Cathay Pacific First Class
I arrived at JFK and returned my rental car. I made my way straight to Terminal 7 which is home to Cathay Pacific (and other Oneworld airlines). You can check-in and print your boarding pass out 48 hours ahead of your flight so I already had my boarding pass and just my back pack for a carry-on (so not checked-luggage). I bypassed the counters since I had my paperwork (note: when traveling international – for most destinations – you will need to have your passport checked by an airline agent before you depart) and went to the Fast Track security area. It is specifically for Oneworld elites and Business/First class customers (or on this particular morning, anyone because the officials thought the other lines were too long) so it is supposed to be a quicker line. In my case, I got there just before they started waiving the general line over so I go through quickly. The British Airways Galleries Lounge was just ahead and I turned towards the First Class part of the lounge. The check-in agent checked my passport and printed out my other boarding pass for the Hong Kong to Singapore/Colombo flights.
I have been in many domestic airline lounges and was expecting quite a bit more from the BA Galleries First Class Lounge. To be honest, the experience wasn’t that much better. The biggest difference was how empty this one was. 🙂 Another nice thing was the amount of fresh fruit available. When traveling, it can get old very fast eating airport/airline food – especially for the runner who is looking for the more running-friendly food.
After getting some work done, they called that our flight was beginning to board. Because I wanted to get some photos before everyone started getting on, I headed over there. Normally, I would try to board last minute for a flight this long but I was really excited to see the First Class cabin. Before we get to the flight, I will cover how I obtained this ticket. If you are not interested in that, skip on down for the review of the plane.
How Did I Book This Ticket?
I have mentioned before that I have had limited exposure to American Airlines AAdvantage program and what you can do with it. That is one of the good things about planning trips like this is it forces me to explore more to help you plan better. This was probably one of the best parts about the trip was learning what is possible with American Airline miles. Unfortunately, this knowledge may not be valuable for too long depending on how their bankruptcy and merger with US Airways turns out, but for now, I found it to be very helpful.
First of all, if you go to the AA site and search for JFK-CMB (Colombo, Sri Lanka) it will spit out that there is no AA availability but there maybe with their partners. At this point, you can call in to speak to a reservations agent but they may not be able to help you or know what to look for or feel like taking the time to look around. It is better to do the homework on your own. I will have a post shortly that will deal with making AA award reservations, but for now I will just stick with what I did to find this ticket.
First of all, I wanted to try to fly with Etihad Airways. This would have allowed me to try each of the Big Three Middle Eastern airlines (they are very competitive for style and service) – Etihad Airways (based in Abu Dhabi), Emirates Airlines (based in Dubai), and Qatar Airways (based in Doha). To be able to book Etihad flights with AA miles, there has to be low awards available (called GuestSeat). To search for these awards, you have to register for the Etihad Airways frequent flyer program and go through the process to redeem to see if there is availability (you will not book here – this is just to check). If the flight selections are greyed out (as it was in my case) when you select the GuestSeat (as opposed to OpenSeat) then there is no availability. I had kept checking but there never turned up availability so that was out. (In the future post about AA awards, I will explain in more detail about searching for tickets on the Etihad website.)
My next choice was Jordanian Airlines. I wanted this option as it allowed me to leave late on Tuesday night so I would have more time at home. For this flight, I did have to find the flights that I wanted and then call in to the AAdvantage Awards Reservation desk to ask them to look for availability. Unfortunately, there was nothing with them either.
The third choice was with Cathay Pacific. The easiest way to search for these awards is to do it on British Airways website. To do this, you need to register for their frequent flyer program (Executive Club) and then select to Book Flights with Avios. It may be most helpful for you to search segment by segment (especially if you are trying to leave from a US city that is not an international gateway city). When it brings it to the screen asking if you want a stopover, make sure you select No Stopover as that way you will not have to the UK taxes/surcharges (which are very high for premium cabin travel).
In my case, I was fortunate to be able to just put in JFK and CMB (one-way) and have it pull up the business class tickets. I found that they had excellent business class availability (in fact, at one point, they had 7 seats available!) for the dates I needed. At the time, I did not have enough miles in my account, so I called in and had them hold the reservation for me (they hold award reservations for 5 days). It costs 55,000 AA miles and $12 in taxes for this reservation in business class (as opposed to British Airways which required 95,000 Avios and $282 in taxes – because British Airways is distance-based instead of zone-based).
