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Flight Review: Cathay Pacific First Class

by on April 19, 2012 · 67 comments

in Cathay Pacific, Trip Reports

This is an installment in my March 2012 Asia Trip Series which includes: A Birthday Present To Myself: Business Class on the World’s Longest Flight for $2.50, Help Me Plan My Asia Trip Starting With Singapore, Flight Review: Singapore Airlines All Business Class Flight From Newark To Singapore, Hotel Review: Intercontinental Singapore, Video Trip Report: Singapore, Hotel Review: Le Meridien Bangkok Avantec Suite, Video Trip Report: Bangkok, Hotel Review: Le Meridien Angkor, Video Trip Report: Siem Reap, Hotel Review: Intercontinental Phnom Penh, Video Trip Report: Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, Hotel Review: W Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are among the best commercial airlines in the world. They are known for service and comfort – especially in premium cabins. That’s why I was eager to try out Cathay Pacific First Class on my recent return home from Asia. This redemption is one of the best uses of miles, in my opinion, especially in the pre-Avios British Airways days (when I booked my ticket), so it was a double whammy – extreme comfort for almost no cash outlay.

Seat 1D in Cathay Pacific First Class.

The Miles
I used pre-Avios British Airways miles for this trip, which only cost me 75,000 miles for Phnom Penh – Hong Kong (business class on Dragon Air) and Hong Kong – JFK on Cathay Pacific in First Class.  Using the new Avios calculator, this trip would have cost me 120,000 miles one-way (15,000 for business Phnom Penh-Hong Kong and 105,000 for first class HKG-JFK). So while not as good a value, you could still get a lot out of your Avios this way since these tickets regularly go for around $7,000 one-way!

Other ways to redeem for Cathay Pacific First Class are to use American Airlines miles 67,500 miles one way and Alaska Airlines 140,000 miles roundtrip (Alaska is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest and you get a 5,000 mile bonus for 20,000 SPG points transferred, so you’d only need to transfer 115,000 points to get the 140,000 needed for a First class roundtrip).

I was able to check in to my flight from the Metro station in Kowloon.

Check-in
Hong Kong is a great city for public transit, with frequent and clean mass transit service. The Airport Express links the airport with Kowloon where the W and Ritz-Carlton are located, and I didn’t even have to leave the hotel since the metro station is connected to the shopping complex where the W Hong Kong is located. The great thing is, you can get your boarding passes and check your bags right there in the metro station so you’re all set when you get to the airport. The only issue I had was a communication one with the check-in agent. I wanted to get the same seats for both my flight segments (my flight actually went Hong Kong-Vancouver, had an hour stop, and then continued onto New York JFK). He did not understand, and there seemed to be nothing I could do to make him understand, so I ended up with seat 1K at the very front for my first segment (score!) but one of the middle seats fro the Vancouver-New York flight. Not the end of the world, but a little annoying, especially since my same seat was indeed available on both segments.

What's with the 7kg carryon limit, Cathay?

My other big problem came, however, in the security line at the airport. I brought along my wheelie Tumi rollerboard, which I’ve taken as my carry on everywhere and never had a problem. Until now. The security lady escorted me back to the Cathay check-in desk where the man behind the counter agreed the size was 100% compliant, but he then made me weigh it and said it was over the measly 7kg (15  pound) limit, so I had to check it. I thought that was ridiculous, especially since I would have an overhead bin entirely to myself in First Class, but there was nothing I could say to get them to let me take it onboard with me, so I had to grab a few things out of it then check it and deal with the loss of the control and wish my bag a safe journey.

I had to check my roll-on bag!

Then it was back to the security line, customs and emigration, where I was surprised to find there was no dedicated line for premium passengers. This is where I think Cathay could stand out for their premium customers, especially since security and immigration lines at Hong Kong can be lengthy. So overall, the trip started out with fairly mediocre on-the-ground service, but at least that would all change in the sky.

The First Class lounge at HKG was closed.

