Greetings from somewhere over the Northern Pacific! I am currently on my way home from an incredible 2 weeks in Asia flying none other than the world famous Cathay Pacific First Class. It has been a whirlwind of a trip and I am excited to share with you my reviews of 7 flights on 4 different carriers, 8 lounges and 4 hotels!
Review – JAL Sakura Lounge – SFO
Review – JAL 777-300ER First Class – SFO-HND
Review – Tokyo Hilton
Review – Cathay Pacific Lounge – HND
Review – Cathay Pacific 747-400 Business Class – HND-HKG
Review – Sheraton Hong Kong Towers
Review – Dragon Air A320 Business Class – HKG-CKG
Review – Sofitel Forebase Chongqing
Review – Hong Kong Airlines Lounge – CKG
Review – Hong Kong Airlines A320 Business Class – CKG-HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-200 Business Class – HKG-SIN
Review – Conrad Centennial Singapore
Review – Qantas Lounge – SIN
Review – British Airways Lounge – SIN
Review – Dnata (Cathay Pacific) Contract Lounge – SIN
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-200 Business Class – SIN-HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Pier – HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Wing – HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class – HKG-ORD
I tried very hard on this trip to vary the products that I flew, the lounges that I visited and the hotels that I stayed at so this would not just be another run of the mill trip report. As I did with my trip report on my South America trip, I wanted to give a brief introduction to everything first.
For those that follow my blog (thank you!), you may recall that one of my best friends and college roommate was getting married in Chongqing, China. Never one to miss an opportunity to make a trip out of a cool destination wedding, I set away planning out the trip. I have a glut of American Airlines miles, so figured why not burn some on a few nice First Class redemptions?
We were originally supposed to route from Orlando (MCO) to New York (JFK) and then onwards to San Francisco (SFO) on the A321T transcon with the first class cabin. I was beyond excited to have a reverse herringbone seat on a narrow body jet, but alas, Winter Storm Jonas had something to say about that. Unfortunately the storm resulted in AA canceling all flights into and out of JFK, so I rebooked us on a 767-300 with fully lie flat seats from MCO to Miami (MIA) where we would pick up a brand new 777-300ER for a first class flight from MIA to Los Angeles (LAX). We would then take a puddle jumper CRJ from LAX to SFO. As luck would have it, due to mechanical issues, our flight from MCO to MIA was never able to even board, so we had to re-route via Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). While not my favorite airport and even though the domestic first product we flew was pretty boring, we still made it to SFO in time to catch our JAL First Class flight to Tokyo (Haneda).
San Francisco to Tokyo (Haneda) – JAL First Class
As I mentioned, I have AA miles to burn, so we opted for our first stop to be Tokyo since I was able to find two First Class award tickets on JAL’s SFO-HND flight. I redeemed 62,500 AAdvantage miles for the flight. The taxes and fees came to $5.60 – a bargain for an ~$11,500 ticket.
Although I am not a fan of the timing of this flight (it gets in around 5 AM due to the slot restrictions and ordinances imposed for international flights arriving at HND), I much prefer HND to Tokyo Narita (NRT) as it is much closer to the heart of the city and the tourist attractions. The JAL First Class experience (sans the borderline embarrassing Sakura Lounge at SFO) is truly spectacular. Their flight attendants are some of the most polished and refined flying the friendly skies and the seats are darn comfortable too!
Tokyo (Haneda) to Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific Business Class
This was a bucket list item flight for me. When I was 11 years old my parents took me on a 3 ½ week trip throughout Southeast Asia. I do not think my parents know it, but the trip truly changed my life in more ways than one and I credit that trip with spurring my love affair with both travel to exotic locales, and with the majestic 747.
Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, my dad traveled a lot for work which meant frequent trips to Detroit Metro Airport (DTW). When you drive onto the DTW property, you used to be greeted by a corrugated building emblazoned with a Northwest Airlines 747.
