How Good Is Cathay Pacific Longhaul Business Class?

Hello from New York! While I had an amazing time in the Maldives, it’s nice to be back “home” (whatever that means).

As you guys know, I flew Cathay Pacific business class home from the Maldives, thanks to the cheap business class fares they publish between Male and New York. So over the weekend I flew from Male to Hong Kong to Newark.

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Up until now I’ve never reasonably been able to justify flying Cathay Pacific business class rather than first class. When redeeming American miles for travel between the US and Asia, the cost for first class is only 12,500 miles more one-way than the cost of business class. Given all the extra services, booking first class is a no brainer.

That being said, in the interest of the blog, there’s value in reviewing Cathay Pacific business class:

So… how was Cathay Pacific business class? While I’ll start publishing a detailed trip report about the journey this week, here are my initial thoughts. To keep things simple, I’ll focus specifically on the Hong Kong to Newark flight, which was operated by a three cabin 777-300ER (featuring business, premium economy, and economy).

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Cathay Pacific business class seat

Cathay Pacific has reverse herringbone seats in business class throughout their longhaul fleet, which is my favorite business class hard product in the world. You can’t beat fully flat seats with direct aisle access.

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The entertainment selection is excellent as well, with the same StudioCX programming Cathay Pacific offers in first class.

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Cathay Pacific business class food

The meal service sort of surprised me, though not necessarily in a bad way.

The meal service seemed to very much be focused on efficiency. I can appreciate that on a six hour redeye, but on a 15 hour flight it’s a bit strange, in my opinion.

First of all, each course was served off a nice trolley with all the options displayed, which I appreciated.

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The first course consisted of a salmon and shrimp starter as well as a small salad.

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Then the main course was served. I selected the Chinese cod.

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Then there was a cheese and fruit course.

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And then a dessert course, which consisted of a pear crumble tart.

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What I found a bit odd was that the first round of drinks were only served after the appetizer was served. On a 15 hour flight you’d think there would be time to first do a round of drinks with some nuts, and then proceed with the meal service. Interestingly there were nuts on the drink trolley, though I guess they weren’t offered due to timing, since it’s a bit odd to give someone nuts while they’re finishing their starter.

As far as the food quality itself goes, while not to the level of Austrian’s business class catering, it was still quite good. While the meal was unmemorable, at least they executed well on what they were serving.

In terms of the highlights of the meal, the cod I had for the main course and the pear tart I had for dessert were exceptional.

While I think Cathay Pacific has some opportunities in terms of their service process and plating, the food itself was quite good, roughly what I was expecting.

Cathay Pacific business class service

The crew on this sector was quite good. They were attentive during the meal service, and then kind of disappeared between meals. I was fine with that, because when I pushed the call button they cheerily appeared within seconds.

During the meal service I felt like I was part of an assembly line, but in a personalized way, if that makes sense. In other words, I was addressed by name and with a smile every time they approached me, but they wouldn’t proactively offer drink refills or clear anything on my tray, since they were “just” working the cart.

Cathay Pacific business class amenities

I was offered a nice amenity kit after takeoff, though I was surprised by the lack of slippers. I know it sounds minor, but I really appreciate when airlines offer slippers. I don’t like to go to the lavatory in my socks, and I hate having to put on my shoes every time, so I find slippers to be super-useful.

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The bedding was very good. While there wasn’t a mattress pad, the blanket itself was well padded, and the pillow comfortable.

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Cathay Pacific business class bottom line

I’ve flown dozens of sectors in Cathay Pacific first class, and have always said that I find Cathay Pacific to be one of the most consistent airlines out there.

After doing two sectors in their business class, I got the same feeling. I’ve long said that business class is all about the seat, and everything else is just the cherry on top.

While Cathay Pacific business class is sort of “no frills” in terms of the soft product, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Give me a great bed, an edible meal, and show up when I push the call button, and I’m a happy camper.

While I of course continue to think redeeming miles for Cathay Pacific first class whenever possible is a no brainer, if traveling in larger parties or if first class awards aren’t available, Cathay Pacific business class is a great option.

