I’ve just returned from a great award trip to Thailand. The flights and hotel were almost entirely covered by points (RIP, Marriott Travel Packages, you were the best), which not only saved us thousands of dollars but allowed us to try Cathay Pacific business class, one of the most vaunted cabins in the sky. We had 4 short international segments, Seoul Inchon – Hong Kong, HKG – Bangkok, and back the same way. This gave us 4 chances to test consistency, cleanliness, and friendliness of the staff. To avoid suspense, I’ll tell you that I immensely enjoyed the experience. But the trip wasn’t without issue, as I’ll explain.
Booking Cathay Pacific Business Class Award Flights
We missed Cathay’s sale of the year, to our chagrin, but still wanted to experience their vaunted business class. Cathay Pacific (CX) premium award flights are notoriously difficult to acquire outside of the airline’s own Asia Miles program. We are based in Seoul currently, which has advantages and disadvantages. The primary positive is that award fights are cheaper (if usually shorter) than flying from North America.
I booked our flights using Alaska Air miles, as their “Asia” region flights are a bargain. Round trip from Seoul to Bangkok, connecting in Hong Kong, was a mere 45,000 miles. Fees were very reasonable at around $70 each way, including a mandatory $12.50 partner fee Alaska assesses. Our only problem was partner limits.
Our final destination was Phuket, Thailand, which caused the problem. Alaska doesn’t allow two partners to be booked on one award, and also doesn’t consider Cathay’s regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon to be a part of Cathay Pacific. CX only flies Cathay Dragon flights Hong Kong – Phuket, meaning we could only book awards to Bangkok. Be aware of partner booking rules and route specifics whenever planning award flights.
Flying business class provided us with lounge access in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. Additionally, my wife and I both have Priority Pass memberships through the Chase Sapphire Reserve, so our lounge options were excellent. I’ll review all 6 we visited (we love lounges), including The Wing, in separate articles.
Cathay Pacific Business Class A330-300/A350 Cabin
Cathay Pacific’s uses the A330-300 for medium haul flights in Asia, with 2 business class layouts. “Regional” business class is old angle-flat seats in a 2-2-2 layout, and this arrangement was initially present when I booked our flights. However, that plane was soon replaced by planes with the “international” business class layout A330-300s for the first 3 flights. Our final flight was a last minute product change to an A350, featuring the newest business class cabin. On both, business class is split between a larger main cabin consisting 7 rows in a 1-2-1 seating layout, and a smaller cabin behind it of 3 further rows.
Cathay’s A330-300 international business class seating is an older model, but still comfortable lie-flat seats. As with all 1-2-1 layouts, every seat has direct aisle access. The overhead bins were plentiful, and provided room for all carry-ons even on our one nearly full flight. The A350 cabin was so similar that I didn’t realize we had a newer plane until I reached my seat.
My wife and I are somewhat atypical fliers as a couple, and almost never select paired seats. On these flights we chose window seats in the large cabin, one in front of the other. We chose sides specifically to get good views of each city’s harbor by tracking expected takeoff directions online. It pays to do the work sometimes.
A330 & A350 Business Class Seats
The A330 seats were comfortable and spacious, as you might expect from a premier business class offering. That spacious feeling was definitely helped in bed mode by side “wings” that folded out when the seat fully reclined. I never felt confined in the privacy shell, and also never got jostled by passing FAs or carts. I loved the texture of the seats too, as the fabric felt “homier” and thicker than some others.
The foot well also felt roomy enough, but I’m a side sleeper and others may find it more limiting. I fully stretched out for most of the short flights. Even for just a few hours in the air, a lie-flat seat can be a game-changer. And as a sometimes nervous flier, lying down “mutes” turbulence a great deal in my experience.
Seat storage felt slightly limited, with some room in the earphones bay, and 2 floor compartments. That limited feeling was mainly because the side compartment (beneath the table) isn’t usable during takeoff and landing. I had to hold my tablet in hand while taking pictures with my phone, a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I never dropped either device into the seat mechanism.
The seats were fully controllable from the side panel, allowing for multiple lounging angles. Headphones provided were fine: sound quality was good but they weren’t really “noise cancelling”. The in-flight entertainment choices were vast, but honestly that’s the least important thing to me – I bring my own movies and books. I’m much more interested in the seat and the catering.
The newer A350 seats were remarkably similar to the A330. The finishes were newer and stylishly angled, and the IFE screen was much larger – with a new remote. But aside from the storage compartment being lidded (and thus usable gate to gate), they didn’t feel vastly superior. If you liked CX business class before, you’ll like the newer cabins even more.
Service & Catering
Cathay Pacific’s crew service was excellent all-around. From gate agents to FAs, every person we met was friendly and positive. Upon boarding we were greeted in English, while other passengers received greetings in a variation of Chinese if they responded the local language. At our seats the chief FA for each flight greeted us by name and made their presence known. However, FAs offered no amenity kits on these short daytime flights.
Attendants served pre-departure beverages before each flight. I chose the champagne (Tattinger Reserve) most times, though it tastes a little “boozy” to me. I also tried a CX signature plum juice/honey drink which was good if slightly cloying. FAs served quickly from a tray, and gathered at passenger leisure before takeoff.
As these were short flights between two and a half and four hours each, I didn’t experiment with drink options. But full drink selections were available, along with one 4-course meal on each segment. FAs passed out multi-paged menus for every flight.
I generally choose “local” options on flights, so on the first flight I tried wok fried chicken with broccoli and jasmine rice. The dried beef and Pecorino cheese appetizer was the standout dish of all four flights. It was truly delicious, and something I’d expect to be served in a good restaurant on the ground. The chicken was good but no standout. In fact, that was generally the same story for every other dish on all four flights: good, but not great. All except one.
One Poor Plate Out of 4 Flights
While I always eat everything in premium cabins, the tuna appetizer on our second Cathay Pacific business class flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was easily the most unpleasant meal I’ve had up front. It was worst than dull: it was actively awful. The fish was “off”, and the bed of farro was sticky, bland, and unpleasant. My wife had the same opinion, so it wasn’t just a bad serving. The rest of the meal was generally good, but I was disappointed that the vaunted CX catering let me down on this plate. That said, one plate out of 14 – 16 isn’t enough to make me avoid this airline.
The flights themselves passed quickly. With the exception of one delay on the tarmac, we taxied quickly to and from gates, with smooth departures and arrivals. I try to never forget how miraculous flying is, especially when lucky enough to do it up front.
Cathay Pacific business class was an absolutely wonderful way to travel even on short flights. The seats were extremely comfortable in all positions, the service was personalized and commendable, and the catering was generally quite good though not exceptional. I’ve already booked us into a much longer CX business class flight for next year. Hopefully we can make this a habit.
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