Cathay Pacific KrisFlyer News Oneworld Other FFPs Singapore Airlines

Round-the-world in First Class – Mainly Miles’ July 2018 Adventure

Careful research, precision timing and a little bit of luck all play into the perfect trip. We reveal how we managed RTW: First Class.

A380 Suites (The Points Guy)

In a few days from now we will embark on a 21-day trip that will take us the complete circumference of the earth (plus a little bit more). In total, we will make 7 city stops along the way, 6 of which we’ll be spending some time in. Each leg is First Class or Suites Class and almost all of it has been booked using miles and points.

The purpose of this epic trip, aside from an awesome holiday for us, is to demonstrate the power of the frequent flyer mile and how when used carefully it can yield truly great value.

RTWMapLogos
The Mainly Miles ’round-the-world’ 2018 trip

In Detail

Here’s how the itinerary looks.

  • Singapore to Hong Kong
    • Singapore Airlines A380-800
    • 2017 Suites Class
  • Hong Kong to London
    • Cathay Pacific 777-300ER
    • First Class
  • London to Washington DC
    • British Airways 747-400
    • First Class
  • Washington DC to New York City
    • Amtrak First Class
  • New York City to Boston MA
    • Amtrak First Class
  • Boston MA to San Francisco CA
    • JetBlue A321-200
    • Mint Class
  • San Francisco CA to Singapore via Hong Kong
    • Singapore Airlines 777-300ER
    • 2013 First Class

The keen eye will notice two exceptions to the First Class principle in the above itinerary. Firstly – Amtrak does not operate aircraft. True enough – but considering the flight options available on this route, we decided to go with something completely different. Plus Amtrak’s First Class product comes highly recommended so we are looking forward to the comparison.

Secondly – JetBlue do not operate First Class. Also true. However, when their “Mint” product is considered in a side-by-side comparison with the competitor’s domestic First Class offerings on trans-continental flights, it’s hard to argue that a fully enclosed suite configured in an alternating 2-2, 1-1 layout is anything other than First Class. Therefore, we’ve decided to ‘mint’ it with the First Class seal of approval on this occasion!

How?

The two most commonly asked questions by our friends, colleagues and readers:

  • How did you get so many points / miles?
  • How did you get the booking in First Class?

Regarding points and miles – we have written extensively about optimising your spending to improve your earning from credit cards. In fact, quite a small proportion of the miles we used on this trip were accrued by actually flying revenue tickets with airlines. Most of them have been saved by strategically putting normal spending on the correct credit card. That includes paying rent, insurance, taxes, groceries, shopping, hotels and even the upkeep of this website.

We’ve reviewed a number of the leading miles earning credit cards in Singapore – see our summary page. Credit card sign-up bonuses can also be a great way to top up your miles balance – see here for the top deals running right now.

The Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Amex, for example, has no annual fee in the first year and currently boasts a 25,000 KrisFlyer mile bonus if you have S$5,000 spending to do in the first 3 months – our top pick at the moment for a fee-free card.

Bookings

Let’s address another common question from our fellow miles hackers. “How come you didn’t opt for a Round The World (RTW) Star Alliance ticket?”

There’s no doubt that a KrisFlyer RTW ticket is one of the best value redemptions going, at 240,000 miles in Business Class and 360,000 miles in First Class.

Well, the answer is simple – flexibility. Whilst it would have saved us a small number of miles overall (and removed the necessity for the cash JetBlue flight we booked), you must first ensure there is reward availability on every flight you intend to travel on, and comply with the rules for these tickets.

It works well for people with a lot of time flexibility and who don’t mind about the exact destination. We sadly weren’t able to be flexible and July is peak holiday season, whilst that doesn’t impact premium cabins as much as economy, it’s was likely to scupper our precision plans somewhere along the way.

Booking individual tickets also allowed us to be flexible with the airline / alliance we chose to fly on to suit what we think our readers would find most interesting. Notice how on this trip we’ll be covering the flagship lounges and First Class products of two oneworld airlines.

Here are the flights in chronological order of when they were first booked.

Hong Kong to London

Cathay Pacific First Class

CXtrans

Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER First Class is one of our all-time favourite products. It’s a little difficult to explain why. It’s not a fully enclosed suite, it doesn’t have a separate bed and it’s not particularly new. However, it is the best example of what we would call “previous generation” first class seats. The product is mature and as such has been perfected over its life cycle. The soft product is always excellent and the lounges in Hong Kong are incredibly special.

