Cathay Pacific's plan to please travellers with HK$100 business and premium economy tickets degenerated into a public relations disaster when it left tens of thousands of people disappointed yesterday.
More than 150,000 people logged on to the website in the hope of grabbing one of only 2,014 tickets up for grabs in an exercise that began at 8am.
The locally-based airline swiftly drew allegations that the promotion - meant to celebrate its fourth award as world's best airline from British consultancy Skytrax - was "a scam".
One defeated user said she spent the whole morning waiting for the website to load up, before it announced that all the tickets to 11 destinations had sold out in four hours.
Jo Tang, who mobilised her two smartphones and a computer to vie for tickets to Bangkok, London or Chicago, was already behind 9,000 others in the queue when she logged on at 7.45am.
"A few clicks later, it said 150,000 people were queuing," she said. "I was surprised how some people managed to buy tickets."
A Cathay spokeswoman said all the special offers were sold out within four hours "because of overwhelming response".
Sydney was the hottest pick, she said, with all the bargain fares gone by 9am.
People who were left out in the cold took to Cathay's social media sites to complain.
"It is unfair and frustrating how Cathay Pacific started selling its tickets right before 8am this morning," Billy Chan wrote.
"It is showing it either uses a time system different from the Observatory or it is lying in its official announcement."
"Rubbish airline of the year," another user, Den Cheung, wrote.
The spokeswoman said the airline "would like to thank" all its customers for their support.