Review: Cathay Pacific Economy

Despite common misconceptions I still fly economy sometimes, especially if I don’t have any miles to spend or availability is low. For my return trip from Australia (more posts of the actual trip later) I opted to take the same company home that I would eventually be flying in business class: Cathay Pacific. As we were in Cairns I tried to find as close to a direct flight as I could to Hong Kong, not expecting much. As it turns out there are enough people who want to fly between the cities that a large plane goes back and forth every day.

So, bright and early I got in a cab and arrived at the airport a few minutes later. I got through customs fairly quickly and was able to access the Reef Lounge nearby my gate due to my Priority Pass membership. It was a pretty full lounge for a small city, including a bunch of different breakfast options (fruit, pastries, cereals, etc.) as well as a lot of comfortable chairs, newspapers, and two very clean bathrooms. It was really nice to sit there and wait since our flight was delayed a few times. It made it easier to wait.

 

The airplane itself was large and comfortable: an Airbus A330 with plenty of seats. It only has business class and economy (I don’t remember if it was premium economy so I can’t speak to it). The seat was quite pleasant with plenty of legroom (way more than the standard US-based airline) and there was a good-sized in-flight entertainment system (IFE). It had a USB port on the bottom with which I charged my phone and what looked like an S-Video port (I wonder if anyone uses those, really). One of the newer amenities in planes like these is a cup-holder that pops down from the seat tray instead of taking down the whole thing – it was useful when I just wanted to store something small.

    

I was pleasantly surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) that on a seven hour flight we would be receiving not one – but two – meals: a light breakfast and a heftier lunch. As you can see from the menu there were not a wide variety of options but it is a lot more than US-base carriers are offering on similar routes. The food was quite tasty and the offerings were plentiful I imagine if I asked for more of something I probably would have been given it.

 

Cathay Pacific is a world-renowned airline and I’m glad I got a chance to fly it. In fact, I’ll shortly be reviewing my experience in their business class and in a few weeks I’ll get to take the first-class product on the fifth-freedom route from Vancouver to JFK!e

Review: Qantas Dreamliner (787) Business Class LAX->MEL

It certainly has been a while since my last post. I guess planning a last-minute trip to Australia while finishing up end-of-year teaching projects can be quite busy. Well, I’m back to share some anecdotes of our recent trip down unda’ and I wanted to start with our amazing experience on Qantas new Dreamliner business class seats.

Announced in December 2016, we were lucky to get the flights we got – leaving LAX on December 23, just eight days after the Dreamliner began flying on the route and in the middle of holiday travel season. We used 70k American Airlines miles each for the one-way flight, with some dollars spent on the taxes. Considering that flight should be in the thousands of dollars, I figured it was an amazing deal so we jumped on it.

We began our trip in the Oneworld Business lounge at LAX – accessible to all business class passengers flying on alliance metal. For that reason it was a truly enormous lounge – three large rooms with an extra area for kids in a more enclosed space. The buffet had many options to choose from and even a small taco stand, offering some tasty gluten-free tortillas for my wife. Finally, the showers available were also quite nice, with all provisions offered. It was nice to be able to get refreshed before our 15 hour flight. If you can ever access this lounge, I strongly recommend it.

 

About 45 minutes before our flight left we walked over to the gate where, unfortunately, they were running late. According to FlightAware.com, we were officially delayed by over an hour. Apparently this flight is regularly delayed, so potential flyers: be ready to wait at the gate (or in a lounge) for a bit longer than you expect.


The hard product itself, however, was incredible. It was an updated version of Qantas’ A330 seat, using the Vantage XL seat, commonly seen in SAS flights. It was miles above what has been in their 747 or A380 planes before, as there is significantly more privacy, space at the seat, and has all aisle-access (as opposed t0 the 2-2-2 seating on their A380).

As you can see from the photos there was plenty of room for my legs, to store my things, and to plug in any and all electronic devices. I strongly appreciate having a direct USB plug these days and I was happy that Qantas obliged. There was also the nice touch of the IFE system having my seat number listed brightly.

Once in-flight service began we were provided with a menu for our meals as well as a set of new Qantas pajamas (or a “sleep suit” as the flight attendant said) which proved quite comfortable and will be added to my rotation at home as well. The amenity kit had a lot of good provisions that we used during flight as well as coupons for in-flight purchases. I really appreciated the earplugs and socks and took good advantage of them.

Meal service began shortly after takeoff and while not as elaborate as some other airlines we’ve flown (Austrian Airlines in particular) it was quite tasty. We had any drinks we wanted and could order multiple servings of food if we wanted. I was sleeping during most of the flight, otherwise I would have taken a photo of the snacks area in the galley, which consisted of various drinks (alcoholic and non), chips, candy bars, and fruit.

When it did come time to sleep I set up my seat in lie-flat position and had plenty of room for my feet in the space allocated. This is one of the important things for me with a business class seat since I have size 12 feet. There was no squishing at all and I was able to lie completely back with my feet face up without difficulty. While there was no pad for the seat itself, the blanket was very comfortable and I was not too hot while sleeping. The pajamas were quite comfy.

