Introduction: A Tale Of Two First Classes

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Welcome to my next trip report, covering a whirlwind trip to Beijing (via Hong Kong) to review the long haul first class products of American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Trip Basics

I’ve been trying to finish the year off on a high note when it comes to airline reviews, and this trip was part of that. I had just returned from a trip to Singapore that had me reviewing British Airways’ new A350 Club Suites, Finnair’s A350 business class, Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class, and more.

So two days later I embarked on another quick trip to Asia, which didn’t end up the way I had initially planned.

Booking Flights

For the outbound portion of the trip I found a great paid business class fare from Miami to Beijing on American that I could route through Hong Kong. This would allow me to fly American’s longest flight, between Dallas and Hong Kong, and upgrade that to first class, using a systemwide upgrade (while it can be tough to upgrade from economy to business class, upgrade availability is wide open from business to first class).

I booked a roundtrip ticket from Miami to Beijing, with the outbound in paid business class and the return in paid economy. I’ll be taking the return trip next year, and booked that in economy because I can use a systemwide upgrade to easily upgrade to business class on the Beijing to Dallas flight (as I won’t be routing through Hong Kong again — I figured doing the flight once was sufficient).

So here’s the outbound portion of the ticket, noting that the entire roundtrip cost me ~$1,600:

12/08 AA2524 Miami to Dallas departing 7:36PM arriving 9:52PM [Business]
12/09 AA125 Dallas to Hong Kong departing 10:40AM arriving 5:35PM (+1 day) [First]
12/10 KA906 Hong Kong to Beijing departing 7:00PM arriving 10:10PM [Business]

This portion of the trip would also earn me over 20,000 elite qualifying miles, which would requalify me for Executive Platinum for next year.

American’s 777-300ER first class

For the return portion I had initially booked Beijing to Boston in Hainan’s new 787-9 business class, though last minute they swapped the aircraft on the route, so it no longer featured their new business class product. As a result I decided to redeposit the award last minute, as I’ve already reviewed Hainan’s old business class.

Hainan’s new 787-9 business class

In the end I decided to book Cathay Pacific first class for the return portion of the journey, for three reasons:

A lot has changed with the logistics of booking awards in Cathay Pacific first class, so I ended up booking the following for 125,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (transferred from Amex) plus $141 in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges:

12/11 KA937 Beijing to Hong Kong departing 7:30AM arriving 11:15AM [First]
12/11 CX812 Hong Kong to Boston departing 6:05PM arriving 8:50PM [First]

Cathay Pacific’s 777 first class

As you can see in the table of contents at the top of the post, the next installment in this series will specifically be about how to redeem miles for Cathay Pacific first class nowadays, since a lot has changed with how they release award availability, and I’ve spent some time studying this closely.

Booking Hotels

With this trip I was spending two nights in hotels:

I won’t be reviewing these hotels because I’ve reviewed them both, and more importantly, I literally just spent a few hours at each of them (I was at the Grand Hyatt DFW from 11PM until 4:30AM, and was at the Hilton Beijing Airport from 11:30PM until 5AM).

Why so little time at the Grand Hyatt DFW? Because I wanted to be at the Flagship Lounge the second it opened, so that I could get the best pictures possible.

Bottom Line

Talk about a trip of contrasts. I think you guys mostly have a sense of what the service was like on my American first class flight, though the rest of the first class soft product surprised me (in a way), and Flagship First Dining at DFW really surprised me.

Contrast that all to my return in Cathay Pacific first class, where I had the cabin to myself, which was a first for me on Cathay Pacific.

While I was initially sad that my Hainan flight got swapped, in a way I appreciated the opportunity to do such a direct comparison of two transpacific first class products.

What a trip this was!

  1. excited for that highly anticipated American first Dfw Hkg report. Also I would love to stay at that Hyatt DFW but it’s $249 per night.

  2. Wow. I wouldn’t want to do all that travel in that short time frame.

    At first I was going to ask how crazy you are with a 48 minute connection time for an international flight but then saw one was PM and the next one was AM 🙂

    Although the 1 hr 25 minute connection in Hong Kong seems tight to me but I’ve never been in that part of the world. I’m guessing there may be a ton of options if you miss that connection? Although you are stuck dealing with AA?

    I once did a short 4 day trip from PHX to Brussels and back. I had enough jet lag for that one and that doesn’t make a dent in your trip.

    Good luck. (And have a nice holiday.)

  3. About the short connection times in HKG, it’s never a problem. I’ve always found it easy to make 55 minute connections when transiting through.

  4. Very much looking forward to this review. Thanks for churning the reviews out like you have been doing recently! I know it’s a lot of time for you, but I (and I’m assuming others as well) really appreciate it

  5. It’ll be a blast to read the AA 757 review, I haven’t flown on one of those in a decade or so… I’ll be curious to see how they’re holding up

  6. Does United flight from Denver to London offer first class or only business class. I am booked on business class and would like to change to first class if it exists

  7. Ben, I want to thank you for the dedication in getting photos without fellow travellers in them. I was in japan airlines from SYD to NRT yesterday and someone was filming everything with a big SLR on a gimbal.

