I Just Flew in First Class for the First Time and Nothing Will Ever Be the Same

Sep 24, 2018

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So, a lot has happened since my last “first” ~fancy~ flight almost a year ago. I can tell (some) planes apart! I know how to use points to book flights! I even know what different fare classes are and don’t look at people like they have two heads when they talk about them! But there’s one TPG rite of passage I had yet to check off my bucket list: Flying in international first class.

This had always been a dream of mine before I even started working at TPG a year and a half ago — but let’s be real, whose dream isn’t it? Flying 35,000 feet in the air, eating some of the most delicious food you can imagine, all while people are catering to your every need. Pretty sure this is as close to royalty as us mere mortals can get.

But somehow, it was decided that I should take one for the team and give it a whirl myself. You know, for journalism and all that. There are so many options when it comes to out-of-this-world first-class flights, but we had to narrow it down to one. Ultimately, we landed on Cathay Pacific, which meant I was going to Hong Kong! Pinch me. We decided that it’d be best to fly back to the US with CX, in order to get the full experience. So, we found a flight in Asiana business class from NYC to Hong Kong via Seoul (full review of that flight coming soon!) and got this show on the road in the sky.

There was just one teensy tiny little problem: Cathay Pacific is universally regarded as one of the best airlines in the world, and, as you could imagine, a one-way first-class flight on it is expensive. Like, a couple of Chanel bags-expensive. But we are, you know, The Points Guy. So we had a few tricks up our sleeve.

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We were sitting on a stash of Alaska Airlines miles, which is one of the most valuable points currencies around. What we mean by that is with you’re able to book flights — even in business or first class — for a relatively small amount of miles. We ended up finding first-class availability on the HKG-BOS route for only 70,000 Alaska miles + $88 in taxes in fees. Those 70,000 miles are equivalent to $1,330 according to our most recent valuations; so think of it this way: We paid about $1,418 for a flight that costs about $18,000 (one way). No, that’s not a typo. See what I mean by valuable?

Once we booked the flight, my mind started racing. My internal monologue sounded a little something like this:

  • What if I don’t know how to eat caviar?
  • What am I going to do with myself for 15 hours?
  • Can you die from jet lag?
  • Are people going to think I’m an impostor?
  • And of course… What am I going to wear?

I calmed down after a few minutes and then went into research mode. I was determined not to completely embarrass myself like last time — a.k.a. that time I had to fish my bag out from under the seat with a clothes hanger — and I knew I had to make the most of those 15 hours. Coincidentally, I ended up in 1K, the same seat Zach Honig sat in when he flew Cathay first back in 2015. Doesn’t 1K even sound bougie?

Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.

Before I knew it, it was the morning of the flight and I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) with my dream and my cardigan. (Kidding about the cardigan, I would never.) I wanted to print out my boarding pass for obvious reasons, but wandered around the airport trying to find the right check-in desk for a solid 10 minutes. Safe to say my elite status is “Total Newb.”

I got there a full five hours early so that I could have enough time to experience all of Cathay’s incredible lounges in its home hub, in particular The Wing and The Pier. The Wing has sections for both business- and first-class passengers, while The Pier is exclusively reserved for first class. I originally showed up to The Wing, thinking it was the fancier one of the two, but when I got weird looks after asking where the spa was, I knew I was in the wrong place. Like I said: Total newb.

I escorted myself out of that lounge and found an agent downstairs. When I asked her where The Pier was, she informed me that it was very far and that I should just go back up to The Wing, which was right above us, and that if I did want to go to The Pier, I would have to go downstairs and take the train to get there. So I did what any self-respecting first-class passenger with five hours to kill for the sole purpose of going to said lounge would do: Got my stuff together, hopped on public transportation, and wondered where my Porsche went. Never needed a complimentary 15-minute massage more in my life.

A five-minute train ride later, I found myself in a different part of the airport and moseyed on over to Gate 63, which is where the lounge is located. Thoroughly convinced I was walking into The Twilight Zone, I finally stumbled across the sign and into the holy land.

First things first: Massage time. I was told to reserve a complimentary 15-minute massage as soon as I arrived, since they book up quickly. It was about 1:15 when I arrived in The Twilight Zone, and the next available massage wasn’t until 3:25! My flight didn’t take off until 6:30 so I had plenty of time, but still.

Once my minor housekeeping task was done, I ran walked briskly over to the dining room. I ordered a veggie appetizer with mushrooms and artichokes — and when I say “artichokes” I mean artichoke, singular, with one bite — and then, wait for it… a wagyu beef cheeseburger and fries. Oh, and a Victoria sponge cake. I admittedly eat pretty healthy 98.6% of the time, but YOCFO, right? (You only Cathay first once.)

