Cathay Pacific First Class, New York – Hong Kong: “Burn Avios, Burn” Cathay Pacific First Class and Amazing Conrad Suites

Index:

  • Planning the trip
  • US Airways Shuttle to New York and the Sheraton JFK
  • Cathay Pacific First Class, New York – Hong Kong
  • The Pier Lounge and Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong – Bangkok
  • Conrad Bangkok Deluxe Suite
  • Bangkok Airways Business Class, Bangkok – Koh Samui
  • Conrad Koh Samui, 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool Villa
  • Conrad Koh Samui, Resort
  • Bangkok Airways Business Class, Koh Samui – Bangkok
  • Cathay Pacific Business Class, Bangkok – Hong Kong and Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong
  • Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong – Chicago
  • United Airlines Back Home

Cathay Pacific first and business class check-in is with British Airways at the end of Terminal 7, it’s quiet and has its own dedicated security so no real waiting.

With no one ahead in line it took a surprisingly long time for an agent to free up, and then a surprisingly long time to check in. The only bit of confusion came when I asked them to print a lounge invitation for Hong Kong. I explained that we were in first class for the transpacific segment, on a first class (award ticket), our onward flight to Bangkok had been downgauged to an aircraft with no first class cabin. In the past I’ve had no problem getting access to first class lounges in Hong Kong based on arriving first class boarding passes.

The agent printed a lounge invitation for Hong Kong. It said business class. I explained the difference and she seemed unsure of what to do, “I’ll have to talk to someone to ok it.” I mentioned I even had an email from Hong Kong explaining that this was permitted, she asked to see it, and then said “well, if I’m asked I can say he had an email!” She tried to print first class lounge invites and said the computer wouldn’t let her without approval – and she didn’t want to get approval, “just ask in Hong Kong.” Great…

The single security line is also up a surprisingly steep gradiant, it’s like walking up Nob Hill in San Francisco (albeit for a very short distance).

Off to the lounge, Cathay Pacific uses the British Airways Terraces lounge and as a first class passenger I was directed left to the first class side. It’s not real first class lounge, since BA first class passengers have access to the Concorde Room. Instead, it’s really an Executive Club Gold lounge that’s called first class.

They had coffee, juice, tea, and a stocked bar, they had internet access, cereal, and they had smoked salmon. No hot items, no service, and the place was packed when we walked in. A London-bound flight was departing, though, and the place quickly cleared out.

Ultimately, the lounge was perfectly serviceable though non-descript, there wasn’t really anything ‘first class’ about it, certainly not anything that lives up to the overall Cathay Pacific first class experience. Still, it’s better than departing on the midnight flight from Toronto where they use the KLM lounge. I find Cathay Pacific to be really outstanding in the air, but I’m not at all impressed by their service on the ground.

Since I hadn’t had any internet access since boarding my US Airways flight to New York 14 hours earlier, I tried to catch up on things in the lounge knowing that I’d be offline again for at least 16 hours. Boarding was called, and I hurriedly finished a document for work, sent it off, and was the one of the last two or three to board the flight. On the way to the gate I stopped at Starbucks, wanting another coffee and knowing that Cathay Pacific doesn’t serve hot beverages on the ground or until the seatbelt sign is turned off. Only when I got to the front of the line they informed me that their espresso machine was broken. Why they didn’t say something to folks standing in line I’ll never know, other than the fact that this is New York and it’s a Starbucks at JFK.

The little Starbucks delay meant a backup on the jetway by the time I made my way over to the gate.

Once onboard, though, I was at peace. Cathay Pacific’s seats aren’t the newest anymore and they don’t have ‘doors’ but they’re holding up exceptionally well. I stowed my carryons in my seat’s closet. I do like the spaciousness that comes from not having any overhead bins. And the way you can lean against the seats while standing makes it one of the few cabins where it feels ‘normal’ to stand up and talk.

