Review: Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong – Boston

I waited until just a few minutes to boarding before heading over to my gate, which was close to The Pier. Once inside the gate area there was not much to do and no leaving.

That’s because upon entering the gate area for a US-bound flight there are security staff asking questions — about whether I had packed my bags myself, whether they had been outside my possession — that even a former head of TSA said were stupid when the agency eliminated them.

There was a good view of our bird that would be taking me on a 7970 mile journey for the evening.

I was flying Hong Kong – Boston after arriving from Singapore and spending some time in The Pier first class lounge. I really wanted to fly to Los Angeles or Chicago so that I could pick up a non-stop flight home to Austin. I booked my flight about a month out, it was just me on this trip. Shortly after booking a New York JFK flight opened, and I thought about switching, it would get me in a little earlier and get me more sleep. But I decided to keep my longer layover in Hong Kong for lounge research.

Los Angeles and Chicago opened up both the day before and after I needed it. San Francisco opened up for my date of travel. But not exactly what I was looking for so I kept Boston. Six days before departure I still didn’t have a flight home from Boston but I added Boston – Charlotte – Austin the next morning for just the additional taxes to my 110,000 mile itinerary (with no change fee as an Executive Platinum).

We boarded on time and one other passenger came onboard with me at the front of the queue. He was the other first class passenger for the evening, and as we boarded he apologized to me. He said he had just booked the day before, and if he hadn’t I’d have had the cabin to myself. As it is, a load of 2 out of 6 up front is phenomenal.

I had assigned myself seat 1A when I first booked the flight. Seating is two rows of 1-1-1, but the seats on the right side of the cabin open towards each other while the A seats are really more separate and private. The other passenger was in 1K, so he had the side with four seats to himself. I had the 1A/2A side to myself.

Here’s how the cabin divides itself:

The great thing about having a cabin half full or less is that each passenger can have one seat for meals and entertainment, a separate seat for sleeping.

Cathay Pacific doesn’t offer true suites in the sense of seats with doors, but they’re still very private. The 1-1-1 configuration is incredibly spacious, and the seats are angled so you really don’t see other passengers. In fact even the seats that open towards each other are private from each other except when you get out of your seat and actively look.

The Cathay seat has been around for years and has been reapholstered but otherwise it’s just worn incredibly well. Just as Singapore’s current A380 suite is one of the best first class products despite being a decade old, so too remains Cathay Pacific’s — and still to this day offers one of my absolute favorite beds in the sky for sleeping.

Another quirk about the seat is that it’s great for standing, if you’re in the cabin with friends they height is perfect for standing and the front closet of the seat is perfect to lean against while you talk.

Cathay offers caviar and Krug. They’ve cut back the predeparture amuse bouche that they added perhaps four years ago in a bit of cost cutting.

Service is very good, but always worth knowing that it isn’t as proactive as with Singapore Airlines, they tend to stay out of the cabin and leave you alone but they want you to buzz them when you need anything. That can make things a bit challenging for a first time American passenger who is trained by US airlines that you only hit the flight attendant call button in the event of a life threatening emergency, and even then you’ll probably be scolded for it.

I always advise taking the Chinese meal on Cathay, I’ve not normally been impressed with Cathay Pacific’s Western food. I think they do a decent job with midflight snacks, and also with breakfast where there’s always a choice between fresh cooked eggs (wish US airlines could offer that) and dim sum.

Pajamas, amenity kits, and menus were distributed prior to departure. I had just an ice water as my predeparture beverage.

I changed into pajamas before takeoff.

I stored my clothes and my rollaboard in the suite’s closet, which I’ve always managed to squeeze a Briggs & Riley widebody into in the past but on this trip had a much smaller bag. My laptop bag went under the ottoman of my seat. (The ottoman has a seat belt so that you can eat dinner with a travel companion if you wish, they install a table extender and dine across from each other as though in a restaurant.)

We pushed back and I looked over the menu while we waited for our turn to take off.

Once in the air I left a flight attendant know I wouldn’t be taking my meal right away. I wanted to go straight to sleep. It was early morning in Boston already. We’d be landing at night. So I wanted to get rest in early, to be able to sleep on arrival and avoid any jet lag.

