Difference Between Cathay Pacific First & Business Class?

I’m a big fan of Cathay Pacific’s first class product, even though I recently had a less-than-stellar experience on them.

Flying Cathay Pacific first class is one of my favorite uses of American Advantage miles and Alaska Mileage Plan miles, though it looks like that opportunity might eventually be going away.

Nowadays it’s tough to snag Cathay Pacific first class awards in advance, though closer to departure the seats are generally pretty readily available with enough flexibility.

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Meanwhile Cathay Pacific business class awards are quite readily available, even in advance. Cathay Pacific often releases five business class award seats per flight.

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Which brings me to a question I’m often asked about travel on Cathay Pacific. How much better is Cathay Pacific first class than business class? In other words, to what degree is it worth going out of your way to fly Cathay Pacific first class?

Cathay Pacific first class is exceptional

Cathay Pacific first class is an experience, much like many of the world’s top first class products:

  • There are only six seats in the cabin, so it’s one of the most private first class cabins out there
  • While there aren’t fully enclosed suites, the bedding is fantastic as well, with an excellent comforter, duvet, and set of pillows; I get some of my best sleep in Cathay Pacific first class
  • The food is good, but not my favorite; I find the main courses usually aren’t that great, but I love the caviar, salad, soup, and Asian pre-landing meals; the coffee selection is great as well (you can order lattes, cappuccinos, etc., while you can only have coffee or tea in business class)
  • They serve Krug!
  • There are excellent amenities, including awesome pajamas and an Aesop amenity kit
  • The Cathay Pacific First Class Wing Lounge in Hong Kong is good, though is hardly a reason to fly Cathay Pacific first class; the Cathay Pacific Bridge Lounge and Qantas Lounge Hong Kong (which are for both first & business class passengers) are excellent as well

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So to sum it up, Cathay Pacific first class is an all around solid first class product, and definitely ranks in my top five first class products, all things considered. It’s an experience.

Cathay Pacific business class is consistent

While Cathay Pacific first class is exceptional, their business class is extremely comfortable and consistent as well, though isn’t quite as much of an “experience.” I recently flew Cathay Pacific’s longhaul business class for the first time, and had a nice flight.

To sum up Cathay Pacific’s business class:

  • There are reverse herringbone seats, which are probably my favorite business class hard product
  • The bedding is fairly good for business class, though not nearly as good as in first class
  • The food is edible, though not an experience; the meal services do feel very much like an “assembly line”
  • The StudioCX entertainment selection is identical to what’s available in first class, so it’s quite good

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If the goal is to arrive well rested…

If the goal is simply to get from point A to point B and arrive as well rested as possible, I think Cathay Pacific business class is great. There aren’t many business class products out there which are more well rounded, comfortable, and consistent. I guess this sort of ties into my post the other day, entitled “Is The Worst First Class The Best First Class?”

That being said, I also don’t think Cathay Pacific business class is an “experience,” per se. In other words, if you’re an experienced premium cabin traveler you won’t land saying “that was the best flight ever.” But I also don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Bottom line

Is it worth going out of your way to fly Cathay Pacific first class over business class? In other words, if you lock in Cathay Pacific business class award space in advance, could it make sense to add a connection or switch dates if first class opens up closer to departure?

It all depends on the type of traveler you are. If you’re the type of person who says “as long as I have a good flat bed and edible food, I couldn’t ask for anything else” then I think business class is the way to go.

If “getting there is half/a quarter/some percentage of the fun,” then I do think it’s worth going out of your way to try Cathay Pacific first class. Of course everyone has to crunch the numbers for themselves in terms of the opportunity cost of switching flights to fly Cathay Pacific first class. If you only have a week of vacation and you have to delay that trip by two days for first class, that’s probably not worth it. If there’s space the day you want and it ultimately just increases your travel time by a few hours, I’d say it’s probably worth it.

