Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: How Do Waitlist Bookings Work?

Most frequent flyer programs around the world operate on a very simple concept of award availability: if an award flight is available, then you can book it; otherwise, tough luck and check back later. 

In this regard, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is one of the few programs to do things a little more creatively, giving their members the option to make waitlist bookings on Cathay Pacific flights, as something of a halfway step between snagging a confirmed award ticket and having zero chance of booking a flight. 

Given that Asia Miles is among the most accessible points currencies for Canadians in terms of credit card signup bonuses and transfer partners, I thought it was about time we took a closer look at how the Asia Miles waitlist function works and how you can use it to your advantage, even if it entails a little bit of delayed gratification in securing your flight in one of Cathay Pacific’s premium cabins. 

In This Post

How the Asia Miles Waitlist Works

To begin, let’s go over some of the basic rules on making the Asia Miles waitlist bookings. It’s important to note that much of the information here is sourced from Asia Miles members’ experiences on various forums, as there is limited published information about the waitlist feature on the Asia Miles website. 

Which flights can be waitlisted?

The first thing to know is that only flights operated by Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon can be waitlisted. Flights operated by partner airlines, whether they are Oneworld partners like British Airways or independent partners like Air Canada, cannot be waitlisted. 

Waitlist awards are available in all four classes of service: First Class, business class, premium economy, and economy class. The first two cabins will likely be of greater interest to most Asia Miles members, as award space in premium economy and economy tend to be more plentiful, but the same waitlist policies apply to bookings in all four cabins.

How do you make waitlist bookings? 

When a Cathay Pacific flight does not have open award seats but does have waitlist awards available, you will see the word “Waitlist” on the search result, and you may proceed with the waitlist booking by continuing to click through. 

Another helpful indicator can be found along the search process itself; based on your chosen travel date, the search engine will automatically warn you if there are “likely” to be only waitlist awards, rather than currently open awards, available for booking.

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What is the nature of the waitlist “space”?

Not every Cathay Pacific flight in every class of service will have waitlist space available. Sometimes the flight will simply show as “Unavailable”, in which case you can neither make a confirmed booking nor a waitlist booking.

Indeed, the waitlist space should be thought of as a separate “bucket” of award space with a finite number of seats eligible for waitlisting. Once you’ve waitlisted those seats, they can no longer be waitlisted by others.

Furthermore, the order of the waitlist is naturally first-come first-serve, with the exception that Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club elite members enjoy priority waitlists as one of their benefits. 

For example, if there are two seats  available for waitlist on a certain flight in a certain cabin, and you’re the first to waitlist one of the seats as a non-status member, then you’d still be bumped down to #2 spot on the waitlist if a Marco Polo Club Diamond member came along later and took the other waitlist spot on the same flight and cabin.

Do you need to have Asia Miles in your account to make a waitlist booking? 

You will need to have at least 70% of the miles required for the award in your Asia Miles account before you’re able to make a waitlist booking.

For example, if you’re looking to book a one-way Cathay Pacific business class flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong, which would cost 70,000 Asia Miles in total, then you’d need a balance of at least 49,000 Asia Miles to make a waitlist booking.

If you wanted to waitlist the same flight for two passengers, then you’d need at least 98,000 Asia Miles in your account, and so on. 

(Until February 2019, there had been no 70% mileage requirement for waitlist bookings, which was obviously a little too generous on Asia Miles’s part.)

70% of the miles are required at the time of making a waitlist booking; however, it’s unclear if you’re able to spend those miles on confirmed bookings afterwards (and therefore dip below the 70% requirement) without affecting your waitlist booking.

In theory, this should be possible – you’d just need to top-up eventually if the waitlist clears – but if anyone has a confirmed data point in this regard, feel free to share it in the comments below. 

How many waitlist bookings can you make at once?

Importantly, when you make a waitlist booking, miles are not immediately deducted from your Asia Miles account and taxes do not get charged to your credit card; these only happen if the waitlist clears and you accept the flights. 

That opens the door for Asia Miles members to make several simultaneous waitlist bookings at once, and indeed, every Asia Miles member is allowed to hold up to 10 waitlist bookings simultaneously. Because no miles are deducted at the time of waitlisting, the 70% mileage requirement can be “shared” among your 10 waitlist bookings. 

Note that the limit applies to 10 itineraries under the same booking reference, not to the number of passengers. In the example from above, someone with 98,000 Asia Miles in their account could waitlist for 10 different Cathay Pacific business class flights between Vancouver and Hong Kong, for two passengers each.

Finally, you can cancel existing waitlist bookings at no charge.

What happens after you make a waitlist booking?

The waitlist works exactly like the name suggests: even though award space isn’t available right now, you are given priority access if/when the seats do become available in the future.

By all accounts, the Asia Miles waitlist system operates in a very reliable fashion: if Cathay Pacific does release additional award space in the future, it will be automatically given to waitlist awards based on the order of the waitlist, instead of going back into the regular award pool for any member to book. 

