Which is More Important: Transportation or Experience?

Reader Q.L. asked me the other day whether I would fly to my home city from Asia on Korean in first, or to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific and connect?

Cathay unquestionably has the better seat. I find the service better. The entertainment system is better. The midflight snacks are better. So is the lounge. But I’d still choose Korean.

I like Korean’s main meal service better. (I much like Korean food.)

And I would take Korean hands down even leaving aside questions of availability (Korean Air is almost always available while Cathay has become much harder to get).
Because if I can avoid a domestic layover after a transpacific flight, and then a final leg home in a domestic airline tube, that’s easy.

I prefer the ‘experience’ of being home to the ‘experience’ of a better first class product. My favorite experience at this point is not being in an airport.

In one 30 day period this year I flew 40 domestic segments. Because there were places I had to be, tines I had to be there, and it generally wasn’t going to be possible to fly direct. After that I cancelled a Japan Airlines First class award. I cancelled my confirmed suite bookings at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Park Hyatt Shanghai. I did not want to travel.

I still get excited to fly. I went out of my way to be on the inaugural American Airlines 787 flight (and picked up my challenge coin).

I loved my first Emirates A380 suite experience. I loved my first Singapore A380 suite experience. I am anxious to experience the Etihad First Apartment (I have 4 bookings to make sure something coincides with whatever constraints emerge).

But most of the time it is transportation, albeit I am looking for the most comfortable transportation possible. I really don’t want to fly a US carrier back to the States from Hong Kong in economy (and not for the reason you’d think).

Don’t get me wrong — if the choice were between Cathay Pacific first class (or even business) through San Francisco versus Korean economy to Seattle I’d suggest or take the connection myself in a heartbeat. So the relevant framework here isn’t “non-stop is always better than connecting” as with any preference it’s always at what margin?

I will still try new things. But after awhile the novelty wears off and it’s all about making things as easy and convenient as possible. As I’ve gotten older my opportunity cost has risen as well. It’s why I don’t mileage run (but then I only made a pure mileage run once or twice a decade) or drive around town unloading gift cards. I will pay a modest premium when that premium is less than the value of my time.

There are tradeoffs and how we value those is subjective. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to someone’s choice although we often cannot fathom how someone’s preference function could be so different than the ‘obviously correct’ one we hold. But since I have seen my own preferences change over time I have come to appreciate that a little more.

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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  1. Please Gary – stop using any phrase with “margin,” “at what margin,” or “at the margin.” It’s driving me up the wall. Every other post mentions it. We get it – you know what at the margin means.

    Other than that, keep up the informative writing!

  2. @dwonderment yes there is but i always go with the korean options so can’t comment on the western choices (other than the caviar 🙂

  3. Well written Gary. I agree with you. I never thought that one of the benefits of traveling a lot would be how much I appreciate being at home.

  4. Interesting question. I think for me it’s a combination of both, with experience being slightly more important.

  5. The Korean food was awful in Korean First class. I too ordered the Korean option and the bibimbap was really lacking compared to Asiana. The picture you show in that picture is missing some key ingredients like carrots. Not to mention there is no “kimchi” served as a side dish, which is the equivalent of getting served a burger without french fries.

    I realize it’s airplane food, but it is first class on Korean Air, the flagship carrier of the ROK. They should serve Korean food that’s respectable.

    Also depending on the route they serve foi gras instead of caviar, which is not my favorite.

  6. @Gary– Fully agree with you on finding a proper time/comfort balance. With that in mind, would you ever make the decision to connect in Chicago on your way from DC to Paris in order to fly AA’s old business class?

  7. I agree. I just got off my ICN-LAX-SFO in korean business, because I wanted to fly the 380. To be honest, the customs in LAX then check in was extremely horrific 2 hours that I think its not worth it to make a domestic transit.

    My transit experience in YVR or NRT have been quite smooth nevertheless.

  8. @Ethan

    Do you mean nonstop DC-Paris vs DC-ORD-Paris? If I have business from DC, oh hell no. I may even keep the nonstop if I’ve got premium economy or UA’s E+

    But if I *have* to connect, I might go out of my way for a longer flight, particularly if my other option is JFK and I intend on sleeping.

  9. The question posed is a good one. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of flying QF F, CX F, and SQ F, including the suites. Oh, gotta throw in the AA F on the 321T.

    The thing is, I cannot sleep on planes. At all. Suites or no suites, 15 hour flight or no 15 hour flight. So if I’m on an aircraft past the point of my natural bed time, it’s not an experience that I can enjoy, it’s transportation. It’s also why I’m not the biggest fan of F products that have to be “made” into a bed. I need to switch between “modes” often and am not comfortable asking the crew to keep changing up the beds. I also really like a really good recliner, which those types of products can’t do well.

  10. @Dan LOL indeed… the whole consultant/thought leader charade’s getting to his head.

    100% certain Gary doesn’t know what margin, margin, margin means. That, and, my favorite – framework. “So the relevant framework here….” Framework????? What? Keep it simple Gary – that’s why we love you.

  11. I think everyone is missing an important point here….Cathay is a very safe airline compared to Korean or Asiana. Now granted that airline “accidents” are statistically few, my absolute disdain for the 2 Korean airlines would make my decision very easy. Besides from my home city, I cannot fly anywhere internationally without at least 1 stop.

  12. Gary, note that I asked about CX F vs KE *J*. So, will you really pick KE *J* over CX F to save 2 connections?

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