The load was 5/6 with only one of the two middle seats open. Sad, just days earlier my wife I had had appeared to be alone in the cabin. Alas, not a repeat of our February Asia trip where we had two first class flights to ourselves up front.

Pre-departure beverages, pajamas and amenity kits were distributed, we pushed back, and we were airborne in no time.

Taxiing at JFK is always interesting for plane spotting, here’s an El Al 747.

I quickly made my way across to the ottoman of my wife’s seat, while a flight attendant set up her table for us to dine together, across from each other as though in a restaurant. They add a table extender and have a tablecloth that fits across the entire double-length table.

We began with brunch, and would end the flight with lunch as the second meal. Here’s the brunch menu:

    BRUNCH

    Starters

    Orange or apple juice

    Mango energizer

    Fresh seasonal fruit

    Natural or fruit yoghurt

    Assorted cereals

    Main Courses
    Free range eggs-freshly scrambled, fried or boiled
    Served with grilled pork sausage, Breakfast steak, home fried potatoes, grilled tomato and sautéed mushrooms

    Dim sum with chili sauce
    Shrimp dumpling, siu mai, scallop dumpling, glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf

    Seafood congee, steamed mushroom rice roll with imperial soy sauce

    Bread Basket
    Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast
    Served with Mrs. Bridges Scottish preserves, Tasmanian meadow honey and butter

    Tea and Coffee

    Pralines

As always, a welcome note from the cabin crew:

Fruit starter:

I had the dim sum:

My wife had the congee:

After a short meal, not taking advantage of all the courses, I changed into my Shanghai Tang pajamas, a flight attendant made my bed (leaving it semi-upright for lounging), and I settled in and began exploring the extensive options in the StudioCX system. Cathay really does have a deep selection of movies and television shows. The only thing I find annoying is the array of commercials which play at the start of each one, though of course you can fast forward through them.

I watched a couple episodes of the final season of Entourage and the Keira Knightley film Last Night, worked for a bit, and the flight was somehow halfway through its expected 15 hours and 15 minutes. Time for a look at the snack menu:

    SNACKS
    Braised beef brisket in noodle soup

    Brie cheese with yellow peppers and chives on multi-grain corn spitz roll and mesclun salad

    Chicken tikka with mint yoghurt sauce

    Hot pot rice with cured meats, served with chicken broth

    Ice cream

It’s important to remember that Cathay Pacific’s service standard is to avoid disturbing the cabin. Unlike on some airlines, where flight attendants roam the aisles throughout the flight looking for something they can do for you, or even observe you discretely, Cathay Pacific first class flight attendants stay in the galley until called.

Now Ben has been known to push the call button and time how long it takes a flight attendant to respond. On this flight, I wouldn’t have been able to do that, I’d push the button and before I’d have been able to even start a clock someone was by my side. I ordered the beef brisket:

A brief nap, a bit more StudioCX, and we were about an hour and a half outside Hong Kong, my wife and I decided to have lunch together.

    LUNCH

    Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
    Caviar and fine smoked salmon

    International Favourites
    Saffron cream soup

    Lobster and mango salad with lemon olive oil dressing

    Grilled double bone lamb chop with rosemary jus, polenta roulade and grilled zucchini
    Or
    Pappardelle pasta with white asparagus sauce, toasted peanuts and grilled asparagus

    Chinese Favourites
    Double boied quail with Chinese yam soup

    Cold plate – marinated gluten with dried mushroom

    Stir-fried seafood in X.O. sauce
    Or
    Braised chicken with chestnuts

    Served with steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy, black mushroom and carrot flower

    Cheese and Dessert
    Cambozola, Taleggio, Manchego, Chaumes

    Fresh seasonal berries with rose syrup

    Pistachio pudding cake, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

    Red bean soup with lotus seeds

    Tea and Coffee

    Pralines

Naturally, a bit of caviar to begin:

I had the saffron cream soup, and my wife had the Chinese yam soup:

I then continued the Western menu with lobster and mango salad…

.. then my wife and I both went for the Chinese meal.