Holders of waitlisted awards will receive an email notification that their waitlisted award has cleared. At this time, the waitlisted awards are automatically confirmed for about a month, which means that no one else can book the corresponding award space. 

This gives you time to either accept the booking online (a simple and smooth process) – including topping-up your account with additional Asia Miles (such as transferring Amex MR, RBC Avion, HSBC Rewards, or Marriott Bonvoy) if you originally waitlisted with only 70% of the mileage – or relinquish the award if you’ve since changed your mind.

Essentially, you can think of the waitlist function as a more powerful version of ExpertFlyer’s award alerts: instead of receiving an email alert for open award space and rushing to make the booking yourself, you sign up to be automatically granted that award space as soon as it opens. 

Will the Waitlist Clear?

Of course, that equivalence between the waitlist function and a glorified award alert system means that the question of “Will my waitlist clear?” is essentially the same as the age-old question of “Will additional award seats be released?” 

As is the case across award programs in general, the best indicator for the likelihood of additional award seats being released – and therefore making your way out of waitlist purgatory – is the number of unsold revenue seats remaining on that flight. 

If there are still six unsold seats left in Cathay Pacific First Class, then it’s quite likely that one or two of those seats will eventually be released as awards; on the other hand, if four or five seats are already taken, then you might be better off waitlisting on an emptier flight instead. 

The same principle applies to business class and premium economy: the emptier a cabin is, the greater the chances of an award seat being released in the future if it’s not available right now. 

(You can use ExpertFlyer or Google Flights to check for the number of unsold seats; if using ExpertFlyer, the Flight Availability feature is more reliable than the Seat Map, as not all passengers might hold confirmed seat selections by the time you look up the Seat Map.)

While Cathay Pacific has become less predictable in recent years about releasing last-minute premium awards to their partners, they’re still pretty reliable when releasing last-minute awards to their own Asia Miles members. 

Last-minute business class awards tend to become available within two weeks of the departure date, whereas last-minute First Class awards can be released a lot closer to the departure date – sometimes even a few days in advance. Therefore, these are the same timeframes that you might expect a waitlisted award to clear, if they do end up clearing.

If you’ve booked a waitlist award and are wondering about the odds of the waitlist clearing, you can try asking the good people of FlyerTalk on the “Will My Waitlist Clear?” thread in the Cathay Pacific forum for their input based on their collective experiences. 

Strategies for Asia Miles Waitlist Bookings

Even though making a waitlist booking doesn’t allow you to fully firm up your travel plans, we can still try to establish some of the best strategies for using the Asia Miles waitlist feature to your advantage when booking future travel.

Take, for example, an Asia Miles award in Cathay Pacific business class. That can be a very comfortable and convenient way to travel from Canada (either Vancouver or Toronto) on a direct flight to Hong Kong, as well as on a one-stop itinerary to places all over the world – the rest of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, or South Africa.

If Cathay Pacific business class is indeed your ideal choice of flight, but you aren’t able to find any awards at the moment, then you could proceed with a waitlist booking as long as you had 70% of the required Asia Miles in your account. 

Vancouver–Hong Kong costs 70,000 miles as we described above, requiring 49,000 miles in your account for a waitlist award. Meanwhile, most awards that clock in at 7,500+ miles in distance flown will cost 85,000 miles one-way in business class (even if they’re actually much longer than 7,500 miles, such as Toronto–Hong Kong–Johannesburg), so you’d need to have at least 59,500 miles per passenger to secure a spot on the waitlist. 

(In the case of a multi-segment journey like the one described here, waitlisted award space on each flight clears individually. If Toronto–Hong Kong has available award seats but Hong Kong–Johannesburg doesn’t, then you’d be waitlisting for the latter flight and hoping to clear it eventually; if both flights do not have award seats, then you’d be waitlisting for both flights and hoping for both to clear, etc.)

Cathay Pacific business class

Cathay Pacific business class

Remember, you can hold up to 10 waitlist booking simultaneously using those 59,500 Asia Miles per passenger, so this is where flexibility really comes into play. The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more flights you can waitlist for (assuming they have waitlist space available), thus greatly increasing your chances of at least one of your 10 waitlisted awards clearing sometime down the road. 

And if you were to do some research into the number of unsold revenue seats and target the flights that are relatively empty, then your chances of clearing the waitlist would be even better. 

The option of making a waitlist booking may add an interesting dimension to the usual strategy of “earn and burn” as well. Instead of earning 100% of the Asia Miles required for an award and then making your booking, you could earn 70% of the Asia Miles required and make 10 waitlist bookings – thereby attaining a very good chance of booking your desired Cathay Pacific award while giving yourself extra time to earn the remaining 30% of miles through signup bonuses or additional credit card spending.

Always Have a Backup Plan!

However, as good as your odds may seem with 10 waitlisted awards, it’s still far from a sure thing. The best strategy with waitlisted awards would be to combine them with a backup option using a different mileage currency – one that you would cancel in favour of Cathay Pacific business class if the waitlist did clear, but would still give you a confirmed itinerary to/from your destination otherwise. 

