Passenger Banned From Cathay Pacific For Trying to Trick Staff Into a Business Class Upgrade

Self-described “social Influencer” Jacqueline Ng says she “filled out an online form. I emailed Cathay Pacific to try and upgrade to business class.”

She says she got an email back offering an upgrade subject to availability – telling her, “Because of your social network, we would like to formally extend a Business Class upgrade to you on the day of your flight, should any tickets still be available at check-in.”

Cathay Pacific Business Class

She showed the e-mail at check-in in Taipei before her first flight. She was flying paid premium economy, via Hong Kong, to New York. The agent declined the upgrade, and she flew premium economy.

She went to the airport for her return flight. At the check-in desk she showed the email again saying that she could be upgraded. Things didn’t go well for her.

  • The agent called over a supervisor. Everyone went away and returned back “30 minutes later” with a letter saying she wouldn’t be flying.

  • Cathay Pacific had determined that the ‘sure we’ll upgrade you’ e-mail was fake, and they were cancelling her ticket due to fraud and banning her from the airline.

Standing at the counter in disbelief, Ng says she couldn’t believe the absurdity of the accusations. She had only asked for an upgrade, but now she was being kicked off the flight — with no way home. She tried to reason with the supervisor; however, she quickly realized the decision wasn’t negotiable.

It gets even worse from there. Cathay Pacific refunded the cost of her return ticket. She e-mailed Cathay Pacific asking them to cover the higher amount she paid to buy a ticket home on another airline.

  • Cathay told her they determined the e-mail was fraudulent. The person it was supposedly from hadn’t sent it. If she disagreed, she needed to provide the metadata from the email she had presented to prove it.

  • Instead of responding with a copy of the email, including headers, she replied she didn’t see “the relevance of this request” and instructed that further communication go through her legal counsel.

  • Making empty legal threats against a big corporation is a bad idea when you don’t intend to follow through. Their legal costs are lower than yours, and their pockets are deeper.

  • She kept at it, though – suggesting that because she was such an important person (“Top 20 Under 20 National Award” in Canada) and had worked for Cathay Pacific’s parent company though she quit after five months – that she should be reimbursed.

Cathay didn’t respond further to her, only offering “Please have your legal counsel write to us through this email address with the same subject line. I will turn over your case to our legal team for a direct follow up with your legal counsel.” Now she says she’s actually going to sue.

Even Christopher Elliott Can’t Side With This Passenger

The passenger reached out to Christopher Elliott’s consumer advocacy folks for help. They heard her pleading, communicated with Cathay Pacific, and got her nothing (“she remains banned from the airline”).

The old Saturday Night Live law firm of Green & Fazio used to go after damages no matter what a consumer had done (“Let’s be frank, what does a ‘No Trespassing’ sign mean when you’re as drunk as I was?”). Christopher Elliott is usually the Green & Fazio of consumer advocates, consumers are being being unfairly treated because corporation.

This time though the case went before the Executive Director of Christopher Elliott’s ‘Elliott Advocacy’. Not only didn’t she completely side with the passenger, while Elliott advises against joining frequent flyer programs, she’s smarter than he is and offers “To be able to go on a waitlist for a possible upgrade, you must belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program. These programs are free to join, and you can earn miles toward free flights and the miles you earn can also pay for those upgrades.”

Yet I’ve Thought About Doing Something Similar

American Airlines once invited me to visit their Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining upon opening. Supposedly access was arranged and lounge staff knew to expect me. When I arrived though no one had heard of such a thing, I wasn’t on any list, and I was being turned away. I pulled out the e-mail from someone in corporate communications saying the visit was arranged. The signature block had an American Airlines logo. They honored that email as my ticket.

At the time I thought, gosh I could just show this email any time I want to use a Flagship lounge! I never did that though. It crossed a line for me to alter the date or location on the e-mail, just as I haven’t been a fan of customers photoshopping pdf’s in pursuit of status matches (and this, by the way, is why United shares member information with other airlines to combat status match fraud).

American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK

But what would Justin Ross Lee do? Does this seem any worse of an idea than drawing pentagrams and chanting ‘revenue management’ for an upgrade, though?

