Monday, October 31, 2011

Slightly Worried...

A few old college friends and I have been planning an extensive 2-week New Zealand trip for this upcoming December, and I'm really excited about it. I'm most looking forward to backpacking for four days on the Milford Track, especially since we had to reserve our spots way back in July! It is supposedly one of the most beautiful trails in the world, and just looking at some of the pictures online has made the anticipation almost unbearable. We are also visiting Auckland, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier, Paparoa National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, and Wellington. All the hotels have been booked and everything is set.

Unfortunately, there's just one final detail missing... I don't have my plane ticket to New Zealand yet! And even worse, we are traveling during peak Christmas period. So here's the explanation: way back in June/July when we started planning this trip, the cheapest roundtrip tickets for LAX-AKL were running around $1400, which, while reasonable, was still a little steep for me. I had a bunch of United, Continental, and American Airlines miles, so I decided to wait to see if any award seats would open up on Air New Zealand or Qantas. I did my research and signed up for an ExpertFlyer account for award seat notifications, and for the next few months, I waited.

In late September, I finally received an email notifying me that an Air New Zealand business class seat was available for AKL-SFO non-stop... and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I figured an open award seat for SFO/LAX-AKL shouldn't be too far behind, so I waited... and I waited some more. And now, a month later, I'm starting to sweat bullets at the prospect that perhaps not a single seat will open up for the dates I need (despite setting up alerts for 2 consecutive days for all seating classes available on 8 different flights).

So I'm not exactly sure what I should do at this point. While I'm still holding out hope that one seat in any class will open up within the next month and a half, I'm also really starting to realize that I need some sort of back-up plan in case that doesn't happen. Decisions decisions... :(

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chase Freedom 30,000 Bonus Points

To be frank, the Chase Freedom card isn't the greatest card in world, or even close to it for that matter. But strangely enough, I've found myself carrying this card for more than 5 years now, and it is probably the card I've kept the longest in my wallet - ever. It's gone through several incarnations, and the rewards scheme has had multiple "enhancements" over the years, but I still find it to be one of the best rewards cards out there that doesn't charge an annual fee.

Chase Freedom participates in the Ultimate Rewards program, but be aware that even though it shares a name, there are significant differences between the UR points earned with the Freedom card and those earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Freedom UR points are not worth 25% more when redeeming for travel through the UR travel booking tool, and most importantly, they cannot be transferred to airline or hotel partners such as United/Continental, British Airways, Korean Air, Hyatt, Marriott, and Priority Club. The good news is that if you have a Sapphire Preferred card, you can transfer UR points earned from your Freedom card over, and then all the benefits of your Sapphire Preferred UR account will apply.

Despite these limitations, the Chase Freedom card is still very lucrative for earning rewards points. Every purchase earns a base rate of 1% back per dollar spent. In addition, there are rotating categories that earns 5% back (1% base + 4% bonus) per dollar spent. These categories change every quarter, and you must remember to sign up every quarter, although there are plenty of reminders when the time comes. Also note that the extra 4% bonus is limited to the first $1500 in purchases within the bonus categories, which caps your total quarterly bonus earned on special categories at $60. Here are the categories from 2011: 

January 1, 2011 March 31, 2011  
      - Grocery Stores 
      - Drugstores
April 1, 2011 June 30, 2011 
      - Home Improvement 
      - Lawn and Garden 
      - Home Furnishings
July 1, 2011 September 30, 2011 
      - Gas 
      - Hotels 
      - Airlines
October 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011 
      - Dining 
      - Department Stores 
      - Movies 
      - Charity
While this does seem a bit cumbersome, I have to say that Chase has always done a pretty good job of accurately rewarding the 5% bonus. And even when specific purchases aren't reported into the correct category, a call will usually get the adjustments done immediately.

