Maximizing Miles in the Maldives: Cathay First, Eating in Singapore, and a Park Hyatt Water Villa – Cathay Pacific First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong

  1. Introduction
  2. Positioning flights to San Francisco, Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf, and Some Dim Sum for the Day
  3. Cathay’s New San Francisco Lounge
  4. Cathay Pacific First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong
  5. The Wing and Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Singapore
  6. A Grand Suite at the Grand Hyatt Singapore
  7. Eating in Singapore
  8. Dinner at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands
  9. Singapore Airlines Business Class: Singapore – Male
  10. Transfer to the Park Hyatt Hadahaa, Maldives
  11. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part I
  12. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part II
  13. Park Hyatt Maldives – Part III
  14. Maldivian, Kaadehdhoo – Male
  15. Singapore Airlines Business Class, Male – Singapore
  16. Cathay Pacific Business Class, Singapore – Hong Kong
  17. Conrad Hong Kong
  18. Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Chicago
  19. American’s Chicago Flagship Lounge and the Final Journey Home

Lucky recently said to me that Cathay Pacifc first class was ‘my second home’. Indeed, I’ve flown it a good bit. It’s an outstanding, solid product. My first experience with it I was excited beyond belief. It was the stuff of legends — great hard product, great service, and perhaps most importantly something that was extremely difficult to get.

It might even have been the snufalufagus of award travel, no one knew whether two first class award seats on Cathay even really existed, or they were just an urban legend or figments of a frequent flyer imagination.

That all changed back in 2009, first the cracks began to show in availability with Toronto – Hong Kong opening up two first class award seats usually on Tuesdays. Then June 2009 came and the floodgates truly opened, it seemed that booking far in advance you could get two first class award seats on most flights, most routes. The depths of the financial crisis had hit, people weren’t buying the seats the way they used to, and Cathay changed the way they handled inventory.

Things have tightened up for sure in that time, but the seats are still pretty ubiquitous. Cathay First is probably the all-around best product that is also easy to get for long-haul travel. I don’t know if it’s because I’m lazy, or that they just happen to offer the best flight availability and connections for where I’ve wanted to go and I’m less interested in doing backflips to try new products, but I find myself onboard Cathay in first class on my award travels more and more.

I did my Philippines trip two years ago in Cathay first, I’ve flown them to London,, I flew them over Thanksgiving to Thailand, there’s this trip (the Singapore portions), and I ave another award booked with them for later in the year as well.

For North American flyers, the flights to Hong Kong on Cathay are from New York, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

Toronto used to be the absolute gimme, but they’ve ended first class service there and are flying planes instead that offer business, premium economy, and coach. I find availability from New York to be ‘ok’ but not as good for more than one traveler as you might expect considering they have four flights (one is New York – Vancouver – Hong Kong, and yes that means you can book just JFK – Vancouver if you can find it availabile). Chicago is a good, reliable flight for availability. But the real gold mine for first class award space is San Francisco, though oddly enough business class space can be hard on the SFO flights, much easier to get out of Los Angeles where it’s first class that’s harder.

And of course American Airlines domestic award space is unmatched, so getting to the gateways is usually quite possible (though from many cities, San Francisco requires two flights as it isn’t a oneworld hub, which is also likely why it’s easier to get the award seats from there, they rely primarily on origination/destination traffic to fill the planes).

I tend to prefer Cathay’s 777 over the 747, because the cabin has only 6 seats rather than 9 and both are generally staffed with 2 flight attendants. I also prefer the 777 because the seats are in my opinion better situated for couples.

The 747 is an airier cabin, and one of the restrooms is bigger than what’s offered on the 777s (it has two windows even). But seating for couples is tough, there’s row 1 in the nose and those seats open towards each other, those are the preferred seats for most couples. The other option is row 4, seats A and D, which are a window and middle since they open towards each other. But 4D in the middle is a bit of a smaller suite and has a smaller closet in the seat, and it’s back by the galley which can be bothersome.

In contrast, the 777 has 1D and 1K which open towards each other, and 2D and 2K which open towards each other. Most couples choose one of those two pairs. Although some prefer 1A and 2A, since you effectively have the whole side of the cabin to yourselves since the D seats in the middle open away from you.

I’ve also always found the 777 a bit smoother of a ride.

Still, there’s a magic to the nose of a 747, not unlike the slendor of the upper deck (which is one thing I love about Lufthansa first class, they put first upstairs!).

