American First Class Vs. Cathay Pacific Business Class

Earlier I posted about the incredible amount of first class award availability American has on their international flights, including between Dallas and Hong Kong. Some flights even have four or more first class award seats, which represents at least half of the eight seat cabin.

American-777-First-Class-01
American’s 777-300ER first class

At 67,500 miles one-way, it’s a heck of a value, especially in light of American’s upcoming award chart devaluation. Would everyone rather redeem for Cathay Pacific first class? Presumably so. But you’re not going to find four Cathay Pacific first class award seats, especially in advance.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-39
Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER first class

Anyway, while I get asked award questions all the time, over a dozen people emailed me virtually the same exact question today regarding the award availability. So I figured I’d address it here. The question consists of two parts:

  • Would you rather book Cathay Pacific business class or American first class?
  • If I book American first class now, can I change to Cathay Pacific first class closer to departure if it opens up?

American first class vs. Cathay Pacific business class

For some context, I’ve reviewed both of these products before:

I’ve also written a comparison between Cathay Pacific first class and Cathay Pacific business class, so maybe that provides some useful context as well.

Cathay Pacific business class is really solid. Their reverse herringbone seat is probably my favorite hard product out there. The soft product is solid, but unmemorable. The food is fairly good and flight attendants are typically friendly, though the whole service does feel like it’s a bit of an assembly line.

Cathay-Pacific-777-Business-Class-15
Cathay Pacific’s business class seat

Cathay-Pacific-777-Business-Class-58
Cathay Pacific’s business class food

American first class, on the other hand, is really hit or miss. The first class hard product is only marginally better than their excellent reverse herringbone business class seat (the same offered by Cathay Pacific). And frankly the food probably won’t be much better than in Cathay Pacific business class. Service could range from very good to absolutely horrible, as it’s inconsistent.

American-First-Class-777-02
American’s first class seat

American-First-Class-777-16
American’s first class food

The one huge advantage, if you value it, is that American offers wifi on their 777-300ERs. That’s a benefit I value immensely, especially on a 17 hour flight.

American-777-First-Class-27
Wifi on American’s 777-300ER

Given that the difference in mileage cost between American first class and Cathay Pacific business class is just 12,500 miles, I’d definitely choose American first class if you value wifi. If you don’t value wifi, I’d still say American first class is marginally worthwhile.

Lastly, if you’re not oneworld Emerald, keep in mind that departing out of Hong Kong it’s especially valuable to be in first class so you can use the Cathay Pacific Pier First Class Lounge, which is one of my favorites in the world.

Cathay-Pacific-The-Pier-Lounge - 11
Cathay Pacific’s first class lounge in Hong Kong

Can you later switch to Cathay Pacific first class?

American is devaluing their award chart for bookings as of March 22, 2016. The cost of a first class award between the US and Asia 2 is increasing from 67,500 miles to 110,000 miles one-way. I’ve written in the past about how American will handle changes to award tickets after the devaluation. Here’s what I was told by an American spokesperson:

We have advised our agents that voluntary changes to date/time only will be permitted without forcing new higher/lower award levels, and we’ll have more information once the new award levels are applicable. This means the origin and destination need to remain the same.

Technically this means that any change other than the dates and times will trigger a reprice, so switching from Cathay Pacific business class or American first class to Cathay Pacific first class will trigger the new award levels.

In practice I wouldn’t necessarily count on that being the case. I can’t guarantee it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the award cost stays the same as long as the origin and destination remain the same, and the type of award remains the same.

Let’s say you book an award from Tampa to Dallas to Hong Kong to Bangkok, with the first two segments on American and the last segment on Cathay Pacific. I suspect the itinerary could probably be rebooked without a reprice if you changed it to Tampa to Chicago on American, and then Chicago to Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific. That’s speculation on my part and contradicts American’s stated policy, but in practice that wouldn’t change the award type.

