Everything You Need to Know About Flying Cathay Pacific First Class as a Couple
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What’s better than flying one of the best airline products in the world? Flying it with someone you love! My wife Katie and I recently had the good fortune to snag a couple of super-cheap Cathay Pacific first-class tickets from Da Nang, Vietnam to New York City and were more than excited to fly it together. I’ve flown Cathay First by myself, too, but I can say from experience that flying it with someone is a whole lot better. Here’s what you need to know about flying this bucket-list product with a friend or loved one.
Aircraft and Routes
Cathay Pacific flies to seven US destinations from its base in Hong Kong, but it has first class only on its Boeing 777-300ERs. So, you’re going to need to fly to or from one of the cities below to experience Cathay First for yourself:
- Boston (BOS)
- Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- New York Kennedy (JFK) — including one of several daily flights stopping in Vancouver (YVR)
- San Francisco (SFO)
It was no doubt a thrill to book a Cathay First ticket for such an incredibly low price — it was a mistake fare that the airline honored — but a situation like that is exceptionally rare, so most couples are realistically going to be booking these kinds of tickets with points and miles. Here’s an in-depth guide into the best options for booking Cathay Pacific first class awards. But let’s focus on what details couples will need to know.
Cathay typically opens just one award seat in the first-class cabin at a time, which can make it seem impossible to travel together as a couple. However, hope is not lost. Our suggested workaround is to find a flight with one first-class and at least one business-class award available. Then, book one person into each class and monitor first-class space until another seat opens up.
|Two first class awards
|Miles||Change Fee||Transfer partners|
|Alaska Mileage Plan||140,000||$125||Marriott|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
|220,000||$100||Amex, Citi, Marriott|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
|250,000||$100||Amex, Citi, Marriott|
If you booked the award using AAdvantage miles, American Airlines doesn’t charge a fee to upgrade an award from business class to first class as long as it’s on the same date and the same flight. For Oneworld award flights between the US and Asia Region 2, business class costs 70,000 miles each way and first class costs 110,000 miles each way. So, you’ll need to have 180,000 AAdvantage miles to originally book the first- and business-class tickets plus another 40,000 miles to upgrade the second ticket — for a total cost of 220,000 miles.
Alaska’s Mileage Plan used to be very friendly when it came to change fees, but it now charges a $125 change fee per person, per change — you wouldn’t have to make more than one change. However, Alaska offers a much cheaper rate: award flights between the US and Asia on Cathay Pacific cost 50,000 miles each way in business and 70,000 miles each way in first class. So, you’ll need 120,000 miles for the original booking plus 20,000 miles and $125 change fee to upgrade the second ticket. That totals 140,000 miles plus the $125 change fee.
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program confirmed that an upgrade from a business-class award to a first class one would incur a US$100, or 10,000 additional miles, change fee. The airline has a distance-based award chart with business-class awards to the US costing 70,000 (LAX/SFO) to 85,000 (JFK/ORD/BOS) miles each way and first class awards costing 110,000 (LAX/SFO) to 125,000 (JFK/ORD/BOS) miles each way.
Remember that award space is going to be much harder to find in 2019 due to the airline honoring all these incredible fares that people bought. Indeed, TPG‘s Ethan Steinberg found that 21 of 24 first class seats between NYC and Hong Kong were already filled as far out as September 2019:
Due to Cathay Pacific first class’ spacious 1-1-1 arrangement, no two seats lie directly next to each other. But there’s still some seating strategy to employ. There’s a wall between the A window seats and the D middle seats. In order to avoid having to constantly go through the galley, you’ll want to make sure you both get seats on either the A side or the D/K side of the cabin.
The D middle seats and K window seats share an aisle, but the seats are angled away from each other. Combining that with the large privacy shell around each seat, and they feel very separate from each other when sitting down.
Both Katie and I love to sit in the window. When flying business class, we will often pass on shared seats in the middle of the cabin and book adjacent window seats. For couples like us, you’ll want to book seats 1A and 2A, as you’ll have that side of the cabin all to yourself.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get these two seats for ourselves either time. We had to settle for seats 1K and 2K from New York to Hong Kong.
The only options for being able to see each other during taxi, takeoff and landing are seats 1D/1K or 2D/2K. But, even if you’re sitting next to each to other, you’ll need to crane your neck forward in order to see one another. Of the two options, I’d recommend 2D/2K — the noise from the galley is loudest in seats 1D/1K. I’ve found that the back row provides plenty of privacy, and the business-class cabin directly behind row 2 isn’t as loud as the galley noise in row 1.
It’s important to note that seats 2A and 2K are blocked for those traveling with infants in arms. These seats will simply show on Cathay Pacific’s seat map as “unavailable”:
However, you can see whether these seats are occupied or blocked by using a service like ExpertFlyer:
To be able to move to these seats, I’ve had success calling Cathay Pacific (1-800-233-2742, option 2 then 1) and asking to be moved to one of these seats.
The Onboard Experience
Based on the seating arrangement, you may think that you won’t be able to enjoy much of the flight together. But that’s only the case for taxi, takeoff and landing. Each first-class seat has an ottoman that can double as an auxiliary seat. It even has a seat belt for safety during turbulence.
You better believe we put that policy to the test. Before takeoff from Hong Kong and the return from New York, Katie and I toasted with a glass of Krug Champagne. I was only asked to move once the flight was pushing back.
At meal times, the flight attendants can add a tray table extender so that you can share meals together.
You’ll need the extra table space. There are a lot of dishes used during meal service. We can confirm: Caviar tastes better when you’re enjoying it with your special someone.
With the first-class seats measuring a massive 36 inches wide, twice as wide as an economy seat, there’s enough space that you could sit next to each other before or after the meal. While it was a tight fit for us, it wouldn’t be as bad for couples with a smaller combined waist size.
While there are plenty of excellent double beds that couples can book together on flights, this isn’t one of them. Between the small ottoman and tapered leg rest, the bed is only large enough for one person.
When originating or connecting in Hong Kong, make sure to build in a long layover so you can experience the full Cathay ground experience, particularly the two spectacular lounges for first-class passengers: The Wing and The Pier.
We prefer The Pier due to its quiet ambience and more peaceful experience overall. Passengers also can get a complimentary 15-minute spa service at The Pier, but there’s no spa at The Wing. If you’re lucky, you can get an appointment at the same time, so you can enjoy it together. Just note that wait times have never been less than two hours any time I’ve tried to get an appointment.
While The Wing is generally much more hectic, the upside of visiting this lounge is the ability to get a private “cabana” room together before your flight. Again, wait times may be long.
Departing from the US, you’ll want to get to the airport especially early if you’re departing from New York Kennedy (JFK) or Los Angeles (LAX) as Cathay’s first-class passengers get an invitation to American’s Flagship First Dining. While you’ll want to save room for caviar onboard, Flagship First Dining offers a sit-down fine-dining experience exclusively for first-class passengers. While it’s not available to first-class passengers on all Oneworld airlines, it seems that American and Cathay Pacific have an agreement.
Unfortunately, AA closes Flagship First Dining at JFK at 10:45pm, or at least that’s what I was told when we arrived at the lounge at 10:47pm before our 12:50am departure.
It’s not easy to book Cathay Pacific first class together as a couple. Cash fares typically cost at least $20,000 round-trip per ticket and there’s only one award seat typically available at a time. However, following these award booking tips (and with some luck) you could get to enjoy Cathay’s classic luxury experience together yourselves. And when you’re able to do so, make sure to maximize the experience both on the ground and in the sky.
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