The Lounge
After that frustrating experience it was time for a glass of champagne at the First Class lounge…or so I thought. When I got to The Wing lounge, it turns out the First Class section was closed for renovations, so instead there was just a partitioned off area of the main business class lounge, which was empty. I was a little disappointed, but the service was good, they kept refilling my glass, and the snacks were tasty, though I saved my appetite for the flight since I wanted to experience the onboard cuisine.

The makeshift Cathay First Class lounge.

Segment 1: Onboard
Though boarding was pretty chaotic, once I got into the First Class cabin, all my aggravation melted away and I settled in for a fantastic experience. The seat was cushy and huge. I actually switched from 1K to 1A so a mother and daughter could sit next to each other, and the flight crew thanked me about 10 times.

Pre-flight Krug. Yes please!

The crew was actually the best part of it since they were diligent, friendly, engaging and smart, but not overly doting. One of the flight attendants also asked me if I’d like to join the airline’s Marco Polo Club, which is a higher tier than their normal Asia Miles loyalty program and normally costs $50 to join. Since I was flying in first class, I could join for free, and would have privileges like priority boarding and the ability to redeem miles for lounge passes and extra legroom seats (nothing I’ll likely take advantage of, but I can’t say no to free airline freebies!).

Caviar and salmon starter.

Though the flight took off after midnight and it was well into the night before meal service started, I stayed up just to experience the cuisine. It was pretty fancy – especially compared with US carriers, with dishes like smoked salmon and caviar, and a main of sea bass with assorted Asian veggies. The Asian options on both of my flights were light and good, so I was happy.

Showing off my new Shanghai Tang PJ's.

I watched a movie, then changed into my ultra-comfortable Shanghai Tang cotton pajamas that I received as part of my amenities kit (which also included Zegna products and this great-smelling Acca Kappa sandalwood facial mist that smells like Old Spice but in a good way) and fell asleep almost the entire rest of the flight. The seat was huge and made a very comfortable bed, even for tall me, so  I only had time for a quick fruit plate and to change back into my clothes before we landed in Vancouver.

Making up my bed in the full lie-flat position. Very comfy.

Stopover: Vancouver
Though the purser had originally told me that First Class passengers were allowed to wait in the lounge during the 90-minute stopover in Vancouver, it turns out when that all the in-transit passengers just had to wait in a holding area at the gate so as not to go through customs and immigration. There wasn’t a separate business or first class area, so everyone was just sort of hunkered down in the gate area, which wasn’t horrible, but I was starving and the vending machine was broken–I know, not a big deal for an hour wait – but at least there was some bottled water that we could take. Then it was time to get back on the plane.

Bottles of water just sitting around at the gate.

Segment 2: Onboard Vancouver to JFK
I hadn’t been looking forward to the second segment, especially since I had to change seats, but after that first flight, I knew it would be another great experience and I had another really good meal of fresh fish and vegetables–again, I always go for the Asian meal choices on Asian carriers, they’re so much better!–and the silver lining was I was actually given another amenity kit and another set of Shanghai Tang pajamas.

Another sweet note from the flight crew.

Back Home
Though the flight times are odd – you depart at midnight, land at about 9pm in Vancouver, and then get to New York at 7 in the morning, essentially taking two back-to-back red-eyes – my flight experience, the service, the seat-bed and the food was so good that when we got to New York first thing in the morning, I was ready to hit the ground running and had a great first day. The jet lag hit the second day, but still, when I arrived, I felt fine and was productive all day long, so that was totally worth it.

I would still say this is one of the best redemptions I’ve gotten – for 75,000 old BA miles and $200 in taxes for the one way redemption, I basically got a $15,000 ticket Even though you’d have to use about 120,000 Avios (105,000 Avios) and pay about the same in taxes and fees, it’s still a great use of miles, and a good way to experience one of the best products in the sky. I can’t compare it to Singapore Airlines first class since I haven’t taken it (yet!), but Cathay definitely beats the new British Airways first class, which I enjoy greatly. The trouble with flying such great first class products is that it makes anything in business or coach that much more unenjoyable! Oh well, it’s good to have such #firstclassproblems I suppose.


