Singapore First Class Vs. Cathay Pacific Business Class

Filed Under: Advice, Cathay Pacific
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Reader sofeea5664 asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

So…my husband and I are going to Hong Kong next year. We have the option of flying Singapore First (not Suites) or Cathay Business from San Francisco. Both are direct flights. I have a TON of AA miles to redeem for Cathay Business (can’t find any first :( even doing a search a year out), but will deplete pretty much all my AmEx points for Singapore First. I’ve read Cathay Business is an amazing product and would not be disappointed. Any suggestions?

On the surface the answer seems obvious. First class on a top carrier is better than business class on a top carrier… right?

But there are two things at play here:

Cathay Pacific business class

I recently flew Cathay Pacific A330 business class from Male to Hong Kong, and then 777 business class from Hong Kong to Newark (the latter is the same plane you’d fly out of San Francisco).

Cathay Pacific business class features a fantastic reverse herringbone hard product, with a great blanket and pillow as well. You’ll arrive well rested. As far as business class products go it’s pretty tough to beat.


That being said, I’d call the service solid but not memorable. The food is edible and the crews are generally friendly, though it’s not the level of attentive service you’d receive in first class.


All things considered I found service in Cathay Pacific business class to feel a bit like an assembly line, where you’re just part of the “motions” they’re going through. But at least they didn’t strike me as disgruntled assembly line workers. 😉

I’ve always said business class is all about the hard product, though, and that’s an area where Cathay Pacific shines.

One other thing to note is that Cathay Pacific is generally very good about releasing last minute first class award space, and if you’re redeeming American miles, you can even upgrade the type of award without having to pay the change fee. So if you keep an eye on award space and are possibly willing to connect through Los Angeles, I’d say your odds of snagging a first class award last minute are pretty good.


Singapore Airlines first class

Singapore is one of the best airlines in the world, and their first class service generally ranges from very good to incredible. And while San Francisco to Hong Kong isn’t operated by an A380 (and therefore it doesn’t have Suites Class), it is operated by a 777, on which it will soon be hard to find first class award seats.


That’s because Singapore Airlines is reducing their first class cabins on the 777s from eight seats to four seats, so pretty soon I’d expect to see very few first class award seats available in advance. That makes this an award which might not be all that easy to snag in the future.


That being said, as far as Singapore Airlines longhaul first class goes, I think the San Francisco to Hong Kong route is probably one of the more disappointing:


Which option would I select?

Singapore Airlines first class is better than Cathay Pacific business class. Period. And while it’s possible Cathay Pacific first class will open closer to departure, it’s far from a guarantee, especially on the nonstop flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

I’d say it’s tough to turn down the nonstop first class option on Singapore when it’s available, especially as the opportunities to redeem for it will undoubtedly be decreasing in the future.

But how do you balance Singapore being an overall better option with the fact that it would use up almost all of your American Express points?

I guess my thoughts is that Singapore KrisFlyer miles are probably the single easiest mileage currency to accrue. Singapore is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest. So you can transfer all four flexible points currencies at a 1:1 ratio to Singapore KrisFlyer.

There are so many cards through which you can accrue points that can be transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer, including the following:

Transfer to KrisFlyer from:

Bottom line

Ultimately I think you can’t go wrong either way here. Cathay Pacific has one of the best business class products, while Singapore Airlines is consistently excellent, even if this isn’t my favorite route on which to fly them.

But I’d still choose Singapore Airlines first class over Cathay Pacific business class, despite the points imbalance here. Singapore KrisFlyer — and for that matter transferrable points in general — are so easy to accrue nowadays. Even if you spend all your Membership Rewards points on this redemption, you shouldn’t have too much trouble earning them back (or otherwise accruing Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, etc.).

Which option would you go with in the above situation — Singapore first class or Cathay Pacific business class?


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  1. I would go Cathay in J with an eye to upgrade closer in. Burn those AA miles that are in excess and keep the flexible points currency for another day.

  2. I pretty much concur. Def monitor for CX F if you go that route. I feel like ground services are a very important part of the experience and SQ really lacks in that department on this route even in F vs J (and especially true if you have access to the Wing via OW E on J).

