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Review: Cathay Pacific A330-300 Economy — Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur

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On their last outbound leg to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL), TPG Contributors JT and Katie Genter flew in economy on Cathay Pacific’s A330-300. Would the experience be as good as their first time on Cathay Pacific? (All photos are by the author.)

For the second year in a row, we booked a trip to flee the country immediately following the income tax deadline of April 15. Last year, we took a two-week trip to Johannesburg for just $277 round-trip each, thanks to Etihad’s amazing Christmas Day 2014 sale. This time around, we found some cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Booking

Using the techniques I discussed in this article, Katie and I booked a mileage run from our base of Austin (AUS) to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL) for just $547 round-trip each.

This itinerary would earn us each 20,482 American Airlines elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) and a combined 66,567 AA redeemable miles after factoring-in our elite-status mileage bonuses. Under TPG’s current valuation of 1.5 cents per AAdvantage mile, these redeemable miles alone are worth about $999 in value.

We booked this trip with our Citi Prestige card so we’d earn 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent. While we focused on this category spending bonus when booking, using the Citi Prestige card would end up being a fortuitous choice as our sole checked bag was significantly delayed during our return flights.

The Citi Prestige card is mostly known for its 50,000 ThankYou point sign-up bonus$250 per year airfare credit, fourth night free perk at hotels, 3x on airfare and hotels and worldwide lounge access, but it was the card’s extensive travel insurance coverage that ended up being the most valuable feature for us on this trip.

Our ride from Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG).
Our ride from Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG).

We arrived in Hong Kong (HKG) after spending 16 hours in Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines’ 777-300ER. We found the experience on that flight to be remarkably similar to Katie’s experience in the same cabin and aircraft back in January.

The Lounge

Rather ironically, you have to head down escalators from the terminal floor to reach "The Bridge" lounge.
Contrary to its name, you have to head down escalators from the terminal floor to reach “The Bridge” lounge.

After quickly and uneventfully clearing HKG transfer security, we found ourselves on the terminal floor mere steps from our gate (43). However, we wanted to make use of our delay-shortened layover to visit one of Cathay Pacific’s top-notch lounges while we were there — The Bridge was the closest lounge, so we headed there.

Consider your desired amenities before choosing which direction you head from the check-in desk.
Consider your desired amenities before choosing which direction you head from the check-in desk.

Lounge check-in was friendly yet quick. We were given the choice to go either to the right or to the left and — without looking at the options — headed to the right. It wasn’t until we were leaving for our gate that we found that the left-hand side of the lounge had completely different features, including showers, so be sure to pick the side of the lounge that has the amenities you’re looking for.

One of the many sitting areas in The Bridge.
One of the many sitting areas in The Bridge.

This right side of the lounge had a series of dimly lit but classy sitting areas, along with “The Long Bar” and a couple of TV rooms.

The Cathay Pacific "The Bridge" lounge offered a wide-variety of delicious food options.
The Bridge lounge offered a wide variety of delicious food options.

The largest area of this part of the lounge was The Bakery, which served a wide range of foods. We enjoyed a sampling of steamed dumplings, smoked salmon tartare and vegetable samosas during our sadly limited time in the lounge. While the samosas seemed to have been sitting out too long, the dumplings and salmon were delicious.

Boarding

Our gate for our evening flight to KUL.
The gate for our evening flight from HKG to KUL.

Once at the gate, we found boarding to be especially orderly. 35 minutes before departure, an announcement was made that we’d be boarding soon. While a handful of people — including us — had already lined up, the rest of the passengers started lining up at this point.

While there were overhead signs for only First/Business and Economy, there was also a middle line for some of Cathay Pacific's lowest-tier elite members.
While there were overhead signs for only first/business and economy, there was also a middle line for some of Cathay Pacific’s lowest-tier elite members.

There were three boarding lines: (1) first/business class (2) Marco Polo Green members (3) economy. The Marco Polo Green line only served a handful of people, while the economy line stretched down the terminal seemingly out of sight. Being a bit jet lagged, we didn’t notice the Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald logos on the first/business class boarding sign, so we stood in the economy line.

Although boarding started just 30 minutes prior to departure, it was quick and efficient.
Although boarding started just 30 minutes prior to departure, the process was quick and efficient.

About 31 minutes prior to departure, the boarding gate agents opened the door to the jetway and exactly 30 minutes out, they started scanning boarding passes. The entire first/business-class line was cleared before the short Marco Polo Green line and finally economy.

