Sunday, September 7, 2014

Flying Cathay Pacific First Class from Hong Kong to Los Angeles

The Cathay Pacific first class experience
In the frequent flyer community, Cathay Pacific has the reputation of offering one of the world’s best flying experiences.  In July 2013, Cathay Pacific refreshed and upgraded their first class cabins on their 777-300ER planes to make the experience even better. 

The first class seats are extremely spacious, have massage functions, and can recline fully flat to transform into a comfortable bed in the sky.  Cathay Pacific first class bedding has 500 thread count cotton duvets, pillows, cushions, and a thick bed mattress that rests on top of the seat.  Each suite has it’s own multi-port iPhone connector and USB port for charging your electronic devices 

First class male passengers are provided an Ermenegildo Zegna amenity pouch while first class female passengers are provided a Trussardi amenity bag with Aesop skincare and toiletries.  First class passengers are also given 100% organic cotton pajamas and slippers made by PYE, and Bose Quiet Comfort 15 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones.

Dining in the sky includes a full menu of unlimited free champagne, caviar, steak, fruit, snacks, desserts, and more at your seats.  

How much room is available in Cathay Pacific’s 777 first class?  This 275 passenger airplane only has 6 seats in First Class.  The 6 first class seats are spread across two rows.  For comparison: in economy class, each row has 9 seats, versus the 3 seat row in first class.  First class passengers won’t be bumping elbows on this flight.  Here’s the seat layout of the plane. 

Why am I writing about Cathay Pacific’s first class offering?  Because we will be experiencing it soon!

Why we decided to upgrade our flights to first class
Every frequent flying travel hacker knows that the airline mileage programs are always devaluing.  This is why I usually avoid hoarding airline miles.  Like inflation, prices for award flights tend to go up over time.  The longer you hold onto your miles, the less valuable they tend to become.  The only type of reward points that we like to hold onto are Chase Ultimate Reward points, since these points are extremely flexible, and can always be redeemed for cash.

Many travel hackers aim to only fly first class.  The redemption and dollar value of each mile can be incredible.  If someone only has a limited amount of time off, it makes sense to maximize your vacation.  We’ve always preferred to take more trips on economy.  We are flying economy from Los Angeles to Honolulu (stopover) to Tokyo to Taiwan and onwards to Okinawa.

My wife’s duties at her place of employment have been ramping up quite a bit lately.  As a result, my wife’s company has been limiting the amount of time off she can take.  This means we probably won’t be able to take another international trip until next year (we’re thinking of going to Europe!).

We already booked return flights from Okinawa back to Los Angeles for only 25,000 American Airlines miles and $48.70 per person.  This was a great redemption that saved us $1485.60 on the cost of 2 tickets. 

A frequent flyer friend of mine introduced me to the Cathay Pacific First Class offering that I shared earlier.  I never thought that we would ever be able to fly in first class seats.  What really sold me to booking this first class flight was how relatively “cheap” the award flight could be.  A single first class airline ticket from Asia to Los Angeles on Cathay Pacific first class is 67,500 American Airlines miles and $84 per person.

Since we are already flying from Asia to Los Angeles, and we have a limited amount of time off work to travel together, this was the perfect opportunity to upgrade our flights from economy to first.  We should have plenty of time to rebuild our mileage balances for our next trip. 

The price of a first class ticket from Asia to Los Angeles
If we were to book a pair of first class tickets on with Japan Airlines, it would cost $11,001 per ticket for a total of $22,002. 

On, the cheapest pair of first class tickets we could find was $9,243 on Asiana Airlines! 

Out of curiosity, I went to the Cathay Pacific webpage to find out the price of our exact same flight for fares paid in cash; it came out to be $13,364.11 after taxes and fees per person.  If we were to book the exact same flight on Cathay Pacific, it would cost us $26,728.22 for two tickets.  Ridiculous!  This is not a typo. 

Thanks to frequent flyer miles, we don’t have to pay for first class tickets. 

Upgrading our flights from economy to first class
Since Cathay Pacific is a member of Oneworld Airline Alliance, we were able to book our first class flight with American Airlines miles.  To book this flight, we called the American Airlines telephone booking service at 800-882-8880.  We had the telephone representative change our previous flights from:

1. Okinawa (OKA) to Haneda, Tokyo (HND), Japan Airlines economy
2. Narita, Tokyo (NRT) to Chicago (ORD), Japan Airlines economy
3. Chicago (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX), American Airlines economy

to our new upgraded set of flights:

1. Okinawa (OKA) to Hong Kong (HKG), Dragonair economy
2. Hong Kong (HKG) to San Francisco (SFO), Cathay Pacific first class
3. San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX), Envoy Air first class

My frequent flyer friend helped me find the flights we wanted by using the British Airways website to search for award seat availability on Cathay Pacific Airlines.  The new flights cost us 67,500 American Airlines miles and $84 in fees each person.  The $48.70 in fees per person paid for our previous return trip has been refunded to us.  In total, we redeemed 135,000 American Airlines miles and $168 in fees for both of our return flights home.

Splurging with our American Airlines miles has tremendous value.  Our first class flights home will be comfortable and stress-free.  There will be no need to wait in line prior to boarding, we can relax in the First Class airport lounge prior to our departure, and we will be among the first 6 passengers to board and exit the plane.  This should really help us unwind from our Tokyo, Taiwan, and Okinawa trip.
The Wing First Class lounge, Hong Kong airport

We are looking forward to seeing whether the new Cathay Pacific First Class cabins are worth the hype!

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