The key is that you’ll want to mix American with partners on the award to maximize your chances, and then later when you make a change you’ll still want to have a segment on American and a segment on a partner, so the award type doesn’t change. When you switch from an award that’s exclusively on American, to an award which also involves partners, that requires a redeposit and reprice.

Just speculation on my part, but I think booking American first class in conjunction with a connecting flight on Cathay Pacific maximizes your odds of later being able to switch to Cathay Pacific first class without changing the award type.

Bottom line

The amount of award availability American has at the moment is unreal, so I’d definitely consider taking advantage of it. As much as we like to make fun of US carriers, the truth is that American’s 777-300ERs are quite nice, and I especially love that they have wifi. At the cost of 67,500 miles one-way, and with the ability to find multiple seats on a single flight, I’d say it’s a fantastic option.

Which would you prefer — Cathay Pacific business class or American first class?

Comments

  1. Changed my mind about AA…. But DL is still dragging me down. Just found a perfect last minute flight by searching on Google… I chose book with Delta and the first thing I saw was ‘Terms of your Basic Economy Fare’

  2. Random question here Lucky, but do you have a favorite day of the week to travel on? Especially on long-haul flights. Thanks

  3. I can do JAL business (KUL -> NRT) or take a detour and lose a few hours and then do JAL F(CGK -> NRT). Which one would you (any reader) do?

  4. How about AA in F vs. JL’s newest J seats? We’re going to Taipei from DFW and are on JL’s 787 (newest J flat seat product/no F cabin) via NRT, but could change it to AA’s F into HKG then a short hop in J over to Taipei on CX.

  5. Stupid to compare biz to first class.

    Albeit, any Asian airline economy would beat a US carrier Biz or First almost.

    IN the future keep the comparisons class to class otherwise it makes no sense.

    And yes AA first sucks.

  6. @ me — Do you understand the context of the question? The reason I’m comparing the two is because right now people are asking me whether they should book Cathay Pacific business class or American first class, given that those are the two available options. Not sure what’s stupid about that?

  7. @ Nolan — Yes and no, it depends on the circumstances. Changing from two segments on American and one segment on Cathay Pacific to one segment on American and two segments on Cathay Pacific generally won’t incur any change fees.

  8. @ travel4b — That’s a toughie. Probably roughly the same situation, though I believe JAL has wifi. Might just lean to trying JAL, if you haven’t done so before.

  9. I think the most important thing to consider with this question is American’s airplane type. If American’s first class is on a 777-200, Cathay Pacific business is WAY better in my opinion. American’s updated first class is definitely getting better, but if you’re stuck on an old plane with an old first class product, you’re going to regret it. I reviewed American first from PVG-SFO on a 777-200 here: http://goo.gl/3jeDoZ and definitely concluded that Cathay is better.

  10. @ Credit — Hmmm, that’s quite a detour. If that’s the extent of the award, and it’s JAL’s longhaul product on KUL-NRT, I might just stick to the nonstop.

  11. @ Hawaiian Joe — Favorite as in what I enjoy most, or favorite in terms of the most availability? I prefer to travel on weekends since I have less work then and can enjoy the flights more.

  12. @travel4b I would take the JL sky suite biz product over any AA product. Food is better, wifi is available and the seat is perfectly comfortable.

  13. Cathay J food is not good. Tasteless but with verbose descriptions. And they might decide at any time to feed you in the middle of the flight, and then nothing more for the rest of the flight. They like getting their work done so they can relax.

  14. Lucky, do you think AA/Dragonair mixed award would qualify for “same award type” as AA/Cathay?

    It looks like our destination is served by KA, but we’d love to buy a lottery ticket to CX F!

  15. What a timely post. My wife and I are traveling this summer from ORD-HKG on Cathay, then on to BKK also on Cathay. We were able to snag one F seat and one biz seat on the ORD-HKG portion. We have been checking religiously for an additional F seat to open, although I’m afraid it won’t come until departure date is close.
    We really want to be in First together. So the dilemma is whether to rebook on the AA DFW-HKG so we both get F together and lock in the lower mileage rate now, or hang tight and hope an F opens up before the devaluation, and if it doesn’t, pay the new mileage rate when we hopefully snag that other Cathay F right before departure. Any thoughts, Lucky?