And I had dessert (Pistachio pudding cake) back at my seat. The menu said it came with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce but it was served with chocolate ice cream, sans sauce, and the cake was a bit dry.

It was time to change out of my pajamas for landing in Hong Kong. By the time I returned to my seat, my bedding was removed and everything was back into place for landing. We were a few minutes early, and I was very much looking forward to clearing transit security and heading off for a shower.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think it’s a bit odd that CX hasn’t worked out a deal with BA to allow F pax to use the CCR when it’s open. Unlike BA to LHR, the CX flights don’t overlap at all so at most BA would see 6 additional passengers.

    At some times of the day (I experienced it before the 2:55pm flight) the BA premium security is closed and you have to use the UA security queue, which can have quite a line even on the premium side with all the p.s. passengers.

  2. Gary,

    I have booked JFK-HKG-DPS with JFK-HKG in F and a 5-day stopover in HKG. (Same PNR/ticket.) Will I be able to get a pass to the F lounge when we depart HKG? If so, whom do I email?

  3. @Dan you aren’t an arriving or departing first class passenger for HKG-DPS so you’ll have access to the business class lounges

  4. How far in advance did you book these seats? Currently on 1Y and 1F on HKG-YYZ return. Wouldn’t mind changing it to JFK if possible…

  5. Hi Gary,

    Is that the 777? May I ask which two seats you recommend for a couple traveling together, as my wife and I will do next year?

    Thanks!

  6. Gary, did they change the men’s amenity kit pouch? When I traveled on CX F in July, they had that small square CD case-sized pouch. They one in your picture looks a little bigger… more like a normal sized case.

  7. @Dan yep the 777. There’s no real seats for couples in Cathay Pacific first class. You cannot see anyone else while in your seat. The two seats on the left hand side of the cabin (1A/2A) are preferred by some because you have the whole side of the cabin to yourself, the entrance to the middle seats are ont he other side. Personally I prefer taking seats that open towards each other when traveling with my wife which means either 1D/K or 2D/K. I’ve done both, and while I like row 1 because of the illusion of privacy, there may be someone behind you but you don’t ever notice, my wife prefers rows 2 since no one will ever walk past you. If you’re in row 1 someone in row 2 will pass to go to the restroom. Meanwhile, I suppose someone could find that the galley is bothersome if you’re in row 1 but I’ve never found it to be myself. Long winded way of saying that my current choice on the 777 is 2D/2K although at least one of those seats will be blocked from online seat selection as a bassinet seat so if you want them you’ll have to call.

  8. Interesting report Gary. I too have experienced and loved CX’s F product on a few occasions, but in light of the recent debate about whether F is a waste of points… mmm I am beginning to think it really is. I assume here you burned 150k BA or now Avios points vs 100k each for business. In business you’d have gotten the same entertainment system, decent meals, a very comfortable seat and bed (particularly if you got the new CX product which is highly possible) and gotten basically the same lounge facilities. And you’d have saved 50k points each. The 50k by most folks valuations is worth $750-1000. For example now you could use 50k points for say 5.5 roundtrips DCA-LGA, which are worth at least $165 each, so that’s a $900 value there and your next 5-6 weekend jaunts to NYC taken care of. For the $900 saving you can pay say $300 for a real massage at a top end spa, maybe another $300 for a sumptuous meal in Hong Kong, and another $300 to pay for round-trip transfers in a Porsche or other fancy means of transport to the airport and back. I mean it really does not make any sense at all when you break it down. Having thought this through, 150k miles for this trip is darn expensive in light of the fact that biz could have been done for 100.

  9. Interesting, I’m in the same boat as Dan, except with a 15 hr. layover in HKG (overnight). Will I be able to access the F lounge when I arrive back at the airport the next day?

  10. @gluedtothewindow overnight connection probably not – though you could try and just say “in transit from….” they may not look at the date on your boarding pass stub? 🙂

  11. Gary, out of curiosity what JFK flight (e.g. time) did you take and how did you arrange your sleep schedule to minimize the jet lag once you touched down in HKG? I am booked on the 255p next year that gets in at 7p the next day and I’m already trying to map out when I should be awake and asleep on the plane.

