Flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific… Worth It?

If you’re anything like me and regard flying with a special abhorrence, then there’s a decent chance you have considered paying that little bit extra to buy a ticket in either Premium Economy or Business Class to try and make the long haul just that little bit more bearable.

I’m kidding. It’s not a ‘little bit extra’. On average, upgrading from Economy to Premium Economy costs at least an additional NZD$1500. Do you know what you could buy with that? Another Economy ticket.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly Premium Economy from New Zealand to Spain with Cathay Pacific. I wasn’t looking forward to the thirty hour journey in the slightest, but knowing I didn’t have to budget for a return ticket — and considerable family generosity — motivated me to splurge on a deal I had found.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

After making my way to New Zealand’s largest international airport, my trip saw me flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong to Madrid. Both of these were long-haul flights, and to say I was mildly excited would have been a severe exaggeration. Nevertheless, I was curious to see what forking out for a Premium Economy ticket would add to the travel experience.

For the flight to Hong Kong, I was seated front right in the Premium Economy cabin. For those unacquainted with the layout of airplanes, this meant that I was next to the window with nobody in front of me. This last piece of information is vital; being at the foremost part of the cabin ensured that I had all the legroom I could ever want. The journey felt spacious and light, and I emerged from those first twelve hours feeling optimistic from such luxury, and giddy from the complimentary champagne I had indulged in over the course of the flight. Premium Economy had certainly ticked the box for me.

However, the fight to Madrid did not run as smoothly. A series of unfortunate events foreshadowed the success of the following journey: the flight was delayed due to a busy runway, the plane had to return to the terminal due to a passenger experiencing a medical emergency, and an air hostess refused to give me water during take off despite my choking on a sleeping pill (🖕). None of these had anything to do with being in Premium Economy per se (nor were they all the fault of the airline), but they still didn’t make for an ideal start.

Photograph courtesy of Traveller

Once we were finally in the air, I adjusted to my new quarters. Unlike the last flight, I was now positioned smack bang in the middle of the Premium Economy cabin with passengers in front, behind and to the sides of me. Whilst the dimensions for Premium Economy are somewhat more generous than Economy, I wouldn’t exactly say they’re worth the extra thousands. As someone quite tall, I still experienced the cramped claustrophobia from severe lack of legroom.

I also wasn’t expecting the sheer quantity of children in these upgraded classes. I estimated that roughly 60% of those flying in Premium Economy and Business Class were under the age of ten. I don’t note this because they impacted on my experience at all – they were really well-behaved and I was impressed by their self-control over the hours – but I was nonetheless taken aback by how much it must have cost to pay such money for passengers who likely wouldn’t have appreciated the advantages of Premium or Business class. (If you’re interested in the controversy of whether young children should be admitted to these cabins, you might like to read this arguably contentious debate. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts.)

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

There was one incident that particularly stuck out for me during the flight from Hong Kong to Madrid. Around three quarters of the way in, I was seized by a sudden need to go to the bathroom. I had been asleep for most of the previous journey, and had not emptied my bladder since arriving in Hong Kong Airport. Disorientated from the sleeping pills, I staggered to my feet and stumbled towards the Premium Economy toilets, only to discover that they were out of order. Great.

Busting, I made towards the Economy cubicles at the very back of the plane. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that a line of probably eight to ten people had formed a queue per loo. Furthermore, the breakfast trolleys were right behind them and lethargically making their way up the plane at a snail’s pace. I worked out that it would take probably forty-five minutes for the trolley to pass before I could even join the queue. Exasperated, I marched to the front of the plane and asked if I could please use the Business Class toilets seeing as they were the only feasible option left.

The Cathay Pacific air hostess physically blocked my path. I communicated that I was in a lot of discomfort and would likely wet myself if I didn’t pee soon, but she just flashed her teeth and explained in a patronising manner that those toilets were reserved for Business Class only. Infuriated, I recounted how the Premium Economy toilets were not functioning and that I couldn’t access the Economy toilets until a) the breakfast trolley had crawled its way up the plane and b) the enormous queue had died down. I also pointed out that there was both Business Class toilets were unoccupied and that a majority of the passengers were fast asleep. The air hostess just motioned aggressively for me to leave the cabin. Fuming, I retreated to the very back of the plane to stand in burning pain for first the breakfast trolley to pass, and then to queue for the cubicles.