  16. Been going back and forth on this decision. Credit Card mileager, always riding in the back of the plane. Currently wife and I are meeting in China on separate dates, with me going over in F on CX and her in J on JAL. This are the big flights, so we are splurging but will probably wind up back in Economy and maybe occasionally business and saving our miles to take the entire family on future trips.

    Currently we are traveling from PEK to back to home, booked on a 3:10 PEK – HKG, 11:55 HKG – 13:55 ORD then a 18:25 ORD -20:56 Home. She will be in F(Her first shot at F) on CX for the longhaul, and I take my turn in J. Booked before the deval announced and had hoped to upgrade both to first closer to date, but sounds like that won’t be happening.

    With the current flights we are planning on just staying out late that night, then going to the airport and getting a nap, enjoy the Wing in HKG.

    There is now AA Business open direct from PEK 10:10 to 10:10 ORD on the 787, then 15:20 to 17:52 gets us home. In this scenario we pick up an extra night of hotel and a little more time in Beijing(but probably just sleep and breakfast), but mostly save aggravation on the flights and get wifi for the 13 hour run home. Much more efficient route, but she loses her chance to experience F.

  17. Will be flying Cathay business class from LAX to HKG in April. I know there is no Wifi, but are there at least plugs at the seats to keep phones/tablets/laptops charged?

  18. I think it kind of depends how many miles you’ve got as well. While it may (or may not) be too tough to generate 12500 miles, not everyone is able to do that so easily. I recently flew an award I booked last year using US miles CX F on the way to Asia and then CX J on the way back. I found CX business class to be absolutely fine. Their AVOD system has plenty of choice. Agree that the food is just so-so. But the seat was quite nice. And the little 2-row mini cabin has a real first class feeling to it. For me, I’d probably save the 12500 miles and pick CX business class rather than spending the extra miles on AA first. Wifi doesn’t really matter to me.

  19. Lucky, if I cancel an award ticket and redeposit the miles, do i just pay the $150 fee but I will get back all my miles and the taxes/fees that I paid for the award ticket? I have a roundtrip award ticket in F on hold for May but won’t know until March for sure if the trip is really happening, and the seats for the exact dates I need are no longer available right now. So wondering if I should gamble the $150 fee and unfortunately I have no status with AA. Thanks.

  20. Hey–
    So I’m curious. Say I book a flight from LA to Colombo via Hong Kong. LAX-Hong Kong would be in business class, but HKG-Colombo would be in economy. I would be paying the business class price. If I upgrade the HKG-CMB segment to business, would that retrigger the price post-devaluation?

  21. @ Alex — According to the rules they technically published it would require a reprice, but in practice I doubt it would.

  22. @ Steve — If I were a betting man I’d say that’s fine, but this whole thing is a gamble, so no way to know for sure.

  23. @ Sam — Toughie, and probably no right answer there. I’m guessing another Cathay seat probably won’t open up until after the devaluation. Personally I’d probably lock in American first class for both passengers, as it’s a nice backup to have, rather than mixing cabins between two passengers. And I also think if you were connecting onwards you have a decent chance of making the change without it repricing. But no way to know for sure.

  24. Thanks for the post Lucky. My question if I arrive into Hkg on AA first at 18:30 and then connect to Chiang Mai next day at 15:30 via dragon air will I have lounge invitation to use the Pier first class? The dragon flight is economy only. I would like to use the pier before the HKG-CNX flight.

  25. Lucky,

    Does a ticket booked in a round trip transaction with multiple carriers count as a mixed ticket booking? Or does it have to be mixed each way?

    E.g. ORD-HKG-BKK (Cathay first and biz) and HKG-LAX-ORD (Cathay first and then American first) booked at the same time for 125k.