  12. Although this trip looks phenomenal, as is to be expected of CX First, I still enjoy evening flights (i.e., dinner service) much more than day flights. Sadly, though, most CX flights out of JFK have strange timings and you’re right, CX ground service isn’t on par with their cabin service.

    As a reminder to others (Gary, you obviously know and remember this) regarding the lounge issue, if you’re a oneworld Emerald, you can use the First lounge anyway (no BA Concorde Room, of course).

  13. I’m on the same flight in a couple of weeks. Doing a 2 day stopover in HKG and then continuing on to BKK same as with you I started off in F and now only J being available I am in Business. Not so much upset about sitting in J vs F for the relatively short flight but would have loved to have access to an F lounge in HKG. I am getting back home via South America so won’t get a chance to use the lounge on my return trip either.

    In any case really looking forward to finally trying out CX F

  14. We will also be going to BKK but not until June. Really looking forward to the Hotel review on the island. Pics are fab. I was wondering why you chose to fly Bangkok Airways over Thai Air or Thai Air Asia?. Also do we really need to wait until 24 hrs prior to flight to select seats? We are both in F. First time too. Thanks to BA miles.

  15. @Ernie I’ll explain the Bangkok AIrways decision in my post on the airline/flight. You can select seats by calling Cathay, any time within 6 months of flight.

  16. “knowing that Cathay Pacific doesn’t serve hot beverages on the ground or until the seatbelt sign is turned off…”

    Is this a new policy? We flew YYZ-HKG last year in F and we were barely seated before my wife asked for green tea; we had two pots before they closed the doors…

  17. @Andy I had understood from a flight attendant on this trip that the policy applied on the ground as well, perhaps that’s mistaken, I’ve certainly never had Cathay serve me hot beverages while the seatbelt sign was on.

  18. Hi Gary-

    Sorry you had to wait for that espresso. There are some support groups I can connect you with. Also, we’re coming for your asses. All of us. If you stay quiet and polite, we’ll leave you your underwear and a few crackers. Stock up on ammo, we are legion-

    cheers,

    the 99%

  19. @General Smedley T Butler – I don’t think I *complained* about inability to get hot beverages while the seatbelt sign is on. I simply noted it — A rule which applies on Cathay in all classes of service, by the way.

    Further I’d suspect that most readers of this blog are in the ‘99%’ and they read it to share in the tips to travel this way *without being* especially wealthy. Stick around awhile, you might learn something!

  20. Gary,

    How come every time I use the BA lounge at JFK when flying in First Class on CX, the bimbo at the front ALWAYS points to use the business class lounge?

    This happens all the time, even as an Emerald in Y. Are they that misinformed, do they specifically do it to everyone, or is it that I look too handsome?

  21. We flew F from SFO-HKG on 11/20 to burn our BA miles and had the same wonderful experience as you’ve described. We were 1D/1K and having dinner together with my wife was a great experience. I agree that the CX cabin service is more subdued than one might expect. I prefer it that way as the alternative is similar to walking into a shop and having the clerk shadow your every move. Looking at your Bon Appetit card, Kit was one of your FA’s, as she was for us.

    Our only regrets: 1. Wish we hadn’t eaten so much in The Wing as we were too full to try everything inflight. 2. Wish the winds were lighter so the flight could’ve been longer!

  22. Gary – Just a quick question I’m flying first either on the 9AM flight out of JFK or the 1pm flight out of JFK – do you know if their meal service is different on those flights?

  23. Gary-I am leaving a week from tonight JFK-HKG-DPS. The flight leaves JFK at 10:40pm with a quick stop in YVR. What will the service in F look like to this flight?

  24. @ray enjoy! you get separate amentieis for each flight, and on the outbound through YVR I believe you have the option to stay on the plane..

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