Fifth Freedom, First Class: Onboard Cathay’s Flight from Vancouver to New York

Flying Cathay Pacific’s first class on its fifth freedom flight between Vancouver and New York is arguably the most luxurious way to get between the two costs of North America right now.

Unfortunately, earlier this year, the airline announced that it would be discontinuing the flight next spring. Looking at its reservation system reveals that both the last eastbound and the last westbound flights will depart on March 27, 2020.

Having just flown on the flight last month, below I’ll share what you need to know about the flight as what the experience was like.

Fifth Freedom, First Class: Onboard Cathay's Flight from Vancouver to New York
Cathay Pacific uses 777-300ERs on the route from Hong Kong to New York via Vancouver.

 

Cathay Pacific’s Fifth Freedom Vancouver – New York Route

Cathay Pacific first operated on the Hong Kong – Vancouver – New York route in 1996. Since then, the fifth freedom segment between Vancouver and New York has become a favorite of many frequent flyers and aviation enthusiasts.

It not only allows passengers to try an “exotic” airline on a cross-border flight, but it allows those that are willing to spend the cash or miles to do so in what is one of the best first class products in the world.

The fifth freedom flight operates with the following schedule:

  • CX888 from Vancouver to New York departing at 10:55PM and arriving at 7:00AM the next day
  • CX865 from New York to Vancouver departing at 9:50PM and arriving at 12:50AM the next day

Currently, it’s the only non-stop flight between Vancouver and New York JFK airport. The only other non-stop flight between Vancouver and the New York area is Air Canada’s flight to Newark.

The flight is operated by Cathay Pacific’s four-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft featuring economy, premium economy, reverse herringbone business, and first class seats.

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Business Class from Vancouver to New Yo
The aircraft are equipped with reverse herringbone business class seats.

 

What to Expect When Flying on Flight CX888 from Vancouver to New York in First Class

In September, I flew on flight CX888 all the way from Hong Kong to New York in first class. I won’t be reviewing the portion from Hong Kong to Vancouver in detail, though. That’s because with the discontinuation of the fifth freedom flight, Cathay Pacific will stop offering first class on its flights to  Vancouver.

Instead, I will later publish a full review of my non-stop flight from New York to Hong Kong. Here, instead, I will give you a brief overview of what flying in first class on the unique fifth freedom route was like.

The Lounge

After getting off my flight from Hong Kong and passing through immigration I found myself in Vancouver airport’s departures area. That’s when the fifth freedom part of my experience started.

As I had a fair amount of time before the boarding would begin, I headed to Cathay Pacific’s lounge at the airport. Conveniently, it is located right across from the gate that the airline’s flights use. Besides offering plenty of comfortable seating options, it also featured Cathay Pacific’s signature Noodle Bar.

I published a detailed review of the lounge here.

Cathay Pacific Lounge Vancouver
The lounge was conveniently located right above my flight’s departure gate.

The Seat

Onboard, the first class seat was massive. While it was not a closed suite like some other airlines offer, it still felt very private. Since there were no overhead lockers in the first class cabin, each of the seats had its own little closet. Luggage could be stored under the ottoman as well.

The seat turned into a very comfortable, full-flat bed and was equipped with a fairly large IFE screen. The screen was, however, quite aged and low-resolution.

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class from Vancouver to New York
Overview of the first class cabin.
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class Seat from Vancouver to New
First class seat.

The Amenities

Even though at less than five hours, the flight was relatively short, the amenities offered were basically the same as those on Cathay Pacific’s long-haul first class flights. That’s in contrast with the airline’s intra-Asian first class flights I’ve taken.

Bose noise-cancelling headphones, Pye pajamas, and an Aesop amenity kit were provided before take-off. Both men’s and women’s versions of the amenity kit were available.

Full turndown service including a mattress pad, a duvet, and a decently sized pillow was provided.

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class Bed from Vancouver to New Y
First class seat turned into a bed.
Pajamas Onboard Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New
Pajamas and headphones.

The Meal

Before take-off, welcome drinks and warm nuts were offered. Menus were distributed as well.

The actual meal service consisted of a smoked duck with salad starter, banana squash and sage soup, a choice of three mains (grilled beef tenderloin, stir fried lobster, egg noodle soup with fish balls), a cheese plate, and a dessert (apple crumble tart wth vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce).

A bread basket was served during the meal and pralines were provided after it as well.

Understandably, there was no caviar service. That was, also, more or less the only difference between the meal service on this flight and on the long-haul segments I took.

Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New York Menu
Menu.
Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New York Appetizer
Appetizer.
Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New York Soup
Soup.
Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New York Main
Main.
Cathay Pacific First Class from Vancouver to New York Dessert
Dessert.

 

Booking Cathay Pacific Flights Between Vancouver and New York

The flights can be booked both using cash as well as miles.

While one-way flights can only be booked in expensive fare classes, roundtrip itineraries are reasonably priced – especially when originating in Vancouver. Below is a brief overview of fares which seem to be fairly consistent for the remainder of the time the flight will keep operating.

The eastbound fares are as follows:

  • Economy class: $410~ one-way / $479~ roundtrip
  • Premium economy: $697~ one-way / $792~ roundtrip
  • Business class: $1,275~ one-way / $2,118~ roundtrip
  • First class: $2,915~ one-way / $4,852~ roundtrip

The westbound fares are as follows:

  • Economy class: $700~ one-way / $586~ roundtrip
  • Premium economy: $804~ one-way / $1,381~ roundtrip
  • Business class: $2,970~ one-way / $4,991~ roundtrip
  • First class: $4,339~ one-way / $7,273~ roundtrip

You can also book the flights using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles’ or other oneworld airlines’ programs miles, as well as Alaska Mileage Plan miles.

Just to give you an example, the flight costs 17,500 Alaska miles in economy class, 20,000 in premium economy, 25,000 in business, and 35,000 in first class. As is generally the case, you also have to pay some taxes and fees on top of that.

 

Summary

While choosing this flight almost caused me to miss my flight, in the end – after all turned well – I was glad I picked CX888 rather than one of the non-stop flights from Hong Kong to New York.

It gave me a chance to fly on one of the, if not the most, unique transcontinental flight before it is discontinued. If you have the chance, I certainly recommend taking the flight – especially in first class – since there is still plenty of time before its gone.

If you are in the United States or Canada, the flight presents a great opportunity to try one of the best first class products without having to leave the continent.

What is more, even though the flight is generally airborne for less than five hours, the service in first class is more or less on par with what you would receive on one of Cathay’s long-haul flights. The only noticeable difference is the lack of caviar service.

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Get Your FREE "Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank" Guide

No, I am not going to tell you how to fly in first class and sip Dom Perignon for free…

But, I am going to introduce you to a couple of ways you can experiment with to try a business class flight without having to spend thousands of dollars.

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