During Cathay Pacific’s Black Friday sale the airline offered 60% off round trip fares. During that sale I was able to purchase a round trip Premium Economy from the United States to Hong Kong for just $1,100. By comparison that same flight today is approximately $2,200.
I understand $1,100 is still a lot of money for a weekend trip. However, the price made sense to me because I’d earn a lot of AAdvantage Elite Qualifying activity. Cathay Pacific Premium Economy fares earn 1.5 Elite Qualifying Miles per mile flown and 20% Elite Qualifying Dollars per mile flown when credited to the AAdvantage program.
In my case, since I purchased ORD-HKG-LAX-ORD, I’d earn approximately $3,100 EQD and just shy of 25,000 EQM for this trip. That’s right, for just $1,100 and 3 days of my time I’d earn AAdvantage Gold status for 2019!
For me, booking and taking this trip made absolute sense as I continue my pursuit to qualify for Executive Platinum for another year. Because of the lucrative Elite Qualifying Accrual opportunity I decided to book this flight. Then, a few weeks later, it was finally time to head off to Hong Kong.
Getting To Chicago O’Hare International
As my HKG over MLK trip started on Friday afternoon I began my journey in downtown Chicago as I left work. My flight wasn’t scheduled the depart until 2PM CST, but I decided to leave for the airport early so I could catch a Metra train near my office.
Metra is the commuter train network which services the Chicagoland suburbs. Certain train lines have stops near CTA Blue Line stops which makes it a viable option from getting downtown to Chicago O’Hare.
At $4.25 Metra single-ride ticket costs more than a standard CTA train ticket ($2.50). However, by taking the Metra I shortened my journey to O’Hare by 20 minutes. Also, the Metra train station is just a few blocks from my office whereas the CTA Blue Line is several blocks away. During the cold Chicago winter the last thing I want to do is drag my roll-aboard 10 blocks through the city.
You can’t get to Chicago O’Hare international entirely by Metra train. Instead, you must take the NW-UP line from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to the Irving Park stop. From there, you must walk from the Metra station to the nearby Irving Park Blue Line station. The transfer is relatively painless, but it does become a little more difficult as swarms of pigeons fly in front of you as you pass under the highway.
Switching Terminals At Chicago O’Hare International
The CTA Blue Line takes you directly to the heart of Chicago O’Hare international Airport. Once you leave the station you’ll find yourself near Terminal 2 (Delta/United). From here, follows signs to the “Airport Transit” system. The Airport Transit (ATS) is free and takes you from one terminal to another at Chicago O’Hare.
Most flights on international carriers (ex. Lufthansa) depart from Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 5 (International Terminal). To get to Terminal 5, head down to the ATS station and looks for boarding information to T5.
Transferring between terminals at O’Hare is easy thanks to the ATS. The ride from T2 to T5 took just a few minutes. The ride seems much longer if you’re late for a flight as the train moves painfully slow.
Arriving At Chicago O’Hare International Terminal 5
After a short ride on the ATS I finally arrived in Terminal 5. Although it was mid January there were still holiday decoration lining the terminal.
Near the center of the terminal is the Cathay Pacific check-in desk. These desks are shared with Qatar Airways, but Qatar’s flight doesn’t leave until much later in the evening.
The Cathay Pacific check-in lines are divided by class and by OneWorld elite status. As I currently maintain OneWorld Emerald status (AAdvantage Executive Platinum) I was able to use the First Class check-in line. This was great and saved me a ton of time considering not a single person was in any line…
As I mentioned, there was no one waiting in line at the check-in counters when I arrived. This was surprising considering I arrived at the airport about an hour and a half before the posted boarding time.
There are two things to know about when checking in for Cathay Pacific flights when departing the United States. The first is that you are able to retrieve a mobile boarding pass in the Cathay Pacific app which means you can skip the check-in counter entirely. The second is that you can add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to your reservation and enjoy the benefits of TSA PreCheck.