I waited over an hour.

Photograph courtesy of South China Morning Post

That was pretty shitty service, Cathay Pacific. I understand that if you pay more for a Premium Economy ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Economy. Likewise, I understand that if you pay more for a Business class ticket, then you should be entitled to more privileges than those in Premium Economy. But those standards should only apply when basic services are functioning normally. When the Premium Economy toilets failed, those passengers should have been permitted use of the Business Class facilities when Economy wasn’t readily available, not penalised for something that wasn’t their fault. If the Economy toilets had also broken down, would the airline have made everybody who wasn’t in Business Class wait for the entirety of the long-haul flight before landing in Madrid to access a bathroom? I was rightly pissed at the rules — and the apathy of the air hostess at my physical discomfort — and that incident unfortunately tainted my experience for that second flight.

It would be wrong to deny there aren’t any perks to flying Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. You have the chance to board first, you have a greater luggage allowance, you receive a complimentary amenity kit and your cabin has its own bathroom (hahahaha). Plus, the vegetarian meals I received extended beyond mere vegetables (I’m looking at you, Singapore Airlines). But all it takes is one negative episode to contaminate the whole experience.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

So… was it worth it?

Yes and no.

I know, I know. That’s not the answer you just trudged through this entire article to read. But I experienced two very different flights in Premium Economy, and thus experienced two very different reactions.

If I had the money, I would very happily cough up the extra to fly Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific again if I could ensure I had a front row seat. As I wrote above during my flight from Auckland to Hong Kong, that seat made a world of difference.

However, if I knew in advance that I would be situated in the middle of the cabin, then perhaps I might have wanted to rethink that ticket. Sure, there are perks to flying Premium, but they’re not worth the extra thousands.

At the end of the day, the time is going to pass anyway. Whether you’re in Economy class or Premium Economy class, it’s twelve hours of your life that will eventually be over whether or not you’re sipping champagne.

Photograph courtesy of Cathay Pacific

P.S. I have only ever flown Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific. This review applies only to that airline. Perhaps the Premium Economy experience contrasts with other airlines. I’ve heard Air New Zealand is well worth the money… am I biased? Probably.

Writing this article got me thinking about how airline seating reflects class inequality. Something tells me I’ll be writing an article on that in the near future.

Furthermore, if you have a trip on the horizon, check out my No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight! Or if you want to read more of my uninvited opinions, maybe Why I Hate the Word ‘Wanderlust’ will be your cup of tea.

 

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The No-Bullsh*t Guide to Saving Money to Travel for Young Adults

Gather round kids, and welcome to the post that you’ll find on every travel blog!

But no, seriously. You know what I hate about these kinds of posts? They are directed at adults who have their own income and are living a lifestyle that is so far removed from the typical ‘student life’ that most advice is untransferable. These posts preach guidance such as finding a flat-mate and sacrificing the weekly nail appointment, when in reality, what young adult has enough money to fund living in a private flat in the first place, and what young adult has an extra $50 up their sleeve a week to splurge on their mani-pedi?

What’s missing from every online guide I have read is an orientation towards people my own age and walk of life.

I recently discussed on my post – Why I Hate the Word Wanderlust – how I believe that although saving to finance a trip can be “soul-crushing and demands sacrifice”, it is not impossible. I am not blind to the reality that factors such as privilege, opportunity and circumstance play a vast role in the success of this, but for the average university student who has a certain degree of flexibility and control over their time, is in a position where they are fortunate enough to put some money aside – and additionally, can prioritise this – I think that with a little self-discipline, travel isn’t as far out of reach as previously assumed.

So, sit back, relax and pull up your budget spreadsheets; you’re in for a wild ride 😎

Sharing is Caring

So I probably shouldn’t be encouraging this… and I apologise sincerely to network providers worldwide… but there’s a cheaper way to still access all your favourite tv shows.