On this flight we were packed, 9 of 9 seats occupied. Fortunately we had 3 crew members working the cabin rather than the traditional two, and I never noticed any sort of degradation of service.

We were among the last to leave the lounge, with the gate right next door there was really no reason to rush off at the start of boarding and it’s not as though you need to be on board quickly to grab overhead space. There are no overhead bins in the first class cabin, which makes for an extremely spacious sense of place. Instead each first class seat has its own closet. You can put items underneath the ottoman of your seat. And anything you can’t fit the flight attendants will be happy to store for you. Plus, we’d be onboard for 14 hours, why add 30 minutes more?

By the time we made it down to the gate area, the line was long and the place a bit of a zoo.

Here’s the spacious cabin:

And my home for the next 14 hours:

Amenity kits and pajamas were distributed, along with menus and hot towels. I had a pre-departure orange juice, and shortly after takeoff a glass of Krug, served with nuts (which I wasn’t especially in the mood for and didn’t try, I’m actually a bit burned down on airline nuts although the pending new nut mix that American will be serving is quite good and when I get that onboard I’ll go back to eating them).

For those unfamiliar with Cathay service, you can dine with another passenger — they install a table extender, one passenger sits on the ottoman (“buddy seat”) which has its own seatbelt. They set the table and you’re as though in a restaurant, albeit above 30,000 feet.

Here’s the menu for the flight:

Supper

Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon

International Favourites
Fennel and apple soup

Mesclun salad with king crab, tear drop tomatoes, cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette

Grilled U.S. Wagyu beef tenderloin with red wine sauce, parsley potatoes, asparagus and baby carrots
Or
Lobster and crab ravioli with toasted red pepper coulis and grilled baby zucchini

Chinese Favourites
Double boiled conch and mushroom soup

Cold plate – marinated gluten with cucumber

Kung Po chicken with steamed jasmine rice and stir fried mixed vegetables

Cheese and Dessert
Camembert, Yellow Cheddar, Danish Blue, Herb Goat Cheese

Seasonal fresh berries with cream

Bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Black sesame sweet soup

Tea and coffee

Pralines

Snacks

Grilled saffron marinated prawns skewer with cucumber raita

Grilled chicken breast with Brie, chipotle mayonnaise and pesto on sour dough bread with mesclun salad

Wontons in noodle soup

Hot pot rice with minced pork patty, water chestnut and mushroom, served with chicken broth

Ice cream

Breakfast

Starters
Orange or apple juice

Mango smoothie

Fresh seasonal fruit

Natural or fruit yoghurt

Assorted cereals

Main Courses
Free range eggs-freshly scrambled, fried or boiled
Served with your choice of grilled Nuernberger sausage, grilled apple wood smoked bacon, roesti potatoes, grilled roma tomato or mushroom

Dim sum with chili sauce
Siu mai, shrimp dumpling, mini glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, crabmeat dumpling

Lobster congee with spring onion pancake

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

Tea and Coffee

I started with the caviar…

… and then went with the Chinese meal. It’s always pretty good, not great, Cathay’s food is in my view its weakest component. But the Chinese options are almost always superior to the Western choices.

It was late, I didn’t want a huge meal, so I skipped cheese and dessert — figuring that if I was really interested I could have it later on in the flight. I headed to the nice oversized lavatory to change into my PJs and agreed when one of the flight attendants asked if she could make my bed. (I also asked for an extra pillow, I find that makes me much more comfortable.)

I settled in but found I wasn’t able to sleep right away, so I started watching television on the StudioCX entertainment system, one of my favorites, for its incredibly extensive offerings. I watched the (entire) 8th season of Entourage and finally was able to sleep for a couple of hours.

I woke up and it was halfway through the flight. Having only picked at my dinner, I decided to order some snacks. Since my first set of Cathay Pacific first class flights I’ve been a fan of their black sesame soup, so it was a no-brainer. I ordered that and the hot pot rice.

One of the important things to know about Cathay Pacific service is that they stay out of the cabin as much as possible during flight. They’re not uber-present the way that Singapore’s cabin crew is. Instead they try not to disturb. It’s unlikely you’ll catch their eye if you want something. You’re supposed to – and they want you to – use the flight attendant call button whenever you would like to call a flight attendant. For an American, trained on U.S. domestic carriers, this can be a little bit uncomfortable. Most of us are used to using that button only in the event of a life or death emergency and flight attendants make clear to us that we ‘shouldn’t have done that’ (usually not in so many words) whenever pushing the button without the aircraft being on fire. Not so Cathay. They’re there within seconds to help you. But they just need to be called, or else they don’t want to disturb you.

