Chasing the Sun: Introduction

Despite the blog posts I’ve made (here, here, and here), I’m actually quite happy with my move to Seattle. It’s a change of scenery, and I tend to think that in the end we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did. And I guess that’s kind of why I moved to the Pacific Northwest on a whim.

As much as I disparaged Tampa, one thing’s for sure — the sun is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I took it for granted far too much living in Tampa. It’s hard not to be happy when it’s always 80 degrees outside, sunny, and you live in a city with a relatively low cost of living.

It has been quite a while since I’ve taken an international trip, and I’ve been experiencing some withdrawal symptoms. The cold, rainy weather, and short days only make me long for warm climates even more. A friend had a long weekend thanks to Veterans Day, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get away. The problem was that I didn’t have more than a five day period to “escape” before the end of the year, so I figured this was as good of an opportunity as any. In the end we decided on Bangkok for a couple of nights.

It’s my goal to try as many new airline products as possible over the coming months, and I outlined the products that interest me the most in this post. The problem is that sometimes you have to compromise with a travel companion, so that’s what I ended up doing. Oddly China Southern and Korean Air don’t sound as tempting as Cathay Pacific or Lufthansa. I have plenty of trip reports of totally “new” products coming over the next few months, though hopefully you guys enjoy this one as well.

For the outbound we used 70,000 MileagePlus miles per person (transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards) for first class from Seattle to Bangkok via Frankfurt. This was bookable 14 days, as that’s when Lufthansa releases first class award space to partner airlines.

The “no brainer” part of the outbound was flying Seattle to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in first class, as I was quite looking forward to my first nonstop international flight out of my home airport. The tough decision was trying to figure out how to get from Frankfurt to Asia. Originally we booked Frankfurt to Tokyo to Bangkok, with Frankfurt to Tokyo operated by Lufthansa’s Airbus 380 and Tokyo to Bangkok scheduled to be operated by a Thai 747 featuring the new first class.

I was most excited about Thai’s new first class, as it’s one of the products on my “bucket list.” However, a few days before departure the seatmap no longer showed the flight as being operated by a 747 with the new first class, so we were back to the drawing board. As it turned out Frankfurt to Bangkok was scheduled to be operated by the Thai 747 with the new first class cabin, so we switched to the nonstop instead, and decided on Bangkok as the destination. I literally monitored the tail number scheduled to operate the flight till it took off from Bangkok to Frankfurt, since Thai is notorious for equipment swaps.

For the return we used 67,500 AAdvantage miles for Cathay Pacific first class. Cathay Pacific is great about releasing award space last minute, and most flights between Hong Kong and the US had between three and five first class award seats, so we really had our pick. While I’ve flown Cathay Pacific first class several times before (previous trip reports can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here), it’s such an amazing value that I couldn’t say no, not to mention that I was curious how their product was holding up. Besides, in a single weekend it’s not really practical to route via Europe twice. 😉

We also maximized the return award by adding on a “free” one-way ticket from San Francisco to New York. Our return routing was really Bangkok to Hong Kong to San Francisco to Seattle, though instead of including that segment from San Francisco to Seattle on the award ticket, we instead redeemed 7,500 Avios per person to book that separately in coach.

This allowed us to have a “free” stopover in San Francisco (since it’s the international gateway city), and then we booked a Flagship Service first class ticket from San Francisco to New York as part of the same award for 10 months out. We can change the date on that later, though I’m sure it’ll come in handy. And I’d certainly value a Flagship Service first class transcontinental seat at more than a short hop from San Francisco to Seattle.

Besides, by booking San Francisco to Seattle separately we could book an illegal connection of just 70 minutes in San Francisco, allowing us to get home earlier. Thanks to Global Entry I was quite confident in being able to make that connection, and I preferred that over having to wait 3+ hours for the next flight.

In the end our itinerary looked as follows:

11/08 Lufthansa 491 Seattle to Frankfurt departing at 2:00PM and arriving at 9:10AM (+1 day)
11/09 Thai 921 Frankfurt to Bangkok departing at 2:10PM and arriving at 6:20AM (+1 day)
11/12 Cathay Pacific 614 Bangkok to Hong Kong departing at 1:10PM and arriving at 4:50PM
11/13 Cathay Pacific 870 Hong Kong to San Francisco departing at 2:05PM and arriving at 10:00AM
11/13 Alaska 301 San Francisco to Seattle departing at 11:10AM and arriving at 1:20PM

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the report. I’ll crank this one out quickly!

