Cathay Pacific Online Experience: Beautiful, powerful website, but difficult booking process

In today’s world, the online experience to book your flight, manage your booking and check-in before departure are all part of the end-to-end experience when traveling by air. Cathay Pacific (CX) is a SkyTrax 5-Star Airline and has been in the Top 10 for the last 8 years. I’ve reviewed the Cathay Pacific online experience to see if it earns 5-stars, too. Cathay Pacific has a beautiful and feature-rich website, but the online booking process is unnecessarily difficult and compares poorly to other airlines. Find out why!

Online Booking: Once you have found the best airline and fare for your trip, I recommend to book directly with the airline for the best price, full visibility of your fare inclusions or exclusions and the ability to pay for add-ons, select seats or provide your frequent flyer information.
Cathay Pacific’s web site is modern and provides the inspiring destination images as backdrop to managing key features.
Your online booking starts with a standard search box for start and end point, dates, fare class and number of passengers. You can also book one-way or multi-stop itineraries.

The site defaults to flexible travel dates, showing the prices for flights of your selected dates +/- three days, indicating the lowest fares with a little red triangle, giving you a chance to select the best combination of dates and fares.
The next screen will provide you with the price by fare category, comparing restricted fares with standard and flexible fares, as well as a Premium Economy for this Economy fare search. You’ll get a list of all available flights, sorted by departure/arrival time or duration. Finding the best price/time combination is the most frustrating part of booking with Cathay Pacific – they make it really difficult to find the right flights. While the “lowest fare” is again indicated with a small red triangle, you can’t see the fares for alternatives that might be shorter flights or more convenient times. While other airlines either show you the additional fee or just the total price for each flight option, Cathay Pacific tells you nothing! You’ll have to click on every combination to see the full price and find the right flights for you in a trial and error mode. This is so bad that I recommend finding the best flights on Kayak or another OTA, before picking those exact flights on the CX website.
Once you have your flights, you can enter your traveler information or default it from your membership account, select your seats and add your payment information. Please note that if you choose mixed Economy fares, you might be able to select seats for free on some flights and have to pay on others of the same itinerary, depending on your fare class. I find it very poor service for full-service carriers to charge for seat assignments, especially on expensive long-haul flights from a 5-star airline!
You also have to watch out the payment currency – Cathay Pacific unfortunately engages in Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and will charge you a fee, depending on the currency you choose, without making it transparent how to avoid it!

Manage Booking: Once you have successfully booked your ticket, you are all set for your flight . With your AsiaMiles/Marco Polo account or your booking reference, you will be able to access your bookings without issues, giving you an overview of all future tickets, as well as the details of your itinerary. You can make changes to your seats, request upgrades or update personal information. All of this is pretty standard functionality and worked without issues for me.

It’s also very easy to find key information, like your baggage allowance for check in or carry on on the site, with details for different routes. You can even check out the entertainment selection prior to your flight, so you know whether there is something you want to watch — or whether you have to bring your own!

Check-In: The online check-in works just as smoothly as managing your booking. You can check-in online between 48h and 90 minutes prior to departure. Availability of check-in will be shown in your booking. You can change seats at this time or request your meal preference and can print your boarding passes. All of this functionality is intuitive and worked without a hitch for me!

Bottomline: Cathay Pacific has a modern and beautiful website with deep functionality that works seamlessly to manage your booking or to check in. It’s also easy to access lots of good information about the different cabins offered, the entertainment on your flight, special dietary needs or your luggage allowance.
It’s hard to understand why, despite the apparent investment into the online experience, Cathay Pacific has such a miserable booking process: while it works quite well for people who will purchase the lowest fare no matter how inconvenient the flights are and for people who will book the best flights no matter the cost, for everybody else it’s unnecessarily difficult to find the best fare/time combination for your travel needs. If Cathay Pacific can fix the booking process, they have one of the best airline websites I’ve used and reviewed so far. Until then, I recommend to find the best flights on Kayak – and only then go to Cathay Pacific to book!

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