Travel Planning: Fall in Asia
Review: LAX Star Alliance Lounge
Review: Singapore Airlines Suites Class LAX - NRT
Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo
Recap: Time in Tokyo
Review: HND JAL First Class Lounge
Review: JAL Business Class HND - GMP
Review: IP Boutique Hotel Seoul
Recap: Time in Seoul
Review: ICN Cathay Pacific Lounge
Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class ICN - HKG
Review: Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui
Recap: Time in Hong Kong
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge
Review: Cathay Pacific First Class HKG - SFO
At the beginning of our trip, we flew Singapore Airlines Suites class to Tokyo, so I drew a lot of comparisons between that and the Cathay Pacific First class experience during the flight home. Singapore Airlines has gotten a massive amount of attention lately for their Suites class, but you might be surprised when you find out which I preferred between what are considered two of the best First Class products in the world.
We knew we wanted to visit Asia last fall since I had never been, and we had a few ideas of where we would like to visit, but in the end, we booked our trip solely around the premium award availability we were able to find on Singapore Airlines and on Cathay Pacific. We worked with Alex over at Points Pros and he did an amazing job - he booked us on our top two preferred awards - Singapore Airlines Suites class and Cathay Pacific First class. Both are consistently chosen as the best international first class products in the world, so we were extremely excited, to say the least.
For this award, we were able to reserve two first class seats from HKG - SFO for 67,500 AAdvantage miles + $56.60 taxes each. Honestly, this was quite a bargain and I was very happy to be flying directly in to SFO rather than having to connect via LAX. However, the availability is what you will find most tricky when booking this award. Per Alex: "It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen two first class seats this far out, and these are the only premium cabin award seats on HKG - LAX/SFO for the entire month of October," so we got really lucky!
Cathay Pacific Airlines #872
Hong Kong (HKG) - San Francisco (SFO)
Thursday, October 7th, 2014
12:30 AM - 10:15 PM (-1): 12 hours, 45 minutes
Boeing 777-300ER: Seat 2A (First Class)
We arrived at the airport quite ahead of when we needed to be there because our flight was so late at night and we had run out of things to do while we were waiting. We headed straight for the First Class check-in area, which is located all the way to the left when entering the HKG international terminal. The First Class check-in area is very large and has more agents to help than you could ever need. When we checked, we noticed that somehow I had been bumped from my confirmed seat, 2A. Since Chris was in 1A, this was a bit of a problem because we did want to sit near each other on the flight. The reason for the bump, I expect, is that Cathay typically reserves 1A and 2A for Oneworld Emeralds and I was but a mere Sapphire. However, Alex had worked some magic for us after we made our reservation and confirmed me into seat 2A regardless of my lowly status. After bringing up the issue during check-in, the agent was able to correct things and gave me back my original seat. We received our boarding passes and our lounge invitations and were on our merry way.
We spent several hours in The Wing First Class Lounge prior to boarding which was luckily right by our gate by the time we were ready to board. A rather annoying aspect of boarding flights to the US from HKG is the need to go through a secondary screening once arriving at the gate so that it can be ensured you are bringing no liquids on-board the aircraft. Once we had cleared the screening, we waited for about 10 more minutes and then were allowed to board.
This flight is flown on a Boeing 777, so it's not as exciting as the A380 double-decker we had flown on our way to Tokyo, but the first class section was set up very nicely. For this flight, Cathay's first class is set up in a 1-1-1 configuration with only two rows, so there are only six first class passengers. On our flight, four out of the six seats were full, so the middle seats remained empty. One of the reasons we pushed to get my seat switched back to 2A is that 1A and 2A are arguably the most private seats in first. The middle seats face the other side of the aircraft, so 1A and 2A each face a wall, which means you won't see any of the other passengers at all.