After my snack I started watching a movie, which one I don’t even recall, and drifted back to sleep. I woke up about 2 hours out from Hong Kong, and about 30 minutes later had breakfast. I skipped the cereals and yogurt and went straight for the main affairs.

I like to have dim sum onboard largely for the glutinous rice plus I like the chili sauce, and the eggs are also freshly made onboard. So I had both:

The sun was rising and we’d be in Hong Kong shortly.

So I changed out of my PJs, got my carryons reader to disembark, and grabbed a magazine to read during landing. We were on the ground shortly, and I was well-rested and ready for a quick shower in the Wing before heading on to Singapore.

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 Milepoint.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 took my dad to HKG and JNB and we really preferred 1A and 1K in the nose of the 747. Even with a full cabin, it seemed very private.

    And i think CX is unmatched with the precision its cabin crew serves meals, more so even than the EK flight i had this weekend when it just so happened it was just me and Engelbert Humperdinck in First Class. Although that crew was excellent and the service top notch, it was certainly well worth the UA miles for 15.5 hours in an EK suite, CX in the air is just hard to beat in my experience.

  2. Looking forward to the rest of this series. Esp the review of Conrad HKG, which left me more disappointed than not this past weekend.

  3. I’ve flown JFK-HKG-JFK as well as JFK-YVR in CX F and had a great experience in all 3 flights. I’ll be flying them again in a month SIN-HKG-JFK in F (going there in “only” J).

    My one complaint about their first class service is not the food but that they offer no ground service. I was really hoping for the golf cart or some sort of express security line (for transfer to another CX flight).

    The inflight was still great, and I seriously can complain only so much… haha

  4. We just got back from our first CX F flight to Asia, LAX-BKK via HKG. Thanks for the pix, I’m ready to book again! And I was thinking about the 747 this time, but I agree, the 777 looks more spacious and we loved 1A/2A as a couple.

    These flights were the first I ever really looked forward to in terms of being on the plane. It’s like the return home was another day of vacation fun!

    I love the Krug and Caviar so much, I could eat just that.

    Since I live in a gateway city (LA), I can got a free NYC-LAX or LIH-LAX add on as my free stopover in the gateway city!. For only 135k RT – I can’t believe that will last at that level for long. (If I have to pay SF-LAX out of pocket, I’ll do that rather than use my free leg for such a cheap ticket).

    Thanks to Gary (and others) for the inspiration and the ways of accumulating enough miles for multiple trips!

  5. The service ratio difference between the 747 and 777 cabins is interesting. I presume they have a third FA working the F galley, too, no?

  6. It’s good that they added an extra FA to the F section when it was full. I see your point about 1A and 2A on the 777, but I still think 1A and 1K on the 744 is the best for couples. Unlike many airlines, there is no closet between these seats, so it is very private. If the flight is full and you think service will suffer, you can always wait a few hours to eat. That way, you are more likely to get undivided attention from the FA.

  7. Do you ever feel weird snapping pictures on the plane? I can never bring myself to pull out an actual camera and try to just use my iphone.

  8. I’m discrete about it. I don’t use a flash. I don’t make a production of it. Just pull out the camera, snap, done.

  9. Thanks for the report Gary. I am heading out of Chicago in May. I appreciate the review on the seating for couples. Unfortunately I have 1A and 1D booked and only 2D is currently open:-( Guess I will keep checking…

  10. @nbdona The business class (for new configuration) is just a bit smaller than first class. Still like a mini-suite. Other than that,it’s one of the best available on the market.

  11. how does singapore (first or business) compare to cx? I have flown cx business and first, but wanted to try out singapore air possibly for my next flight from the us to sydney…

  12. With all that space in first class, can you cut the cheese and have your neighbor not smell it? You know those long flight and foreign food equal disaster sometimes. I might pay full fare if I could lay around a let em rip at my leisure without the public knowing my business.

  13. Gary:

    NIce report, I look forward to my CX-883 flight in first on the 777.

    Whats your opinion of seat 2D on this aircraft?

    I got on line 180 days out from the flight date, and all that was not taken was 2d.

    In the past I was able to get 2A as I prefer a window seat.

    Mike

  14. This post inspired me to copycat you. Followed your advice on the BA 100K award credit card and flew on the CA HKG-SFO flight, an experience of a lifetime, thank you Gary!!

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