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Flight Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class Old Versus New

by on October 25, 2011 · 31 comments

in Cathay Pacific, Trip Reports

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Looking down the cabin of Cathay's new business class cabin.

Back in June, I attended the T-BEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) conference and I ended up using British Airways miles to book a roundtrip business class award on Cathay Pacific from JFK to Vancouver. These flights were going for over $600 in coach, so I felt that using 50,000 miles and $50 in fees for a lie-flat business class roundtrip was a pretty good deal. In the end, I got the new business class on the outbound and the old business class on the return so was able to do a side-by-side comparison of the  products. Here’s how the two stacked up.

In With The New

The flights worked out so that I did my comparison backwards, starting with the new business class on my outbound flight from JFK-Vancouver. You might recall that I had quite a few woes taking off that night, what with several flight delays lasting hours and hours (I ended up being awake nearly all night and a zombie when I landed in Vancouver). While I understand that weather happens and Cathay clearly didn’t want to delay our flight by 6 hours – they did know their 777 was being diverted to Toronto hours before the scheduled departure, so I would have appreciated the advance warning so I could spend my delay at my apartment in NYC. However, as luck would have it, they updated the huge delay the second I stepped into the terminal to check into my flight – but only by 2 hours at first so I couldn’t even go home. Oh well.

At least the airline gave me access to British Airways’ Terraces Lounge at JFK while I waited, which was a good place to pass some time, what with great snacks, free WiFi, and practically no one else in the lounge except for some fellow snoozing passengers. The airport was a zoo that evening with the food court overflowing with hungry travelers with vouchers to use, so I tried getting my dinner in the Terraces lounge. However, the pre-dinner service is only for British Airways Business and First Class passengers – or Cathay Pacific First Class. No dice for Cathay Business class peons.

When we finally did board our 777 to Vancouver at nearly 6am, I got to see the new business class in all its glory. Like the old herringbone structure, each row of seats is 4 across, with one on each window and two side-by-side running down the middle. I liked the new color scheme with white/cream colored materials, gray-green fabric, and light wood surfaces along with brushed chrome accents.

What’s new about the configuration is that, rather than all the seats facing an aisle, as they do in all the current herringbone configurations, they are sort of wingback-shaped and partitioned off from one another in that way, instead of with the tall dividers you usually see. The ones on the windows actually face out toward the windows, and the side-by-side seats in the middle actually are angled toward each other. So if you’re traveling, you get maximum privacy (and minimum stranger eye contact!) on the windows, and if you’re traveling with someone else, you can have your own little mini two-seater in the middle if you want.

A view of my seat...it's both an aisle and a window, love how the airline finally figured out how to configure semi-private business class seats that still have a view...and lots of surfaces and cubbies for storage.

The 46 business class seats themselves are a decent 21 inches wide and recline to a lengthy 75 inches when in full lie-flat position …almost enough to contain my long frame! The one weird thing is that your head is toward the aisle and your feet are toward the wall when you’re lying down, so it feels a bit harder to tune out the activity happening up and down the aisle.

Didn't expect to watch the sun rise while on JFK's runway staring at a British Airways 747!

The controls were super easy to use, as was the handheld remote controlling the entertainment system. These seats were equipped with a big 15.4-inch TV with Audio and Video on Demand with hundreds of movies, TV shows, radio channels, games and music, as well as a noise cancelling headset with which to enjoy them (enclosed in a little cabinet with a vanity mirror you could use to primp before landing).

Though it was quite late by the time we took off, I still decided to have dinner (this is my job after all!), and chose the USDA prime beef tenderloin, which was nice, though admittedly I was a little bit zoned out since I couldn’t fall asleep in the lounge for fear of missing my flight. The service was polite (for example no haggard flight attendants on a rampage to have phones switched off), and  I have to say I dug the new Cathay uniforms. All in all, despite the delay, I really loved the new product and I did end up getting a couple hours of solid sleep.

Menu for the relatively short JFK-YVR hop

Something Old

A shot of the old business class cabin, suddenly those herringbone seats are looking a little narrow and crowded.

On the way back to JFK, I was assigned to one of the airline’s 777’s that hadn’t yet been retrofitted with the new business class. The airline just installed its old business class 5 years ago in 2006, so it’s not quite outdated, but it is looking a little tired these days.

It’s in the usual herringbone configuration, with 57 seats shoe-horned into a tight space. The seats felt a lot more narrow, at just 18.5 inches and with really high dividers between the seats (though I did like the extra privacy these afforded). Plus, the bed, though lie-flat, only got to 71 inches when fully reclined, so I was a bit cramped.

Other than that the entertainment system was pretty much the same, with large 15.4-inch screens, and the meal and flight service was still excellent, so I was happy with those aspects.

 The Verdict

I actually thought both business class products were really nice, though after experiencing the new business class first, the old one felt a lot more cramped and conventional. I love flying on new classes of service to check them out while they still feel new and exciting, and Cathay really managed to make the experience feel like both of those things, so I’d definitely recommend it, and I’m looking forward to testing it out at some point on the long-haul to Hong Kong. If you have a bunch of British Airways miles laying around, I’d definitely recommend using 100,000 for a roundtrip Cathay Pacific business class award to Asia. After British Airways launches their new Avios program, I bet this amazing valued award option will become much more expensive, so get in on it while you can! BA is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards (Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold for example) and Chase Ultimate Rewards (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold).


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  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    Great review, Brian! Funny enough, I just took the new J last week and am writing about it as well. I loved it for me and the fiancee.

    Also, you should look into installing Lightbox 2 or something similar for picture viewing as it’s more friendly to viewers instead of a straight linkout to the [very large] pics.

    Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740260273 Angel Miras

    Brian:
    I took similar flights a month ago , except I was in F on the way out. I really liked the experience of flying CX (thanks to your blog!). I still like Singapore Airlines better though :)
    In any event, I’m debating on whether or not use 400k BA points to book 4 tickets to Bali with my wife and 2 kids (5 and 3 yrs. old). Now the question: is there another destination in Asia that CX serves and qualifies for the stopover in HKG? I’m assuming Singapore is one but I just wanted to be sure. Again, going with the family so it would help if it is kids friendly ;) Another option would be to use JL (*A) on the way out and CX (OW) on the way back. We are open to suggestions on routes and/or destinations.
    Thanks A LOT again!

    Angel

  • James

    Thanks for the review. Does booking an economy-out, business-back award using BA miles to fly CX uses 100K miles or 75K (i.e. each leg with own award rate)? Facing that question now due to limited business award availability. Thanks!

  • James

    Answering my own question due to unusually short BA booking phone hold time, 75K. :)

  • Dave Op

    On a travel related subject, what are your thoughts about noise cancelling headphones? How effective are they? I heard they are provided on American F seats, and a few other airlines.

    I am thinking of getting the Panasonic RP-HC55.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740260273 Angel Miras

    I know you asked Brian and I hope you don’t mind my comments. AA provides the Bose Q15 on F which CX provides as well. In my case, they worked well. They only downside is whenever an FA (or someone else) wants to talk to you. You have to take them out fast or you’ll miss the first few words…hehe.. Again, they blocked pretty much any sound coming from the cabin so I think they are a really good buy. Just my $0.02

  • http://twitter.com/zeehand Dan Zeehandelaar

    JFK-HKG roundtrip in January booked and looks like I’ll be on the new biz both ways. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://www.awardtravelconsulting.com AwardTravelConsulting

    That new business class product is great and their food is pretty high up there imo for a business product. I’m looking forward to flying them in F JFK-HKG next year and either upper deck J on a flight sold as a 2 class or, if I’m lucky, get the F seats in the nose.

  • http://www.awardtravelconsulting.com AwardTravelConsulting

    Congrats, it really is a great business class product!

  • http://www.awardtravelconsulting.com AwardTravelConsulting

    We’re headed to Bali in CX F next year and can’t wait for it. Where are you leaving from?

  • David

    Sorry if this is a dumb question, but you were able to book the Cathay awards with 50K BA miles TOTAL roundtrip in biz?

  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    Also going to Bali next year! Lol… seems a lot of us are doing that.

  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    Yes because JFK-YVR is North America to North America – http://www.britishairways.com/travel/partnertable/public/en_us

  • http://travelsort.com TravelSort

    We’re also going to Bali in CX F with our 3 yr old! We posted about it here: http://travelsort.com/blog/time-to-redeem-british-airways-miles-for-cathay-first-class

    Before we settled on Bali, we considered Chiang Mai (we wanted to go trekking, see the night market, and take care of elephants at one of the better run camps), even though CX doesn’t fly there directly, only to Bangkok. We ultimately decided we wanted both beach and inland/trekking adventure, and the beach areas we were considering in Thailand were in monsoon season during the time we’ll be there, while Bali is not. Although it will be our first time in Bali with a kid, I do remember much of it as being child friendly and having lots of great nature areas; we didn’t want to spend a family vacation in a super urban area such as Bangkok, or necessarily even Singapore, even though it does have fantastic food. Penang, Malaysia could be another option, but we opted against it as the water at the beaches can be murky and prone to a lot of jellyfish. And CX doesn’t fly to Langkawi, another place we considered. You can check out CX destinations here: http://www.cathaypacific.com/cpa/en_HK/helpingyoutravel/destinations

  • PJ

    Is CX JFK-TPE( Taipei) award only 100K with AA miles? I was on Last Class ( just joking; actually very comfortable indeed) last month and made a resolution: my next trip on CX next time is business class with award ticket same NEW aircraft completly lie flat bed

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740260273 Angel Miras

    Lol….I think a lot of us are burning those BA miles!!!!
    @TravelSort: I read your blog and loved it! We are doing something similar to you guys: booking 2F and 2J seats JFK-HKG-DPS and hope 2 more F seat will open up closer to departure.
    Another option is to use some AA miles and do JFK-AUH-MLE with Etihad (anyone planning on booking them?)
    Anyhow….let’s keep the ideas rolling!!!

  • pianodude

    We just booked four Business tix SFO-HKG-BKK-HKG-SFOfor next September/October using 400,000 BA miles; our first time to Asia. Our 4 days in HKG will include National Day; then on to BKK. We will probably buy Economy tix on Thai Air Asia to fly R/T from BKK to Chiang Mai for a few days during our time in Thailand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740260273 Angel Miras

    Excellent deal! It looks like SFO and LAX have more seats on the same class of service released in advance than JFK or ORD. I thought about leaving from the West Coast but it looks like I’ll book in 2 different cabins and wait until closer to departure to move up or down depending on availability.

  • Anonymous

    Using my BA miles from LAX, will Cathay Pacific allow a stop over for a day or two in Hong Kong rather than just a connection?

  • Anonymous

    Yep – stop for as long as you want

  • David

    JFK-HKG-BALI-HKG-JFK Business Class – Booked with 100K BA Miles + $423 in taxes&fees in Late Aug/Early September. Still decent availability. If Bali’s not your cup of tea, lots of Phillipines/China/Indonesia/etc avail. // THANKS BRIAN!!

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  • Zubair

    CX new business class.. or Eva air Royal Laurel Class? Both are the same price. I need to get to Singapore.

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