I love Netflix. I love that I can watch my favourite shows (*ahem* Rick and Morty), and I love that I can watch them whenever the hell I want to. But you know what else I love? Leeching off my boyfriend’s account.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m that person.

Netflix can cost up to $15.99USD a month, which – while it doesn’t seem like a huge expense – can add up to nearly $200.00USD per year. If you can’t imagine curling into bed at night without seeing that iconic red logo materialise upon your laptop screen, search for a friend who is also paying for an account and inquire whether they would be happy to consider a cheaper alternative. Depending on your plan, you can access the same account on more than one device – and create individual personas – which is perfect for going halves and sharing.

Better still, stream straight from the web. Now, I’m not telling you to stream illegally… but I’m not not telling you to stream illegally. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work…

Okay, so I can’t stand that song. But the most obvious way to make some extra dollar bills is to – yep, you guessed it – work.

When I was saving up to travel to Southeast Asia, I worked five part-time jobs on top of full-time university. As I wrote in a previous blog post, it was “social suicide – and admittedly not the best for my mental health – but it got me those plane tickets.” I know that working five part-time jobs is a little (okay, a lot) excessive, but I managed to earn $5000NZD in less than six-months without missing a single lecture.

If you’re studying in New Zealand, I highly recommend you sign up Student Job Search. This website was a life-saver for me when it came to finding part-time or casual work in the short term. Most of the listings started immediately and were updated daily, so I would log in every morning to find another selection of jobs up for grabs.

The beauty with finding employment is that it adds experience to your CV. That way, if you are looking for paid work overseas, you have the number one thing employees look for up your sleeve.

Cut the Coffee

Oh God, not the coffee!

If you’re anything like me, then you rely on your daily cup of joe to, y’know, function. Coffee is something of a necessity for university students, and don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey. Rather, I’m suggesting you make your own coffee at home and then take it on your whereabouts in a reusable cup for a fraction of the price rather than buy it at a café.

I am totally guilty of this. When my motivation is running low, sometime it is the promise of a delicious, steaming flat white from my favourite café that gets me out of bed in the morning. But the price difference from buying it compared to making it is ridiculous. Here’s the ridiculousness in numbers: if you are spending $3.5USD on a cup of coffee (as is the average cost in New Zealand) 5 days a week, then in 6 months, that would be saving of $455USD. $455US?! You could buy 20 nights in a standard hostel with that!

Embrace Your Inner Jaime Oliver

Whilst we’re on the topic, let’s address the elephant in the room: food.

When we make the transition from our parent’s home to a flat or other independent living situation, the freedom to make our own lifestyle choices can be almost too good to be true. If we have a few extra dollars on the side, it is tremendously tempting to forgo making a good, hearty meal from scratch and just ordering take out. This might especially be the case if we arrive home late after a long day of study, work or other commitments, and are too exhausted to attack the kitchen.

I’m not going to bore you with the maths here, but I dare say it is rather self-explanatory. As is the case with the coffee, dining out is decidedly expensive, and there is no reason why you can’t make food that tastes as good – if not better – at home.

Student Recipes is a fantastic online resource for finding delicious, budget-friendly dishes to whip up in a flash. I also recommend doing some good old fashioned food prep so that if you do find yourself getting in the door at some ungodly hour, the pizza delivery service won’t be as tempting. As long as you stick to your guns and keep takeout for special occasions (if at all), you’ll find your bank account looking more and more attractive in no time.

Happy Birthday!

If your family is keen on gift-giving at those special times of the year, don’t be afraid to ask for cold hard cash instead of a present. It may sound greedy – and even I am reluctant to employ this – but people will be delighted to know that their contribution is going to a worthy cause.

Whenever I receive money on my birthday, I always make it a priority to write to the giver and not only thank them for their kindness, but also tell them specifically what I will be putting it towards. That way, you are not only giving them a sense of purpose with their charity, but also holding yourself accountable for what you spend it on. The last thing you want to do is admit to your grandparents that you spent the money they gave you for that once-in-a-lifetime trip on three weeks worth of McDonalds.