To get the extra miles I needed (I was at 53,000 miles), I went to transfer the 2,000 from SPG and hoped I would get them quicker than the site said they would transfer. However, I was told that if I transferred the miles from a different AA account, it would take up to 3 business days, so after the SPG points did not post in 2 days (which was way shorter than how long it should take), I had to transfer the 2,000 from a separate account. (It is free to transfer points from SPG to an airline but it is not free to transfer points between users of an airline program so that did cost a little bit to transfer the 2,000) It is not possible to book partner awards online, so it has to be done on the phone with an agent. The problem is that there is a $25 processing fee to do it on the phone (per ticket). So, my total came to 55,000 miles and $37 for taxes and fees. Not bad for a ticket that would cost $6000 if purchased!
Fast forward a few days of checking for a later flight option and I found that there was first class availability for first class on the JFK-HKG section. Now, I had been looking forward to flying Cathay Pacific’s business class on the 777-300 because there had been a lot of great reviews about their new business class seats. People said that they were very similar to some airline’s first class seats. But faced with the option of flying first class on the same plane was too much to turn down (especially considering the rave reviews about their first class service and seats). To move up to First Class would require an additional 12,500 miles. When I checked to see if the SPG miles had posted, I was surprised to find an additional 5,500 miles in my account. I had forgotten that if you have the Citi American Airlines credit card, you get 10% of the award ticket back in your account after booking! That brought the effective mileage cost of the First Class ticket down to 62,000 miles. Not only that, but my 2,000 SPG points had posted, so I only needed to transfer another 5,000 miles to get that award.
Cathay Pacific First Class Review[box style=”note”]
Cathay Pacific Flight # CX841
New York City (JFK) – Hong Kong (HKG
Departure 9AM (EST) / Arrival 2:44PM (HKT) – 16 hours and 44 minutes
Plane – Boeing 777-300ER / Seat – 1K (First Class)[/box]
One of the nice things about traveling in a premium cabin (or being elite) is the privilege of boarding at your leisure through the priority line. It feels a little snobbish, but you feel less like a snob if you don’t look at everyone in the really long economy line while you walk pass them. 🙂 In this case, by the time I reached the gate, there were already at least 100 people in the main line. I headed to the premium lane (which was empty) and made my way down the jetway. When I got on the plane, they asked for my ticket and then assigned a flight attendant to take me to my seat. I was in 1K which is the front right seat (or suite). There are 2 rows of 3 seats in the Cathay Pacific First Class cabin on the 777-300 so it is a very nice setup.
I have traveled quite a bit on first class and business class domestically and also flown business class internationally (on domestic airlines) but this was the first time I had flown in a premium cabin on an international airline. International airlines (especially Asian airlines) have a reputation of being far better than our domestic airlines’ in the premium department, so, needless to say, I was quite excited about this flight!
When I got to my seat, the first thing I thought was how spacious the suite was. The seat was large (would easily have fit me and one of my kids), the floorspace was more than adequate for stretching, the storage was adequate (no overhead bins which helped the cabin seem so large) and the colors were subtly elegant. The carpet reminded me a little bit of a grandma’s parlor (which isn’t to say it is bad – it is more neutral).
Once I got my stuff stowed, the flight attendant came by to ask if I would like my pajamas. Since I was exhausted from driving all night (and part of my plan was to go to sleep quickly to get on the right time zone) I gladly took them and went to change. The pajamas they give are made for them exclusively by Shanghai Tang. If you were to purchase nightwear from Shanghai Tang, they would run over $500. Granted, these were not the same quality but were very nice – probably worth 10% of that price. It was nice to be able to get comfortable for such a long flight.