  3. Fly Cathay. The most important factor is that you will arrive rested, and the Cathay business product provides a very comfortable seat, so you should be able to sleep. While the Singapore Airlines may have a fantastic first class product, I find their seats to be incredibly hard and difficult for sleeping.

    Another factor is that American airlines miles have limited opportunities for redemption, especially going to Europe. AA premium awards to Europe are limited. There are many options for flying on British Airways, but flying on BA you pay exorbitant taxes and fuel surcharges. I would save the AMEX points for another journey.

  4. AA’s NA-Asia2 awards are a particularly good value, I’d burn those points and save the AmEx points for something else, such as an Oz/NZ trip that AA would require a dual award for.

    You’ll get access to CX’s lounges on the way home, and they’re hella good.

  5. It’s a tough call, but I think I would go with the Cathay redemption. I think that AA is going to be due for a devaluation at some point after all the merger business is done. So I would try to get the best value out of those miles now, especially since the traveler has so many AA miles. Use them now for a great product before the points are worse less.

  6. Ben, to call the Singapore Airlines lounge in San Francisco ‘fairly mediocre’ is a massive understatement! It must be one of the most unfortunate lounges in their network. Do you know if they have plans to renovate it?

    SQ re-opened their lounge in Sydney in December 2013 after a renovation where they did their best with the space available. What a transformation:

    Admittedly SQ have four or five flights a day out of SYD, but the SFO lounge just stands out like a sore thumb.

  7. One thing to remember is that CX first only operates on one of three flights from SFO, which is also currently the 1am departure slot.

  8. If you are booking far out and there is a devaluation between now and then, do you think AA will allow upgrades from J to F at the old rates? I would guess not.

  9. AA miles rich then I would go with CX J and hope for F close in. But product wise no comparison between SQ F (new F) and CX J. I flew SQ F earlier this year to SIN and fly CX J back to the US. CX J felt cramped LOL. By the way SQ1/2 does not have caviar service, it that makes a difference.

  10. Surprised to see the recommendation for Singapore…

    CX is definitely the way to go. They’ll want to use up those AA miles before they devalue – especially if they have a lot of them. If CX First opens up, then they’re in even better shape and can burn their more plentiful miles more quickly.

  11. I was wondering.. could one transfer Membership Rewards to SPG and then to KrisFlyer? Where I live, there’s no option of transferring MR to KrisFlyer directly.

  12. I think at the end of the day, it depends on the traveler’s priority. If arriving in destination well rested is all that matters, then definitely CX J will suffice. But if s/he is like me who enjoy flight experience (sometimes I purpose book a longer indirect flight just to prolong the flying experience!) then I would go for SQ F. I don’t think there is any point speculating what would happen in the future, whether AA will devalue, whether SQ will reduce F availability and whether CX will release F or not. Too many uncertainties. Whatever you decide you should be content with.

  13. I think you’re being a little hard on SQ’s new Hong Kong lounge.
    Sure, it isn’t the LH FCT, but it’s probably better than anything in the US apart from the new QF F lounge at TBIT.

  14. @ flying_foxy – The new Hong Kong lounge is actually stunning, but Lucky hasn’t visited it yet. I reviewed it back in February and was very impressed.

  15. Beachfan nailed it. I can’t imagine using all my MR points on SQ’s 777 F. While I’m a fanboy for CX, their J soft product leaves a fair amount to be desired. I’d def try to snag F, which they will love.

  16. A lil off subject- anyone else notice there are no first class guest awards (the ones open on AA) available after June 8th on Etihad from anywhere in the US? I just booked yesterday AUH-IAD and was going to move it out about 2 weeks, but now cant…

  17. Personally, I dislike the CX J seat due to one arm always feeling wedged and restricted by the console (you end up with one arm higher than the other). The SQ F seat provides ample space to both arms, which I see as an advantage.

    Ultimately, though, in this case it all comes down how much the traveller values the delta between ok (CX) and better (SQ), given we are talking about a gap in miles needed to redeem.

    If the traveller is redeeming flights and building up their AAdvantage balance easily and repeatedly, then perhaps CX is the choice here – simply because, they’ll have plenty more opportunities down the track.