Right now, Chase Freedom is running its largest sign-up promotion ever, giving out 30,000 bonus UR points (worth $300 cash back) after spending just $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership. If you've ever thought of signing up for the Freedom card, or just need a no annual fee rewards card for everyday use, I'd say take advantage of this offer now!

One final note: if you also have a Chase checking account, you earn even more points back on the Chase Freedom card - 10% extra points per dollar spent (meaning you are effectively getting 1.1% back instead of just 1%), plus 10 extra points per transaction. While minor, this can certainly add up fast.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chase Marriott Rewards Visa 70,000 Bonus Points

Via Flyertalk, this is definitely the highest bonus ever offered by the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa Signature card! Get 70,000 bonus points after your first purchase, which is enough for 3 nights at a Category 4 hotel. In addition, you get an additional free night stay at a Category 1-4 hotel upon account approval (must be redeemed within 6 months). The annual fee of $85 is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign exchange fees on the card either.

The incentives to keep this card after your first year is high as well. You get 15 nights credit towards your next Elite membership level every year, plus 1 Elite night credit for every $3,000 in spend. And best of all, receive a free night at a Category 1-5 hotel on every anniversary (must be redeemed within 6 months).

The earn rate for this card is as follows:
  • 5 points for every $1 spent at all Marriott hotels worldwide
  • 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible dining, airline, and rental car purchases
  • 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else
  • There are no limits to how many points you can earn
I must say Chase has been inundating the market with mega-bonuses lately, and the only downside is that it's hard to take advantage of all of these great promotions. I'm definitely tempted by this offer since I've never had a Marriott Rewards Visa before, but spacing out your credit card applications is also extremely important so you don't get denials. If you haven't applied for a lot of Chase cards lately, I would recommend jumping on this offer now!

EDIT: The landing page is now broken, but the application page still works. Unfortunately, there is no reference to the 70,000 bonus points promotion on the application page. However, anecdotal evidence shows that it still indeed works. Apply at your own risk!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Half-Off AAdvantage Award Flights To Tokyo On JAL

Via the AAdvantageGeek blog, this is an incredible deal for using your AAdvantage miles to fly business class round-trip from either San Francisco or Vancouver to Tokyo. To celebrate American Airline and Japan Airline's new joint partnership across the Pacific, they are offering reduced miles redemption for award travel on Japan Airlines through February 29, 2012. Normally, a round-trip business class flight using AAdvantage miles costs 100,000 miles, now it is being reduced to half that amount at 50,000 miles. And for economy round-trip awards that normally cost 50,000 miles, they are now reduced to just 30,000 miles. The value here cannot be overstated!

For the JAL operated direct flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo Haneda (HND), or for the JAL operated direct flight from Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), book your travel starting October 18, 2011 and travel between November 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012. Again, round-trip business class seats will cost 50,000 miles, and round-trip economy seats will cost 30,000 miles. You must call the American Airlines AAdvantage desk at 1-800-882-8880 to make your reservation. Telephone booking fees will apply.

Despite not having a lie-flat business class seat, Japan Airline's hard product still looks extremely good. I actually just flew the SFO-HND route about 4 months ago in economy, and I was very impressed with the food offerings. The service was quite good as well, and every seat had AVOD. You can read my full trip report of Japan Airlines 001 here.

For complete details about the SFO-HND deal, click here. For complete details about the YVR-NRT deal, click here. I recommend booking your tickets as soon as possible before award seats run out!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adventures In Zion Plus An Award Booking Tip

Two weekends ago, I did a quick backpacking trip through Zion National Park, Utah. With all the international travel I do, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are some pretty amazing sights to see here at home. I've always had a thing for the outdoors, and this quick 3-day hop was the perfect answer for getting out of the hustle and bustle of city life.

In addition, this trip was sort of a fulfillment of a childhood dream of mine. When I was young, my parents bought a beautiful picture book detailing all of the national parks in the United States. I remember the one picture that really stood out to me was from Zion Narrows. The red-hued slot canyon seemed to literally engulf it's hikers, who were standing knee-deep in the Virgin River. This image stayed with me throughout the past 20 years, and I was very excited to finally be able to see it up close and in person.