For the above reasons and because we needed to travel via London, we decided from the outset that the trip would include this leg, having enjoyed it so much last time we flew it to London a couple of years ago.

Cathay Pacific release award availability at 360 days before departure to Asia Miles members and 355 days before to British Airways Executive Club and typically release a small amount of availability in both First and Business Class.

Then in our experience, another ‘window’ tends to open at about 9 months before (this is when we locked in this flight). Finally, in the last few days leading up to the flight, they will often release a glut of unsold seats meaning Cathay can be perfect for a last minute unplanned trip.

In fact, Andrew has taken advantage of this recently for SIN-HKG-MAN, booked less than 24 hours before the flight when 3 seats suddenly became available in Business Class.

CX F 2 (Cathay Pacific)
Cathay Pacific First Class on the 777-300ER. Not the latest but still one of the greatest. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

Having locked in this flight we set about booking our ‘private aisle’. Cathay’s First Class cabin has 6 seats in a 1-1-1 configuration. Seats 1A and 2A are the only seats with access to the left aisle as the middle pair are angled towards the right aisle, shared with the right side window pair.

This means the only foot traffic to use this aisle is the crew serving you and your travel companion. Plus, with a toilet on each side of the forward galley for First Class passengers, generally middle and right seat passengers will use the right side toilet, leaving the left toilet just for you.

Pro Tip: Seat 2A is always blocked from online allocation due being the sole bassinet position in First Class. However, with a quick call to the Cathay Pacific contact centre it can be allocated to any First Class passenger, with the usual caveat that you may be re-seated if a booking including an infant is made in this cabin on the same flight.

San Francisco to Singapore

Singapore Airlines First Class (2013 F)

SQtrans

This leg was locked in early on to facilitate our timely arrival back to Singapore. In fact, we had originally booked SFO-SIN direct on the A350-900 in Business Class. It’s the quickest and most convenient way to get home from San Francisco, but we were slightly dismayed to find that the seats in row 11 and 19 had already been taken.

This meant settling for in-between rows which are a squeeze as we highlighted in our comprehensive A350 Business Class review here. When you are stuck in a seat for 16 hours and 40 minutes, you need to make sure it will be a comfortable journey.

12Alegroom
With the exception of rows 11 and 19, the rest of the seats are a relative squeeze on the A350. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

So we started searching for alternatives. Luckily, some 3 months before our travel date, nobody had yet booked into the 4 First class seats on the 777-300ER SQ1 service to Singapore via Hong Kong and even more fortunately, Singapore Airlines were now offering 2 saver award seats on the day we needed.

2013 F (Points Hacks)
The 2013 F seat on the Singapore Airlines 777-300ER will be our home for the final 19 hours of the journey. (Photo: Point Hacks)

Problem: The flights cost 60,000 more miles for both of us.

While we both normally keep a healthy KrisFlyer balance in case of last-minute bookings or opportunities, we keep the majority of our miles as credit card points for as long as possible. The reason is twofold, firstly they don’t expire there (once transferred to KrisFlyer you have 3 years to use them), and secondly for the primary cards we use it gives us the option to transfer into another scheme like Asia Miles or Avios if we see a redemption there we prefer.

This time though we were caught a bit short – so we had to transfer the miles from Standard Chartered in this case. It meant we couldn’t immediately lock in the flight. We called Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer hotline and explained the situation. The very helpful officer immediately transferred us to the First Class flight and put the ticket “on-hold” until our miles had transferred which we expected from previous experience, to be within 5 working days.

5 days of expectantly checking my KrisFlyer account later, still no miles credited. As it turns out Standard Chartered had made several mistakes with the transfer and the process was yet to even begin. Disaster, we had foregone our long booked seats on the A350 and now our 777-300ER First Class seats would soon be surrendered as we’d failed to ticket the booking in the agreed period.

We called the KrisFlyer hotline again. I explained the situation to another officer who was again very understanding. They spent some time trying to see what they could do to help. In fact, they asked to call me back. At this point, it seemed bleak.

30 minutes later, the officer rang back explained that there were some issues with the booking system but they had managed to confirm our flight and we had up to 48 hours before departure to credit the miles. Disaster averted.