If you’ve flown Cathay Pacific business class, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. Lucky,

    As far as other Asia-Pacific carriers stack up, where would you rank Cathay Pacific’s business class? I’m particularly thinking about Singapore Airlines, Eva Air, and ANA.

  2. You need to compare apples with apples. Given the choice CX First is the way to go, but CX business against other business class?

    IMO CX > US > LH > EI > UA > BA

  3. I recently flew HKG-JFK and back on CX J.
    Out of HKG, I slept almost 10 hours straight of 15.5 hours. I think it was due to exhaustion and a bit of champagne.
    On the way back out of JFK, I slept almost 12 hours. Earplugs + Bose noise-cancelling headset do it for me. Woke up for in time for breakfast.
    I really CX J for Trans-Pacific.

  4. “Give me a great bed, an edible meal, and show up when I push the call button, and I’m a happy camper.”

    This is exactly right. It’s also why I love business on DL 747s and A330s. (I find the 777 odd, as everyone is facing away from the windows.)

  5. My bigger complaint with the food is not that the main course looks kind of unappetizing (though it does), but rather that they cook it all together in one dish like is done in economy, meaning the veggies are inevitably overcooked in order for the protein to be fully cooked through. Most airlines these days — even the likes of AA and UA — cook the components of a business class meal separately and then the FAs combine them onto a plate.

  6. I guess you got what you paid for…

    Recently experienced BR Biz class JFK-TPE. FA didn’t address me by name and rarely stopped by. Heck they even ignored my call button once. Food was unspectacular. Seat also feels more claustrophobic than CX’s. I would take CX Biz class over anything anytime anyday, maybe except for SQ.

  7. @Jonathan – I fly to Asia for business frequently, and often get to fly J. In my experience, CX is pretty much the best option to Hong Kong and beyond. They are far better than UA’s 8-across J, and although AA has a similar hard product on their new 773, the flights are generally staffed with cranky 85-year old FAs. SQ flies to HKG from SFO, so if you are out west that is also a great option, but from the East Coast I don’t think you can beat CX.

  8. I was in Australia last week to play a music festival, booked in CX premium economy. On my return trip (BNE – HKG – LAX – BNA), I politely asked the ticket agent if there happened to be any upgrades available. She said the flight was very full, so I had already been upgraded to business class. I typically fly Qantas to Australia (and used to fly United when US Airways was in Star Alliance) and as stingy as they are with upgrades, my mouth almost hit the floor. I’ve only flown business class on four airlines (US, QF, UA, and now CX). CX is definitely my favorite. I hate the slight angle of QF and UA beds; what’s the point of a fully flat bed if it’s…not fully flat?!

    One of the things I especially liked about the bed was there was room for me to bend one of my knees up as I do when I normally sleep. The extra width is great and the shape of the space in general allows for a lot more lounging and sleeping positions that other seats. Loved it! I wish there was a mattress cover or sheet, though. I ended up using my AA blanket as a sheet (I keep one of those with me, that way I can wash it and know exactly where it has been and that it’s always clean, haha).

  9. @ Chris — Tough to say for sure. I think Singapore probably has slightly better service and food, though I don’t think the bed is quite as comfortable as on Cathay. I think the catering on Cathay is better than on EVA. I’ve never been that impressed by Asiana business class. As far as ANA goes, it really depends on the plane you get.

  10. @ Bgriff — Don’t disagree, though unless I’m missing something American does the same in business class. Not that they’re a shining example of how business class service should be, though…

  11. @ Jonathan — Tough to say for sure, as it’s very route dependent. In general I’d say ANA, JAL, Singapore, and Cathay are the four best transpacific airlines in business class, assuming you get their new products.

  12. Just be glad you didn’t experience the feared midflight meal: if anyone orders a midflight snack, they decide that individual service is too much trouble and preemptively serve the pre-landing meal immediately. They wake people up with the noise, and then there is no further food served for the rest of the flight so you’d better wake up and eat it. Long thread about it on FT.