Being an aviation geek for as long as I can remember, that NWA 747 enthralled me until one day in November, I finally got to climb aboard her for a flight from DTW to NRT. Being too young to know the difference between business class and economy class, I asked my parents if we could go up the stairs to sit upstairs. They told me that the upstairs was for business class passengers and that if I kept getting good grades in school, maybe one day I would get to climb those stairs and fly up top (cliché, I know, but it worked).
Fortunately, Cathay Pacific still flies their 747-400’s on limited routes – including HND-HKG. 20,000 Avios and ~$17 in taxes and fees later and we had business class tickets booked on the upper deck of the darling of the skies – the Cathay Pacific 747-400. Considering cash tickets were going for ~$1,500 when I looked, I thought the value was exceptional.
I am not going to lie, I geeked the hell out over this flight. I mean, to giddy school girl proportions. And I will proudly own that. It is legitimately the only time in my life I have been happy to not be flying first class (since the upper deck is only business class). With that said, the coffin style business class seats on the 747 are not great. In fact, I would not even say they are good. But you get to climb those stairs! So for an ~4 hour flight, I thought it was worth it.
Hong Kong to Chongqing – Dragon Air Business Class
This was one of two segments that I really did not know what to expect from. I tracked this award space for months and then all of a sudden all space on the flight was zeroed out. I took a gamble that space would open up since Dragon Air was still selling seats on this flight and it paid off as the seats opened up a few days before departure.
I again used my British Airways Avios and redeemed 15,000 + ~$18 in taxes and fees for a business class seat on the short 2 hour flight. I do feel like I overpaid a bit in the miles department for such a short flight, but it was just over the mileage threshold that bumps it up to the next award tier and I had the Avios to burn. Not to mention that cash tickets were running in excess of $800. In that context, I felt like it was a good redemption.
To my surprise, Dragon Air really impressed me. Even though they are a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, I had read one too many horror stories before traveling with them. We happened to get an upgraded A320 that features their new angle-lie flat seats (the same as Cathay Pacific offers on their regional 777’s) in business class which was very comfortable. The food was better than I was expecting and their Dragon Sunrise drink was absolutely stellar. I must have had 7 or 8 of them during the flight.
Chongqing to Hong Kong – Hong Kong Airlines Business Class
This was the other segment that I really did not know what to expect from. This was also the only segment that we paid cash for rather than using miles. Unfortunately, I could not find any award space to either HKG or SIN that would not take us 20+ hours to get into SIN. To my surprise, Hong Kong Airlines was offering economy tickets for ~$180 or business class tickets for ~$250. I did some searching online and could not find any real reviews of the Hong Kong Airlines business class product, so I decided I needed to book it – not just because it fit my schedule perfectly, but also because I want to make sure I am bringing you all fresh and different content!
For what Hong Kong Airlines is – a low cost subsidiary of Hainan Airlines – it was perfectly fine. The cabin crew were incredible though the hard product like the seats and the food left a lot to be desired. The food was actually borderline inedible with the exception of the bread and the fruit. For $250 though, I do not really have any complaints.
Hong Kong to Singapore – Cathay Pacific Business Class
I was originally hoping to grab a flight featuring Cathay Pacific’s new reverse herringbone business class seats on this route, but award space opened up for a regionally configured 777 with their angle-lie flat seats. I find these seats are fine for a 2 hour flight, but for a 4 hour flight, they really start to get uncomfortable.
I again used my Avios to book this flight which cost me 20,000 Avios + ~$16 in taxes and fees. Paid tickets were going for ~$1,800 in business class, so I was again very happy with the redemption.
The food on this flight was great, as were the cabin crew. My only complaint was the seat is just not comfortable for someone my height (6’5”) for anything over 2 hours.
Singapore to Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific Business Class
This flight again featured the regionally configured 777 with the angle-lie flat seat. The only difference was this flight departed at 1:15 AM, which made sleeping even more difficult for me. To add insult to injury, there was a baby sitting two rows in front of me and the late-teens/early-20’s Chinese guy sitting in front of me had absolutely no respect for anyone or anything. I have legitimately never seen such bad behavior on an airplane before. It got to the point that the flight attendants were actively avoiding coming near him.