    What for? I have no idea. But is wasn’t asked for my permission and I found it a pretty gross invasion of my privacy. I did have words with the guy and he did, apologise, multiple times at it happens. I’d never really thought about it but now I’ve experienced it I have no desire to be in the background of anyone’s ‘content’

    Ben you do a great job and keep up the good work.

  8. Thanks so much for answering my question. One more question. I fly KLM business class often. Do they have first class on their flight from Panama to Amsterdam? Thanks so much for your comments.

  9. I personally don’t care for photos of empty cabins nor lounges as it is like a poster of a Mc Donald’s burger…looks nice, but it is not what you actually get.

  10. Last time I was booked on CX F and was about to have the whole cabin for myself, 90 mins before departure I got called by the front desk at the Pier lounge. I knew it couldn’t be anything good at that point. Sure enough they had downgraded the plane to a 777 without F… talk about disappointment… I understand these things kinda happen. But I asked if they can cator the flightwith the F class product food and perhaps champagne wise. They wouldn’t accommodate. I found that to be unreasonable since they are at their hub and could easily take whatever they were going to cater for me on the new plane. I must say though the FA was incredible. He came over and apologized as he was going to be servicing F class and was looking forward to doing service for me. He did went above and beyond during flight. Which was appreciated. I got the stares from fellow passengers who wonder why was I being taken care off extra special by the FAs.

  11. @D3KingAmerican Yeah, it’s a bummer since that Hyatt DFW moved from a category 4 to a 5. Can’t use the CC free night cert anymore.

  12. @D3KingAmerican check out the Hyatt Regency at DFW. The grand hyatt was really expensive when I went to stay there (am on Australian $$$ too so worse). I ended up staying on a corporate rate at HR but the standard rate was decent. I had VERY low expectations (airport hotels are often ordinary) but was pleasantly surprised. The welcome platter really far better than most Hyatts I have stayed at (I am a globalist). I arrived at 8pm at night from Belize and left for the terminal at I think 6am the next day – it was a domestic flight to MTJ (to get to Telluride). I don’t know this airport at all so can’t talk about the terminals. All very easy and good value for money.

  13. @icarus no I think that was just the initial impressions of the American Dfw Hkg flight and then an inflight report will follow. Don’t you know OMAAT format by now ? 🙂
    The last legit flight report on American flagship first 777 was 6 months ago by Brian Kelley TPG on his youtube.

  14. What tool do you use for finding such cheap paid fares? Would be really helpful if you could share that info (either here or, preferably, in a post about finding cheap fares). Thank you for your consideration!

  15. The catch is that Cathay Pacific is making virtually no first class award seats available to partner programs last minute, even when the cabin is wide open. So in a separate post I’ll be sharing the “trick” to booking Cathay Pacific first class awards last minute.

    So you pretended all this time like there was a trick you were going to reveal that opens last minute F to partners. Wish you would have just been honest from the start.

  16. @Ben. I ask this not as a criticism but, rather, out of curiosity. Do you imagine that doing a Beijing turnaround from the U.S. (Via HKG) with just two 5 hour hotel layovers mixed in can somehow skew your perceptions and critique of services? While hard on the body we all know here too well that even a mundane 48 hour turnaround to London can be grueling.

    I know it’s your job to produce content. While the physical affects are one thing – I imagine the way you see a product becomes a bit like one would experience under the influence of alcohol.

  17. ”I won’t be reviewing these hotels because I’ve reviewed them both, and more importantly, I literally just spent a few hours at each of them (I was at the Grand Hyatt DFW from 11PM until 4:30AM, and was at the Hilton Beijing Airport from 11:30AM until 5AM).”
    At Beijing, 11:30AM until 5:00AM would have been a 17-1/2 hour stay, so I’m guessing you meant to say 11:30PM to 5:00AM.

  18. Flagship Lounge Dallas DFW is so much better than the Amex Centurion lounge its not even funny, it depressing actually. The flagship lounge is better than when the Amex first opened and had good service and were not crowded. Im really looking forward to your review.

  19. I have to agree with Ryan T that’s it’s pretty disappointing that you teased that there was some “trick” (I understand the quotes’ implicaiton now) to booking CX F last minute when you apparently just used Cathay’s own program. That is not something that warrants “So in a separate post I’ll be sharing.” It requires a single sentence to explain.

  20. @ Ryan T @ BrewerSEA — Fair enough, and totally see how it came across that way, and that wasn’t my intention. You’re right that I should have probably mentioned that in the original post.

    That being said, the current state of award availability on Cathay Pacific deserves more than a one sentence mention in another post. At this point Cathay Pacific has one of the most complex approaches to award availability of any airline I can think of, and I wanted to do justice to that. When you consider partners having different award space than Asia Miles, different partners having access to different award space, Cathay Pacific using married segment logic, and the complexity of Cathay Pacific’s own Asia Miles program, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

  21. I have just booked a “reward flight ” with my BA Avios from Sydney to London on Cathay Pacific First Class. I was initially thrilled. Then I looked at “seatguru” , and found that the Sydney to HK leg , 9hrs, is in Business with reclining seats, not flat beds. I just can’t do that with my bad back, I would never have booked that if I’d known. I can’t believe airlines still have reclining business class seats. Also looking at all the photoes taken on this site, that seems to be the case. Anyone got any helpful suggestions please?

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