However, on this particular flight, the TSA PreCheck logo appeared on my mobile boarding pass, but not on the printed version. When I approached the security checkpoint they did not accept the Mobile TSA PreCheck logo and the TSA agent instead forced me to use a standard security lane. This wasn’t an issue as I had plenty of time before my flight.
Chicago O’Hare International Terminal 5
After clearing security you immediately enter the Tax & Duty Free stores located in Terminal 5. Clearly someone wants you to do some shopping before your flight.
As I exited the Tax & Duty Free store I noticed the below sign for dining options in Terminal 5. I was impressed by the various dining options offered. Since I had an invitation to the British Airways First Class lounge I decided to skip the Terminal 5 dining options and instead eat in the lounge.
The British Airways lounge and departure gate are located at the South-East end of the terminal. As you head to the gate you’ll pass the Hub 51 restaurant and bar.
British Airways Galleries First Lounge
I’ve already written a detailed review of this lounge as part of this trip report so I’m going to avoid doing so here. However, it’s worth noting that if you do get an invitation to this lounge, from status of when flying in a premium cabin (not Premium Economy), I’d skip it.
Instead, I’d recommend either waiting in the Terminal 5 cafeteria or in one of the other Priority Pass lounges in the terminal. The lounge just isn’t that great. The only thing I enjoyed about the lounge was the somewhat fast WiFi.
Besides the adequate internet, nothing about this lounge makes it worth visiting.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Boarding Process
The Cathay Pacific flight from Chicago to Hong Kong departs at approximately 2:05PM. Cathay listed the scheduled boarding time to begin approximately 40 minutes prior to departure. Our flight was scheduled to depart from Gate M14.
I decided to leave the lounge a few minutes early to try to get near the front of the boarding line so that I could get some pictures of the empty Premium Economy cabin. When I arrived at the gate as the ground crew loaded the final palates of freight onto our Cathay Pacific 777-300ER.
Although I left the lounge early I was nowhere near the front of the boarding line. Cathay Pacific boards by group and divides boarding groups by elite status and class of service. However, all OneWorld elites and business class passengers board from the same boarding lane. This created quite a long line at the gate before the boarding process began. Only Cathay Pacific MarcoPolo Diamond members were allowed to board early.
Boarding began a few minutes late, but was quite organized. The business class cabin is huge and seats 53 total passengers. By the time boarding commenced it seemed nearly half of all passengers queued up in the “Priority” boarding lane.
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Premium Economy Cabin
Although the boarding line was long, the gate agents did an excellent job processing boarding cards quickly. Before long I had passed through the aft business class cabin and entered the Premium Economy cabin. The Premium Economy cabin on the 777-300ER begins with row 30 which is located in line with the over-wing exit doors.
The Premium Economy cabin is comprised of 4 rows of 8 seats in a 2-4-2 layout. The seats are slightly larger than those in economy class, but also feature additional recline and a foot or leg-rest.
Each Premium Economy seat also offers a slightly larger seat back entertainment screen than those found in economy.
Located on each Premium Economy seat was a pillow, blanket, pair of headphones, and a small Cathay Pacific Premium Economy amenity kit. Inside the amenity kit is a dental kit, a Cathay Pacific branded eyeshade, flight socks, earplugs, and a 10% discount code for purchases on Zixag.com.
The amenity kits are small pouches which were placed on every seat prior to boarding.
Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy Seat 30D
For the flight to Hong Kong I pre-selected seat 30D, a bulkhead seat. I specifically selected this seat because it, along with the other seats of row 30, had received positive reviews on SeatGuru.
Overall, Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy seats are fantastic. The seats have a lot of padding in them and the cloth upholstery makes them especially comfortable. I had no issues sitting for over 13 hours in these seats and would gladly fly Premium Economy again. However, I would not choose seat 30D again. Here’s why.
One thing that’s different about the seats found in row 30, and some in 32, is the leg rest. Rather than a foot rest these bulkhead seats feature an extendable leg rest. At the end of the leg rest is a small metal part that pops up as a footrest. While this sounds comfortable, the issue is that the leg rest is much to short to accommodate my legs. I’m approximately 5’11” for reference. I found it hard to find a comfortable reclined position with the leg rest extended.