The largest airport near Zion National Park is Las Vegas, although there is a closer municipal airport near the town of St. George, about 30 miles southwest of Zion. It is serviced by Skywest Airlines (Delta Connection), but flying into St. George isn't cheap. Thus, we decided it made much more sense to fly into Las Vegas, pick up our rental car, and do the quick 3-hour drive to Springdale, the small town right outside of Zion National Park.

Amazingly, when searching for airfare from San Jose, CA to Las Vegas, I realized that only Southwest Airlines services this direct route - which came as a big surprise to me. In any case, I used my newly minted Southwest Rapid Rewards points earned from their recent credit card offer to book a one-way ticket from SJC-LAS. I will talk about the return flight later in this post, as I used a lesser-known method to secure an award flight back.

This was the first time I flew out of the new Terminal B in San Jose, and I was very excited to take some pictures and explore the shops and restaurants. I'm happy to say that it is absolutely beautiful inside, and I'm very proud to call this my home airport (despite my love for SFO :)). There were sculptures and artwork, a large and efficient security check area, tons of seats with power outlets, and plenty of restaurants and shops showcasing some of the best of Silicon Valley. After seeing all this, I really do hope that SJC can continue to expand despite the economy and recent exodus of airlines from this hub.

The flight itself was very typically Southwest (despite not having flown them in more than 5 years), which I love and hate. I really do enjoy the friendly service, peanuts, and general efficiency of the airline, but I also really dislike the cattle-herding nature of their boarding process. But what really won me over was their no change fee and no baggage fee policy. These 2 things in itself saved me at least a good $100, as I changed the time of my flight a week before, and also had to check a large hiking backpack!

For the rest of the trip report about Zion National Park, I'll just do a quick description of the trail, and let the pictures do the talking. There are 3 ways to see the Zion Narrows, which is arguably the most famous of all the hikes in the park. Most people will do a quick day trip, starting at the Temple of Sinawava and hiking up about 3-4 miles to see the Wall Street section of the Narrows (the narrowest and probably most spectacular), then hiking back down the same way. This can be accomplished in a just a few hours. The 2nd method is for those who want to see the entire Zion Narrows. The top-down 16-mile trail is best done in 2 days, and there are backcountry permits available to reserve campsites along the river at around the half-way point. This is the method we chose to do. Be sure to reserve your permits online as early as possible, as you can do that up to 3 months in advance of your start date. Amazingly, for those who are extremely fit and capable, the 3rd way of seeing the Narrows is to do the entire 16-mile trail in one day. I would definitely not recommend this unless you have a lot of experience hiking and backpacking, as we realized once the hike started that it was a lot more strenuous than the map would have you believe!

The trail head for the 16-mile hike actually starts outside of the park at Chamberlain's Ranch. We booked a shared shuttle through the Zion Adventure Company, and they drive you from their office in Sprindale all the way there, with the one-way trip taking approximately 1h 30m. We also rented all our equipment from them as well, including the tent, water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and hiking sticks. For those who don't know, the vast majority of the hike is in the Virgin River, with the river serving as the trail itself. During various parts of the year, the water level can go up to chest-deep... and through certain portions of the trail, we actually had to swim short distances (yes, with our backpacks on)!

Here are some pictures of the spectacular views we saw during our 2 days in Zion National Park. It was definitely some of the most amazing scenery I've ever witnessed in my life... and as always, pictures just don't do it any justice:

End of Canyon Overlook Trail

Zion Narrows trail head at Chamberlain's Ranch 

Hard to imagine the Virgin River starts as a little creek

Water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and walking stick

Entering Wall Street

Sliver of sky

On the way back, we spent one night in Las Vegas. I've never really been a huge fan of Vegas since I don't gamble, and I don't really enjoy the party scene much, but since we were already there, I figured we should check out the new hotels at CityCenter. I ended up booking one night at Aria Hotel and Casino on Priceline for a decent $130. I have the say, the hotel itself was beautiful, but the rooms were actually kind of small compared to the newer-styled suites at the Palazzo or Wynn. The dinner buffet wasn't bad either.