The seats were large and plush with a footrest directly across from the seat and a TV, which could be pulled out, to the right of the footrest. The footrest could also be used as another seat if you want to dine with another passenger at their seat. It's also possible to place small items underneath the footrest so that you don't have to store them overhead, which I always appreciate since I don't like having to get up if I want my Kindle or some other device. The fresh flowers placed in the small vases above each seat were also an extremely classy touch. While these seats were not fully enclosed suites like Singapore Airlines, they were still extremely comfortable and since we were in 1A and 2A, we still experienced plenty of privacy.
Despite how late at night it now was, we were both energized for the flight and were excited to get underway.
Shortly after we boarded, the first class crew came around and introduced themselves and welcomed us aboard by name, which was very nice. A few minutes later, they passed out our pajamas, which came in a nice matching tote bag, and amenity kits. Unlike the Singapore Suites amenity kits, I thought these ones were much more useful. Instead of being filled with perfume and lotion, the kits had things you would want on a long haul flight: a brush, toothbrush, face cream, etc.
Before takeoff, we were also offered a pre-departure beverage and an amuse-bouche, which had mango and some kind of shellfish along with a cracker. I don't like shellfish, but it was admittedly pretty good. I tend to nurse my drinks, so since I knew I wouldn't have much time, I just went with a water to start.
Once we taxied and were airborne, service promptly resumed again. It was so late at night, that we were anxious to get through the meal and get to sleep, but we knew that we needed to get the full experience, so we went all out. Since our seats were along one wall, we decided it would be nice to have dinner together and I moved to the small seat across from Chris' seat for dinner.
To start, we were given warm nuts and offered another drink. I decided to order the "Cloud Nine", which Chris had ordered on our last Cathay Pacific flight. The Cloud Nine was described as "a refreshing combination of Vodka, Cointreau and Sprite with a refreshing touch of lemon flavour". As you can imagine, it was quite refreshing and I really enjoyed it. Chris went for some Krug.
Our table was then set up and we were each given hand-written notes from the crew, which was such a nice touch! They told us to enjoy our flight and were signed by each of the crew members. It was one of those things that really set Cathay apart from our experience in Singapore Suites.
Now it was time for dinner. The menu offered a selection of two "International Favourites" and one "Chinese Favourites" and read as follows:
Caviar and Champagne
Served with traditional garnishes of blinis, chive, cream fraiche and chopped egg
Cannellini bean and garlic soup
Mixed leaf salad with baked goat cheese
Lemon olive oil dressing
Grilled USDA certified Angus beef striploin with red wine jus and Bearnaise sauce, kipfler potatoes, roasted portabello mushroom and vine ripened tomato
Tossed ravioli mushroom and garlic with mushroom sauce
Pork soup with kaza root and red beans
Cold plate - soy marinated cuttlefish with Szechuan cucumber salad
Braised abalone with chicken, served with steamed jasmine rice, kailan and carrot
Cheese and Dessert
Cambozola, Comte, Double Gloucester, Chaumes
Fresh berries with whipping cream or ginger syrup
Hazelnut pudding with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis
Taro and coconut sweet soup
Per usual, I skipped the caviar (sorry, I just can't do it) and decided to go with the International Favourites. I skipped the soup and went with the salad, then the beef sirloin, and finally ended with the fresh berries because I was just so full. Also per usual, Chris had the caviar and skipped the salad to have the soup. He also had the beef sirloin and then, never one to pass up cake, he went for the hazelnut pudding.
The food was honestly and truly more impressive than what we had on Singapore Airlines. I enjoyed it much more and I can say that now this meal was the best I had ever had on an airplane. Unlike when I ordered a steak on our Singapore flight, I was asked how I wanted my steak cooked, which I thought was pretty amazing given that it would be prepared on an airplane. Both Chris and I were also mildly obsessed with the dipping sauce they provided to go with the bread. It was SO good.