While the leg rest wasn’t that big of an issue, there were much larger issues I had with the seat. In fact, the issues are so big I’m surprised they aren’t noted by SeatGuru.
Issue 1: Premium Economy Lavatory
The first issue is the lavatory. The Premium Economy cabin offers its own lavatory to Premium Economy passengers. While this helps keep the lavatory cleaner throughout the flight, it also creates an issue. The issue being its location.
The lavatory is located where seats 30H/K should be on the right side of the cabin. This means passengers seated in seats A-E effectively have to somehow walk across the cabin to get to the lavatory. When airborne the cabin crew closes the 4 curtains which isolates the cabin.
Therefore, those seated in seats A-E have to walk in front of seats 30 D-G (where the bulkhead is located) to get to the other side of the cabin. The only alternative is to walk 10 rows back through economy to the Galley. This meant for the first several hours of the flight, other passengers were constantly passing in front of me. This became very annoying very quickly as I had a difficult time sleeping.
Issue 2 Horrible Leg Rest
The other issue with row 30 is the leg rest. The leg rest is extremely short. With the bar extended my knees were nearly at a 90 degree angle as I tried to recline. Instead, I had to put the foot-bar down, but that meant my legs were in this unsupported and awkward position. The only solution (I’m sad to say) was to use the magazine holder as a foot rest.
Trust me I hate then people put their feet where they don’t belong on an aircraft, but this was the only way I could get comfortable enough to sleep on this flight.
However, putting my feet here simply highlighted the first issue. With my feet resting on the magazine rack passengers simply tried to climb over me as I slept. This resulted in a few passengers accidentally kicking my feet and waking me up. Not a fantastic situation.
Issue 3 Seat Position
The third and perhaps most major issue with seat 30D is that its position puts it nearly in line with the business class cabin’s aisle.
Not only are you constantly reminded on the wonderful business class seat that you’re not sitting in, but you’re also at risk of being struck by a runaway service cart.
On top of that, the curtain that divides the business class an premium economy cabins actually protrudes a little into your seat. This means that each time someone passes through the curtain (which is often) the curtain actually bushes your legs. Again, this is a small inconvenience, but one that adds up during a 13 hour flight.
All of those small inconveniences add up to a seat that makes it difficult to sleep and my goal on any long-haul flight is to sleep.
Bottom Line: DO NOT SIT IN ROW 30!
Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy Lavatory
Speaking of the lavatory, the Premium Economy lavatory on the 777-300ER was interesting. The lavatory is odd because it’s essentially an enclosed box in the middle of the cabin. Whereas typically a lavatory is built into a galley area, this lavatory is just kinda sitting there in the cabin. It’s a really odd place to have a lavatory. You can see what I’m talking about below (although this is from a different flight… shhh).
Inside the lavatory you’ll find what you’ve come to expect from a dated Boeing lavatory. The sink basin is quite large and provides plenty of room to wash your hands. Also on the counter of the lavatory was a mixture of hand soap, moisturizing cream, and lotion.
The lavatory isn’t all that wide and the toilet takes away much of the available room inside.
With the narrow lavatory and protruding toilet there really isn’t that much floorspace for you to change in this lavatory.
Overall, I much prefer more modern and spacious lavatories found on the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A380, but this one did it’s job.
Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy Seat Controls
Now, back to the Cathay Pacific Premium Economy seat. While I didn’t love my particular seat (Seat 30D), I did really like the Cathay Pacific Premium Economy hard product. Each seat features a person in-flight entertainment screen and remote control. The remote is housed in the movable armrest.
This remote controls the in-flight entertainment screen, but also controls the overhead lights and the flight attendant call button.
Seat controls, which control the leg rest and the seats’ recline, are found on the fixed center armrest.
On the center armrest you’ll find the headphone outlet, the leg rest controls, and the seat recline button. The two buttons worked great and the seat moved freely when pushed. The headphone jack however is in a fairly terrible position.
With headphones plugged in my legs were constantly forced up against my headphone airplane adapter. On several occasions I was afraid that I was bending my headphone jack when adjusting the leg rest. It would be nice if this headphone outlet was moved toward the front of the armrest or within the IFE screen housing.