Once onboard, the cabin crew noticed my hurried photo taking. Instead of treating me suspiciously — as I’ve experienced on other carriers — they instead offered to take photos of me with the cabin. The only questions they had for me were: (1) Is this your first time on Cathay Pacific? and (2) Where are you from?

Cabin and Seat

The aircraft for this flight was the “33E” version of the Cathay Pacific A330 fleet. This arrangement isn’t reflected on SeatGuru, but Cathay Pacific’s website has a detailed seat map of this arrangement.

Most of the economy cabin is arranged 2-4-2 — except for the last few rows of economy, which are arranged 2-3-2.
Most of the economy cabin is arranged in a 2-4-2 layout — except for the last few rows of economy, which are arranged 2-3-2.

The economy cabin is arranged in a 2-4-2 format — which is one of our favorite arrangements when traveling as a couple, as we enjoy choosing one of the two-seat rows by a window. When we booked these flights, we were automatically assigned seats 41H (aisle) and 41K (window) and found no reason to change these seat assignments. While the row number would seem to indicate a further-back row, this is actually just the third row in the front section of the economy cabin.

While you may be tempted by the exit row, be wary that this area was a crowded part of the plane at cruising altitude.
While you may be tempted to sit in the exit row, be wary that this area was a crowded part of the plane at cruising altitude.

The economy cabin consists of two large sections, making up the back two-thirds of the aircraft. Since all the economy bathrooms are located between the two economy sections, this section remained very busy when we were at cruising altitude, so avoid seats in this area of the aircraft if you hope to rest during the flight.

The tray below the IFE screen is very useful for storing your cell phone and boarding pass.
The tray below the IFE screen is very useful for storing your cell phone and boarding pass.

The seats themselves seemed identical to those in Cathay Pacific’s 777-300, which we reviewed in November. Each seat has a small tray just underneath the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen, perfect for storing items you want to keep handy such as your cell phone. In addition to the standard seat-back pocket, the back of these seats have three equal-sized mini-pockets — the perfect size for storing a cell phone or small camera during the flight.

If you happen to be on an empty flight, the four-seat middle rows could turn into a nice "poor man's lay-flat seat."
If you happen to be on an empty flight, the four-seat middle rows could turn into a nice “poor man’s lay-flat seat.”

Another great feature for couples or families traveling together: The armrest between the seats raises completely. This allows you to lean between the seats without having part of the armrest jabbing into your side. While this flight was nearly full, if you find yourself on an empty flight, these middle rows would probably be quite comfortable to spread out on.

There's no entertainment box impeding legroom in these seats.
There’s no entertainment box impeding legroom in these seats.

Not only do these seats offer a generous (for economy) 32 inches of pitch, but they also don’t have an IFE box underneath them. The supports holding up the seats are almost shockingly minimal, leaving plenty of space for storing bags or stretching your legs.

There’s just one strange thing about this aircraft’s seats: There are no air vents. While the temperature never was uncomfortable for us, controlling the air at your seat just wasn’t an option.

Departure

During boarding, the crew were very attentive in helping to get people seated, bags stored and jackets stowed. From start to finish, boarding seemed to be complete within 15 minutes — an absolutely spectacular feat for such a large plane. In fact, we were settled in so quickly that the cabin crew — with seemingly nothing left to do before departure — passed through the cabin with UNICEF donation forms. Sadly, though, we wouldn’t depart on time.

With everyone seated and ready for takeoff, the cabin crew passed the time by collecting funds for UNICEF.
With everyone seated and ready for takeoff, the cabin crew passed the time by collecting funds for UNICEF.

Five minutes after the scheduled departure time, Captain Jason came on to explain the delay. With a pleasant British accent, he explained that we were waiting for 30 connecting passengers to arrive and that he was “very sorry for the delay,” which would end up being about 30 minutes before we finally pushed back.

Remember to turn off your Apple Watch!
Remember to turn off your Apple Watch!

The safety video was animated and so modern that it included a reminder for passengers to turn off their smartwatches.

In-Flight Entertainment

The IFE systems were an excellent source of entertainment for seemingly all genres.
The IFE systems were an excellent source of entertainment for seemingly all genres.

The IFE screens weren’t active at boarding, but most people seemed fine catching up on their phones, books or one of the newspapers available on the jetway during boarding. As our scheduled departure time passed, the IFE system turned on and remained active all the way until landing.

The IFE system was packed with dozens of movies, entire seasons of television shows and a wide variety of music and games. Movies were available in many languages (audio and subtitles). Unlike on some foreign carriers I’ve experienced, there was no lack of “Western” entertainment. One would be hard-pressed to run out of entertainment options while flying Cathay Pacific.