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  • Brian(J)

    You don’t see a lot of posts about Alaska Airlines but they are a CX partner and can hook you up for west coast to Bali flights through HK (stopover permitted).

  • Billy Mumphrey

    Great review! I booked 2 first class tickets to Thailand (via HKG) on Cathay for my honeymoon this Nov/Dec using 300K of the “old” BA miles.

    I am also very tall (6’5″). Was the seat in the bed position noticeably lengthier than most other airlines’ lie-flat seats? Also, how do those Shanghai Tang pajamas look on tall guys? I’m hoping they have different sizes (XL) but still expecting the bottoms to look like culottes on me.

  • thepointsguy

    Indeed- it can be a great redemption! See my #13 favorite award http://thepointsguy.com/2012/01/updated-20-of-my-favorite-airline-awards/

  • RakSiam

    Now you have me worried about their carry-on policy. I used 67500 AA miles to book JFK-HKG-TPE later this year, F on the flight to HKG but only C on the second leg as they only have one or two flights a day HKG-TPE that have F.

  • thepointsguy

    At 6’7″ I slept like a BABY in Cathay First. The amount of space is more than enough. I’ve flown Cathay business, which is pretty great and First is noticeably more comfortable. ENJOY!

  • GA

    Did they change teh color of the PJs? The ones I have from HKG-JFK were Dark Blue and Gold trim.

  • Lots of Legs

    Would you recommend a first class redemption on Cathay just to Vancouver for 35,000 avios or would you “settle” for business at 25K which is a great value?

  • thepointsguy

    Apparently because mine are brown with red trim.. nice to see them switch it up!

  • thepointsguy

    It’s usually unenforced, but just beware!

  • http://twitter.com/windycityf Windycityf

    I agree that best redemption of miles ever! I flew first Chicago to Hong Kong, it was quiet the experience. Now I just need to keep spending so I can get enough miles to do it again!

  • Ben Senise

    “I thought that was ridiculous, especially since I would have an overhead bin entirely to myself in First Class,”
    Did you notice that there aren’t any overhead bins in the Cathay Pacific First Class cabin? Gives a much more spacious and airy feeling. You can put your carry-on under the ottoman in your suite.

  • ThatGuy64

    Great write up, TPG! Enjoyed reading it. Very jealous!

  • Guest111

    I used the Citi AA 75k x 2 promo from last year to book a round trip Cathay flight from SFO to HKG.
    Those 2 flights were the best EVER. It was much nicer having the nonstop flight instead of getting off in Vancouver. I sat it in seat 2K for the first flight, then seat 2A for the return flight, both in the 747.
    The first flight got me navy blue pajamas, the return flight got me brown pajamas. I still wear them around the house! So comfy!
    The Krug, caviar, and salmon were delicious. In Hong Kong I used the Pier first class lounge which has day rooms!! You get a small room all to yourself with a reclining chair, a television, and you even get to control the temperature! I slept for a solid 5 hours in that room.

    And don’t get me started on Hong Kong, one of the coolest cities EVER. If you have never visited Hong Kong you are missing out. Just avoid going in the summer due to the heat.

    All in all my roundtrip Cathay flight in first class was hands down the best experience I ever had. It is the ONLY flight where you actually wish it lasted longer. 14 hours nonstop in the plane and I didn’t wanna leave!

  • Dfyant

    Hope you learned NOT to check in at the Kowloon train station! They are sticklers there. Instead I always check in at the airport (or online when possible).

    One warning for anyone that flies CX inF – when they make your bed they don’t automatically lower the lumbar. Meaning you often end up with a bed that has a raised “thing” near your back and uncomfortable to sleep. You have to lower the lumbar support to make it into a truly flat bed. Seems obvious but my friend let me know AFTER a very long hour flight about how uncomfy his bed was. I showed him that his lumbar was raised…

  • James

    “smells like Old Spice but in a good way” – Thanks for the chuckle!