    However, if this is a one shot in the locker situation (it took years to build up the miles), I’d say go for the best on offer that your points can provide (and book SQ). You want to minimise any regrets (I’d rather a light supper on SQ than the cafeteria catering on CX), given it might be a long break between premium redemptions.

  18. Forget CX. Fly JL SFO-HND in F, then to HKG (J only I believe, but short flight).

    Longer trip, but the 777 F is well worth it. From ground experience to excellent seat/bed to the best Japanese food you’ll ever taste 30,000 feet in the air.

  19. I get why everyone is jumping on Singapore F, but guys.. Cathay Dragon lounge in HK is damm good. Cathay meals out of HK damm good. CX business is good, especially out of HK. CX is what you fly out of HK

  20. Just because he’s redeeming for SQ miles doesn’t mean that means MR=SQ, so the ease of replenishing SQ miles is irrelevant. I’d be loathe to burn transferable points while holding a large balance of any single airline’s miles, especially AA right now.

  21. Is cancellation permitted with these bookings? If so book both. If you can upgrade to CX F then cancel the SQ flight and vice versa if you can’t upgrade to CX F.

  22. I’d redeem it for CX. As others have said, once this US/AA merger business is completed, it will be onwards to AAdvantage. So which comes first; CX tightening award inventory for AA passengers or a devaluation by AA? Again, my pick would be to redeem your AA miles while you can.

  23. We are planning business class seats from ORD-HKG on Cathy Pacific and we are 3 people= parents and a toddler. Does it have at least 2 seats next to each other so one of us can be right next to our child?

    I have AA miles to use here. I could never find any biz class seats when searching on BA website.

    I have UA miles to use as well but when I do a search, All I see of United airline operated flights to Asia. I don’t prefer UA.

    Thanks for any help

  24. Do not eveb think twice. You should definitely choose Cathay Business and spend your AA miles, while saving your most valuable Amex points.
    Ben is addicted to First Class and he is absolutely wrong on his advice at this time.
    I flew all on Singapore and Cathay: First, Suites and Business on both and altough the Singapore Suites are an amazing experience, all credit card companies are making harder to earn miles, so save your Amex for a future needed award.
    And you still have a chance for an upgrade to Cathay First at the last minute, that would definetily be worthy.
    Have a great time in HK, one of my preferred destinations.

  25. Go Cathay. I just flew CX first JFK – HKG last weekend and I didn’t want to land As others have advised, I was booked in business until a little over a week before the flight when they opened award seats up. You can also monitor the seats that are booked on expert flyer to know you’re odds.

  26. I don’t understand Ben’s logic here. “Krisflyer miles are easy to accrue, therefore burn all your hard-earned Amex MR points on them?” N’uh-uh. If you value your MR points more than your AA booty, then save ’em for when you can get serious value — e.g. when you wanna fly somewhere where there are no great AA options. For now, book CX and hope that First opens up. Good luck!

  27. Maybe I have been flying too many First class flights lately (Emirates and Lufthansa), but my first flight on Cathay Business yesterday definitely did not impress me (Frankfurt – Hong Kong).

    And for the very first time, I have to disagree with you, Ben, on your praise for Cathay. Because of your blog, I decided to fly Cathay instead of Lufthansa this time. The Cathay seat simply is not for me (19A) – one arm way higher, the monitor way too close, and all in all an awkward sitting position (I like the straight position on Austrian much better, and actually Austrian for me is the best Business product at the moment). Plus, the Cathay crew was very impersonal and not interested in real interaction. Wine selection was bad, no slippers, mediocre amenities kit (and again, I might be spoiled…), and the headphones were just awful!

    Unfortunately, I still have to fly Singapore to actually have an opinion regarding the original question.

  28. I would do CX J on this particular route. The CX lounges at HKIA – among my favorites in the world – are the tie-breaker for me.

  29. I think there’s a few other factors that we have to consider

    (1) She may not have that much control over her earning pattern. If, for example, most of her earning is on business travel and her company has a corporate rate with AA and issues corporate Amex cards that she’s required to use for all travel expenses, then she only control her personal spending earnings and might not be able to replenish her flexible program points as fast as she might like, while the AAdvantage miles will keep flowing in.

