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I’ve written several posts recently about a round the world trip that I am trying to plan for sometime this spring. Details are still being worked out, but the basic idea is flying Cathay Pacific (using American miles) and Emirates (using Alaska miles). Something like this
While normally I prefer saving up my miles and don’t mind economy, on these longer flights, I wanted to splurge and fly my wife and I on 2 of the most aspirational first class flights.
Finding award availability
Emirates availability on Alaska is actually not that bad, but finding Cathay Pacific first class availability is really tough. You have to book right when the space opens, or you pretty much have to wait until you get to really close in to the date of travel. I’m not sure I can wait that long before making plans, but luckily American has a few things going for them. First of all, you can put an award on hold for up to 5 days, and American also allows unlimited changes to the ticket with no fee (even for non-elites!) as long as the origin and destination remain the same.
So my plan was to take advantage of the increased business class availability on the routes between Chicago or Los Angeles and Shanghai China to book the outbound leg. Then, if first class availability opens up (on either Cathay or Japan Airlines), it’s a simple process to just pay the extra miles to upgrade from business class to first class.
So how important are lie flat seats?
The reason I ask is that the Chicago-Shanghai route is flown by an American 777 plane with the old-style angle flat business class seat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-Shanghai route is flown by a new Boeing 787 which has the new style business class lie flat seats. This is the same style of business class seat that we flew on our flight from Rome to New York last year.
The lie flat seats made the trip super nice, but I wonder how we’d be able to sleep on an angle flat seats. Plus, living in Cincinnati, it’s SIGNIFICANTLY more convenient to fly via Chicago. Here’s an idea of what we’re looking at, for a sample date
Fairly reasonable, right? On the other hand, if we want to fly via LAX, this was the best routing I could come up with
Involving a red-eye flight AND a hotel overnight in Los Angeles. Now in this particular case, I am hoping to not fly EITHER of these routes, but there’s something about me that really likes to have SOMETHING booked, so in a worst-case scenario, we at least have a backup plan.
What do you say, readers? Which option would you choose? How important are lie flat seats?
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Well, a few things to note. The business class seat on the AA 787 is not the same as what you’ve pictured from your Rome to JFK flight. The seat is similar to the reverse herringbone configuration found on the AA 777-300ER, but with an alternating forward-reverse configuration. It should be nice (although not quite as spacious as the 777-300ER). and, IMHO, the lie flat aspect is so important that I would consider not flying the route unless it had the true lie flat seat. The old business configuration on the 777-200ER has 2-3-2, with angle lie flat seats that just do not compare to the new product. Not worth the award miles…
Lastly, I flew a few days before Christmas from LAX-HKG on a first class award ticket, which was booked one day in advance. One! Four flights a day on CX from LAX makes this very feasible.
Good luck and enjoy whatever you decide!
Thanks for the clarification on those seats. After I posted it, I wondered if it was slightly different.
Flat is way better than angled. Do your search for CVG/LAX separate from the PVG leg – you may find more options. Also look at DAY as a departure option.
The seats on the 787 are in my estimation better than the 767 flats you’ve experience. That all said, we’ve all been there over the years – angled flat vs. nothing….it is better than nothing – and to be clear – WAY better than down in the back.
I flew ORD/PVG on the old AA 777, but we flew First Class, which was only okay. The old angled seats are pretty bad in my opinion, especially for a 15 hours flight.
I usually go for the shortest route (I just cancelled HKG/SIN/FRA/JFK on the A380 Singapore Suites, for a direct flight HKG/JFK on Cathay Business), but in your case the angle seats are so uncomfortable I recommend you to take the longer and more comfortable route.
Just flew both – flat from SCL to MIA (awesome) and angled MIA to ORD (way less awesome). Both were supposed to be flat but there was a last minute equipment change and we didn’t know until we boarded. So keep that in mind – what you book may not be what you get.
Lie-flat seats are definitely better and more comfortable if you actually sleep for a flight that’s long enough to get a decent amount of sleep. For me, that’s at least 9 hrs. Otherwise, I’m not likely to sleep long enough regardless that it would make that much of a difference, anyway.
