Fly from LA to New Zealand via Hong Kong? WITHOUT LIE FLAT SEATS?
As you can expect, yes, they did say I was crazy. But, I did it! A Cathay Pacific Premium Economy (CX PE) LAX-HKG-AKL Mileage Run. Even a fellow Oneworld Emerald passenger on the HKG-AKL leg of the trip called me “mad! You’re mad, lad.” But due to American Airline’s (AA’s) 2016 devaluation and additional status requirements, there was no other way. I wanted to retain my Executive Platinum (EXP) status because I’m not done traveling just yet. So, I bought a mileage run – in fact, even THAT is a misnomer nowadays. For most AA EXP customers that used to qualify on miles flown alone, the limiting factor today is EQD spend.
I’m not made of money either, but I have to meet a $12,000 annual spend threshold to retain my status. The best way to do this, as I mentioned in my previous Fast Track to Status post, is going on international travel in a higher cabin class on an alliance partner. The sweet spot, from a money perspective, is flying in an airline’s premium economy cabin. But, with a 16hr, 12hr, 11hr, and 12hr flight quite literally around the world, is the Cathay Pacific Premium Economy product worth it?
Yes, it is worth it. But you have to level set your expectations. So, to help you with that, here is my review:
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy (CX PE)
No matter how you cut it, 16 hrs LAX-HKG is a long ass flight. Surprisingly, CX’s PE product is rather good, and definitely feels more ‘premium’ than ‘economy’.
The best comparison I can make for those in the US is: if you have flown American Airlines First Class (AA FC) on a 737 or equivalent (LA to Boston is a good example), then CX PE is essentially the same thing. Its actually kind of sad since I can spend the same money I would have spent in AA First Class for the same experience on CX PE and go on an international adventure! So, I will make comparisons to AA FC, since it is a very similar product.
I actually feel that the CX PE product is even slightly better than AA FC. Mainly because, these seats recline a lot. And I mean, ALOT. I cannot say “lie flat” of course, but if I had to roughly quantify, lie flat is 180 degrees, upright is 90 degrees, AA FC feels like a 120-130 degree recline while CX PE feels like it’s between 140 and 160 degree recline. Of course, this is what it FEELS like. Silly me, forgot to bring my protractor, but after having flown AA FC LAX-BOS at least 8 times already in the past 2 years, I would think that statement holds some merit.
The bottom of your seat also slides forward a bit when you recline like in AA FC. If you are looking for power outlets, you can find them under and in between your seats. My boss warned me that I may have to use a converter – last time he flew CX, the staff handed them out. But, the outlets were no different than in AA FC. IF you just need to charge your phone, a usb port is provided right next to the touch-screen entertainment screen, which also has options for connecting with your iPod (hopefully iPhone, although I have not tried this.)
The inflight entertainment is actually quite extensive. You can listen to music, watch shows, etc. As far as movies go, you can watch not only the recently released movies on the western market, but also ones on the Chinese market as well. Be prepared for three lines of subtitles to fill your screen, however. In order to actually hear any of this, you need to use the headsets provided to you. They have the three prong adapter that you also find in AA Business Class LAX-LHR. Your Bose headset just wont cut it, lest you have an adapter.
The Amenity Kit
Waiting for me at my seat was a packaged pillow, blanket, and around-the-ear headphones. Also, an amenity kit was provided as well. In a canvas-like pouch, you find a sleep mask, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a little pamphlet about the designer behind this pouch. I’m not sure if the CX business amenity kits give more, certainly AA Business class does, but AA FC LAX-BOS doesn’t even provide kits.
Perhaps that’s an unfair statement – you are only flying less than half the time from LAX-BOS than you would LAX-HKG. However, for what you pay, amenity kits don’t seem out of proportion.
For those with Status
I still have my AA EXP status, which equates to One World Emerald. If you have this status, you can board right along with First and Business Class, although First and Business get their own jetway. After I settled in, the fine flight attendants made it a point to show they recognized my status. A nice attendant came by before takeoff with a bottle of water just for me, and that if I needed anything, to just ask! After my meal, a senior staff attendant came by to ask me how my meal was, and I said I was impressed. Truly, impressed. Let’s explore that a bit…
Juices and waters were offered pre-flight, along with champagne served in glass flutes. What did I get in AA Business class? Champagne in plastic cups. I know AA has glassware somewhere, I get sodas in glass cups in AA FC.
I opted for the Chinese meals in the in-flight menu. It was a gamble – I’m used to being served dry, bland chicken up in the air, but I was impressed by how moist and flavorful the Kung Po chicken was. The rice was also moist, fluffy, and a bit sticky, almost as if it were prepared fresh. The bok choy was very tender and seasoned just right. The cold corn and shrimp salad with some cheese bits was good in its own right, but it felt out of place with the rest of the dish. A ginger ale to wash it all down, and a small cup of ice cream, ended what was surprisingly a tasty meal. I cannot say it was a gourmet meal or anything fancy like that. But flavor wise, I think it held its own.
The same could be said for the CX PE breakfast, where I opted for the Singaporean Fried Noodles (Vermicelli). These were very flavorful noodles served with some more bok choy! The fruit tasted sweet and did not feel slimy. Having just come back from Europe, I think I’ve been spoiled in the world of croissants. But this one, although small, was pretty good – not super crispy like those of European ilk but it was still flaky on the outside, soft on the inside. Like the dinner roll, it was about room temperature. Behind my apple juice was a tiny little jar of Austrian strawberry jam, which I used on my croissant. The only complaint I had about the meal was the yogurt. It was just a little too thin for my liking.
I concede AA FC has a much better presentation as opposed to the CX PE meals, which are pretty much presented in the way that regular economy gets their food. It’s a shame, because I actually think that the meals in CX PE taste good for airline food. It just doesn’t look as appetizing as it tastes due to presentation. Perhaps it is unfair to compare a First Class presentation to a Premium Economy one, but considering that both products are so similar, CX should consider stepping their game up in this regard.
The rest of my flights were actually pretty consistent in quality to the CX PE LAX-HKG flight. My flight on the A350-900 from HKG-AKL was slightly more comfortable than the LAX-HKG flight on a 777-300 due to the swept wing tips not found on the 777’s. These seats not only recline, but they also had a leg rest as well! The same universal outlets are found on the arm rests between seats. The headrest screens were different, and were also running different software as well with a more modern, cleaner, sharper, minimal looking interface. The USB ports have been moved to the outlets between the seats.
The meals were different on the rest of my flights, and were just as tasty as those on the HKG-AKL flight. Here’s a few more pictures of the food, I won’t delve into reviewing them all since they were all consistently decent, tasty meals!
I think Cathay Pacific hit the sweet spot. For those looking towards a little more creature comfort without breaking the bank in business, this is an excellent product that is very much akin to an upright first class experience in the US. The seats are comfortable and recline a good amount, the food is not only edible but consistently tasty, and the service is excellent. I didn’t expect to get as much sleep as I have in these seats either. I slept between 6-8 hours on each flight! If I can’t get myself into business class, I may just consider flying CX PE again during my vacations!