This flight was part of my return itinerary, so it was included in the 67,500 AAdvantage miles I redeemed for the flight back to MCO. For what it was – an overnight connecting flight – it was OK at best. The food was probably the worst I have experienced on Cathay Pacific and the cabin seemed to be full of people who left their manners at the boarding door, but the crew was fantastic.
Hong Kong to Chicago – Cathay Pacific First Class
What can I say about Cathay Pacific First Class that has not already been said before? The seats are incredible, the crews are fantastic, the food is good and they have Glenmorangie single malt (which is about as fancy as I get). For a mere 67,500 AAdvantage miles, it is truly one of the absolute best redemptions out there (well, until the March 22nd devaluation anyways).
JAL Sakura Lounge – SFO
The JAL Sakura Lounge at SFO is quite possibly one of the most disappointing lounges I have ever been to. I would equate it to a Priority Pass lounge in South America. Small, cramped, crowded, hot and with a dismal display of food and drinks. Even their reserved area for First Class passengers seemed like we were being punished and put in time out since it is a small room that is separated from the rest of the lounge. All in all, avoid this lounge at all costs if you can!
Cathay Pacific Lounge – HND
This was the lounge that really surprised me since Cathay Pacific does not have a big presence at HND airport. Until I experienced The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong, this was hands down the best lounge I have ever been to. The views of the tarmac, Tokyo and Mt. Fuji were simply stunning. Couple that with exceptional service and some superb Japanese single malt scotches and you have a winning combination!
Hong Kong Airlines Lounge – CKG
First off, I did not know that Hong Kong Airlines would even offer lounge services at CKG, so it was a pleasant surprise. The lounge is also a Priority Pass lounge, so we would have had access via our Priority Pass memberships regardless. The lounge was on the smaller side, but clean, nicely laid out and with an excellent selection of food and drinks. It is worth noting that there is only 1 lounge at the international departures terminal and that lounge is shared by pretty much every airline that flies internationally out of CKG. That means that it can presumably get pretty packed.
Qantas Lounge – SIN
Thanks to my OneWorld Sapphire status and being on a business class ticket from SIN to HKG, we were able to gain access to the Qantas Lounge at SIN airport. The space is pretty close to new and it is easily the best of the lounge options in Terminal 1 at Changi Airport. The décor is trendy, the seats are comfortable, the service was outstanding and the food and drinks spreads were impressive. So much so that I was sorry I left to go explore other lounges in Terminal 1.
British Airways Lounge – SIN
Again, thanks to my OneWorld Sapphire status and being on a business class ticket from SIN to HKG, we were able to gain access to the British Airways Lounge at SIN airport. While the lounge recently underwent a pretty thorough renovation, it was still pretty underwhelming. The lounge was jam packed for starters, so seats were at a premium. Even when you found seats, the food and drinks spreads were lackluster at best. The lounge does offer showers, though with so many people they were on an ~2 hour wait for one. Since the British Airways Lounge and the Qantas Lounge are pretty much right next to each other, do yourself a favor and go to the Qantas Lounge instead.
Dnata (Cathay Pacific) Contract Lounge – SIN
Cathay Pacific does not have its own lounge at Changi Airport, so they use the Dnata contract lounge. In a word, it sucks. The Dnata Lounge services multiple airlines including Air France and Delta flights. Since these airlines all have flights that leave around the same time, the Dnata Lounge ended up being jam packed with people and kids. The food spread was dismal and what little they did have was not very good. The drinks selection was decent though and they did provide a nicely stocked self-service bar. Again, do yourself a favor and go to the Qantas Lounge instead.
Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge – HKG
Since our flight back stateside was in Cathay Pacific First Class, we had access to the First Class only lounges at HKG. All I can say about The Pier First Class Lounge at HKG is WOW. I thought the Cathay Pacific Lounge at HND was stellar, but this lounge truly blew it out of the water. From the spectacular shower stalls and massages, to the dining room with a full menu and to the exceptional bartenders, I was absolutely blown away. If you have the opportunity to visit this lounge, run, don’t walk!
Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge – HKG
Since our boarding gate was on the opposite end of the terminal from where we were at The Pier, we decided to head over to The Wing First Class Lounge to check it out before departure. The contrast between the two lounges was actually quite shocking. The Wing looks like it has seen better days with worn out padding and stains and rips on the leather seats to somewhat disappointing food selection. Although The Wing does offer a dining room, the menu options were very limited compared to what was on offer at The Pier. Overall, if you do not mind the additional walk, choose The Pier over The Wing any day of the week.
As my girlfriend had never been to Tokyo before, I opted for the Hilton Tokyo which is centrally located in the Shinjuku district. If you are unfamiliar with Tokyo, the Shinjuku district is probably the biggest of the tourist districts, which makes the hotel’s location ideal. We arrived at the hotel extremely early for check-in and I did not expect for them to have a room ready for us. To my surprise, they said we could check-in that early, though we would have to pay ~$80 to do so. As I had selected to redeem my HHonors points + cash for this stay and was tired from the long flight from SFO, I happily paid the $80.
As I said, we redeemed my HHonors points + cash for this stay at the rate of 20,000 per night + ~$70. Paid rooms were going for ~$220, so I was pretty happy with the redemption value. Due to the early check-in, no upgrade was available, but they did include complimentary breakfast at one of the best hotel breakfast buffets I have ever seen. No matter what you wanted, this buffet had it! Overall I was very happy with the hotel and would definitely stay there again.
Sheraton Hong Kong Towers
Since I was having a bespoke suit made for myself in Hong Kong (a 30th birthday present to myself) we needed at least 4 days in Hong Kong. As a result, I opted to try out the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit at the Sheraton Hong Kong Towers. I will be making a separate post completely dedicated to the experience, but overall I was very happy with the hotel. For 5 nights at the Sheraton, we paid ~$700 when the 4th night free benefit is factored in. My gold status with SPG got us a room upgrade to a room facing Hong Kong Island and also got us free drink coupons for the skyview bar.
The hotel was fantastic from top to bottom and even included the best hotel perk I have ever encountered – Handy! Handy is a smartphone that you get to use for free during your stay to make local calls, surf the web, view maps, etc. while you are abroad at no cost to you. I will be doing a separate post on this as well, but I would stay at the Sheraton again just for this perk.
Sofitel Forebase Chongqing
Due to the rates for 5 star hotels like the Sofitel being so inexpensive in mainland China, and considering that my friend’s reception lunch was taking place at the hotel, we opted to just pay cash for this hotel room instead of using points anywhere else. Prior to this stay I did not have an Accor elite account, so I signed up for one. As a test, I included the Points Jet Setter as my business to see what would happen. Upon checking in I was informed that I had been selected as the “guest of the day” and upgraded to a suite. And holy cow what a suite it was! It was, however, pretty clear that I was selected for this simply because of my status as a blogger.
With that said, for $170 for 2 nights, you will not hear me complaining any about the upgrade! My only gripe with the hotel is that smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere and the room had a distinct smoky smell to it when the air was not circulating. However, we could only ever get the heat to turn on so our options were smell the somewhat smoky air, or start smoking ourselves from the sweltering heat being put out from the air vents.
Conrad Centennial Singapore
I love Conrad hotels as I always seem to get treated like royalty – even as just a lowly Gold HHonors member (which I earned from my HHonors Surpass Amex). With that said, the hotel is a bit on the older side and the décor in the rooms is showing its age a bit. I opted to do a points and cash redemption for this hotel as we would only need it 1 night and I have other uses for my HHonors points in mind later in the year.
The points and cash rate was 24,000 HHonors points + ~$100 in cash. Standard rooms were going for ~$280 a night, so while not the most amazing redemption value, I was still pretty happy with it. We also got upgraded to a deluxe room with a stunning view of Singapore and were offered a free breakfast at either of the hotel’s restaurants. Overall this was a property that I would definitely consider staying in again next time I am in Singapore.
I went out of my way this trip to vary the products I flew, the lounges I stopped at and the hotels I stayed at in hopes of providing you all with some great and varied reviews. As I have about 20 posts from this trip I will be posting my new reviews regularly so be sure to check back daily!
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