Aria water wall

Lobby area

View from the room

Now for the return flight, there was a little tip I learned from reading travel blogs that I put to good use. I had already decided that I would be traveling to Cambodia and Laos in March 2012 for two weeks, and I found availability on Cathay Pacific from SFO-HKG-PNH using American Airlines AAdvantage miles. The good thing about AA award flights is that you can have one stopover at your gateway city in North America. Meaning, for example, if I were to book an award flight from DEN-SFO-HKG, I could have a stopover in San Francisco for as long as their schedule allows.

Using this knowledge, I went ahead and combined my return flight from Las Vegas (with a quick layover in LAX) with my departure flight to Cambodia next March. Thus, my entire award flight became LAS-(LAX)-SFO-HKG-PNH, with a 5-month layover in San Francisco ;). Using this method, I saved the miles I would have needed to book my return flight from Las Vegas, and just tagged this itinerary onto my Asia trip next year!

I will say, however, there is a slight risk involved with doing this, since once you start your award itinerary, you cannot cancel it for any reason. So if my plans change within the next 5 months and I can no longer go to Cambodia/Laos, then I will have forfeited all of my miles associated with the itinerary. Hence, fingers crossed that nothings happens between now and then!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

US Airways 1,000 Bonus Dividend Miles For Every Trip

I guess I'm a little late finding out about this offer, but better late than never. This is one of the simpler promotions out there right now - just book any trip on the US Airways website using any MasterCard and you can earn 500 bonus Dividend miles. Use your US Airways branded MasterCard to book any trip, and you can earn 1,000 bonus Dividend miles. You must book between August 1, 2011 and November 14, 2011, and travel between August 1, 2011 and November 30, 2011. There are no limits to how many bonus miles you can earn.

Dividend miles will post 6-8 weeks after travel has been completed, and miles do not count towards Preferred status. There is no need to register for this promotion, it is available to anyone who completes the terms listed above. Click here for full details.

Two Interesting Articles In The New York Times

The New York Times published two interesting articles about the airline industry in the past two days. The first article from Monday details frequent flyer programs' gradual shift towards revenue-based rather than mileage or flight-based rewards. Increasingly, airlines are now tying elite status levels to spend generated on their self-operated flights. United has already announced some details of it's revamped MileagePlus program, which will include a new 4-flight minimum requirement on United, Continental, or COPA in order to achieve status. There were rumors flying around prior to their announcement that United would also initiate a new minimum revenue requirement as well, but it doesn't look like that will be the case. Needless to say, however, that may be where all frequent flyer programs are indeed headed in the near future.

Southwest Airlines, as one of the most prominant examples of this trend, completely revamped their Rapid Rewards program this year, shifting from a flight-based scheme to a spend/fare-based one that differentiates both the amount of points earned and the points needed for redemption solely on how much the ticket costs. Operating a frequent flyer program like this automatically designates a specific value to each point or mile earned, and gives the airlines a much better handle on the costs of maintaining loyalty. Unfortunately for us, however, this means it becomes much harder (or practically impossible) to redeem points/miles for high value awards.

The second article talks about how the airlines have fought their way back to profitibility despite the economic downturn by way of consolidating, shrinking, and tacking on dozens of ancillary fees. It's an interesting look back at how airlines nowadays compare to the gloomy days just after September 11th, and even earlier during their heavy expansion in the 90s.

In particular, the article singles out American Airlines, who is the only major airline to remain unprofitable in recent quarters. Left out of the major mergers during the past few years, AA is plagued with high cost, debt, and poor labor relations that are threatening to drag it into bankruptcy protection. Despite it's ambitious turnaround plan to purchase 460 new fuel-efficient aircrafts from Boeing and Airbus, a lot still remains out of it's control, as the economic climate and labor negotiations continue to pummel prospects.