    (2) Is she just considering this one trip, and perhaps not also considering other near-future travel? She might want to consider whether or not she has any other travel in the next couple of years that she might want to use the Amex points for, especially if burning her Amex points now might put her in a position of having to fly AA metal long-haul rather than a better carrier, or having to pay ridiculous surcharges. And on the other hand, is there a possible near-term alternate use for the AA points? But if there’s no near-term future travel to factor in, I’d rather sit on Amex points than AAdvantage miles, especially now that the US-AA merger is largely completed and I can’t help but think AA management is, sometime soon, going to turn their attention to programme changes a la DL.

    (3) Does her credit standing let her pursue the alternative transferrable-currency cards Ben lists? If she has greatso, this might offset issue #1.

    (4) Is this a particularly special trip? A “round number” birthday or anniversary, or the first major vacation in several years? If it’s a special occasion, I’d be more likely to “splash out” on getting the guaranteed F experience.

    Without knowing her future travel plans and future points/miles earning expectation, it’s tough to make a recommendation. If she can replenish her transferrable-point stockpile fairly easily, then I’d say go SQ F and consider an alternate use for the AA miles. If the transferrable-point balance is going to take a long time to refill, especially if she’s considering other travel in the next few years, then I’d go with the perfectly fine CX option (and look for the close-in F upgrade) and burn off AA miles instead.

    I do think that sometimes Ben assigns more value to the very-high-end experiences than most of us would, as his overall travel history sets his personal “bar” higher. I have little pointy-end experience, just a single RT to Australia in Qantas J, several business trips JFK-LHR in J (and those were many years ago), and domestic F. (I remember when just being a lowly CO Silver got me several domestic upgrades…damn, I’m old.) So to me, CX J sounds awesome, and the difference between that and the somewhat greater awesomeness of SQ F is perhaps not as big as it is for someone who travels in premium cabins more and for whom J might be considered the “default setting.”

  30. I agree with Carlos-do what I’ll be doing next month and fly Cathay over and Singapore back. (Admittedly, it was Alex at point pros idea, but a very good one.)

  31. Due to CX getting ready to retire most (if not all) of their 747-400 fleet and replacing them with the 777-300ER, the amount of F space from North America to HKG has been greatly diminished. That could be why the original poster is having trouble finding F space as there are only a certain number of the 777-300ERs that actually have a 4-cabin configuration (6-seat F class) and CX is only using them on certain routes/flights to the USA. SFO happens to be one of the cities where the majority of CX flights are being serviced by the 3-cabin configuration (40-seat J class). It’s been awhile since I’ve searched but there were a few times per week or maybe even one of the 3-4 daily flights (depending on day) out of SFO to HKG that was being flown with the 4-cabin product. I ran into the original poster’s same issue last year planning a trip to Thailand via HKG.

    CX is my long-haul OneWorld airline of choice to/from Asia and you can’t beat the relatively low miles required for the trip. Their J product is more than suitable for most people…IMO. It’s comfortable, completely lie-flat and even in the larger all-business cabins on the 3-class 777-300ER, there is still a sense of privacy about it due to the reverse herringbone layout. It blows many F products out of the sky…again, IMO.

    That being said, there is a morning CX flight (9:40am) out of LAX that I discovered last year that is flown with a 4-cabin 777-300ER. It was very easy to get F space on and only required a quick hop down to LAX. The beauty of it is instead of arriving in HKG at an odd hour, it arrives around 3-3:30pm. We got in over 7 hours earlier than our original CX flight out of SFO, which was their first of the day. It goes without saying that you will receive phenomenal service and be in one of the most comfortable and largest open F suites in the skies! If nonstop is the priority, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly CX in J directly from SFO.

    Since the original poster has a large stockpile of AA miles, this may be an option to consider before those miles potentially devalue if AAdvantage goes the way of the rest of the frequent flier programs out there. I believe AA now has an early morning flight from SFO that will connect perfectly. Just allow enough time to get to the Tom Bradley International Terminal in LAX…it’s a bit of a hike! They can interline your bags all the way to your final destination when you check in at SFO.

