Trip Preview: Cathay Pacific First Class, VietJet, and Everything in Between

On January 1 of this year, I was very lucky to have grabbed one of Cathay Pacific’s insane $850 first class error fare tickets from Vietnam to the US. And, after months of waiting, I finally took the trip earlier this month.

Now that I’m back, it’s time to process all the photos and notes and start posting about the experiences from the trip here.

To start with, here’s a brief overview of the trip to give you some background on the reviews and so on that will be coming out over the next few weeks and to give you an idea of what you can expect.

Trip Preview: Cathay Pacific First Class, VietJet, and Everything in Between
Caviar onboard Cathay Pacific first class.

Booking the Cathay Pacific Flights

The reason this trip happened was, of course, the fact that I (as well as my friend Yukihiro) was able to book a cheap first class ticket from Da Nang to New York. To be more specific, the reason was that Cathay Pacific actually decided to honor the fare. After all, considering the amount we paid for the ticket, we were expecting Cathay Pacific to cancel it.

Once the airline announced – in a tweet with the hashtags #promisemadepromisekept and #lessonlearnt – I had to start planning an itinerary around the following flights:

  • Da Nang – Hong Kong on Cathay Dragon’s A320 in business class
  • Hong Kong – Vancouver – New York on Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER in first class
  • New York – Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER in first class
  • Hong Kong – Da Nang on Cathay Dragon’s A321 in business class
Cathay Dragon Business Class Meal
Meal onboard my flight from Da Nang to Hong Kong.

Besides giving me a chance to fly long-haul first class for the first time, it also allowed me to try Cathay Dragon’s business class, revisit the excellent Cathay Pacific first class lounges in Hong Kong and try American Airlines’ Flagship First Dining at JFK among other things.

It also allowed me to fly on – for the first and the last time – on what is perhaps the most luxurious flight within North America. I am talking about the fifth freedom Vancouver – New York portion of my flight from New York to Hong Kong which the airline will be discontinuing in a few months.

Cathay Pacific First Class Bed
Comfortable bed onboard Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER.

Getting to and from Da Nang

Planning our flights to and from Da Nang was a bit of a challenge as well.

Since Vietnam allows Japanese one visa-free entry every 30 days, I scrapped the idea of flying into Hanoi and then traveling domestically. Instead, I decided to look for direct international flights into Da Nang and doing a transfer without entering the country.

After considering several options, both Yukihiro and I settled on a Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok. Not only did the airline offer a reasonable fare and great travel times, but it was also a new one for my log book.

While, in the end, the airside transfer in Da Nang was not as smooth as I hoped for (more about that in a separate article), it worked out well in the end.

Da Nang Transfer
The deserted and not-so-useful transfer desk at Da Nang airport.

To get to Bangkok, I redeemed Avios for an economy class Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo Haneda.

As the flight departed in the middle of night and I wanted to save my energy for the trip that I had ahead of me, I decided not to review the flight and sleep through all of it instead. That said, I will be reviewing the Bangkok Airways flight, as well as three lounges I visited in Bangkok.

Japan Airlines 777-200ER
Boarding my flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.

For the flight back, I considered taking Bangkok Airways again. However, after a bit of research, I found a VietJet flight from Da Nang to Seoul that was – at under $100 including an “unlimited legroom” emergency exit row seat – very cheap. Since this time, I could actually enter Vietnam – and check my luggage in – I decided to go ahead and book that one.

Finally, there were tons of cheap options for getting from Seoul to Tokyo due to the decreased demand caused by the political tension between the two countries. As such, I considered taking one of the Korean low-cost airlines like Eastar Jet or Air Seoul.

In the end, however, I decided to redeem some of my Delta miles and book a business class ticket with Korean Air.

While the flight was operated by one of their 777-300s with old business class configuration, it allowed me to get to Tokyo the quickest while still having sufficient time to transfer even if my VietJet flight was delayed. It also gave me a chance to review the product and visit one of Korean Air’s business class lounges in Seoul for the first time.

Korean Air 777-300
Korean Air’s underwhelming “2-3-2” business class.

Planning the US Portion of the Trip

The above itinerary meant that even though I would be gone for eight nights, four of them would be spent onboard aircraft. It also meant that I would have four full days in the United States before departing on the morning of the fifth day (Yukihiro would arrive in the afternoon of my first day and take the same flight out of New York as me).

Empire State Building
The Empire State Building.

For our four days or so in the US, we considered a number of options including staying in New York the whole time and doing a spotting side-trip to Miami or Montreal. Some we discarded for high price, others (read “Miami”) for the high chance of the weather not being good. Plus, on my side, the fact that I visited the airport for spotting just two-and-a-half years ago.

After a lot of discussions and ideas, we decided to go to Washington D.C. for two days. That not only gave us a chance to do some sightseeing there, but also visit both locations of the National Air and Space Museum – one of the best aviation museums in the world.

National Air and Space Museum
Overview of a part of the National Air and Space Museum’s collection.

While we looked into flying there or taking a train, in the end we went with Megabus which was considerably cheaper. At about 4 hours each way, the travel time wasn’t unbearable either.

Finally, for hotels, we went with the cheapest decent options for the first three nights – all of which turned out to be Holiday Inns. Namely, they were the following properties:

  • Holiday Inn Washington-Dulles Airport
  • Holiday Inn Rosslyn @ Key Bridge
  • Holiday Inn Manhattan 6th Ave – Chelsea

For the last night, we decided to stay at the TWA Hotel at JFK. Even though it was, at over $300, quite expensive (and – spoiler alert – not worth the price as an accommodation), it was an amazing experience to “go back to the 1960s” and the “golden era of aviation” for a day.

TWA Hotel Pool
World’s best plane spotting pool.

Stay Tuned!

Having been on the road for eight nights – spending four of those on four different flights and the remaining four in four different hotels – it was a very tiring trip. At the same time, though, it was a week full of (mostly aviation) fun and getting some – hopefully entertaining and useful – material for KN Aviation.

The trip allowed me to revisit the two locations of the excellent National Air and Space Museum after more than 10 years and to try international first class for the first time. Besides that, it also gave me a chance to fly on some airlines I haven’t flown on before and visit lounges I haven’t been to before.

I have a ton of articles to write about the trip, so it’s going to take me a while to catch up with all of them.

Nonetheless, stay tuned!

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