Redeeming American miles, for example, it’s only an extra 12,500 miles to fly first class over business class between the US and Asia. I value American miles at ~1.8 cents each, so that’s like paying $225 for an upgrade on a ~16 hour flight. I’d say that’s a fantastic value, all else being equal.

How about you? How much would you go out of your way to fly Cathay Pacific first class over business class?

Comments

  1. What about the comparison with JAL bus and first (with their sky suites)? Both Cathay and JAL seem to be releasing a lot of seats which work well with AA miles.

  2. @Lucky
    Thank you, this is exactly the comparison of value that helps us in corporate travel. I haven’t flown CX business, but based upon this (as a Sky Team flyer) I’ll stick with the products I know if I can’t find F class available on CX.

  3. Question on availability. I’ve used the BA website to search for available award seats on Cathay, found seats but when I call Alaska to book they say there’s no availability. What gives? Is the BA search tool not accurate for Alaska? Does Cathay release different inventory to BA/OneWorld vs. Alaska?

  4. I recently changed the long haul portion of an upcoming flight from LAX-HKG in CX J to DFW-HKG AA F. Would you say AA F on the 77W is better than CX J? Thanks!

  5. Interesting to see how few extra miles it takes to upgrade from biz to FC. However, for the majority of your readers, who do not save up millions of miles, the biz class redemption is still better because it’ll take a lifetime to get enough miles for FC.

    I’d love to see a comparison on the other premium airlines in the region: Singapore, ANA, etc. Everyone claims they are the best, but how many people really fly each of them to be able to do a comparison.

  6. Ben,

    Thanks to your site and answering a previous question, I have my first flight on Cathay in November (72,500 Alaska miles) I was able to book seat 1A from Chicago to Hong Kong. Six days later I am continuing on to Johannesburg in business. I don’t know anything about the different sections so I chose seat 22k which appears to be in a sort of separate smaller cabin area. Do you have any insight about this? Is it maybe not a correct seating map?

  7. @Lucky
    Thanks for the comparison. Given Cathay’s recent change in availability, I’ve been eyeing business more often.

    Question many of us are thinking:
    If I book into business with AA miles, and FC opens up a few days prior to departure, what would be the damage for upgrading? Obviously theres the mileage difference. But would I get hit with a redeposit fee, last minute issuing fee, etc? Or would those be waived since there is a preexisting ticket?

  8. ncie write-up except Aesop amenity kit is total garbage. reuse value is 0. products are small… useless.

  9. Another advantage of flying Business class is when you fly with more than just yourself. So redeeming the biz award seats for two will obviously cost lesser than redeeming for one person if you are the only one that has the miles in the account. If I fly alone, I’d definitely get the first class.

  10. One other thing for CX First Lucky didn’t mention with regards to the food: they have a really good snack selection, much better than what some other top airlines like Lufthansa or Singapore offer in first class. And you can substitute snack items during the main and pre-arrival meals, which is also good.

  11. Since CX F tickets have a tendency to appear in the days immediately leading up to departure, what’s the $$$ cost to change/upgrade a ticket from J->F for both AA and AS programs (assuming no status)? I know the mileage difference for AA is 12,500 and 20,000 for AS.

  12. @ wwk5d — Excellent point. Great snack menu, in particular for flights originating in Hong Kong.

  13. @ Matt s — Yep, that’s a great choice. I quite like the business class mini-cabin at the back, so I’d stick with that.

  14. @ Kyle — Marginally so, yes. For me the big benefit of American over Cathay Pacific is they have wifi. That’s something which is very important to me.

  15. @jim @lucky — I find the difference between JL F and JL J (on the 77W) to be smaller than the difference between CX F and CX J. I also think JL J > CX J, but that is my personal opinion. Looking forward to seeing what you think, Lucky.

  16. “[It] definitely ranks in my top five first class products”. After having flown EK, EY, QR, JL, SQ, OZ and CX lately, would you still keep your top10 flightfox rank the same?