As I was in a bulkhead row I had a perfect view of the center bulkhead monitor. I expected this screen to display flight information for the entirely of the flight, but instead the crew turned off the monitor shortly after takeoff. Although I always enjoy when the bulkhead monitor displays flight information I was happy the crew dimmed the monitor as it helped reduce the ambient light in the premium economy cabin.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Pre-Departure Service
Premium Economy class boards just before the remaining economy class cabin. Economy passengers must walk through the Premium Economy cabin to get to their seats which makes pre-departure services difficult. However, as foot traffic to the economy cabins decreased the cabin crew circulated the Premium Economy cabin to serve a pre-departure beverage. Premium Economy passengers could choose between water, orange juice, or Champagne.
Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy Pre-Departure Champagne
The Pre-Departure Champagne came in an extremely small Champagne glass. The glass’ base was just small enough to fit on the tiny pop-out tray table which extends from the center armrest.
Shortly after handing out pre-departure beverages the flight attendant returned with a hot towel service which I declined. A few moments later, as we pushed back from the gate the flight attendant returned to retrieve all of the pre-departure service items.
Departing Chicago O’Hare International
As we pushed back from the gate and began our taxi to the runway I discovered yet another issue I had with seat 30D. Since the seat is in a bulkhead row the IFE screen is of the foldable variety. You must stow the screen during taxi, takeoff, and landing. While I normally wouldn’t mind this rule I found it particularly frustrating on this flight because the aircraft is equipped with a forward facing camera. Instead of watching a live view of the skies over Chicago upon departure I instead had to watch the bulkhead wall shimmy with every bump as we climbed out of Chicago O’Hare International.
Shortly after takeoff I unlatched my IFE screen and fired up the moving map. At that point I realized I was stuck in seat 30D for the next 14 hours and 28 minutes!!!
Shortly after takeoff the cabin crew began circulating the cabin with the departure beverage service.
With the departure beverage service the flight attendants offered passengers salted almonds and an antiseptic towelette. I personally was happy to receive the towelette as I used it to wipe down the IFE screen, remote, and seat controls.
After the departure beverage service the flight attendants circulated the cabin yet again to distribute the Premium Economy meal service menus, immigration forms, and a Cathay Pacific branded pen.
It seems you’re alway without a pen when it’s time to fill out an immigration form. Luckily, Cathay Pacific thought about this and provided all Premium Economy passengers with a plastic pen.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Meal Service(s)
The Premium Economy menus were quite short and mostly unnecessary, but there’s something about receiving a menu that makes the entire experience seem a bit more special. The menu for our flight was as follows.
Essentially, all Premium Economy passengers received the same basic meal, but could choose an entrée. For beverages, the Premium Economy menu essentially offered the typical beverages found in standard economy on long-haul flights.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Lunch Service
Approximately an hour and a half following takeoff the cabin crew began serving the lunch service. At this point I had not yet “ordered” my entrée. Instead, when the crew got to my seat I was asked which entrée I preferred.
As I responded with my meal preference the crew-member delivered a complete tray of food to my seat. Within the tray were a few small plastic plates arranged on a serving tray. At the top of the tray, in the large rectangular plate, was a set of silverware wrapped in a thick paper napkin. Unlike economy class, Premium Economy passengers receive true metal silverware.
The paper napkin was then secured by a Cathay Pacific branded clip which resembled a tuning fork.
The entrée and salad were both covered when the meal arrived. This isn’t bother me, but the lid for the entrée was arguably the hottest material in the world as it arrived at my seat. It took a few minutes for the lid to cool enough to be handled and I could remove the lid.
For my entrée I chose the Kung Po Chicken entrée which was actually delicious. Sure the food quality wasn’t of that found in Business Class on Qatar Airways, but it was still quite good.