  13. Oh and I’m quite surprised the FAs disappeared between meal service, because I remember seeing an article saying CX J service was supposed to be more like SQ, catering to business travelers who frequently need things while F they’re intentionally supposed to leave you alone.

  14. Lucky, thank you for writing these reviews. I’ve been following your blogs for a while. I have a passion for travel but due to family and work commitments, I am not able to travel as often as you.

    Maybe I am the minority here, but I think for most travelers, business class products are already aspirational. I was lucky enough to experience transcon business, in 2 different airlines (CX and American), and I thought that CX was far more superior. Granted, I have not seen the other ‘front’ side, but CX biz is miles away better from AA. I think for the average readers, more reviews in biz would probably help, especially now, since a lot of airlines devalues their programs, and make redemption on even business class so expensive (think UA). Can you also contrast the service and the hard products against other business class products?

    You also mentioned that redemption rate delta is 12500 miles between biz and first, with AA. Yes, that’s true, and am I correct to read between the lines that you implied that 12500 miles delta is not a lot? I am curious about your thought process on that. Me and my wife try to channel all of our spend through credit card spend, and that include housing – we own rental props – plus our own home. There’s no easy way – not that we know of – to rack up 12500 miles quickly. Assuming that our housing expense alone is 5000, that’s still more than 2 months of channeled spend per ticket, which means for a couple that is equal to 5 months of spend.

    We are already planning for our next transcon trip but even with all the channelled credit card spend, we have long planning horizon – end of next year, and end of 2017. We have to collect points that far ahead. Maybe our strategy is flawed? We’ve already booked about 20K UR points per months. We do have 1 trip in the next 3 months or so, with mixed cabin. Coach on outbound, and business on the inbound.

    I suppose we could sign up for Citi AA cards, but those already have provision that we have to wait for 18 months between openings/closings.

    I do have an opportunity to fly my parents here to the States – in CX business – from Asia. I am still keeping that under wraps – for a nice surprise. So I guess technically we will have 2 award trips this year. That’s one of the perks in this hobby, that sometimes you have the ability to gift something that’s on normal circumstance is not really affordable.

    So – to close – can we get more biz class reviews? I think for most people, it’s aspirational already. Also comparing the business class reviews with another business class would be more appropriate IMO.

  15. CX used to be leading J hard product (well for most of their planes), but that’s not been the case for a while (QF’s new A330 J much better, and the bigger newer birds of QR and EY are much nicer for J, and VA’s soon to rollout Next Gen J seating even looks better – to name just a few). Business catering on CX often gets panned nearly as much as AA’s does (although AA is marginally worst). And as a recent review of Lucky’s shows, even he loses his fanboy love of CX on some flights (and that fanboy love comes mostly from the cheap AA redemption rates for First on CX, not from the often premium revenue fares charged on a majority of routes for a now rather lacklustre J product).

  16. Cathay Pacific F advance (1 year out) award availability has definitely been getting worse lately. I’ve also noticed that they’ve even changed their pattern of releasing unsold F seats into award inventory 24-48hours before departure — at least on their west coast flights. Expertflyer will show 4 or 5 available F seats but not even 1 seat is released by CX. Has this been a recent change?

  17. @ Tom — Hmmm, as far as I’ve been able to see they’ve continued to release space within 24 hours of departure with the same pattern as before. Are you checking back really close to departure?

  18. @lucky — I’ve noticed that they’re not reliably releasing F seats, at least to/from LAX, compared to how they used to previously. For example, tomorrow (4/14/2015) there were no F seats released on CX 898 despite expert flyer showing F5 availability. It seems to be quite unpredictable lately, and it’s been exceedingly difficult to find 2 F seats on the same flight when in the past it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 or even 4 F seats being released.

  19. Lucky – did I read that right? Business class fare from MLE to EWR is $1450? That’s not bad. Distance-wise, that’s 11400 miles give or take, with 25% class bonus (assuming you book the miles to AA), that’s about 14000 miles.