Two universal power plugs were found at each seat pairing.
Two universal power plugs were found at each seat pairing.

In case you need to charge-up during the flight, each pair of seats has two universal power plugs underneath the seat. The green lights on the plugs make it somewhat easier for you to find them, even in a dark cabin.

Unfortunately, this flight didn’t offer Wi-Fi options — a major strike against it for anyone who needs to stay connected.

Service

Similar to our first experience with Cathay Pacific, the service on this Cathay Pacific flight was impeccable.

Hopefully this wasn't the only cup of coffee served this flight.
Hopefully this wasn’t the only cup of coffee served during this flight.

Once we reached cruising altitude, I approached the back galley for some coffee. The entire cabin crew appeared to be busy preparing drinks and dinner, so I turned to head back to my seat, but before I could leave, one flight attendant noticed me and happily inquired about how she could help.

She seemed genuinely disappointed to let me know that they didn’t have any coffee ready at this time, but said that she’d brew a pot just for me. She asked for my seat number and promised to deliver it once it was ready. Sure enough, around 15 minutes later she came by my seat with a tray of coffee, milk, sugar and a mini-spoon.

Before I headed back to my seat, one of the flight attendants I’d spoken with during boarding happily said hi to “Texas” when she looked up and noticed me.

While these are minor examples, all these interactions made it clear that the Cathay Pacific cabin crew valued their passengers and actually seemed to be enjoying their work, a rather drastic difference from the attitude of the cabin crew on our immediately preceding flight.

Food and Beverage

We chose from a rather-limited selection of drinks during the first drink service.
We were left to choose from a limited selection of drinks during the first beverage service.

The first cabin service of the flight was a beverage service, which started just 20 minutes after takeoff, and it was quite peculiar — rather than bringing a cart through the cabin, the crew passed through with a variety of drinks on a tray.

The tray originally contained orange juice, apple juice, Sprite, sparkling water and Carlsberg beer, but the drink tray was small and was mostly depleted by the time it reached our row. We weren’t picky, so we took the leftover Carlsberg beer and apple juice. These drinks were also served with bags of peanuts.

My "fish" dinner was an adequate meal, but nothing special.
My “fish” dinner was an adequate meal, but nothing special.

Right at an hour after takeoff, the cabin crew passed through the cabin with dinner and drinks. Dinner choices were fish or pasta — I chose the fish and Katie picked the pasta.

Both meals came with a fruit dish containing cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew. Both of us independently noted that the fruit was very fresh and one of the better parts of the meal.

Katie's pasta meal was disappointingly bland.
Katie’s pasta meal was disappointingly bland.

While the meals came with butter for the bread, there was no salt or pepper provided, although we both would’ve appreciated having some for our meals. It may not have been Cathay’s fault — our taste buds might’ve been affected by the nearly 10,000 miles at altitude we’d been exposed to in less than 24 hours.

Unlike the earlier beverage service, dinner came with a selection from the drink cart.

The adjustable headrest were nice for catching some shut-eye during the late-evening flight.
The adjustable headrests were nice for catching some shut-eye during the late-evening flight.

After the dinner trays were collected, the cabin crew dimmed the lights for the remainder of the late-evening flight. Many passengers took advantage of this time to nap, while others made use of the IFE system. As a result, the cabin was noticeably quiet during this time.

Arrival

30 minutes before landing, the captain announced that we’d start descending into KUL soon. He noted that we made up some time in the air and would hopefully land at 12:30am, arriving at the gate just 15 minutes after our scheduled arrival time.

The cabin crew sprayed the cabin right before landing in KUL.
The crew sprayed the cabin right before landing in KUL.

“As required by government regulations” the crew members passed through the cabin with spray canisters — likely full of phenothrin — to clear the aircraft interior of fleas, ticks and other pests. They gave about a minute warning before passing through the cabin, in case anyone wanted to cover their noses and mouths with a mask for protection, though the spray is supposedly completely harmless to humans.

Bottom Line

This was another excellent experience on Cathay Pacific, further cementing it, in my opinion, as one of the top carriers for traveling in economy. While the dinner was a bit disappointing, the level of service, in-flight entertainment and top-notch economy seats more than made up for the subpar meal.

Now that American Airlines has opened its award booking options to allow Cathay Pacific flights when traveling to India, I look forward to being able to fly with this airline on future trips.

Have you flown Cathay Pacific intra-Asia? Tell us about your experience, below.

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