  32. I flew CX HKG HND in business and returned HND HKG JFK in first on CX, CX business was disappointing, mostly due to tight quarters for business. The return flights in first were a great experience, with a massive seat, great food, and outstanding service. I had originated JFK DXB HKG utilizing EK A380 first suite, to which the CX first compared favorably. I have in excess of 1 mil miles accross programs, but find transferable currencies relatively tough to come by and use them only when their is no acceptable alternative, Like others, I recommend booking CX and hoping for first to open up a few days before departure. I live on the West coast, but often start international flights from JFK, ORD, or DFW to get the experience that II desire, I suggest looking at other gateway cities to get the primo experience.

  33. Singapore, without a doubt, if you care more about the experience. I live in Hong Kong and fly both frequently, Singapore is so much better in terms of both product and service it is no contest, even in the same class and this is SQ F versus CX C, so even more advantage to SQ. If you’re worried about points, just fly coach, but if you have the points, enjoy them on SQ. BTW, contrary to the comments, it is VERY hard to book SQ business or first with KF miles. I’m Solitaire and yet except at the very last minute, rarely have access to redemption tickets for anything other than coach.

  34. @jim – we flew with kids (2 parents + 3 kids) SFO-HKG in CX business class recently in the reverse herringbone. You absolutely do not want to have two of the middle seats. The reverse herringbone is great for privacy but with kids can be a pain because you can’t get to your kid who is technically sitting next to you. Take two windows in a row and one middle across from those – i.e. 16A, 17A, and 17D. Put the kid in the D seat in between the parents each sitting in A seats. You’ll both be able to reach the child easily and the child won’t be a bother to the person in 17G because of how the seats are set up.

  35. @jim
    Cathay Pacific long haul business has two seats next to each other in the middle (D & G), however there is a central divider between them so it’s a good idea if one of you has the seat on the other side of your toddler as well.

    With regard to the miles, I’m with Asia Miles so I can’t comment on using AA miles. I’m also not sure what you mean about UA miles is, but UA isn’t with OneWorld so they can’t be used for Cathay redemptions.

  36. Thanks fr the suggestion on CX. I don’t see any biz seats on CX so I have my ORD-HKG award on hold for 5 days.

    We wanted to try biz seats but was worried the the way seats are set up would be trouble. I have never flown biz class. BTW, My 19 months old never shouts, cries and we flew coach to seoul and singapore and not once did he cry. We control our kid.

    My planned trip not yet booked is

    ORD-HKG, stop over for 6 days and HKG-DEL. same stop over and 6 days later DEL-KTM. And return is ORD-HKG. We can just pay for the DEL-KTM one way cos it is cheap and if it can’t be free with with miles.
    What miles should we use? AA or UA?

  37. I also don’t understand Ben’s logic. This route is one of the worst to fly SQ F. CX J is great and considering the points available – go for CX J and if you can upgrade to F, all the better. And if that doesn’t open – you’re still saving those Amex for a proper SQ F route and flying in a pretty solid J product.

  38. Worth noting that while the CX J seat is great for business travel, its really not ideal for travelling with someone else – given that its just so private for J class. In that respect, SQ F may also be a better idea.

  39. I flew two flights on CX in J, and was sadly disappointed,
    The crew was OK, and so was the cabin, but the food-offerings on DOH-HKG-KUL were very disappointing.
    I had to end up with a Economy meal to find anything eatable.

  40. Lord have mercy, y’all.

    Truth is, when my man and I go to Hong Kong we always, always fly international First Class via the UAE. There is no other way to get around than to fly in First Class on Emirates or Etihad. Lord Jesus knows that the experience we receive on those aircrafts is much better than what any old uptight Singapore geisha can give. And although the ladies on Cathy Pacific are proper and attentive, they make the flight as boring as hell without an iPhone and SnapChat. So hun, save the miles, screw the AA points, and fly Emirates A380 First Class. That is what The Hobby is for. GO BIG OR GO HOME. AMEN!!!

    Ben: Still a good post, just sayin.

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