  20. I’m at JFK now, having just finished an around the world award trip in J and had the chance to experience four long haul flights (CX JFK-HKG 777/QR BKK-DOH A380/QR DOH-BCN A330/AA BCN-JFK new configuration 767). I agree it’s all about the seat and Cathay’s was by far the best. The QR A380 seat has lots of bells and whistles but much less leg and foot space. The new AA 767 full flat seats felt like being put in a coffin! I would not have wanted to be in the QR or AA Seattle for 16 hojas from New York to Hong Kong.

  21. @Lucky — Hm, it’s been 20 months or so since I’ve flown AA longhaul business class but I was thinking they did the plated meal — but I could be misremembering. UA and DL definitely both do plated business class meals, and I think even some carriers like AF and LH do plated meals in business even if their business class catering isn’t the most impressive overall.

    It’s funny, sometimes I feel like CX and SQ “water down” aspects of their business class product, especially with things like using ugly galley carts in the aisles for meal service (which many airlines don’t do in business class any more), presumably specifically to protect the sanctity of their first class product. Seems like the ME3, which generally seem to be less concerned about the J vs. F perception difference, might be the sweet spot for business these days.

  22. @ Bob — Indeed, Cathay Pacific publishes great business class fares out of Male. Those fares have to be booked directly on Cathay Pacific’s website.

  23. I find the meal service in CX business class very impressive, With them putting all the options on a trolley – its so great to see what the meals actually look like than just basing your choice on a menu. It’s like having Yum Cha in the skies! CX business is very efficient and reliable and they are consistent throughout. I love the new amenity kits. It has a more unisex and modern appeal than the previous agnes b ones.

  24. Approximately how much would YQ/taxes/fees amount to when using AA miles for a JFK-HKG award in F cabin? I would much prefer to use miles to Asia in F, but I can’t readily find the additional fees. In contrast I’ve got a “known quantity” looking at a ticket to Europe in business class with just $100 of fees per person. Any help appreciated!

  25. Completely agree with your assembly line commet. I was flying the same day as you but to Chicago, menu looks exactly the same. I was sitting at the mini J cabin right behind first class and meals were handed out individually. During breakfast service, they totally forgot to give me my main course even I have reminded them 15mins after they cleared my fruit and yogurt plate. They told me it wss being prepared. Another 15mins passed by, captain announced decent in 5 mins. The flight map was not working on the whole flight so I was not able to keep track on accurate timing. They were very appologoic after I told them they have not served my main course, but I think that it is totally not acceptable.

  26. My company signed a rate agreement with Cathay Pacific this year.
    Cathay Pacific is taking delivery of their 50th B777-E300ER in late April in Seattle.
    I have been invited to and accepted an invitation to the delivery ceremony in Seattle and the first flight to Hong Kong. I’ll send a report if you like.

  27. lucky, just curious but why didn’t you book the roundtrip for $2300? It’s changeable for $45 and then you have a way to get back to Asia for $1000 in J.

  28. I find the CX J soft product underwhelming. Meals are not CX’s strong suit, even in the premium cabins, and this would be helped greatly by more attractive plating and presentation. Serving meals from a cart may allow you to see everything at a glance and help you with your selection, but it also takes away from the personalisation of the meal service. Personally, it also feels decidedly lowbrow, for travelling in a premium cabin. I still take SQ as the gold standard.

  29. Lucky, you mentioned that the CX hard-product is your favorite business class. Try the (new) JAL business product. They’re introducing it on all their planes over the next year or so, but most of the 787s (except San Diego and Boston) are outfitted. It’s marvelous.

  30. Lucky, you often mention your use of the FA call button. Unless you’re trapped in your seat, why use the call button which is likely to interfere with fellow passengers’ premium cabin experience?

  31. @ Eric — Because I think that’s more respectful towards the crew. The crew sit in the galley with the curtains drawn around them, and I tend to think it’s rude to invade “their” space.

  32. @ Chris – I agree the lack of PJ’s availability in J on a sixteen hour flight is puzzling. I’m glad I knew in advance, and brought along some from a previous long haul flight on ANA.