But while most airlines are on more solid footing nowadays, the sad truth is that much of the belt-tightening gets trickled down to the passengers, who must endure fewer flights, more crowded planes, less service, and higher fees. Just another sign of the times I suppose :(

Monday, October 17, 2011

Southwest 50,000 Bonus Points Offers Are Back!

It looks like Southwest now has 4 different offers running concurrently for their Visa Signature cards. I blogged about the old offer for their Premier Card from this past summer, which gave you 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after your first purchase (of any amount). 50,000 RR points translates to $833 in Wanna Get Away fares, which would more than pay for 2 round-trip flights. The old offer had a $99 annual fee which was not waived for the first year. In addition, it gave you 6,000 RR points every year on your cardmember anniversary. Apparently, this offer is now officially back, and Southwest has even provided a link to it on their new offer page.

The new offer for their Plus Card features a lower annual fee, at just $69 per year. However, the anniversary bonus has also been reduced to 3,000 RR points. Thus, if you plan on keeping this Southwest Visa Signature card for more than one year, this new offer is actually less lucrative since 3,000 RR points translates to only $50 in Wanna Get Away fares, which doesn't cover the annual fee. In the Premier Card offer, 6,000 RR points translated to $100, which basically means your annual fee is waived. In most cases though, I imagine people would probably cancel the card prior to their 1st year anniversary (which is what I intend to do)... so taking the Plus Card offer would make more sense as the annual fee is lower.

The only other minor differences I've noticed is that for the Premier Card offer, you can also receive 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually. No such option exists for the Plus Card offer. In addition, if you choose to take advantage of the balance transfer bonuses, the Premier Card offer will allow you to earn up to 15,000 points (at 1 point per $1 in transfers) within the first 90 days, while the Plus Card will only net you up to 10,000 points.

For more details regarding the Rapid Rewards program, take a look at my previous blog post. Click on the links above to go directly to the offer pages. I don't see an expiration date on these promotions yet, but take advantage of them soon, as Southwest can always pull them at any time. And just to be complete, there are also business versions of both the Premier and the Plus cards. With both the personal and business versions, you may be able to get 100,000 RR points in one swoop! Apply soon, word is this promotion may end on November 11, 2011. Click on the link below for details on all 4 types of cards being offered right now:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tokyo/Vietnam July 2011 - Cathay Pacific 872 First Class (HKG - SFO)

***This post is the conclusion to a full trip report. The index can be found here***

This was my first time arriving at the new Hong Kong International Airport. The last time I visited was when I was 14 years old, and I still remember our plane deftly maneuvering around the high-rise buildings during the nerve-wracking landing at Kai Tak Airport.

Hong Kong International Airport is really an amazing feat of engineering as well as a beautiful architectural achievement. I'd been wanting to visit for some time now, so the 4-hour plus layover gave me a perfect opportunity to explore the airport and take some pictures. I stayed airside the whole time, going through the transit passengers security check and then directly into the main terminal. I first went upstairs to check out the food court area, then I went on my way to visit the 3 main Cathay Pacific lounges... which involved quite a bit of walking.

I decided to visit the furthest lounge first, The Pier, which is located near Gate 63. I've heard some complaints about The Pier being dark and claustrophobic, but I honestly didn't get that feeling whatsoever. Sure, it's definitely a bit more cozy, but it's got a warm feel to it, and I definitely wouldn't mind spending a few hours here if my departure gate was close by.

There was plenty of seating available throughout the lounge, as well as open computers at the business center. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling hungry at all, so I didn't bother taking a close look at the food offerings. I also skipped over the showers since I was going to be freshening up at The Wing instead.