Filed Under: Awards, Cathay Pacific
  1. Based on previous tweets and posts, I thought this was going to be a more adventurous routing…but it’s actually standard for you. Still looking forward to reading about it though!

    When you get to the IC BKK section, could you give your thoughts on Bangkok as a destination? Why go there multiple times a year? Is it b/c things are super cheap? (e.g. food and spa)

  2. Ben,

    For a week’s vacation, what are your thoughts on Bali vs. Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket etc)? Never been to either, and both itineraries are available, so wanted to check.


  3. @ David — Will share that in the IC Bangkok section. The short answer is that Bangkok is a really fun city that’s cheap, with some very reasonably priced luxury hotels, so it’s a great place to kill a few days.

  4. @ JettyBoy — You’re basically asking me to choose between my children. They’re both awesome destinations. Bali is just the most relaxing place on earth, in my opinion, while Thailand is a nice mix between cities and beaches.

    In Bali you could split your time between the beaches and Ubud (more of a jungle area), both of which are awesome.

    In Thailand you could spend half your time at the beach (Koh Samui, Phuket, etc.), and half your time either in a city (Chaing Mai or Bangkok) or in a river area like Chiang Rai.

    So I really don’t know. I love both destinations. Throw a dart at a dartboard and you won’t go wrong.

  5. Thanks, Ben – now I am more confused 🙂

    I currently have JFK-HKG-DPS (CX J) and JFK-ICN-BKK (OZ J) blocked for travel in a few weeks. Any idea what the possibilities of F opening up on either route are (for 2 passengers)? That might swing my decision one way or the other.

  6. @ JettyBoy — Cathay Pacific first class is much more likely to open up. They almost always release all but one unsold first class seat within a week of departure.

    So I guess you’re going to Bali. 😉

  7. Thanks Ben – excited about the trip already! No more dragging the comments off-topic – thanks for your help.

  8. @ Tao — The A380 has a new first class as well, though it’s slightly different than what’s on the reconfigured 747s.

    @ Ozaer N. — I used miles — 70,000 MileagePlus for the outbound and 67,500 AAdvantage for the return.

    @ romsdeals — If you already paid for a first class award ticket and are just waiting for first class to open up on one segment there’s no fee to do so. If you want to upgrade the ticket entirely from business to first you’d have to redeposit miles ($150 for first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger) and start from scratch.

  9. ahhh youth…. it lets you get away with so much. God bless you for enjoying life.

    Ben I asked this on another post, but looks like it is more relevant to this one. Since you used AA for the return ticket, did they allow the HKG stopover or was that separate?

  10. @ Jorge — American only allows a stopover at the North American gateway, so you can’t do a “free” stopover. That being said, you can stop enroute for less than 24 hours anywhere internationally, so that’s what I did in Hong Kong.

  11. @ Zz — Well this itinerary was for two people, so hopefully that answers it. All these flights actually had three award seats, so it would have been possible for three people as well.

  12. Chasing the sun? No, I’m afraid not. You were flying west-to-east, and that won’t do. I’m afraid I can’t give you credit for this assignment – you’ll have to do it again east-to-west! 🙂

  13. Hey Lucky,
    Have you done the Boeing Factory tour in Renton yet? I just did it this past weekend, and its absolutely worth it.

  14. when are you going to post the entire trip report? love your passed trip reports and look forward to this trip of yours. also I want to redeem a trip from lax-sin-bkk next year. by the way do you do booking service, I might have do you my intinerary for next year.

  15. @ Eric @ Scott — LOL, meant I was “chasing” warm weather… good catch, though!

    @ hsw25 — I did years ago, though it’s probably time I do it again. Enjoyed it immensely last time.

    @ choi — I’ll post one installment per day. I do have an award booking service ( tough at the moment am not really taking on new clients, unfortunately).

  16. hello luck! was wondering if you know if or not cathay opens up coach award inventory just like what they do with business/first. looking for a seat TPE-KIX early Jan. thanks!

  17. How can I track the tail number? I’ve got a Thai flight coming up and I’m worried they’ll pull an equipment change on me 🙁

  18. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a TR for CX first class. Interesting to see how it compares to your previous experiences on it, and if the service and food are as strong as they used to be.

  19. @ Craig — Yep, they sure do. So that means two international gateway stopovers on a roundtrip.

    @ wwk5d — Indeed, it’s one of the reasons I took this trip. 🙂

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