But when given the choice between a nonstop or much easier routing with angle-flat seats vs multiple connections or terrible routing with lie-flat seats, I always go for the best routing whenever possible. We had angle-flat seats in Business Class for Aeroflot LAX-SVO, and I preferred that routing over Lufthansa LAX-FRA-SVO in lie flat First/angle flat Business. Lufthansa has an amazing lie flat First suite, but flying 13.5 hrs nonstop on Aeroflot was better for me and my eventual jet lag than 20+ hrs on Lufthansa. As it turned out, I slept pretty well even on the Aeroflot angle flat seat…and the food/IFE was pretty decent, too. Quicker trip over longer trip is just a simple choice for me.
Having done the Chicago/ Shanghai flight in business I would say it is plenty comfortable- not the best obviously but I would gladly take the easier flight with the angled seats over the routing through Los Angeles
I recently flew the DFW-HKG round trip on the 77W in First with lay flat seats and that is bad enough on that long of a route (Gosh I’m spoiled). I can deal with angled flat to Europe but China to Chicago sounds brutal (not as bad as economy of course but still not great). I’ve flown the old 777 angled in US Envoy to FCO and it’s not that bad, you just don’t sleep as good since you keep sliding down to the footrest.
I would also elect to fly westward on a RTW plan. I find the jet lag is much less on me personally.
I’ve done both style seats on verrrry long haul (KeyWest-Miami-SFO-HKG-SIN), (Tampa-IAD-DXB-JNB), (Miami-ATL-CDG-LHR-Capetown), (Sarasota-ORD-YVR-HKG-BKk)…well, you get the idea.
For me, if my flight from the East Coast does NOT depart until late afternoon or evening, then by the time I arrive practically anywhere more westward in the US, I will be tired. Hence, if I took the LAX routing I would need the overnight in LAX. Furthermore, it would help break up the journey so my body gradually adjusts to the time change. I have done it before and it is a blessing. That said, it does add an extra day and some $$$.
However, as a woman who cannot sleep upright or even reclined, to head to Asia in an angled seat–albeit making a shorter journey–would not be worth paying the extra award miles. I’ve flown Atlanta to CDG (7 hours, 6 time zone changes) angled flat and it was really not much better than economy. I would not spend those miles again for that arrangement, I would go Premium Economy, be just as uncomfortable as angled flat.
If your wife is able to sleep reclined, then do the Chicago direct. Otherwise, make the journey a better experience, layover in LA, and enjoy a true lie flat. There is a huge difference in sleep quality for us women.
My wife says that after having to be up all night with 6 kids, she can sleep anywhere 🙂
Of course, lie-flat is usually best, but I don’t think the angle-flat is as horrible as the BA bloggers make it out to be (sometimes you’d think they were flying Spirit with all the drivel they’ve spilled about the old LH biz class – where I have easily slept countless hours). For reference, I’m not one who sleeps well in economy. On an 8 hr flight, I’m probably lucky if I can get 1-2 hrs of sleep. I spent 2002-2012 flying biz class internationally to Europe and Asia almost 200K/miles year for my employer. I literally experienced the industry switch from recliner to angle-flat to lie-flat. I remember the very first time I flew angle-flat, it was the Singapore Air “space bed” sometime around 2003-2004. After that, I sought out angle-flat when I had the opportunity. Then BA came out with their Club World lie-flat and that was great, but a little narrow/weird due to the forwards/backward configuration. For me, a person who is a few inches under 6 ft, the width is more of a factor than the angle. Most people like to sleep on their side and that is easier on a wider seat. Some of the lie-flat products are really narrow, especially in the foot area, which can make it difficult to find a good sleeping position. I don’t have the “sliding down” problem that many people say they experience. Even on some angle-flats that have a steep pitch, I’ve just put an extra pillow or my backpack down in the foot area to kinda even it out. Bill makes some good points. Of the two routings you showed, it’s a no brainer to me…I would pick the first thru ORD because in both cases you are flying to Asia during the daytime. Your body is not going to want to sleep easily, but it may actually be more willing on the ORD flight because you will have to get up earlier to leave CVG. For a flight that arrives in Asia during the afternoon/evening, I would nap for only a few hours because if you sleep too long, it will make it harder to adjust to the local time zone after you arrive. It doesn’t make sense that you would choose to sleep overnight in an LAX airport hotel simply to have a lie-flat seat to facilitate good sleeping on a flight that leaves in the morning. I mean,
I love a good regular-to-wide lie flat, but not at the expense of a hotel and all the additional travel time.