  17. Lucky,

    Along these lines, how would you compare JL F and CX F? Thanks to you, I was able to book JL F to HKG routing though HND, but if the space on CX F were to open up, what would you recommend?

  18. Lucky – I can never find Cathay F availability between the US/Asia. so to “experience” the product I booked Cathay F between HKG-NRT, and Japan Airlines F from HKG-ORD.
    2 Questions; 1)Do you get pajamas and an amenity kit in Cathay’s regional first class flights?
    2) IF availability on Cathay opened open, would you take a direct Cathay flight to the US, or keep my itinerary as is and spend a night in Narita to fly both. I’m flexible, but I wanted to get your input.

  19. You said CX isn’t your favorite food. What’s your ranking of best first class food? and business?

    I’d imagine Austrian is pretty high on the J list

  20. Absolutely agree with you on your definition of Cathay Pacific’s Business class service and product. It’s very consistent throughout, you know it won’t fail you but she won’t excite you either. CX Business class is wife material, whereas the others with the snazzy products are the exotic dates that could be through-the-roof-exciting but when you catch a bad flight, it can be very bad/tacky indeed.
    CX will always be the safe choice when, as you say, you want to get from a to b comfortably.

  21. I suppose CX F is something people should attempt to try sooner than later due to a potential double-whammy of AA award chart devaluation and CX restricting award space for partners.

  22. I actually consider flying long haul in business an “experience”, which makes getting there part of the fun. Lie flat bed, good food presented in multi courses (compared to the assembly line meals in coach), more personalized service from the FAs. Of course, that’s coming from someone who usually flies in economy.

  23. I recently flew CX First to HKG and biz class back and I agree. First was really, really nice and I slept very well. But business class was also plenty good enough and I slept almost as well. I’m glad I saved some award miles by choosing the business class return instead of F.

  24. @ Stephen — Yep, and it’s all relative, I think. 🙂 Used to get SO excited about business class, I guess I’ve become a bit jaded over the years. 😀

  25. @ Fester — Indeed, Cathay was the first to have that exact style of seat, and EVA sort of copied.

  26. @ Nai — In business I’d say Austrian, Turkish, and Etihad rank pretty high. Food really depends on the route, but Emirates, Etihad, Swiss, Asiana, and Korean Air definitely rank up there.

  27. @ JorgeC — 1) No pajamas or amenity kits in regional first class. Sorry.
    2) Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other. Really do love them both. I might just the option through Tokyo so you can experience them both, even though you’d only get the regional Cathay Pacific experience.

  28. @ Alex — I love them both and it would be really hard to decide. Think they’re both totally worth trying.

  29. @ Carlos — I think it’s finally time I make a post with my top 10 first class products. 🙂

  30. When I booked our trip to BKK via HKG several months ago, we shifted our dates back instead of forward to fly CX F out of ORD. So we’re actually using more vacation time (which will be spent in HKG) to experience it, rather than less. And JL F on the way back. Seriously cannot wait for November. In the meantime, flying coach to Germany Friday. Eek!

  31. I just booked myself on CX F from SIN-JFK (only in F on the HKG-JFK segment) a couple days ago. Ironically/unexpectedly, it was due to your post on the amazing JAL F availability that I called in for and was told there was CX F availability. It’ll be my first experience in CX F, and I can’t describe how excited I am to have scored the seat (still on a high from booking it!). I have flown in CX J once and was more than comfortable in it, but after hearing so much about F, am stoked to have the chance to try F before redeeming AA miles for it becomes a near impossibility.

  32. @Lucky and all,

    Which airline that give Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit in both F and J class passengers?? If it’s true, then I think that’s the best amenity kit ever, as it’s luxury designer brand and the reuse value is high.
    And does EVA airline still give Rimowa amenity kit to their F and J passengers?

  33. I would like to use my AA miles to fly CX F from the USA to Japan, but I don’t think I can back track from HKG to NRT/HND, right? Any suggestions?