For example, you could put in 10 waitlist requests for Toronto–Hong Kong–Johannesburg on 10 separate dates to maximize your chances with the Asia Miles waitlist game. At the same time, you might book something like Toronto–Cairo–Johannesburg on Egyptair business class using your Aeroplan miles.

If any of your 10 waitlisted Cathay Pacific awards were to clear, then you could cancel your Aeroplan booking for a minimal fee – during normal times, it’s only $30 for Diamond members or $100 for regular members, which isn’t an unreasonable price to pay for the peace of mind. If none of the waitlisted awards clear, then at least you’d still have a fallback option that can still get you to South Africa just fine, even if the product is less appealing.

(Of course, if you prefer to live dangerously, then you can simply play the waitlist game and look towards last-minute award space if it’s looking like none of your waitlists will clear.)

The idea is the same for more aspirational awards in First Class. Cathay Pacific tends to release only one First Class award seat at the start of the schedule, so if you’re hunting for two or more seats, then it might be a solid strategy to book one confirmed First Class seat and waitlist the others. 

Your backup strategy might then be to make confirmed bookings on the same flight in business class, so that at least everyone is travelling on the same flight if the First Class plans don’t work out. And if they do, then it’s only US$120 to cancel the backup Asia Miles booking in favour of a successfully waitlisted one.

Advanced: Use the Asia Miles Waitlist to Trigger Partner Awards

Let’s say you don’t actually want to redeem your Asia Miles, but instead want to use other points currencies to book Cathay Pacific – such as Alaska Mileage Plan and its excellent sweet spot of 70,000 miles for Cathay Pacific First Class from North America to Asia or points beyond. 

Well, several data points indicate that there’s a way to use the Asia Miles waitlist function to boost your chances of nabbing Cathay Pacific award space using Alaska miles. 

Use the Asia Miles waitlist to help you book Cathay First… on Alaska miles?

Use the Asia Miles waitlist to help you book Cathay First… on Alaska miles?

This strategy targets the way that Cathay Pacific’s award release mechanism works: when the system releases an extra award seat, it first offers that award seat to anyone who has waitlisted for the seats. If the waitlisted seat is declined by the passenger, then many people’s experiences indicate that the seat often gets released to everyone right then and there – Asia Miles members and partner award programs as well.

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, as the release mechanism also depends on a number of other factors. But broadly speaking, this pattern seems to hold true more often than not when we’re dealing with last-minute Cathay First awards getting released to Alaska Mileage Plan: many travellers have successfully waitlisted for a Cathay First award, cleared the waitlist, declined the seat, and then witnessed the award become immediately bookable by Alaska’s phone agents. 

Essentially, a cleared waitlist booking on the Asia Miles side gives the ticket holder some measure of control over the award space being released to partners, including Alaska – and that’s a very rare thing to possess in the hunt for aspirational awards.

Keep this up your sleeve if you’re looking to burn Alaska miles on a Cathay Pacific First Class flight, especially if you’ve booked one seat at the start of the schedule and are waiting for more seats to open. 

Certainly, it can never hurt to speculatively waitlist for an award if you have enough Asia Miles, even if you actually want to book it with Alaska. If you get on the waitlist, you have the chance of declining the waitlist when it clears and triggering the release to partners; if you don’t, then someone else might waitlist it and accept the seat when it clears, meaning that it never gets released to partners at all. 


Waitlist awards represent a unique feature within Cathay Pacific Asia Miles that adds another interesting wrinkle to the program.

It can take a little bit of research to fully understand how the waitlist works, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it and racked up 70% of the miles required for an award, you can leverage the flexibility of the waitlist feature to greatly improve your chances of snagging a Cathay Pacific business class or First Class flight using your Asia Miles. 

Thanks to the ability to waitlist on up to 10 simultaneous bookings, I’m sure that travellers who have a great deal of flexibility in terms of their travel dates will find a lot of value in this feature. Furthermore, even if you’d rather book Cathay Pacific using your Alaska miles instead, the Asia Miles waitlist might still be an unexpected trump card for securing those coveted First Class seats. 

  1. Ben

    Great informative article.

    Regarding declining a cleared waitlist so that I can book it thru Alaska Mileage Plan, you mentioned (usually) it immediately gets released to the general pool including partners. Do you mean it is possible to have the Alaska Air agent on the phone and then I click on “decline”? Or is it more I decline first, then wait for the award space to show up, then call Alaska?

    1. Ricky YVR

      I’m not sure if it’s an instant release. It’s worth giving the first method a try, and then if the Alaska agent doesn’t see it, try calling back in a couple of hours (maybe after using the Avios search engine to check that the space has shown up).

  2. Eric

    Thank you for this. I had no understanding of how the wait list worked or if it would be valuable or not. Thank you for the precise overview.

    1. Ricky YVR

      You’re welcome. There is actually a surprising amount of nuance to this!

  3. Dino

    Great article as always. Could you introduce the Singapore airline krisflyer waitlist as well?

    1. Ricky YVR

      Yes, we’ll look at the Singapore KrisFlyer program and the waitlist feature sometime soon.

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