Although if you’re going to try either approach you might be better off just disguising yourself as a mimosa (“alcoholic beverages are complimentary in first class, so if you dress up as a cocktail, you can sit down without anyone realizing you’re actually a human who belongs in coach”).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There are a lot of entitled people who contribute nothing to society. Obviously this person is one of them. It sounds like she faked the email. I honestly don’t understand why anyone follow these morons and enable this behavior.

    Although more than a few of the FF blogs are becoming rather pointless as well as they try to become more of a “travel” news site. I don’t see that ending well.

  2. “Because of your social network, we would…” This whole paragraph sounds so amateur.
    But she is under 20, so just give her what she wants.

  3. It’s time to start throwing a few of these ‘influencers’ in jail. Much of what they do is demonstrably fraudulent, including their ‘cash/kind for comment’ videos, blogs, instantgrams, etc

  4. “Christopher Elliott is usually the Green & Fazio of consumer advocates, consumers are being being unfairly treated because corporation.”

    This is such a spot-on summary of that hack Elliott that I nearly spit coffee all over my computer from laughing so hard. Thanks for the chuckle…

  5. “If she disagreed, she needed to provide the metadata from the email she had presented to prove it…Instead of responding with a copy of the email, including headers, she replied she didn’t see “the relevance of this request”

    End of story. Something that can be so easily proven and you respond indignantly? Clearly faked.

  6. Let’s see. The passenger had a paid premium economy ticket. She claimed to have an email offering an upgrade to business.

    Seems like the reasonable action from Cathay Pacific would be simply deny the upgrade request. Cancelling her ticket and banning her from the airline seems unnecessarily extreme. Unless there is more to this story than what we are reading.

  7. She’s probably full of it. But remember, Lucky apparently did something ethically much worse when he scammed United. I love Lucky so I forgive him but I do not think the situation with this blogger is not any worse.

  8. Since she had worked at CX she probably knew the names of those who might have plausibly sent such an email. But both the language, metadata request and how she responded gave the game away. If I were an airline I would be noting her as a watch list booking…..

  9. @Austin787 —

    “Unnecessarily extreme?” Seriously?

    Fraudulently manufacturing from whole cloth an e-mail from CX corporate and then presenting that e-mail to effectively swindle the company out a product that’s worth thousands of dollars?

    Honestly, I’m not quite sure CX went far *enough.*

  10. Both Gary’s post and the original article suffer from the same problem, which is an apparent lack of interest in the actual facts of the case.

    If Ms. Ng forged the email she’s a fraudster and CX’s action is more than justified. If the email is genuine then CX is clearly in the wrong. And without definitive knowledge (the circumstantial evidence seems to me to point to fraud) it’s all just bloviating.

  11. We all hate these entitled so called influencers that are all the rage lately. But:

    Was 30 min enough for the CX crew based in NYC to determine if the email was fraudulent without doubt? Maybe there were tell tale signs, maybe there weren’t. In case of fraudulent email, then yes, I agree CX’s action was entirely justified.

    Otherwise, if the letter was genuine, then while she’s certainly at the minimum annoying and self entitled, she didn’t do anything illegal.

    But none of us knows this for sure, so let’s not be rash.

  12. Isnt there an OSI (other service information) field in the PNR where CX could have put in notes about the possible upgrade that the agents could read?

  13. To be fair, a lot of what Elliott writes lately is tips on family road trips, which is harmless enough, and probably of value to readers interested in that sector. Michelle Couch-Friedman does a lot of the case studies, and she is much more balanced, while avoiding the bombast. The site is readable.

    I agree it’s probably fraud. The email sounds a lot more like what a 20-year-old influencer would write than what a corporate executive would.

  14. CX is usually so good about offering upgrades to FF members with even entry level (Green) status, she probably could have realized an upgrade at boarding (load dependent) by keeping her mouth shut.

  15. Thank you, @DaveS. That really is what we are trying to achieve on our site (balance).
    Thank you, Gary, for sharing my article. This really helps increase our visibility and then we can help more people.
    We are a nonprofit website and we help all consumers free-of-charge. So anyone that might need help, please feel free to contact us! 🙂

  16. One of top 20? Even a top 50 in canada wouldn’t bat an eyelash paying a business class ticket which the secretary would have arranged. Rich people just sign checks to pay for credit card charges prepared by secretaries who check on it. I hate upgrades given free its not fair to paying passengers.