  26. Lucky,

    This is my first comment and I would like to have your advice 🙂 I’m currently booking in HKG-HND(CX F), HND-SFO(JL F), SFO-JFK(AA F), JFK-CUN(AA C). I thought it’s pretty awesome to sample 3 different F in one award ticket! But now the AA opens up tons of F award space and even HKG-DFW has 2F available. So I can really make it simple and book HKG-DFW(AA F) and DFW-CUN(AA C). Which one would you pick? Thank you!

  27. lucky – what’s the best longhaul route to experience AA F on their flagship B777-300ER? … it seems like for the award price, you get the most bang for your buck (16 hrs etc) DFW-HKG… but other than that, what are routes does AA operate this plane on? I know they fly it to LHR, but the APD sucks there even w/o bogus fuel surcharges – so would like to avoid it. but then what other routes can you experience 77W longhaul on, say 10-12+ hrs for not that many miles (60-80k)?

  28. I have booked DFW-LAX-NRT-TPE on JAL F for December. If I were to change me itinerary later to fly on CX when F award space opens up close to departure, am I to assume I will be charged with new award prices even though my origin and destination is the same although changing JAL to CX? (while the domestic route from DFW will be on AA)

  29. Lucky, you should really try JAL’s SkySuite business class. The hard product is superb. Definitely worth putting in this comparison, particularly if you score a window seat. But no matter which seat you get, they are the closest you can get to “suites” as you can find in J class. I’m a CX regular, but put some of my business to JAL lately and don’t regret it for a second.

  30. Not having flown either, I can’t believe from pictures that AA first is only marginally better than Cathay business. The AA “suite” (in quotation marks since it isn’t enclosed) looks like it gives you so much more room to operate, whereas the reverse herringbone setup wedges you in to a fairly narrow triangle of space. Just based on that alone, I feel like I’d rather fly AA. I don’t have any AA miles, so it’s all hypothetical for me.

  31. travel4b – I flew JAL NRT-DFW and the seat was the best Business Class seat I have experienced. However note the following
    – food is pitiful unless you like Japanese food. Not many western options and everything except desert was inedible. No salads, soups or western snacks.
    – Cabin is a good 10 degrees warmer than American
    -Service is hit and miss. At times the crew was decent at times worse than the US crews. Depends who was working and who was on break.
    -BYOP – Bring your won pillow. the airweave pillow they give you is completely unusable. Its just a piece of mattress.

    If all you care about is the seat…you will like JAL. the dreamliner is a wonderful plane. And the food…well to each his own. I didnt like any of it.

  32. Flew CX quite a few times and i have to agree with the comment that CX food in J is abysmal. Tesco frozen food tastes better.

    I think this is a fact missing from the generally overrated reviews of CX.

    Service generally is way way better than in AA. They often have huge recognition for my emerald status (on AA) like greeting me personally, taking my orders first and the odd upgrade. This never happens on AA. I am convinced that most of the FA in AA do not even know how advantage works.

    I could never understand why most people rave about the F Wing lounge. The restaurant does look like a slightly upscale work canteen. A la carte mains are tiny and normally a miss. The F Wing Buffet is so so.

    The open area of the lounge itself does not work for me . It is often very crowded.

    Showers are great though

    The new pier is an improvement but I would hate to see it with loads of people (including its share of loud americans on its way to Bali for the first time – sorry about the generalisation, i just had a couple of bad experience). Food again not great. After 3 visits, my favourite dish in the lounge was a burger. The pier pantry choices are poor

    Most of the food in the J Lounges is terrible except that you are really really into Asian food (which again is not that great). Full disclosure I hate Chinese noodles dishes.

    In HKG, I often find one dish in the QF lounge which beats anything on offer in F CX Lounges.

  33. @ Jordan – It’s not a narrow space at all. There is a lot of space in the footwell and even some wasted space on the seat right next to the aisles. The Cathay photo makes it look like the plastic portruding from the seatback at eye level is somehow confining you in your seat. It’s really just there for privacy so people don’t end up staring at each other. The only time you might feel wedged in is when the seat is extended and you’re trying to get out. Since the gap for entering and exiting the seat is relatively narrow, you will probably need to raise the seat a little.

