First Class to Hong Kong

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Every once in a while you just have to treat your self! And what’s a better way to do that then fly first class to Asia on Cathay Pacific. This article will go through the step-by-step process of how we redeemed our miles for first class tickets.  It’ll also provide in depth review of our experience flying in the premium cabin.

Planning:

It took a bit of planning and monitoring, but in the end it paid off.  We were able to snag one of the most aspirational award redemptions – a first class seat on Cathay Pacific. A few years ago, we’d flown to Hong Kong in business class on American, but we wanted to step up our game this time.

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Cathay flies a 777-300 direct from JFK to HKG.  It’s a 16 hour flight, in fact it’s #10 on the list of longest commercial flights in the world; but finding 2 seats in first class was a bit tricky when there are only 6 seats available on each flight. The process involves a bit of planing, research, and time, but trust me, its worth it. Below are the steps we took:

  1. Reserve 2 one-way economy seats using BA Avios as far in advance as possible – 35,000 Avios + $42 each.
  2. Once you have your economy seats confirmed (consider these the fallback plan) you can start monitoring for seats to open up in premium cabins (which usually start freeing up about a month prior to the flight date).
  3. The business cabin might open up the award seats sooner since there are more seats available.  Once 2 business class seats opened up, we booked them through AA – 55,000 miles + $6 each.
  4. At this point you’ve upgraded your fallback option, and can cancel and refund the original BA Avios award redemption (there will be a cancellation fee of $42, but it’ll be worth it for the upgrade).
  5. You can stop there, or continue to monitor for seats to open in first,  which usually happens one at a time right up until the day before departure.
  6. If you’re lucky and a seat in first opens up, you can call AA and upgrade them one at a time paying an additional 12,500 miles each (no other fees).

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This occurred over the course of a month or two and took a bit of effort, but in the end we had snagged 2 seats in first on one of the top premium airlines in the world for a grand total of 67,500 AA miles, and $48 each. To purchase those tickets with real money would have cost $17,500! If that’s not great value for your miles, I don’t know what is.

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Check-in:

Once arriving at JFK’s Terminal 4, make a sharp left and head to the private first class check in area for Cathay and British Airways flights. As expected, it was not crowded, and check-in followed by a fast-tracked security screening that only took about 5 minutes, leaving lots of time to enjoy the lounge.

We went to the British Airways Galleries lounge, which Cathay uses for first-class passengers. There was a decent food and beverage spread available, including a small selection of wine and Champagne. There are the usual breakfast options of pastries, fruits and yogurt, but it wasn’t anything spectacular.  Overall, the BA lounge was better than most domestic ones but nothing compared to Cathay flagship lounge in Hong Kong (more on that later).

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Onboard:

Once boarding started, we were whisked directly into the front of the plane, without having to wait in line.

Once seated, the pursers and attendants came over to introduce themselves and presented us with menus, pajamas, and an Aesop amenity kit. As we waited for the rest of the plane to board, I used the time to study the list of the spirits offered onboard, to make sure I pick the best one. I settled on a $200 bottle of Glenmorangie single malt scotch and spent the next 16 hours trying to put as big a dent in it as possible.

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When the door closed and we started to push back from the gate, orchids were brought out to spruce up the cabin.  These exotic flowers are not allowed while on US soil.

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Seats:

Of the 6 seats in the first class cabin, 3 were open, so we mostly had the entire cabin to ourselves.  The seats were spacious and comfortable, but not as private as the enclosed suites we experienced on Etihad.  The lie flat bed once unfolded is very roomy and fits two people comfortably.

There is plenty of storage space and no overhead bins which makes the cabin look even bigger. There were 2 lavatories that were shared among the 3 passengers in first class and the crew, which ensure that you don’t have to wait in line to go to the bathroom.

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Food and Beverages:

Once airborne, the food and drinks start flowing. At this point you’ll want to change into the stretchy, comfortable pajamas provided, cause you’ll need the extra room. They start with an amuse bouche and a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee champagne.  The  liquor kept flowing throughout the flight.

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For breakfast, we were served fresh berry smoothies, a plate of fruits and a choice between dim sum, eggs or congee.

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Lunch started with Calvisius caviar served with usual accompaniments and eaten with a mother of pearl spoon and of course more champagne. Next came the tomato soup and jumbo prawn salad, followed by the beef fillet and grilled chilean seabass for our main courses.  We were so full that we couldn’t even get to the dessert.

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The food was not too shabby considering that it was prepared while we were hurtling over the north pole at 30,000ft. Aside from the full breakfast/lunch menu, there are snack baskets for when you’re feeling peckish in between your movie marathon.

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If you travel with a companion, you can request the extended dining table be installed so you can share a meal. Conveniently, the guest seat also includes a seat belt, so the person can stay there even during turbulence.

Services were impeccable.  The flight attendants were attentive, but not overbearing.  One of the nice ladies heard me coughing and offered to brew me a pot of tea with honey and lemon to sooth my throat.

Deplaning:

After our 16 hour flight of luxury and excess, we finally got to Hong Kong. The deplaning experience in First class was quite impressive. Within seconds of arriving at the gate the attendants closed a curtain separating first from business class, and a jet bridge pulled up allowing us to get off first with a pretty good head start from the rest of the people on the plane.  We breezed by immigration and customs, and with 8 hours to burn decided to take the train into Kowloon. The airport express is pretty quick and reasonably priced at $180KHD (~$22USD).

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Hong Kong First Class Lounge:

Once back at the airport for our onward flight to Myanmar,  we’re still able to use the first class lounge. The HKG first class lounge put the one at JFK to shame! Once you find it (it’s on the left after going through passport control), you’ll be impressed. The lounge is huge, with many sections depending on your tastes including: a section for just chilling and reading, a full service restaurant, a noodle bar, a tea station with individual freshly brewed pots, and showers to freshen up before the next leg of your trip. This had to be one of the more impressive lounges I can remember visiting.

Future redemptions:

Unfortunately, after having booked this flight, we found out American Airlines devalued its miles, increasing the price of this award from 65k miles to 110k. This ended up being a good deal now in comparison, but if you have the miles sitting around, still not a terrible redemption for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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