Suites, Treats, and Eats, a Malaysian Mileage Thanksgiving: Cathay Pacific First Class, JFK – Hong Kong

  1. Introduction: Constructing — and Re-constructing — the Award Trip
  2. American Eagle DC – New York and the New Nicest JFK Airport Hotel, the Hilton
  3. Cathay Pacific First Class, JFK – Hong Kong
  4. The Wing lounge in Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Kuala Lumpur
  5. Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
  6. Malaysia Airlines Business Class, Kuala Lumpur – Langkawi
  7. The Andaman Langkawi
  8. Malaysia Airlines Business Class, Langkawi – Kuala Lumpur
  9. Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur
  10. Things to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur
  11. Korean Airlines First Class, Kuala Lumpur – Seoul and the Korean Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul
  12. Korean Airlines First Class, Seoul – Washington Dulles

The Hilton’s bus dropped of on the lower level of terminal 7, so we went inside and up to ticketing and check-in.

The primary occupant of terminal 7 is British Airways but it’s also the United Airlines terminal. BA has premium check-in all the way over on the left end of the terminal, there are couches and chairs but they’re usually empty because people usuaully just stand in line.

Cathay Pacific is down at the end of the row of desks, with a single first class line past thee business class queue and no one was waiting. It turned out there would be only one other passenger in first class this morning.

Boarding passes were issued and first class lounge invitations were generated for Hong Kong. The last time I took the flight a year ago I was connecting to a business class flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok and they generated business class lounge invitations — even though the arriving first class boarding pass stubs would entitle first class lounge use. It was a system limitation, the agent couldn’t override it, but it didn’t matter. I would just use the arriving boarding pass to access the first class lounge.

This time the system generated first class lounge invitations, presumably because I had used American Airlines miles for the tickets and my top tier elite status frequent flyer number was in the reservation — so even though I would be connecting on beyond Hong Kong in business class, my top tier status was recognized and that entitled me to the first class lounge invite.

Not that lounge invitations matter a whit when flying an airline and using that airline’s own lounge, the boarding pass is all that matters. So I don’t entirely understand the use of such passes beyond when an airline gives you access to a contract lounge. For that matter, no lounge passes were generated for nor required for entry to the British Airways lounge we’d be using this morning.

After receiving boarding passes and checking a bag we proceeded through security. The premium check-in area has a single premium security line which is always short in my experience, and has no nude-o-scope.

The Concorde Room is near the security queue and that’s the lounge that British Airways first class passengers use. We wouldn’t have access to it this morning. Cathay Pacific uses the BA lounges in terminal 7, with Cathay’s first class passengers using the BA first class lounge and business class passengers using the business side of the lounge. These lounges are upstairs near the United Red Carpet Club.

That’s a strange situation in a way, British Airways has a first class lounge that isn’t used by their own first class passengers. Instead in reality it’s a top tier frequent flyer lounge. Arguably it’s somewhat better than the business side, though not much, there’s some seating always available but it’s reasonably crowded whenever I’ve been there (it was quite full when I arrived, presumably with passengers on the British Airways 8:30am flight to London, and then cleared out for the last half hour I spent there). The food offerings are limited, while there was smoked salmon there were no hot items available for breakfast.

I had a mini-bagel just to put something in my stomach, I hadn’t eaten breakfast in the lounge before leaving the hotel. Downloading and answering a few last emails before a 16 hour journey to Hong Kong without connectivity, I quickly burned through the remaining time until boarding and headed over to the gate.

Once onboard, a welcome drink was offered, amenity kits and pajamas distributed.

The Cathay first class cabin is hardly new anymore but the seats are holding up well. And I’ve flown it so many times that it just feels comfortable and familiar. Walking into the first class cabin is ‘home’ in the sky.

Notable to me is that it remains my favorite cabin for pre-departure, I can easily stand up, lean on the top of the seat, it just feels natural. Almost any other cabin and doing anything other than sitting in your seat is just awkward.

My favorite thing about the seat itself is that it’s comfortable for both sleeping and lounging. Some are good for one or the other. It’s certainly wide, some feel that it’s too wide though you can put an armrest down to make it seem narrower. It just feels so darned spacious, and to me that makes it feels a lot more like being at home on a couch than being in an airplane seat which makes it relaxing.