One of the novelties for me in the new Dreamliner plane is how the windows tint instead of being closed physically. It was quite incredible how little light shown through during our flight once the windows were tinted. There is a little button below the window itself that provides various gradations of coverage. As you can see below it looks tinted slightly blue when it is sunny outside at the middle level but when totally “covered” barely any lights comes through.

I am incredibly glad to have had this new experience and can’t wait to fly Qantas again in the future (as long as I can get the flights!). If you have a chance to book and take it yourself I strongly recommend it, especially if it’s the new longest flight in the world!

I HAVE to tell you about my mattress tale

It was over four years ago, specifically August 28, 2013, when my wife and I made our first major >$1,000 joint purchase: a new mattress. It was a Simmons Beautyrest Comforpedic and boy was it an incredible buy. For 99% of the time we have had the mattress we just sink into it and feel like we are on a bed flying in the clouds. It was easy to sleep on, we didn’t affect each other that much while moving around, and it was a pretty good deal, to boot.

Then, all of a sudden about 3 weeks ago both our backs began to hurt. There was also a slight pain in my neck. We were seriously concerned that our 10-year investment was going to be cut short and we would have to spend so much money on a new one.

Enter: my persistence. I spent overall probably an hour on the phone with Macy’s customer service, Simmons’ customer service, and then actually visiting a Macy’s only to discover that while we did not buy the “Worry no more” insurance from Macy’s, they were indeed liable to cover a defective mattress if….

…a “Mattress Inspector” deemed our mattress “abnormal.” Did you know there was such a job? My wife was at home and saw him use a ruler, some string, and some other tools as he did, indeed, state that our mattress should be replaced. I was happily greeted by this email the next day:

The next bit was the only concerning part: they said that I would be issued a refund to my store credit card. Since I didn’t want to have that money hanging in limbo for a long time (I was not about to go on a shopping spree at Macy’s) I called and found out that I could, indeed, get the money credited directly to my bank account. Apparently, there is some policy that if the transaction is over three years old you can give them your debit card number for refunds. Amazing!

So, in the end, we had four years of an amazing mattress with about a month of super-crappy-sleeping nights. We’re going to be buying a new mattress shortly and can’t wait to try it out!

Chase Freed 5x Bonus Category for Q4

Every three months the Chase Freedom card rotates a set of 5% cash back bonuses for spending at specific types of stores. For Quarter 3 (i.e. summer months) it was restaurants and movie theaters, presumably because of the increase in number of people who go out during that time frame. You can always check out the bonuses at their website here. 

The aspect of this scenario that many people don’t know, however, is that if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card from Chase (i.e. Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve, or Ink Plus Preferred) then you can transfer those points to travel partners and potentially earn more than the standard 1 point = 1 cent ratio. When I transfer points I do my best to beat their current valuation, with normal redemptions for award travel being between 1.6-2.5 cents per point.

Make sure to activate your Q4 bonuses now in case you plan on spending at department stores this fall!

Utilizing the IHG Free Reward Night to its utmost

I am a part of a wonderful math teacher fellowship called Math for America (not to be confused with Teach for America) and every year they host an annual gala event at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Manhattan. For the past two years I’ve thought about staying over but either a) didn’t have enough points or b) the free night as part of the Chase Marriott Rewards card was not for that tier of hotel.

Enter: the IHG Rewards Credit Card. Every year it gives a free reward night for use anywhere in the world. There is not the same kind of limitation as with the Marriott card. So, I found the InterContinental Hotel around the corner from the gala and booked a night there. As you can see, for the night in question it would have been a whopping $629.99!

Instead, we are paying $0. The card itself has a $49 annual fee, so I would argue this makes it all worth it.

Even if we didn’t have the card, we would probably use that night somewhere else during the year for a wedding or small trip somewhere. It definitely makes the $49 worth it.

New TSA electronics security requirements coming for domestic flights

The TSA announced today that they are “raising aviation security baseline” by creating more hoops to jump through at security checkpoints. Where before only laptops were taken out of backpacks and placed in their own bin for screening, now any “electronics larger than a cell phone” will get the same treatment. Yes, this will mean longer lines, slower screening, and more packing up after going through security.

Perhaps this is to make up for the fact that the TSA has actually missed over 95% of items that could be dangerous as they pass through security. An article from CNN in 2015 and more recent one from the Washington Times in 2017 attests to that fact. It is really outrageous.

That being said, I personally doubt that this type of screening will pick up much more of the dangerous items that our “security theater” is said to be there for.

And, luckily, those of us with TSA PreCheck do not have to worry about this at all.

Amtrak Mastercard back to 30,000 point bonus

Normally the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard has a 20,000 point bonus after $1,000 of spending in the first three months (as seen below, compared to the Platinum version of the same card):

Right now, thought, there is an increased bonus option that will earn you 10,000 points more for the same cost (total of 30,000 points). My wife just applied and was accepted for the card – something I’m very grateful for as we travel between Providence, RI and Philadelphia, PA pretty frequently. Since you can often find deals within the Northeast corridor for only 2-3k points those extra 10,000 will go a long way.

I’ve recently been thinking of cancelling mine and getting another one to get the bonus again. If I do, I’ll take a closer look at some of the rules for re-applying as it seems Bank of America has changed them in the past.