So they made up the bed in the seat behind me, 2A:

I slept for about 3 hours and made myself get up, all a part of my jet lag regime which on this trip worked perfectly. I asked to have a bit to eat, though having eaten both in the Centurion Lounge and The Pier I still wasn’t terribly hungry so I had the caviar and… some dessert, because I couldn’t decide whether to have a western or chinese-style soup dessert (although I didn’t come close to finishing either one).

For about 8 hours I watched shows on my laptop and did a little bit of work to keep occupied and mentally alert. Then a few hours before arrival decided to have some breakfast which for local time in Boston would be dinner. So I split the difference on my order. I had the dim sum, and then the burger off of the snacks menu.

Here’s the thing. The fries that went with the burger? Perfect. They were nicely fried, crispy even. Not many airlines will attempt fries in the sky, and Cathay Pacific nailed it on this flight.

We landed about 40 minutes early, which had me excited because I’d have a short overnight at the Hyatt near the airport using a category 4 free night certificate before heading home in the morning. But we sat on the ground on landing waiting for a gate, giving back that entire length of time.

If we’re going to wait 40 minutes on the ground of course doing it in a Cathay Pacific first class seat isn’t bad, I felt for the passengers in economy who had spent over 15 hours in their seat — were ‘this close’ to getting off they could taste it — but were held another 40 minutes.

Cathay Pacific first class is great. I love the width of the seat. They say the number on thing that makes or breaks a flight in economy is having an empty middle seat next to you. Having two Cathay Pacific first class seats certainly made this flight special, but it had been a couple of years since I had flown Cathay first (and for awhile before that I was doing it multiple times a year).

Even knowing how much I enjoy Cathay first I had almost forgotten just how much. I prefer Cathay’s first class seat to the current Emirates suite and to the Etihad suite on their A330s and 777s.

And on this trip I had great stops at the new Cathay Pacific lounge in Singapore and The Pier first class lounge in Hong Kong, too. Combined with domestic saver first class flights home on American at the end it’s a great use of 110,000 miles, though of course I miss the old days before March 22 of last year when I’d book the same flights for just 67,500.

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. What about the wifi? Cathay has been incredibly slow to phase in wifi. It’s one of the only disadvantages they have over AA and UA flying to HKG.

  2. Love the review. I enjoy this a lot more than the rants about american airlines or united stock valuation, which despite what you might think about the product, it doesnt mean the stock isnt cheap.

  3. Do you proofread at all? Or even give it the eyeball test? So hard to read, duplicate pictures. How are people comfortable spending money with you to book the reservations when you display this lack of attention to detail? I know I won’t. Something to think about.

  4. Matt, you quite mistaken if you think that Gary’s blog style reflects in any way on his ability to book complex reservations!

  5. I highly recommend that when taking Cathay in first class back to the U.S, fly to LAX when possible. You get full access to the fantastic Qantas first-class lounge!

  6. My one experience in Cathay First was a meh. It was a full cabin with supposedly Marco Polo Diamonds. They paid constant attention to them and ignored us. They NEVER even offered to make up our seats into beds. So service wise, I was very disappointed. The food was nice. But for 110,000 miles, not happening again. I flew Cathay Business back in June. Service on that flight was actually very decent. But on that flight, someone had the Noro virus. Everyone in my group got sick. I actually developed symptoms about 8 hours into the flight. I suspected that it was a crew member who had the virus. After 40+ flights on Cathay, I will book elsewhere.

  7. What exactly was the award redemption, 110k AAdvantage miles for CX J and F awards, including domestic F on AA?

    When was it booked and what were the travel dates?

    Booked online at aa.com or did you have to call to make this booking?

  8. @tommyleo
    Maybe that’s true, but how could anybody who hasn’t used his service know that? His advertising is his writing.

    And Gary to say that those photos of the caviar are different in any meaningful way is absurd. It’s not about what you think, it’s about your audience. It doesn’t provide any additional value. It takes up space and makes me and other readers who I talk to think you don’t pay attention to detail. It simply doesn’t matter what you think or what you like if you’re trying to add to the bottom line, and you know that.