Next, I walked back to the main concourse and went down to Cathay's newest business class lounge, The Cabin, located near Gate 23. I'm not exactly sure why Cathay Pacific decided to open up yet another lounge (I'm guessing perhaps due to the construction in The Wing), but I certainly didn't notice a significant difference between The Cabin and The Pier. They did have some cool pod seats in one area that were great for single travelers - I believe they're called Cathay Solus Chairs. The self-service buffet options looked similar to The Pier, and there was also a "Health Bar" that served up fresh juices and smoothies.

Finally, I walked over to The Wing near the security and immigration gate. I'm a bit embarrassed because at this point, I was pretty exhausted after a full day of traveling, and I actually fell asleep on a couch for quite some time and ended up not really even exploring the lounge. Though I must say, The Wing was kind of disappointing in the areas that I did manage to see. First of all, the upper level business class lounge was under heavy construction, so most of it was covered in white tarp and blocked off. I didn't bother reserving a cabana since I really didn't have any intention of taking a bath, and plus I'd seen plenty of pictures of it already. I did, however, take a quick shower prior to departure, which was great. No amenities were given, as the shower gel and shampoo were all in dispensers.

The Haven was quite nice, but very crowded at that time. I was able to get a table and perused the buffet and grabbed a few snacks. I didn't want to overeat since I knew dinner service would be substantial on the flight. After getting bored with the lounge, I decided to go downstairs to the departure gate. It was then that I noticed the flight had been delayed by almost an hour. Passengers were getting restless and it was beginning to look like a literal cluster#%*$. I noticed that the entrance to the business section of The Wing was nearby so I sneaked in for a few minutes to take a look. Wow, the place was absolutely packed... I didn't see a single open seat in there. Needless to say, I got out of there fast and ended up just waiting at the gate until departure finally started.

Cathay Pacific 872
Boeing 747-400
Hong Kong (HKG) - San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday July 19, 2011
Departure: 12:30 AM (scheduled) / 1:09 AM (actual)
Arrival: 10:00 PM (scheduled) / 11:17 PM (actual)
Duration: 12h 30m (scheduled) / 13h 8m (actual)
Seat: 2A (First)

The first class layout for this flight was exactly the same as the previous flight from BKK-HKG, except I sat on the opposite side of the plane this time, in 2A. A welcome drink was offered, and I chose orange juice instead of champagne since I wasn't really feeling that great after a whole day of flying.

I was slightly bummed when I noticed that the cabin would be completely full yet again with all 9 seats occupied. Service was decent on the previous flight, but I had hoped for a less crowded atmosphere for HKG-SFO... unfortunately that wasn't to be. And worse, I immediately noticed that the 3 flight attendants seemed to be rushed and frazzled right from the start... and it only got worse as the flight progressed.

Menus were distributed, as well as pajamas and amenity kits. The men's amenity kits were downsized earlier this year, and now features a CD case-sized zipper pouch with miniature toiletries We finally left the gate about 40 minutes late, and after a very smooth takeoff, I was offered a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée with warm nuts.

Dinner service started soon after. I really wasn't very hungry since it was already almost 2:00 am, but I was determined to experience as much of the full dinner presentation as possible. I decided to mix and match the Western and Chinese options, starting with the caviar and Tsar Nicolaj Balik salmon, then the Western mesclun salad with tandoori prawn, Chinese double boiled soup, and the braised lamb shoulder for main course. I selected the baked apple tart with mixed berries and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

This was actually my first time ever trying caviar, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was really good, and I ended up practically licking the plate clean (though I didn't). The salad was rather typical, as was the soup. The lamb shoulder, however, was excellently flavored and extremely tender. 