  34. I think RakSiam has it. I can manage a couple of redemptions a year for myself and my wife in J but not in F, so I choose J.

    As for CX J itself. I like it well enough. The food is good if not spectacular, I’ve had much better Chinese food in MU J and strangely on BA out of Chengdu; a 宫爆鸡丁 worth eating. I’m not the biggest fan of reverse herringbone but it is comfortable enough, my main objection to it is how enthusiastically it is possible to crash a trolley into the plastic next to ones head whilst one is sleeping.

  35. Well, this post sure stimulated a lot of comments!

    @Lucky, thanks for the feedback. Yes, JL does have wifi. I’m inclined to stick with them anyway as the new J seat is getting great reviews and although I’ve never flown JL before I have flown ANA several times and the soft product is just so much better on (most) Asian airlines. Being unlucky and getting a bad crew on AA F would really tick me off.

    @Ryan, was that your review on FT the other day? If so, sorry you had a bad experience but it seems a bit of an outlier. Granted, it’s a given that the Japanese always like a warm cabin. Fortunately, I love Japanese food but I appreciate your observation about their western choices. As for hit or miss crews, how could JL be anywhere close to as hit or miss as AA? May the odds ever be in your favor on AA!

  36. Given that my current CX J JFK->HKG flights are in two PNRs, opted to not pay extra for a questionable AA F.

  37. @ Henry — That’s a really cool itinerary you have to begin with, so I’d stick with it. CX and JL F on one award sounds like fun to me!

  38. You mention a lack of availability with Cathay apart from at short notice, yet I saw almost every flight from HKG>LHR having 2 seats available when booking with Avios all throughout Dec ’16

  39. Lucky: Thrilled to see you responding to qs again! That is great and one of the reasons I’ve always liked your blog. The post and leave style of late was really disappointing. I hope everything with Ford is okay and this is just that NRE wearing off a little and getting back to business.

    Please do respond to Toms q above, since I’m also very interested in how to get CX F (in advance, not 14 days out). Thanks!

  40. @ mbh — Yes, typically one seat in first class on many flights, though it’s rare to see two in advance.

  41. Lucky, great posting! I decided to cancel AA TPE-NRT-DFW first class (777-200) after reading the comments. Instead, I would like to book 2 JL first class from TPE-NRT-ORD. Sorry for asking JL flights here. There was not an early flight from TPE to NRT to catch JL flight so I have to leave TPE a day earlier like your flights posting on “How To Talk To Airline Phone Agents” http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2014/09/23/talk-phone-agents/.
    12/16 Japan Airlines 772 Sydney to Narita departing at 9:15AM and arriving at 5:05PM [First]
    12/17 Japan Airlines 10 Narita to Chicago departing at 11:10AM and arriving at 7:45AM [First].
    Any advices from you or your readers for the following questions will be appreciate!!
    1. Are we allowed to get out of the NRT airport before departure the next day? In your case, between 5:05pm on 12/16 and 11:10am on 12/17.
    2. If yes, what did you do with your checked in luggage if the final destination is ORD? May I ask which hotel you stayed that night in Tokyo and why that specific one? Could you recommend 3 hotels for whom does not have any hotel status to stay over night? Any sightseeing place you would suggest us to visit between 2pm to 11am before the departure time?
    3. If we are not allowed to leave the airport, what would you suggest us to do in the airport while waiting for the next day’s flight? Which lounge would you suggest us to visit?
    Thanks a lot!

  42. @Alvin

    Because CX regularly releases unsold F tickets to awards a few days before departure?

    Problem is finding the space in the time frame in between opening and just a few days before.

  43. This strategy doesn’t really work out of NYC… if you book AA F you’ll end up leaving out of LGA (or, god forbid, EWR), and if CX releases F seats they’ll be out of JFK… and you can’t change the airport on an award for free. Lame policy, and for no good reason; I would like to see all NYC airports treated the same, and even lumped together with EWR.