  9. @wco81 – you cannot book Cathay Pacific awards at aa.com, I had to call to book. I found the award space on the Qantas site then rang up American. This is the current award pricing, the flight was a few weeks ago and the cathay segments were booked two months ago .. the american segments home were booked a few days prior to travel

  10. @Matt

    “It’s not about what you think, it’s about your audience.” Actually my blog it’s entirely and exclusively about what I think and nothing else !

    “It simply doesn’t matter what you think or what you like if you’re trying to add to the bottom line, and you know that.” I genuinely have no idea what you’re trying to say here.

    I stuck in two photos which are not the same (you can verify this with the different URLs for each) but are very similar. I get you find that duplicative, indeed that’s very reasonable, I never promised you something different! I have very similar photos of the bed, too, and the cabin. Could I have selected differently? Sure. Could you have scrolled past it? Sure.

    If we’re at the level of identifying two photos and telling me that they’re too similar to include in my blog post, well ok, that’s great feedback thanks.

  11. Hey Gary, I just flew this flight — HKG-JFK on Friday. I ordered the Beef and it’s as amazing—cooked to perfection, with roasted garlic. You should try it. Also my soup wasn’t ready so they offered me another helping of caviar. Really great.

    Only thing that bothered me was that they made up the bed before I even asked when I went to the bathroom. And they didn’t make up the bed in another empty seat, which meant I kind of had to go to sleep. First world problems, I know.

  12. I used to think Cathay was one of the best but with no wifi Swire has really let their reputation take a hit. Hong Kong is known for great wifi even under the water in the subway between Wan Chai & Kowloon. They should have been a leader in wifi not one of the last. Bad move on their part.

  13. Nice review. On a minor note, I wonder how they select their whiskeys. I mean Johnnie Blue is a high end blend (even if overpriced) and I’ve heard great things about the Signet. But why Chivas 12 when the 18 is much better, and still half the price of the Johnnnie and Glenmorangie.

  14. Flew CX F only once, a couple of years ago, LAX-HKG. Also only 2 in F. Was one of the best flights. I agree regarding the seat, private enough without being claustrophobic. CX cabin crew had the right decorum. Love the HKG milk tea!! No problems with asking for service when needed – as it should be. I found QF F seat which I flew this year A380 MEL-LAX to be superb for the same reason. A superb flight, service, food and all. Stellar. Have also experienced ANA and JAL F several times. Service great, but the seat/suite is a bit too enclosed for me.

  15. At 110K points, I would need to see a few pictures of Cathay Pacific coach accommodations. You may have to throw some WN or Amtrak Coach pictures in the mix also since I need to get to the departing airport. If they take coupons for onboard food, send me those to since I will be low on points and cash. For coupon pictures you can include duplicates. I won’t need the WiFi – not only can’t I afford it, its just another form of work. In flight reruns will be okay.

  16. Cathay First is excellent and the seats are comfy. Food and drink selection are great. Service is usually quite good.

    The pics of the caviar are helpful. Most first class carriers no longer offer caviar service, it’s nice to be reminded of the ones who do.

    Gary, what happened to banning people or deleting comments that detract from the experience of your blog? I’m a long time reader and it’s seriously annoying to have to read through drivel by rude and petty fools, and then the back and forth as each party tries to make/clarify their points…completely disrupts the whole point of the article and takes away from the flow of reading about other people’s experiences (in the comments), questions, etc. If people cannot behave with civility, then delete their mindless rants and let them go back to venting to their therapists.

  17. Aircraft type 777?

    guess based on engine size, wing shape, and nose wheel aligmement with Ground marking.

    Would also appreciate comments on interior noise of 777/787 vs 380/350 where my perception airbus seems significantly lower.

  18. Review reflects my 3 F rides on CX. What I love most is the level of service, I don’t get too excited about the food (alcohol, maybe!), WiFi, or IFE. I love the seats and the service.

  19. Writing from The Pier… good review. Gary I have long thought you give Cathay First short shrift. It is probably my favorite. Had the best in flight meal ever on Cathay (lamb) LHR to HKG.
    But your story marks their weakness. Empty front cabins – my experience too. Often, a good ITA Matrix search aside, they are just too expensive versus the rest. They’d be beter off cutting the price and filling the room. Just price match BA and watch it happen.

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