Now, all throughout boarding and initial service, I noticed the flight attendants were pretty flustered, and seemed to be frantically trying to get everybody settled and their drink orders delivered. During dinner service, it only got worse, as the time between courses stretched longer and longer. At one point, after I had finished my main course, the empty plate literally sat there for almost half an hour before I finally reached for the call button. The flight attendant was extremely apologetic, but this was after she had already forgotten the wine I ordered with the main, and the water refill I requested along with it... though I did get the wine after a second request. Eventually, I sort of just stopped caring, and ate the food whenever it was presented and proceeded to entertain myself with Studio CX during the wait for the next course. I'm not sure if I was the only one experiencing this delay or perhaps others had decided to skip courses or dinner altogether, but by the time dessert was served, they had already turned off the lights for the other passengers to go to sleep. I had skipped the cheese course earlier simply because I was too full, and proceeded to finish off with some jasmine tea and pralines, which were delicious. When everything was finally cleared away, I noticed we were almost half-way across the Pacific already!

I also noticed the two female passengers seated at the front of the plane having some issues with their food during dinner service as well, and it seemed like the FAs were trying their best to smooth over an unpleasant situation. One of the passengers was also extremely sick, coughing and blowing her nose throughout the flight. Probably not by coincidence, I came down with a cold exactly 2 days after the flight :(

After the dinner ordeal, I changed into my pajamas (which were very comfortable) while the FA helped with the turn-down service. I have to say, Cathay's first class beds are amazing, and even for a light sleeper like me, I was able to get a couple hours of actual shut-eye after dinner. I awoke still feeling quite full, so I decided to sit up and watch some TV shows instead of attempting to go back to sleep. For the hour or so I was up, I noticed the flight attendants were all gathered in the galley chatting, and not once did they come out to do water runs or make sure things were okay.

Breakfast service started soon after (despite the sun setting again outside), and I was offered a smoothie to start off. I decided to mix and match again, choosing a fruit plate and croissants, and dim sum as the main. Everything up to the dim sum was really good... but once I opened the lotus leaf wraps, I noticed that the sticky rice inside was hard as rock. In addition, the shrimp dumpling and shu mai were dried out and tough.

Bad dim sum

Now maybe it's because I'm from the Bay Area and I eat it at least once or twice a month, but I honestly don't feel like my expectations for dim sum were sky high. They simple didn't steam the plate long enough, or the food itself just wasn't fresh. Either way, I ended up eating a few bites and returning the rest. When the flight attendant came by to clear the table, she noticed I had hardly touched the dim sum and wondered if it was ok. I told her the rice in the lotus leaf wrap was too hard, and she touched it and made a face and a disapproving sound. She apologized profusely, and offered to make something else, but I declined since I wasn't really hungry for anything else at that point.

Sunset over the Pacific

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, and to be perfectly honest, service was not very good. Whenever the flight attendants came by, they were always extremely warm and friendly, but the problem was they hardly ever came by! Whenever I went to the restroom, I would see them huddled in the galley eating or chatting away. Everytime I needed water, I ended up just going back to the galley and asking them for it.

Finally, as we approached San Francisco for landing, the plane did a quick 180 and then proceeded to fly around in circles. We all knew what that meant... a delay and holding pattern. The pilot came over the speakers shortly after and announced that since we had departed late, our gate was now occupied, and it would be about another half hour before we could land. Now normally I would cheer at this, especially sitting in first class... but at this point, I was really ready to get off the plane and go home. By the time we landed, we were about an hour late (since the scheduled arrival time already has some padding built-in), and I quickly called my sister to apologize and reschedule the pick-up. Deplaning was quick, and luckily the immigration line was fairly empty. My bags were also one of the first to come out due to the priority tags.

Holding pattern above San Francisco

All-in-all, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with this flight. I had heard great things about Cathay Pacific first class, but none of that was apparent in my case. Even the short hop from BKK-HKG was head and shoulders above this long-haul international first class service. Perhaps it was a fluke, or maybe the full cabin just made things more difficult for the flight attendants, but I was pretty bummed regardless. I hope to try out Cathay Pacific first class again sometime in the future, and maybe I'll have better luck next time!

Acca Kappa amenity kit with moisturizer, facial mist, etc.

Shanghai Tang pajamas