I then went to explore the rest of the lounge, which felt as if it were straight out of a West Elm catalog. Swoon. I sipped on Hong Kong milk tea while finally surprising you all with what I had been teasing on TPG’Instagram Story all weekend. Before I knew it, it was 3:25 and time for my massage — which, not for nothing, was still one of the best massages I’ve ever had. I pretty much face-planted into the pillow on my lap and forgot about that whole public transportation debacle.

Our flight was a little on the delayed side, so I decided to head back to The Wing and check out the Noodle Bar and Coffee Loft, because why not just eat yourself into a coma for 24 hours? Plus, I may be an anti-social social media person, but any bar that has to do with noodles is the kind of bar I can get behind. I ordered Dan Dan noodles, which admittedly could have been a little spicier, and then had literally the best hazelnut coffee of my life at the Coffee Loft. If you know me, you know this is a bold statement.

Finally, it was time to board our eight-year-old Boeing 777-300ER, registration B-KPN (hashtag planes!), and I couldn’t stop smiling. Not going to lie, I was excited beyond words… and also terrified. What if I fall asleep for too long and don’t get to do everything? What if I do something stupid like press the wrong button and eject myself from the plane? You know, normal things.

My anxiety disappeared when I saw the seat suite, and I have a feeling yours would, too. I mean, just look at this thing. It’s MASSIVE. So much room for activities! But I’ll get to that.

Before I could even get too comfortable in my throne, the flight attendants, Wai Leng and Sharon, came over to introduce themselves. They seemed genuinely excited to have me on board and immediately started asking me if I needed anything. Throughout the flight, they anticipated my every need, like 5,000 glasses of water and three croissants at breakfast. Like I said, calories don’t count on Cathay.

Speaking of calories, can we talk about the caviar for a second? When you sign your employment contract at TPG, there’s a clause that says you must eat caviar if/when you fly in first class — but I had no idea what to expect.

After enjoying a glass (OK, maybe more than a glass) of 2004 Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne (I honestly can’t tell the difference between Champagnes, but I knew this one was fancy), it was the moment of truth. Before I could blink, Wai Leng brought out a beautiful plate of caviar. Look at that Mother of Pearl spoon! Thankfully, I was only one of two people flying in first class on this flight, and the other passenger was sitting in 1A, across the cabin. Translation: No one could see me eating the caviar, so I may or may not have actually eaten it properly. The world will never know.

Oh, and this was only the caviar course. There was also a salad, entree, cheese plate, hot and cold snacks, and breakfast. I think I gained five pounds just typing this sentence. At the end of the flight, Wai Leng said to me, “You know, for such a little girl, you can really eat a lot!” Best compliment I’ve ever gotten.

Aside from eating for about 15 hours straight, I also watched a decent amount of movies and even slept on and off for a few hours. Bless the rains, since I usually find it really hard to sleep on planes. Granted, I had some help in the form of fermented grapes and the big comfy seat, but I’ll take what I can get.

About halfway through the flight, Sharon came by to ask if I wanted her to make up the bed. I’m sorry, what? I was already in lie-flat mode, in my comfy cozy Cathay PJ’s, snug as a bug in a rug and watching “A Beautiful Mind.” You’re trying to tell me this isn’t even as good as it gets? I got up from the seat to let her do her thing, and after a few minutes, my lie-flat seat was transformed into a floating cloud. This was the point of the flight that I couldn’t help but wonder, “Do we actually have to land?” (The answer: Yes, yes we do. Sigh.)

Clearly, the flight was going even better than I could have hoped for, but there was one more thing I had to do before landing: A face mask. Everyone from my girl Chrissy to Michelle Lee, the Editor-in-Chief of Allure, and every basic girl in between is doing it; and what better time to take care of your dry skin than 35,000 feet in the air and with 15 hours to kill? I decided to turn my “suite” seat into a spa, except there was one little problem: My tote bag was shoved under the freshly-made cloud bed. So instead of getting my bag stuck behind the seat like I did my first time flying in biz, my bag was now promptly stuffed under the seat. Things were going well.

I refused to let this minor moment of deja vu stop me from having skin like in a Glossier ad, and started yanking out the straps from under the seat. Slowly but surely, I started to wedge it out of the crack. I could almost feel the gold snail patches (yep) and sheet mask when it happened… My nail chipped. Now, to answer your questions: I know this is THE most first-world problem ever and yes, I could have just asked the flight attendants to undo the bed so I could grab my bag, but where’s the fun in that? Plus, it makes a way better story.

And then I blinked. And it was all over.

During my college graduation, the graduates had to walk down a little ramp to get to the main area of the Superdome. I half-jokingly said to my friends, “Well guys, it’s all downhill from here.” And now? Well, I’d like to amend that statement: I just flew in first class for the first time, and nothing in my life will ever compare. It is most definitely all downhill from here.

Jokes aside, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s still surreal to me that it actually happened — but I’m so grateful that it did. I mean, where else would my bosses not only allow, but actually encourage me to run around Hong Kong and do crazy things on our Instagram all weekend? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be planning my next trip on a private jet.

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