Since Standard Chartered had caused this mess – we had lodged a complaint with the regional CEO. After all, we been falsely promised the transfer would happen in time on several separate occasions (it’s a long story…). Credit where it is due – they have now amended the system to be fully automated which should prevent future ‘human error’. They also credited my account with 50,000 reward points (20,000 miles) to apologise for the mistake. Good service recovery on their part.

The booking hassles aside, highlights from this part of the trip will be the Singapore Airlines 2013 First Class product, which is a new experience for both of us, and the new United Polaris lounge in San Francisco, which opened in April. Look out for reviews on both of those.

Pro Tip: We have had mixed experiences with the Singapore Airlines call centre over the years. Our readers have also reported some negative experiences. It appears that this has been taken into account by SIA and they have made a concerted effort to make it more useful recently. Be polite, patient and realistic (no they can’t clear the waitlist for you!). Anyway, well done Singapore Airlines.

London to Washington

British Airways First Class

BAtrans

Again this wasn’t our original plan here, we first used our Avios to redeem two business class seats on the flagship ‘BA1’ Airbus A318 from London City to New York JFK. We’ve read mixed reviews about the product and service but we thought it would have great novelty value, despite the lack of a dedicated lounge in London City.

Later though some First Class seats became available from London Heathrow to New York, Boston and Washington. As we hadn’t yet locked bookings in at the USA side we were flexible about which US city we could start in and after much deliberation, we decided to cancel the London City plan and book London Heathrow to Washington DC on the Boeing 747-400 in First Class.

Concorde1
We’ve visited ‘The Concorde Room’ before, but it’s recently had a ‘refresh’ and we’re looking forward to reviewing it on this trip. (Photo: British Airways)

This also gives us the opportunity to review BA’s ‘The Concorde Room’, their flagship lounge at London Heathrow. It’s also hard to pass up the opportunity to sit in the nose of the 747, a fast diminishing option globally as more fuel-efficient jets resign these older birds to roles as freighter aircraft.

Andrew’s first ever ‘First’ experience in fact was on a British Airways 747-400 from Singapore to Sydney in 2012. BA even had their own First Class lounge at Changi at the time! The on-board product hasn’t significantly changed since then, so it will be interesting to see how it’s holding up 6 years later.

BA F 744 (MM).jpg
Losing his ‘First’ virginity – Andrew flew BA First Class on the 747-400 over 6 years ago. Let’s see how the same product compares after Singapore Suites and Cathay First! (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Boston to San Francisco

JetBlue Mint Class

B6 Logo

When we looked at trans-continental options, it was pretty obvious what we should do. The young, innovative company with an enclosed suite flat-bed single seat on a narrow-body aircraft (almost unheard of), or the old US dinosaur airlines who are largely just peddling a now slightly out of date business class seat as “domestic First Class”.

UA PS 757 Seats (United)
United Domestic First Class. Staggered 2-2 seating isn’t what springs to mind when you think of First Class. (Photo: United)

JetBlue are trailblazers and have been largely responsible for shaking up the US domestic aviation industry with their cutting-edge products, quality service and rock-bottom prices. For that, they have earned our respect, dragging airlines like American and Delta kicking and screaming into the transcontinental flat-bed business category.

We’re also excited about this product because, as we mentioned in our SilkAir merger article – we will soon be seeing flat-bed business class products much closer to home, with both Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines promising them on their 737 MAX aircraft. So this is a taster of how good it could potentially be.

B6 Mint Class (JetBlue)
That’s more like it. JetBlue Mint Class cabin. (Photo: JetBlue)

This is the only flight leg of our trip that we paid cash for. There are mile options through their own scheme TrueBlue, and you can even redeem Emirates Skywards miles for JetBlue flights, but cash was simply very good value because we jumped on it when tickets were first released.

We set a reminder, as JetBlue release tickets in batches every 3 months so typically you can see availability anything from 9-12 months in advance. This meant getting in on the day the ticket was released and therefore, likely the cheapest non-sale cost. Including all taxes, we each paid US$548.20, which for 6 hours in an enclosed flatbed single seat across the US – is extremely good value.

As the first two to book we also each secured a single ‘suite’ by the window with the closing doors. Only 4 of the 16 seats in this cabin are the enclosed suites so you have to get in early to book these.

Singapore to Hong Kong

Singapore Airlines 2017 Suites Class