  17. “Seems like the reasonable action from Cathay Pacific would be simply deny the upgrade request. Cancelling her ticket and banning her from the airline seems unnecessarily extreme.”

    Really? She committed fraud. Twice. She’s lucky that they only cancelled her ticket and banned her rather than trying to press charges.

  18. Stupid lady think they are entitled for anything, Flying in Business class with premium Economy ? Shame on you. Pay for it & then fly.

  19. Thanh says: “Was 30 min enough for the CX crew based in NYC to determine if the email was fraudulent without doubt? ”
    The outbound unsuccessful attempt at fraud probably prompted a scan of letter, contact to source stated on letter and remarks in her record. The second attempt at fraud called attention to those notes. 3 min. 27 more to alert Corporate Security of her presence and obtain handling instructions.
    Ball is now in her court and her responses reflect her age.

  20. Lifetime ban seems excessive. What if she deleted the email (assuming she gave them a printout.)
    As for readers that are shocked that someone would attempt to defraud an airline for a seat upgrade, what are your thoughts on:
    1) comfort pet(s)
    2) passengers that should have purchased two tickets due to their size (too tall, too wide, or both)
    3) obvious mistake fares honored, or not, by the airline
    4) airlines that cancel empty or unprofitable flights due to “weather”… or “mechanical”
    5) customers targeted for removal and replaced with more valuable customers
    6) my personal experience… customers denied boarding due to time cut off but other customers on standby allowed to board. Even the Delta pilot spoke up on our behalf (I blame the very slow TSA line.)
    7) for DYKWIA crowd… how do you like flying with the cabin crew that threatens customer with arrest for slowing down the boarding process? (Excuse me, may I have another pretzel? NO!… That type)
    8) people that intentionally sit in your assigned seat
    9) people that share the lav (at the same time)
    10) customers that request wheelchair assistance because they want to get to the front of the line
    11) personal favorite… actively participating in a practice known as Manufactured Spend
    12) credit card company that didnt award points because they thought it was MS (AMEX… SPG card, a few hundred points were lost but I was more alarmed by their blaise attitude that the purchase was MS… AMEX kept the points, so now I only occasionally use the card.)

    Anyway, a lifetime ban is excessive given the fact that the airspace and airport, on which CS depends, is taxpayer funded. How many lifetime bans have been given to people claiming to need a discounted last minute fare due to unexpected medical emergency or funeral attendance?
    Note to self: Do not accept gifts from strangers.

  21. From the original linked article there is more definitive evidence she tried to swindle her way to a free upgrade.

    “On 30 May 2019 and 07 June 2019 when you checked in at our Taipei and New York airport counters respectively. You presented two different emails with the same reference number, asking for upgrades on flights CX495 and CX890 on 30 May 2019 and flight CX865 on 07 June 2019. The offers were made to you by R**** L*** according to the emails you showed our check-in staff.

    We verified with R**** and understand that he did not send any such emails to you. We also cross-checked our email systems and confirmed no emails were delivered to you on the date and time as indicated in your emails.”

    This is something that is obviously easy for Cathay Pacific to check on their end and I’m glad they called her bluff.

  22. I don’t know exactly what happened here. I’m totally ignorant. I do know that last time I spoke to AA after weeks of politely and patiently looking for a First Class seat on the first sector of a 4-sector international award itinerary that would have made it a 3-sector international itinerary without an overnight layover en-route I was magically given a seat on a flight just 3 days before Xmas with no change fee or upgrade fee. Pays to be nice. Don’t be a dic.

  23. Cathay Pacific is one of the very best Airlines that I fly on !! Incredible service, incredible food, great route system. I always fly business class, and their “short routes” (such as between HKG and MNL)and their long routes (such as between HKG and LAX) are truly the very best flying experiences !!

  24. All this is is lazy millennials trying to live a life of luxury when they haven’t worked a day in their lives

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