  • Jmw2323

    definitely worth the extra 10k.

  • Jmw2323

    they change them often. hoping for some different colors next month

  • http://www.fallomi.com/ Muhammad Jahid Hasan

    It’s really a great write up. Thanks for mentioning this nice article.

  • xina

    I booked RT business class on CX from ORD-HKG-CGK (stopover in HKG) coming back from SIN-HKG-ORD for August. I couldn’t book first class on the way back because no seats available prior to Avios. Now that I could book first class using 67500 AA miles, is it possible to cancel the inbound only with Avios and book one way first class using 67500 miles?

  • Ace

    Going Bali-Sfo in Sept. with same (75k) booking as you. Thanks for whetting my appetite.

  • Hesslers

    It is about time that US Airlines ENFORCE the carry on baggage size and quantity. I am fed up with these Grandmas that bring 2 large, heavy suitcases on the plane to avoid paying the baggage fee and then there is no room and they can barely lift them anyway. The airlines need to enforce the size requirement and charge double the baggage fee if they have to gate check the bags. It isn’t a big deal for those of us with Priority Seating, there’s plenty of space for our bags. When the rest of the passengers come on the entire boarding process is delayed due to oversize and over-quantity of carry ons and the resulting lack of room.

  • thepointsguy

    I hope you like Krug.. get your money’s worth! :-)

  • thepointsguy

    I don’t think you can cancel and still keep outbound. I’d just delay the inbound and go to Asia again! It’ll cost $90 to change dates, but it’s well worth it to lock in that great pre-Avios redemption level

  • thepointsguy

    I hope I didn’t offend any Old Spice loyalists (sorry Dad!)

  • thepointsguy

    Ha- didn’t even realize. But regardless, they should have let me take it on and put it in my personal locker.. more than enough room. That weight limit is such garbage!

  • thepointsguy

    Luckily with the Amex- BA 50% bonus its still pretty easy to get Cathay F, even at the new Avios rates

  • thepointsguy

    I’d do it on the outbound if you are going to stay up and enjoy the service. on the red-eye return I’d be fine with business, which is perfectly lie-flat and comfortable since I try to sleep as much on those flights

  • http://www.facebook.com/tahsir21 Tahsir Ahsan

    Ahh, I was waiting for this review! I was on CX F the same day as you actually from HKG. HKG-LAX. Wonderful Flight! Wonderful Service! Sorry to hear you had such a weird experience with security.
    Also, even though your flight was probably at like gate 3, you should’ve gone to the pier first class lounge. It is beyond amazing with their own day rooms, and complimentary buffet!

    I used AA 67,500 getting there and was also able to upgrade the day of getting back by calling american. I noticed that Cathay F Seats open up the day of the flight. Is this true? because it happened both times!
    :) great review

  • Wellis

    This is definitely not limited to grandmas.

  • Peteropny

    Regarding the carry-on. Check in with First Class at the airport – they’ll give you a little tag for your bag that will exempt you from the “limits”.

  • Tm Smile

    It isn’t Alice from the ads is it??

    That would have been my highlight hahaha

  • Jmw2323

    if available, additional F seats open up, up to 2 weeks out or so

  • sfostudent

    That is exactly what I am wondering. I watched too many CX ads I guess. Alice is hot.

  • SQFAN

    “One of the flight attendants also asked me if I’d like to join the airline’s Marco Polo Club, which is a higher tier than their normal Asia Miles loyalty program and normally costs $50 to join.”

    Marco Polo is CX FF program and the Asia Miles is their Reward program. The ‘higher tier’ comment is not accurate. :)

    SQFAN

  • Fufunugget

    Flew SFO-HKG yesterday and I got black ones with green trim

  • mosburger

    Alice works in Y and is super friendly. She’s also taken…sorry guys!!