Flew angled-flat once. Worst business class seat, ever. Kept sliding down and just couldn’t fall asleep at all.
Definitely go for fully lie-flat. 787 is a nice bird. AA’s alternating reverse herringbone on this aircraft is interesting. My wife and I recently flew it, and sat across the aisle (2A,D) so we could share an aisle, she got to look out the auto-dimming windows, and I was able to easily get up to help her with the IFE etc. Seat is really comfy, tho’ footwell may be a bit tight.
I’d say book the LAX route. Definitely keep an eye on CX F from ORD or LAX, or (personal fav) JL F from ORD or SFO.
Yeah – I’ve been looking at CX and JL F/J availability a few days out from flying over the past few weeks, and I’d say that I’m 99% sure that I’ll find at least BUSINESS class availability on CX or JL so I won’t actually have to fly either of these routes via Shanghai, but that still doesn’t stop me from wanting to do the “best” one….
Looking forward to your trip report!
A couple of things. First, your plan to just get something and then switch up to first class shortly before your departure will run up against the AA devaluation. Everything I have read says that you will have to pay the new price for first class after March 22 because it requires a reissue of the ticket. If you can get one leg of your trip in first class and pay the first class price right away, then you will be able to switch your routing after without charge, but if you pay business class now, you will pay big later. I have one first class to HKG and 5 business class in June, with an original plan to move at least one more to first just before we leave, but the devaluation has seriously messed that up. I have two first class on the way home, but only because I needed to take 2 from Beijing to Homg Kong. Turns out that was a fortunate situation for us.
As far as angle flat versus lie flat, I have only had two night flights, one angle flat, one lie flat. For the 6 of us, the determining factor was the time that we flew, not the angle of the bed. For our angle flat, it was a late departure (MCO to FRA on Lufthansa), about 9 pm, but we slept fairly well on angle flats. Our lie flat (YUL to IST on Turkish) did not leave until nearly midnight, so it was 2:30 before we settled down to sleep and none of us slept very well on that flight.
So my advice, if you can find an indirect flight that will allow you to pay first class miles now, take that one. If not, take whichever one has the better routing and don’t worry about one type of seat versus the other.
We’re actually looking to fly the whole trip before March 22nd, so hopefully that shouldn’t be a problem.
I prefer lie flat seats – they make every trip easier. The angled seats make you slide down. Just not comfortable. Also, on long international routes I often book a hotel room at Heathrow or LAX because sleeping in a bed in the middle of these flights balances out your body and makes it easier to endure the economy portion.
Most LAX airport hotels suck… unless you don’t hotels in Manhattan Beach but no free shuttle.
Ord-PEK spring 15 on angled AA 777-200 business seats. not bad. if tired you will sleep. Ord-NRT last fall on AA 787. business pod is fully flat, but even at 5’11.75 my feet hit the end of the cubby. 787 is comfortable and great entertainment. keeping track of kids in business pods might be challenging. best of luck finding inventory. let me know if successful as I would like to do a RTW with spouse
I experienced both on a recent trip to Thailand (lie flats in both a 777 and 787, plus angled in an A330). The angled seats are not worth the extra miles IMO. For me, it was impossible to sleep in them and the comfort was maybe half way between economy and lie-flats. I would choose the lie flats even with a less convenient routing, or save the miles for later.