  44. Lucky, thanks for the comparison as this is perfect timing for me. We ( GF and I) are in PDX and want to go to BKK and Bali for around 2 weeks next fall. I have 140K AA miles which I obviously want to book before the deval. She has 100K Alaska miles, and I have roughly 200K that could be transferred to Kris Air. We originally wanted to try Kris Air but need to book the AA miles before the deval. I was thinking of using AA to get to BKK. Then use her Alaska to go from BKK – Bali – PDX since Alaska has a stop over. Thoughts on what product to go for? Many thanks for all your posts!

  45. Hi Ben,

    Just flew AA F MIA- SCL for 62.500 miles. The hard product is OK but the attitude from those elderly female FA”s is incredible bad and unfriendly as if one is a personal enemy.
    Mostly I fly LH, LX in F and lately thanks to you ZRH-DXB- IAH with Emirates in F ( Alaska Miles)
    On a scale of 0% to 100% and these airlines above 80% AA”s FA minus 50% against these airlines.
    I cant understand the bosses of AA, because even if the had the best hard product in the world I would only fly them with a paid ticket for at least half the price than these other airlines.

    Keep up the good work.
    Ulli

  46. Agree with you completely Lucky! AA’s first is more like Cathay’s biz in terms of service. And like you, I have found AA’s first (and biz) to be more of a “luck of the draw” than a truly consistent product.

  47. Lucky, is it possible to change an itenerary with a mix of AA/partners to only partners without triggering a reprice? I have booked HKG-NRT-LAX with first leg CX J and second leg AA F. If CX F opens up on HKG-LAX direct would this be subject to change fees and/or reprice? Thanks!

  48. Plz clarify. If I book ord-hkg-Manila and hkg-Manila is available in 1st. So I ask them to book the whole thing in 1st and voluntarily downgrade the ord-hkg segment to business. (Since 1st is not available) when ord-hkg does open up in 1st can I go back up since that’s the award cabin I’m paying for??

  49. I second Sisozuki’s post and kindly request clarication for 3 questions … I have a slightly different scenario.
    1) According to Gary at View to a Wing, if booking an AA award ticket, there is no penalty for a subsequent call to switch the date/time, as long as the airports/cities remain the same. Can you confirm, please?
    2) If there is a need to book an AA award on CX 12 or 13 months in advance of the AA deval, should the desired CX routes be booked in biz class now — followed by a subsequent call to AA to change dates ..or will AA consider it an event after the deval, and reprice/ charge more miles?
    3) If both questions above are possible without any penalty, then Sisozuki’s
    question is the final piece to the puzzle: do we have book CX st, and downgrade it to Biz. Or can we book CX Biz now on points and upgrade to 1st at no penalty later?

    I need to book Roundtrip from DC-NY- Sing in Feb, 2017 and return BKK-NY-DC in March, 2017. I can top off my AA 83.5 pts with Citi Thank You pts by calling the Citi Prestige Customer Center and transferring points at a rate of 1.6 (Citi Prestige offers a 30 percent bonus when booking through Citi on AA)/ That will get result in the 110K pts needed for these two trips in CX Biz, pre devaluation. The key is: what play will allow me to upgrade those CX Biz to 1st for a kick-butt value-farewell to AA points? ; )

  50. Lucky,
    Love this post. Question about CX J. Do you prefer the mini cabin or the larger cabin? I’m booked with miles Lax-yvr-hgk-mnl. And Mnl-hkg-lax.

    Thank you!

  51. well, contrary to your hopes, my request to switch from LAX-NRT-HKG on AA First (booked with 67.5k AA miles) to LAX-HKG on Cathay First required me to rebook and therefore was charged the new devalued price of 110k miles. They really are not cutting their members any slack. LAX-NRT 777-200B product is pretty crappy and old. Even Cathay 777-300 Biz is way better.

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