  • AussieTraveller
  • cityasa

    Funny to read about your two ‘big’ problem- Your seat assignment on one leg and having to check an over weight bag. Try checking in with a surfboard on a Cathay flight and see how your trip starts out.

    One GIANT reason not to book on Cathay- (Especially to the person going to Bali)

    Booked trip using pre-Avios miles in First for my son and I to go on surf trip this July to Bali. Stoked. Learned that Cathay charges $600 each way for each surfboard bag. About the cost of the board. They have increased weight allowances for First and Business, but not length allowances, so $2400 in baggage charges!! What I love most is that I found out from a fellow traveller. Catahy doesn’t disclose any of this at time of booking. They just wait and hit you up with oversized luggage at the airport. Gee just can’t wait for the trip now.

  • http://pointstopointb.wordpress.com/ AKold

    I’m surprised you didn’t check-in at HKG, since CX has a special F desk there. Looked pretty cool when I was there yesterday (didn’t fly CX so couldn’t use it).

    The Airport Express check-in desks are great if you have checked baggage, since then you don’t have to drag it with you on the train. I don’t see the point if you just have carry-ons though …

  • thrashsoundly

    DO they have wifi on CX longhaul flights?

  • whrobb

    Why not just rent a surfboard there?

  • cityasa

    They’re not like skis or golf clubs. Each one is personalized for the user. Why not have fees that are fair and reasonable?

  • Denver Charlie

    Is transiting HKG an issue with over 7 kilo carry on? LAX/HKG/DPS and back in CX Business (thanks TPG for the pre Avios alert!) Staying airside – at the Pier – the only carry on checks would be LAX and DPS, correct?

  • Lily

    Wow looks like the crew was reallly sucking up to you – they must’ve heard you were coming. WINK WINK.
    http://alphaflightguru.com/cheap-first-class-tickets

  • YYJer

    I’m a bit confused by this. My wife and I have never had this issue in CX F, and sure enough I looked at the CX website and the allowance for F carry-on is 33 pounds.

    Anyway, great report – we’re heading to Bali in late 2012 on CX F, and this certainly reminded my about how fun an experience it is.

  • Andrew H. Olson

    I’ve never run into a 7 KG carry-on limit with Cathay Pacific through HKG (from and to LAX) but what DOES surprise me the most about the CX first class cabin is NO overhead bin! Business Class has massive bins but in First you are expected to get everything in the coat-hanging closet built into your seta (which gets crushed by the sleeping gear) or under the footrest/dining companion ledge, which is where I would prefer to put just my shoes. So that remains a surprise – I guess they value the spacious empty ceiling for overall ambience rather than some convenience for the first class passsengers. Still, you are quite right, it is an awesome overall experience!

  • Andrew H. Olson

    Yes! From anywhere in the USA, the best way to Bali is on CX! A pleasant short layover in the gorgeous HKG lounges (time for a shower and some noodles or whatever pleases, not to mention internet) and then arriving DPS mid-afternoon so it is easier to stay awake and get adjusted to the time zone (I always get a two-hour massage/body scrub on my first evening as my way to celebrate being there but also to stay awake and focused and then a light supper and to bed before midnight).

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  • Camilan95

    you look like a pompus douchebag

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  • Firstklassy

    Cathay has a premium check in suite at the airport for elite and first passengers. Sofas and beverages and highly personalized services and straight through the secret security lane.

  • LOLuPOOR

    you sound like a pompOUs peon-y jelly.

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  • Eddy

    Cathay first is amazing. Just got off the HKG-ORD for the second time in 3 months. I’m a broke college student with a mileage obsession and the need to maximize my redemption. This is up there with the 747-400 bed on Lufthansa, and the Sing first. Staff have been absolutely fabulous, friendly, and motherly. Don’t act like a d**chebag and treat these people with the respect. They appreciate it and go above the already ridiculously high standards they adhere to. Worth an out of the way routing, layover, et al instead of a direct on some less worthy carrier!

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  • a

    what a fucking schmuck you look like in that selfy picture.

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