As I finished my meal the crew stopped by once again to distribute the ice cream dessert. I wasn’t in the mood for ice cream so I passed. At that point the flight attendant collected the meal services items and I tried to get some sleep.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Dinner Service
After the lunch service I was able to get a few hours of sleep before the dinner meal service. Dinner on Cathay Pacific is quite odd compared to other long haul flights. Typically airlines serve meals near the beginning and end of a long-haul flight. This allows passengers to get a few hours of sleep between meal services.
On Cathay Pacific, the crew serves the second meal very near the middle portion of the flight. My flight from Chicago to Hong Kong was no exception. About 8 hours into the flight (just over halfway) the cabin lights came on and the meal service began shortly thereafter.
For my dinner service I opted for the Grilled Kurobuta Pork entrée. Each dinner also came with fresh fruit, bread and butter, and a mango mousse.
Again the presentation of the meal was the same as the lunch service. Premium Economy passengers agin received metal silverware. For this meal though the lid for the entrée wasn’t quite as hot as it was during the lunch service.
Overall, the dinner meal wasn’t as good as lunch. The port medallions were a bit dry, but I suppose they were a better option than the cod. The fruit, bread, and mousse were all very good though.
I wasn’t hungry when the crew served dinner, but I ate quickly so that I could fall back asleep. Once I finished my meal the flight attendant collected my tray and I again stowed my tray table.
Cathay Pacific Chicago To Hong Kong Route
At this point in the flight was was exhausted, but was too interested in our flight path to fall asleep. When I turned on the moving map our flight was just passing over the Northern border of Greenland!?
It’s funny, every time I search Chicago to Hong Kong on Google Flights I see the below image.
For that reason I’ve just always assumed when heading to Hong Kong we’d go West. Instead, we departed Chicago and went North East. We keep going North East the whole way! We began by heading up over Greenland.
Next, we crossed over the Greenland Sea and the Arctic Ocean. We then passed right over Svalbard which is a famous island know to offer some of the best views of the Northern Lights.
We then continued our journey through Russia and China before touching down in Hong Kong.
As we passed into Russian airspace the sun began to rise and I switched from the Moving Map to the Nose Camera of the 777.
The nose camera offered great views of the Sunrise which couldn’t be seen otherwise as the crew required the window shades to remain closed.
Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Service
I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of service in Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific. On one hand, Premium Economy is a step up from standard economy class, but on the other Premium Economy is nowhere near business class.
That aside, I was actually very impressed by the personalized service I received in Premium Economy class. To begin the flight the Purser stopped by my seat and thanked me for being a OneWorld Emerald elite. That was a nice touch, but not something I’d ever expect on any airline.
After takeoff, the beverage and meal services were more or less the same as those offered in economy class. The only real difference that I noticed was that the cabin crew occasionally circulated the cabin with a snack box full of chips, chocolates, and fruit.
Again, the service was overall fantastic as is expected with most asian carriers. However, the Premium Economy service isn’t much different from that offered in standard economy class. Needless to say you’ll be disappointed if you expect the service to rival that of Cathay Pacific Business class.
I’m overall not a huge fan of Premium Economy class. I say that because often Premium Economy prices are significantly more than regular economy and you don’t get that much more value. The seat is marginally more comfortable for an average size person, the food is essentially the same, and you’re still sleeping in a seated position. For those reasons, I’d never pay the $1,000+ premium to fly Premium Economy over standard economy on any airline.
However, flying Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific makes sense from an elite qualifying accrual perspective. That’s because (most) economy class fares on Cathay Pacific don’t earn AAdvantage mileage or elite status accrual. Premium Economy however earns nearly the same amount of elite qualifying activity and number of AAdvantage miles as you’d earn when flying in business class. For that reason, buying Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific makes sense.
For this trip I earned just about $1,500 EQD and I earned about $3,000 EQD for the entire trip. Since I try to earn $2 EQD per out-of-pocket dollar I spend I’d pay for a round-trip flight in Premium Economy provided the price is less than $1,500. Currently prices for Cathay Pacific Premium Economy eclipse $2,000 which isn’t worth it to me. However, if prices for Premium Economy ever fall to $1,500 or less that I’d definitely book this flight again as it was a plenty enjoyable experience.