  33. Lucky – I’m planning a trip to Australia via London and Hong Kong. Can you comment on JAL F and B suites LA-NRT and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from IAD-LHR-HKG. I’ve been a follower of your blog for about 8 months now and have never seen anything by you about VA Upper Class. Tx

  34. Hi Lucky:

    Do you prefer cathay’s long haul business class’s seat or Qatar Airways A380/Boeing 787 Business’s class product. Are they the same?

  35. Being a regular traveler, CX service is catered to give you privacy and allows you the most sleep/rest time. Meals are served quickly and efficiently. The crew disappears for the one and only reason is to not keep walking up and down the aisle to disturb passengers. I tend to avoid carriesr where the crew waits on their passengers every hour or so by offering drinks during a flight.
    Unlike American carriers, CX crew is eager to respond to the call button and in fact, expects you to use it. and they usually come by within 30secods of it being used . I am sure seasoned travelers would not want the crew walking up and down the aisle every half hour just to see if someone needs something.
    Service is consistent, with an occasional miss of course, although it is a very low percentage.

  36. The CX luggage allowance in business class is a disgraceful 30kg (because I’m not in the US sector); that’s normally what the economy passengers get on real airlines (they get 23kg on CX). The industry standard for business is 40kg. I didn’t think to check because I was under the belief they were a proper, reputable airline, not an Asian version of Ryanair. They have the audacity to describe their poxy 30kg allowance as “generous”. And they don’t even offer a pre-payment option to upgrade for an extra 10kg for a reasonable price; oh, no, you get charged $600 for a 10kg bag, $1200 for a 20kg bag. I mean, what the actual f**k? What planet are they living on? Even Michael O’Leary would baulk at trying to fleece people that badly, and he’s regarded as one of the best fleecers in the industry. Regretting buying my ticket.

  37. How would you compare the business seats on CX with their first class? Client trying to decide if extra for first is worth it for JFK to HKG. He is 6’4…

  38. Going from L A to perth next week on CX business class for first time ever. This blog was very informative. Never been on any flights this long any advice is helpful

  39. My bf and flew first class recently from HK-LAX, but could not get award seats on the same flight, so we’re considering trying business class next time so we can be on the same flight. First time we’ve flown first class and we are definitely ruined for coach from now on. Thank you for your very helpful review!

  40. We are flying with Cathy Pacific Businrss class via Hong Kong to Australia for the first time and am not sure what to expect especially during the flight & when we land in Hong Kong and use the VIP lounge – have seen there are a number of lounges do we need to book one before boarding our next flight on to Oz or are we allocated one automatically –

  41. We are flying with Cathy Pacific Business class via Hong Kong to Australia for the first time and am not sure what to expect during the flight & when we land in Honh Kong and use the VIP lounge – have seen there are a number of lounges do we need to book one before boarding our next flight on to Oz or are we allocated one automatically

  42. My wife and I bought our business class tickets for our next vacation/trip to Asia in December. Will be our first experience with Cathay from Amsterdam to Ho Chi Minh in their 777-300ER. After our long haul flight we’ll be flying business class short haul from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Really looking forward to our first Cathay flight.

    Hope we have enough time to enjoy in the Cathay lounge in Hong Kong before our connecting flight (1:50) to Ho Chi Minh.

  43. Flew YVR – HKG – JNB return biz. Cabin, seats, food all good, but the service is a “no fun” clinical experience, very unlike the European crews. And if you don’t hold your glass tight, it is gone before you can think of asking for a refill, it is not going to be offered!

  44. Thanks Christo.I plan to go on holiday in California leaving leaving on a return Durban-Los Angeles Cathay Pacific business class July5 2017 and returning to Durban on July 23 2017.I opted for Cathay pacific because it is the cheapest Durban-LAX return business (better than Emirates). Your review helps me to know what to expect

  45. A huge apples to oranges comparison, but flying frequently to Asia on my own dime… how far off is Air China to CX when factoring in the nearly $2500USD price difference? I wish I had a corporate slush fund to be able to ignore the price difference but I don’t.

    Thanks and I love reading your reviews!

  46. Which rows do you prefer on CX Business class 777 for a couple travelling together? Are the 2 rows forward of the galleys a good choice?

    Thanks.

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