After I got back to my seat, I fell asleep while waiting for take-off. I woke up shortly after take-off and the flight attendant came by to ask if I wanted brunch. Their brunch menu is really nice and I was ready to eat. Here was what they offered:
StartersOrange Juice Mango Energizer (a smoothie) Fresh Seasonal Fruit Natural or mixed fruit Greek Yogurt Assorted Cereals
Main CoursesFree range eggs-freshly scrambled, fried or boiled served with your choice of home fried potatoes, grilled pork sausage, streaky bacon, grilled tomato or sauteed mushrooms Assorted Chinese dim sum Abalone and Chinese mushroom congree, served with steamed prawn rice roll with imperial soy sauce
Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast served with Mrs. Bridges Scottish preserves, Tasmanian meadow honey and buttter
I had the mango smoothie, seasonal fruit, scrambled eggs, and potatoes with a side of toast, croissants and preserves. Instead, they brought me that plus all the bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and stewed tomato. It was nice of them to include all of it. I do have to make a confession here – I am not a big lover of gourmet, exotic food so some of my food opinions will most definitely not match those of you who really know gourmet. That being said, the eggs were a little bland (I know I could have improved it with pepper but I never put salt and pepper on my food). The smoothie was excellent as were the potatoes.
After brunch, the flight attendant asked if I would like my bed to be made up. This, from what I understand, is one of the chief differences between Cathay Pacific first class and business class – the niceness of the bed/mattress. They put the seat all the way down and put a small mattress over the top of it (it has holes on the side for the seat belt to go through so you can remain safely restrained during your rest). They add a nice pillow and duvet and it is really comfortable! I was able to sleep for about 5 hours and I really felt rested when waking.
After I woke up, the flight attendant came by to see if I wanted anything. I should mention here that Cathay Pacific flight attendants (at least mine and the ones I have heard about from others) are really great. However, part of them being great is they give you an exceptional amount of privacy – they aren’t going to keep coming back to ask if you want something. The expectation is for you to call them if you want something so do not feel bad using the call button (I NEVER use the call button when I am in coach, so it feels weird to use it here!). I didn’t feel like another meal yet, so they brought me some Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I moved my seat up a bit and got some work done for a few hours.
For work, it is really comfortable. The table slides out from the side near the window and you have a power port to plug your electronics into. In addition, there is a fair amount of storage space around the seat for papers, books, electronics, etc. Also, the TV slides out so that it is in front of your seat for your viewing. It stays behind the table so you can leave it there when working or eating (it also is high enough that you can be in bed mode and still have it positioned there).
A few hours after I woke, I decided I was ready for dinner. When I say “dinner” the menu actually calls it lunch but it is not like any lunch I have ever had!
Caviar and fine smoked salmon
International FavoritesCurried parsnip cream soup Lobster and mango salad with lemon olive oil dressing Pan-seared USDA prime beef tenderloin with sauteed spinach, roaster pumpkin and kipfler potatoes, thyme jus and bearnaise sauce or Ricotta ravioli with cherry tomato ragout and arugula
Chinese FavoritesDouble boil quail with Chinese yam soup Cold plate – marinated gluten with dried mushroom Stir-fried seafood in X.O. sauce or Stir-fried chicken with black bean sauce served with steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy, black mushroom and carrot flower
Cheese and DessertCambozola, Taleggio, Manchego, Chaumes Fresh berries with cream Raspberry crumble with chocolate ice cream and vanilla sauce Red bean soup with lotus seeds
Based on what I said before about food, can you guess which items I ordered? 🙂
I did go with the caviar and salmon because I do like salmon and thought I probably should try the caviar. To me, it was nothing special and I didn’t eat it all.
Needless to say, it was a very good meal. Quite a bit different from what you experience in economy!
Overall, the flight was a very enjoyable one. I cannot imagine flying that long in economy (the longest I had done in economy before was 14 1/2 hours). There were times on this flight I got bored and was walking around for a bit so I know it would be more tiring in the back.
I highly recommend Cathay Pacific first class for the service, attention to detail, comfort, spacious suites, relaxing bed, great food, quiet environment and overall experience. Watch tomorrow for a post on how you can get the miles to fly this flight as well! Do keep in mind that the business class on this flight is also widely considered to be one of the best so you don’t have to put out the extra miles for this seat. In fact, if I was traveling with my family, I would gladly go for business, not because I’m a cheapskate but because the seats are much better situated for families in business than first. However, if you are going to travel with one other person, first class is really nice for the two of you. As you can see in some of the photos, at the other end of the suite is the foot rest but it also acts as a seat for your travelmate (not for take-off/landing) and they will serve you both in one suite (so you can share meals). That makes it very nice for honeymoons/anniversary trips/etc.
One other nice aspect of the flight was the camera that was mounted on the outside that could be viewed on the TV. It was pretty neat to watch the landing!
All in all, my first international first class experience was a great one and one that I found hard to beat.
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.