  34. “@ Carlos — I think it’s finally time I make a post with my top 10 first class products. :)”

    YES PLEASE! and another for your top 10 business class products 😉

  35. @ Jeff — Correct, you can’t backtrack, so that does require two award tickets. If you book through Alaska you can do it on one award, however.

  36. I have the opposite experience. I find more F than J in advance for long haul Asia to North America RT.

  37. @ lucky and all – thanks for reply! If I were to book a separate award for HKG – NRT/HND in F or C, any suggestions of airlines/award programs for best value for this route? Heavy on Amex/Chase/UA/BA/AA/SG/DL/LF/AV

  38. @ SFOflyer — LAN provides Ferragamo amenities in long-haul Premium Business (hand cream, lip balm, etc.), although I don’t think the bag itself is particularly classy or attractive. I believe you can also get Ferragamo in SQ F, although it’s been a few years since I’ve flown them so I’m not sure anymore. You used to get a full size bottle of Eau de Toilette.

    In my opinion, the best kit I’ve received in recent memory is in JL F. Loewe bag that differs depending on whether you are outbound from or inbound to TYO, which includes a small bottle of Loewe Eau de Toilette among the standard other amenities, as well as awesome Shiseido facial products.

  39. @jeff @Lucky I just booked LAX-NRT-HKG-DPS DPS-HKG-NRT-ORD in F all on one award ticket for a total of 135K AA miles and $150. Unless I misunderstood jeff’s question, it would appear AA is letting people route through Asia 1 to and from North America.

  40. @ Lucky
    How about Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits…which airline is it? and is it only for F class only or J class passenger also can get it as well?

  41. Ben,

    As people mentioned before me- please make that top 10 list for F products as well as J. I would also encourage you to make a list of your least favorite which really helps us as well when choosing who to fly. Thanks Ben!

  42. Hey Lucky,

    Do you have a sort of procedure or mental thought process for ordering airplane food? I know this depends on the airline and route, but you always mention how you don’t usually end up liking your American first class food, for example. Do you think that what you order is the best option given your knowledge of the airline? Or do you just hope for the best? Thanks.

  43. In my limited experience in CX and JAL (1 flight in F on each) I found the “new” product on JAL to be better suited for couples traveling together and I had a slightly better experience with food with JAL; however, both products are top notch.

    Between the 2 of them I would take the one with better route (fewer connections) and timing.

  44. I recently flew CX J long haul and Intra-Asia, and was somewhat surprised at the minuscule food portions. The main course on my HKG-ICN flight looked like it came from economy class. The catering on YYZ-HKG was a bit better, but didn’t leave me full. Has CX recently cut costs? The amenity kit was quite tacky as well.

  45. @ Mochi — Hmmm, interesting. Their business class portions have never been huge, so believe that’s probably the standard.

  46. Hi Lucky,

    Been looking hard for 3 tickets (wife, daughter and toddler son) to HKG from all the US cities that CX flies to but no avail. Route is IAH-HKG-KUL but the US-HKG segment is tough to nail down, despite being pretty flexible with the dates (late June – early July) and seating (either business or coach).

    WHen i did the search on BA, i looked for 1 person but no luck. Cant believe there’s no coach seats for so many CX flights on any of the days for 3-4 weeks continuously.

    Looked at JAL but there is a long overnight connection at NRTso that wont work. Planning to use AA miles for the trip. Curious if am doing something wrong? Any advice would be appreciated.

  47. What’s consistent about never knowing whether they’ll make a midflight decision on a case-by-case basis to serve the 2nd meal immediately (midflight) instead of before landing? It’s horrible, and CX transpac J should be avoided at all costs..

