level of two flights per day, and they’ll be readjusting their aircraft utilization to meet the demand that’s vacated by Flights 888/856.
In particular, they’ll be swapping out the current four-class Boeing 777s used on the Vancouver route for higher-density three-class Boeing 777s with more seats in the same amount of space, which means the elimination of First Class altogether from the Hong Kong–Vancouver route.
Since the Hong Kong–Toronto route was already operated by a three-class Airbus A350, this means that as of April 2020, there will no longer be any direct flights from Canada on which you can book Cathay Pacific First Class. If you wanted to treat yourself to the Cathay First experience, you’d need to route through one of the US gateway cities: Boston, New York JFK, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.
If you live in Western Canada, you’d still be able to book everything on the same Alaska Airlines redemption – you’d just have to fly down to one of the gateway cities on Alaska Airlines flights before continuing on to Cathay Pacific.
Meanwhile, if you’re booking on a distance-based program like Avios or Asia Miles, you’d likely require a positioning flight to avoid paying a punitive amount of miles for having to connect in the US.
There’s no doubt that these route developments are hugely negative for Canadians in pursuit of affordable and easily accessible luxurious travel experiences. Not only does Cathay Pacific’s phasing out of the Vancouver–JFK route bring an end to one of the most enjoyable transcontinental flights out there, but the resultant aircraft upgauge on the Hong Kong–Vancouver route to a denser aircraft type also eliminates direct First Class flights out of Canada entirely.
If you’d like to sample Cathay Pacific’s incredible First Class suites out of Vancouver (whether to New York JFK or to Hong Kong), you have just about eight months to do so!