What I don’t especially like, though, is the 9am departure time. Two reasons:

  • Assuming I’ve slept the night before, I’m just not going to sleep much of the flight. I’ll be arriving in Hong Kong around midnight in the my time zone of departure. In other words, I’ll be ready to sleep just as the flight is ending.

  • Breakfast. I love Cathay Pacific’s breakfast. It’s one of my favorite airline breakfasts, and breakfast says a lot about an airline. Fresh eggs, dim sum, high quality preserves. But I like my breakfast as the second meal rather than the first, because it’s comfort food and that’s what I want well into the flight. I’d rather have a ‘more formal’ meal shortly after takeoff. The 9am departure reverses this.

Shortly after takeoff I had a look inside at the contents of the amenity kit.

Menus were distributed and brunch options read as follows:


Orange or apple juice
Mango energiser
Fresh seasonal fruit
Natural or mixed fruit Greek yoghurt
Assorted cereals

Main courses

Free range eggs-freshly scrambled, fried or boiled
served with your choice of home fried potatoes, grilled pork sausage, streaky bacon, grilled tomato or sauteed mushrooms

Assorted Chinese dim sum

Abalone and Chinese mushroom congee, served with steams prawn rice roll and imperial soy sauce

Bread basket

Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast
served with Mrs. Bridges Scottish preserves, Tasmanian meadow honey and butter

Tea and coffee


Traveling with someone else, Cathay’s seats aren’t really conducive to interacting inflight. Sure they’re wide enough that two people can sit down beside each other. And while there aren’t any doors, they’re enclosed enough that when sitting down you can’t see other passengers at all regardless of where they’re seated.

On the 777 some people like seats 1A and 2A, one in front of the other, because you have the whole side of the cabin to yourself (since the middle seats all open away from you, and towards the seats on the right side of the aircraft). Others prefer the middle and aisle on the other side of the plane, because the seats do open towards each other. But in any case, no real ‘couple’ seats.

But one neat thing about Cathay, when traveling together, is that the suite’s ottoman has a seatbelt and it’s wide enough that someone can come over and sit down on it. Flight attendants will install a table extender onto the meal tray if asked, then it’s easy for two people to sit across from each other and take their meal together, dining as though in a restaurant.

For my meal I went for the dim sum (I really like the chili sauce that Cathay uses) and for the eggs, freshly prepared. And the preserves are so good I look forward to them.

After the meal a flight attendant brought over some truffles and a service survey (I like getting them for the airline pens, though this time I didn’t actually fill it out, and the $5 duty free discount that comes with the survey isn’t all that much of an incentive).

After the meal I went into the lavatory to change into my pajamas.

There are two restrooms in first class on the 777. The one of the left hand side is oversized, and more stylish, the one on the right is smaller. It’s a great restroom-to-passenger ratio, especially with the cabin only 3/6 full. The two flight attendants for three passengers is great as well…

Upon returning to my seat I placed my clothes (which I had put on a hanger given to me by a flight attendant as I entered the restroom) into my seat’s closet. The first class cabin has no overhead bins, which gives it an especially airy and open feel. Instead there’s a closet which will fit most carryons and additionally a laptop bag, though my laptop bag was stored underneath the ottoman of my seat. What the closet won’t fit though is a widebody carryon, at least not easily, and once in the past when carrying the wider bag I had to have a flight attendant store it rather than keeping it by my seat. Knowing I’d be flying Cathay first, I didn’t take that bag as my carryon for this trip.

I asked to have my bed made up, and they did that for me promptly.

The mattress pad has holes to put the seatbelt through.

On top of the mattress pad is a duvet.

It makes for a comfortable bed, which can also be comfortable to leave halfway reclined for relaxing and watching tv.

Since I wasn’t tired, I watched several shows, both things off of my laptop as well as the extensive ‘StudioCX’ system.

Off the inflight entertainment I watched The Newsroom‘s first season, which I had been meaning to catch but hadn’t gotten around to and also Magic City which I had also already downloaded onto my laptop to see. I also caught up on the current season of Walking Dead which I had brought onboard.

Midway through the flight — meaning about 7 hours since I had eaten — I decided I wanted something for a snack so I called on a flight attendant.