  48. Lucky, what are my chances? I would like my mother to meet her only grandchildren a year from July, so I need four seats in each direction from Bangkok to Vancouver, plus one for a lap infant. Three plus a lap infant would also work if that is what I can get. (Siem reap would be better , but I am asking for Bangkok as it is easier to get and also comparable with Alaska miles). Due to citizenship and visa issues, we can not transit the USA and we can not stop in Hong Kong (stop in Hong Kong with visa is absolutely required is probably doable. We can also not be in Canada more than 30 days. Also since the visa comes much later, there is at least a sixty percent chance that the trip will not happen due to health or visa reasons, so there is an advantage to booking round trips, though I think we will have to book each direction at a time to get seats. Since none of them have flown before it is much much better if we are in the same cabin. I have enough aa miles for the preferred economy or for business. I have enough Alaska miles for e plus or the preferred economy.

    Lucky , any tips ?
    My thought is to book each direction the day the calendar opens up, i would think Japan airlines economy most likely if I am using aa miles , or economy plus on Cathay most likely to get if using Alaska miles (which are also free to cancel).

    Should I go in June and return in June, is that much easier than July?
    Should I hire an award booking service — I can check availability all the time on ba
    Website competently — does an award booking service have better tools and chances?
    Third question of three — am I likely to succeed , that is to say get three or four seats in each direction (plus the infant) with the return no less than 22 and no more than 30 days in Canada?
    Thank you

  49. just flew business ORD-HKG and they had cappuccinos and other coffee drinks. The drink selection was pretty extensive and more than I would ever need.

  50. @ Victor — That’s good to know. I didn’t see that on the menu, so I guess I just had to ask for it.

  51. @ And rock — Sounds like a great trip. If you’re booking close to when the schedule opens I can’t imagine you’ll have trouble finding space. I don’t think it will make much of a difference if you travel in June or July. If you can easily search space on your own then I think it’s something you should be able to book on your own. I’d say you have good odds.

    Good luck!

  52. @ kampung — Not doing anything wrong, you’re just sort of booking late at this point. If you wait a bit longer then some last minute space should open up, so I’d recommend continuing to monitor.

  53. Booked LAX HKG F
    HKG BKK J
    BKK HKG J
    HKG LAX F

    Best lounges for each leg? Can I use F Lounge on Layover in HKG and BKK?

  54. @ arthur — There’s no oneworld first class lounge in Bangkok, so you can use the Cathay Pacific Lounge, which is shared between both classes. You can use the Cathay Pacific First Class Wing Hong Kong in both directions. Enjoy the trip.

  55. Lucky, this was an excellent post. I started reading your blog last year and b/c of that I just booked CX F (about 300+ days out) for a trip to BKK and JAL F for my return trip back to DCA for KUL, all for around $110 r/t. I fly a decent amount for work and between that and putting all my spend on Aviator Red Card, I racked up the miles to do this. This vacation of a lifetime wouldn’t have been possible w/o your blog.

  56. @Lucky,
    I flew HKG-LAX last month and was surprisingly dissapointed. The service was spotty, the wait between meal courses was at times too long, the steak was chewy and fatty (I didn’t heed your advice I know), and I felt like I was sitting on an oversized throne. What I like about it was the caviar and the snacks, that’s it.

    In comparison, my business class flight in November was awesome. The seat is private enough, the food was just delicious and big enough, and they addresed me by name. I felt special even in business class.

    Is this an outlier? The experience alone made me want to skip CX first class next time I fly. I know you’ve had great experience with it.

  57. @ Frank D. — Thrilled to hear that, and thanks so much for the kind words. Sounds like a heck of a trip — enjoy!

  58. @Lucky – Hope all is well. Would like you advice on a trip in the near future. I am flying CX biz class from HKG to LAX, then SFO to HKG on the return leg and am currently Silver Elite on the Marco Polo Club. Would they entertain an upgrade request based on status, or do i need to use points? Your expertise is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

    P.

  59. @ Paolo — You need to use points to upgrade, unless they’re oversold, in which case they’ll provide operational upgrades based on status. Enjoy your trip!

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