#5nights5cities Part 2: Not Cathay, not this time

Cam MacMurchy

To catch up, you can read Part 1 first.

If you love traveling, it’s important to stick to an airline and hotel rewards program as much as possible. When I was a student, I always opted for the cheapest flight on the tiniest and sketchiest discount carrier, which is understandable when you need to stretch every penny. But if you have even a little wiggle-room, loyalty to a particular airline and hotel program can bring much more value back in terms of benefits over the long term.

Before I go further, I need to point out two incredible websites that do deep dives into mileage programs, credit cards, and what’s possible if you optimize your mileage accrual. One is The Points Guy, which now claims to publish up to 20 stories a day; the other is One Mile at a Time by Ben Schlappig, who has become a star in travel circles. Both sites are quite US-centric, but offer excellent advice on how you can rack up points and enjoy luxury benefits offered by various airlines. I highly recommend both.

The competition for travel dollars isn’t quite so fierce in Hong Kong, where we have one flagship carrier: Cathay Pacific (CX). We’re fortunate Cathay is an excellent airline with an impressive global flight network and the best of Asian hospitality. When I was growing up, Cathay was considered a first tier airline, but it’s slipped in recent years behind luxury carriers like Singapore and Emirates. (North American-based airlines are now among the worst when it comes to service, lounges, and amenities). Nonetheless, it still remains strong.

I’ll often spend a few hundred Hong Kong dollars more to fly Cathay because it beefs up my Asia Miles account and provides lounge access for silver members through the Marco Polo program. That means even if I’m flying economy (which is usually the case), I can visit the business class lounge for some light refreshments before jumping the queue to board at the gate.

I then turn around and cash in my Asia Miles for free tickets, or use them for upgrades — and upgrades are, by far, where passengers get the best value in terms of dollar per Asia Mile. That means I’ve had the good fortune of sampling Cathay’s business class from time to time, including their lay-flat seats and meals from Mott 32, one of the premier Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong. (In fact, we enjoyed business class from Hong Kong to Seoul and back just this past weekend. Cathay definitely does it right.)

 Cheese, crackers and dessert wine served on board CX418 from HKG --> ICN. “> Cheese, crackers and dessert wine served on board CX418 from HKG –> ICN.</p>
<p>So a few thoughts about Cathay Pacific, as a reference point to compare to Qatar Airways and British Airways later:</p>
<p><strong>Mobile app</strong></p>
<p>Cathay has improved its mobile app in recent years, but it is still a bit buggy. It has the usual features, such as profile/points accrual information, flight schedules, and the option to book flights through the app (it also wins a huge bonus from me for accepting Apple Pay).</p>
<p>The app also provides mobile boarding passes, which is becoming standard and is a feature I use almost every time I fly Cathay. Checking in via the app and downloading a boarding pass without having to speak to a single employee at the airport is true bliss.</p>
<p><strong>Lounges</strong></p>
<p>Frequent travelers have their favorite lounges, and CX has four of them at Hong Kong International Airport. The newest and flashiest is The Pier, near gate 60. It is absolutely huge, has CX’s famous noodle bar (dan dan noodles FTW), a long bar, hot and cold buffet, and a quaint little coffee stand. Almost all seats have electrical outlets and USB ports to charge devices.</p>
<p>The Wing is near immigration and is, therefore, the most popular. It also has a noodle bar and long bar but is often extremely crowded. The Bridge is probably my second favorite, and offers a lot of bread-based dishes like pizza, sandwiches, and paninis, while The Cabin is a darker lounge with fewer food options, but is well-known for its fruit smoothies.</p>
<p><img src= The recently-renovated Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge at Vancouver International Airport.

Lounges in Cathay’s network are a little more hit-and-miss. CX has managed to open its signature lounge in some major airports, like Vancouver and London, but others (like in Mainland China and Korea) leave a lot to be desired. In fairness, these are lounges are sometimes shared by other airlines and credit card rewards programs, so the quality suffers as a result.

(Pro Tip: For lounge ideas, reviews, accessibility requirements, and maps, download the LoungeBuddy app for iOS or Android. It’s a must when traveling.)

On board service

This is where CX really shines. Service on Cathay has always been impeccable, the food is as good as it gets on a major carrier, and the in-flight entertainment options are comprehensive and in multiple languages. The one major drawback is lack of Wifi — Cathay has been very slow at rolling out on-board internet connectivity. I had it on a flight from Hong Kong to Gatwick in April 2017, but never before or since.

 An aperitif prior to push back on board CX746 from BAH --> HKG. “> An aperitif prior to push back on board CX746 from BAH –> HKG.</p>
<p><strong>#5nights5cities</strong></p>
<p>My upcoming whirlwind trip is mostly based on points. I am using Asia Miles to book business class on Qatar Airways from Hong Kong to Warsaw with an overnight layover in Doha. I have flown Qatar twice before, on a round-trip to Munich in 2012, and I can’t wait to sample the hospitality on board the <a href=top rated airline in the world.

The Warsaw to London leg will be done on British Airways economy at full fare, which fortunately came in at a resounding HK$700 (about US$100).

The hotel in Doha is being booked with points from Hotels.com, while Starwood Starpoints are being used to book the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw.

As much as possible, I stick to Starwood Hotels because they have the widest range of iconic hotel brands in their portfolio like W, The Westin, Sheraton, Aloft and others. It’s relatively easy to reach gold status, which means free wifi and 4pm checkouts.

If for whatever reason, Starwood Hotels are too pricey or unavailable, I use Hotels.com as a backup. The company, owned by Expedia, gives you one free night after 10 paid nights, which I save up for precisely moments like these!

I’m taking off in a couple of days, so I’ve been racing around packing and making sure I don’t forget anything. I’m looking forward to writing and posting the next installment from 35,000 feet en route to Doha!

Read Part 3 here.

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