All of this being said, while service was absolutely excellent and very friendly and the food was excellent, the meal service took ages. At this point, it was past 3 AM and we were so extremely tired, but the meal service just seemed to drag on and on. On top of that, to go along with dessert, Chris ordered a cappuccino, but the machine in the first class cabin was broken, so they had to use the business class machine. It took almost an hour for him to get the cappuccino, but he received multiple apologies from the crew, including more apologies the next morning!
Finally, it was time to sleep. While Chris was still waiting for his cappuccino, I had given up and went back to my seat. I rang the call button to request to have my bed made up. While the fight attendant was making my bed, I headed for the lavatory to change into my pajamas. The lavatory was nice and I liked it better than the one on our Singapore flight. There was a very fancy sink and faucet that made you feel much more like you were in a luxury hotel and less like you were in a small closet on an airplane. The soaps and amenities available were Aesop branded, just like in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and were very nice.
It was interesting to me to see how the service differed between Cathay and Singapore. On Singapore, each time I went to the lavatory, a flight attendant was hanging around and would rush to open the door for me. On Cathay, whenever I went forward, the attendants were nowhere to be found. It was like they were ghosts unless you called them.
Don't get me wrong, they were very attentive during the meal service, but for the rest of the flight, they were out of sight. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about this, because I feel horrible pressing my call button, but I also appreciated that I wasn't constantly being asked if I needed anything as I had been on Singapore. To this day, I still can't say which style I prefer. I don't want to ever have to press my call button, but I did enjoy the peace and quiet.
I returned to my seat to see it was all set for bed. One other difference I noticed between Singapore and Cathay was on Singapore, immediately after I was in my pajamas, a flight attendant came by and offered to hang up my clothing for me. On Cathay, there was no such offer. No matter - my clothes aren't fancy, but again, another difference I noticed.
The bed was nice, but it wasn't as padded as I would have liked and the bedding we received on Singapore was heavier and warmer. At this point though, I was so tired, that I could have slept anywhere, so I was just glad to have a cozy bed to get a few hours of sleep in.
We had asked to be woken up for the second meal service two hours before landing and I slept well up until that point. As opposed to Singapore, where the second meal consisted of more beef and no non-dinner options, we were delighted to find that we could order "breakfast", which fit great with the time back in Asia, but was being served at dinner time back in the US. Honestly, I don't care what time it actually is. When I wake up after a long sleep, all I want is breakfast food. The options for "Brunch" were:
Orange, apple or grapefruit juice
Forest berry smoothie
Fresh seasonal fruit
Natural or fruit yoghurt
Organic free range eggs
Dim sum with chili sauce
Dace fish and pak choy congee
Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast served with preserves, honey and butter
Tea and Coffee
I ordered the forest berry smoothie, a fruit plate, and the egg dish. You could choose how you wanted your eggs prepared and I chose to have mine scrambled. The food was nice and I was very happy be having breakfast.
Finally, it was time to land. A few minutes before we began our descent, each of the crew came by our seats and personally thanked us for flying with them. I also had a nice chat with one of the ladies about San Francisco and how much she loved the city. The crew was just so friendly and personable and I really appreciated and enjoyed having them on our flight. It was a different feeling from what I got with Singapore - much less formal, but still completely stellar service.
So after both flights, which was better? Singapore Suites or Cathay Pacific First?
At the end of the day, all things considered equal, if I had to choose between flying Cathay Pacific First and Singapore Suites, I would choose Cathay Pacific. While I enjoyed Singapore's hard product more (having a "suite" with a sliding door is so much more novel), the service on Cathay was really unparalleled. Not only was it prompt and courteous, but the crew was genuinely friendly and happy to have us. While the crew on Singapore were attentive and constantly checking in, I didn't get the feeling that they enjoyed their jobs as much as I did on Cathay and that made a difference. I also felt that the food was overall better on Cathay, so that really tipped the scales in their favor.
I realize that service can vary and you might not receive the same awesome service from every crew, but based on the two flights I flew, Cathay was the clear winner for me. Who would have guessed after all the hype with Singapore Suites?
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.