Inflight service was great, but what’s important to know (especially for someone used to either domestic US airlines or to Singapore at the other extreme) is that typical Cathay service means that they mostly they leave you alone and wait to be called. They stay out of the cabin and try not to disturb you. Which means that when you want something you need to ring your call button. This isn’t a hallmark of bad service, they want you to let them know when they can be of assistance in any way. But if you don’t know this you might think they’re never available to you which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s the snack menu:

Warm reuben sandwich with mesclun salad

Brie cheese with yellow peppers and chives on multi-grain corn spitz roll and mesclun salad

Wontons in noodle soup

Hot pot rice with cured meats, served with chicken broth

Ice cream

I rang my call button and ordered the hot pot, and asked for wontons added into my chicken broth. 🙂

A couple of hours of napping, a bit more television, and it was nearly 90 minutes out from arrival so I took my lunch. That menu was as follows:

Caviar and Fine Smoked Salmon
Caviar and fine smoked salmon

International Favourites
Curried parsnip cream soup

Lobster and mango salad with lemon olive oil dressing

Pan seated USDA prime beef tenderloin with sauteed spinach, roasted pumpkin and kipfler potatoes, thyme jus and bearnaise sauce
Riocotta ravioli with cherry tomato ragout and arugula

Chinese Favourites
Double boil quail with Chinese yam soup

Cold plate – marinated gluten with dried mushroom

Stir fried seafood in X.O. sauce
Stir fried chicke with black bean sauce

served with steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried pak choy, black bushroom and carrot flower

Cheese and Dessert
Cambozola, Taleggio, Manchego, Chaurnes

Fresh berries with cream

Raspberry crumble with chocolate ice cream and vanilla sauce

Red bean soup with lotus seeds

Tea and coffee


I started with the caviar, had some of the lobster and mango salad, and then the stir fried seafood and cold plate.

That was plenty, so no dessert, though I was disappointed not to try the red bean soup.

After lunch I changed out of my PJs and back into my clothes, settled in to read for about half an hour along with a couple of cups of coffee, and soon enough we had touch down in Hong Kong and a quick taxi to the gate.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @beachfan — the champagne is of course Krug. Certainly excellent though far from my preferred.

    White: Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Vincent Girardin Pulgny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2008
    Red: 1855 Bordeuax Classification Wine Promotion (I did not check on which were available for the flight), Shingleback McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009 (hard to go wrong!), Finca El Origen Gran Reserva Malbec 2009
    Port: Ramos Pinto Quinta da Envarnaira 10 Year Old Tawny

  2. Last month I had one segment on CX first class hkg/lax
    got some really special ( imho maybe) yogurt served in a little glass container. You served any this flight? I wish I had taken note of the brand.

  3. @kevin – when i fist booked this, it was a Cathay Pacific roundtrip for 135,00 miles + $45.50 taxes (and for a non-executive plat there’d be a $25 telephone booking fee). I refunded the return, so outbound was 67.5k miles and I don’t recall how much of the taxes i got back

  4. is it true that fc dining on cathay is on demand? in theory, could you have asked for your meal order to be swapped if you’d like?

  5. @jason you could, but in my experience they do a bit better job when serving in the ‘correct’ order. and i always find that some items are strangely gone. not saying the crew eats it, but… 😛

  6. Hi Gary;

    What is your preferred Champagne?

    It seems like Cathay has downgraded their list since February. The White Burg used to be a premier cru, and the Bordeaux used to be Lynch Bages. Now, from what I can tell, the Lynch Bages is one of 5 rotating bordeauxs, but the others are of less pedigree.

  7. Great pictures and very nice report; agree with Mark that picture in bathroom mirror is a little creepy

  8. I wish I knew about the Cathay Pacific flight attendants leaving their customers alone on purpose. I just flew home from Hong Kong a couple days ago in business and wondered why I felt ignored by them. Good to know and I will put my call button to good use next time!

  9. @Jasmine A good rule of thumb is that it is OK to use your call button at any time on any of the true Asian carriers. US carriers have us well trained not to use it, and it can be difficult to get over this reticence, but once you do you’ll find you have a much better experience on-board!

  10. You must mention the smoked salmon in CX 1st class. It is Balik Salmon Tsar Nicolaj. Not availble in North America. Cost $360 (360 Swiss Franc) for each kilo from the Balik website from Switzerland. Absolutely fabulous, must try.

  11. Gary, using AA miles can you book/change as needed this CX award on line or just by phone? I am AA gold for life and have a little over 200k miles to redeem but now live in a UA/Copa market so no EX PLAT in current year. Thanks.

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