Pop Some Tags

#throwback to 2012 and familiarise yourself with Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. It was my jam back then, I can still proudly rap along to all the words now.

The point I’m trying to make here is that shopping secondhand can be a game-changer when it comes to budgeting. This doesn’t just stop at clothing, either; it extends to textbooks (do you know how much that shit costs?!), electronics, furniture… you name it. Why would you spend retail price when you can score the same product for half of that?

Shopping secondhand doesn’t mean you have to lurk in those grotty charity shops that smell of mothballs and wet basements (you know what I’m talking about). Companies such as Amazon give you the option to buy discounted products that are still in great quality.

Once Upon a Time…

If you’re a total book worm (like me), then you should invest in a Kindle.

Did you know that the average hard-copy book (in New Zealand, at least) costs around $20USd?! An eBook costs half of that. Plus, you won’t have to lug around thick slabs of paper which sit in the corner and gather dust once you’ve finished it.

Granted, buying a Kindle device costs a wee bit, but the savings you will make from not buying hard-copy books in the long-run are exponentially worthwhile. Besides, there are certainly ways to score a discounted Kindle… what was that last point I discussed, again? 🤔

Lace Up Your Runners

Relax; I’m not about to suggest you start running. I’m not that evil. But what I am suggesting is that – if you own a car – you might want to consider alternative options.

Petrol is insanely pricey – not to mention the maintenance and service cars require on a regular basis. Then you have to pay for parking – and believe me, you haven’t experienced stress until you’re late to a lecture and can’t find a car park.

There are several methods of transport available to most city-slickers. Think walking, biking, car-pooling or catching public transport… at the extreme end of the scale, you might even consider selling your car. Imagine the budget-boost that would give you!

For example, instead of catching a taxi to town one Saturday night, consult the local bus timetable. To get to and from the centre of town, it costs me $30USD to employ the services of a private taxi but only $2USD to enjoy the company of strangers on a bus. It’s a no-brainer, really.

I understand that the ability to trade in the luxury of your car is heavily situation-dependent. If you live somewhere that has you rugging up in about five layers of clothing before you leave the house, you might want to think twice about walking. Likewise, sacrificing hours of your precious time to travel on foot might not be the best use of your time. But – as is the case with everything – it’s the little things that count.

Put Down That Wine Glass

Yeah… I’m really not going to be popular after this blog post.

I didn’t say saving is soul-crushing for nothing. For us young ‘uns, drinking is more often than not synonymous with getting wasted. I say this because in New Zealand, we have a really dangerous culture of binge-drinking, and in order to achieve this level of intoxication, it takes more than a can or two of beer.

The consequence of heavy drinking – aside from the detrimental health issues – is the effect on our wallets. Alcohol ain’t cheap, people!

The good news (depending on your perspective) is that there is an easy way to regulate your spending without going cold turkey. I don’t want to endorse unhealthy habits here, but if you insist on those big nights out, invest in pre-drinking rather than hitting up the pub. A glass of wine from the bar will cost nearly two thirds the price of a bottle purchased from the supermarket and enjoyed with your friends before venturing out into town. And don’t even get me started on the price of cocktails!

Surf Couches

If you haven’t already, open another tab, type in www.courchsurfing.com and sign up for an account now.

One of the most hideous expenses of travel – perhaps aside from those dang plane tickets – is accommodation. For many people, hotels are simply not an option, and even the going rates of some hostels make me cringe.

Couchsurfing is revolutionising budget travel for people of all walks of life. The online community connects hosts from every country on earth with adventurous and open-minded travellers. As written on their website: “travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy”.

The key word here is money; the beauty of Couchsurfing is that you are not charged a single cent to stay in someone’s house. It’s always polite to thank your hosts in some way, but all we’re talking here is a cooked meal or shouting them a drink. Some token of gratitude. Furthermore, it’s a brilliant means to meet like-minded people and expose yourself to a different culture in a way that the four walls of a hotel suite cannot.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: the No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight ✈

All photos sourced form Unsplash

 

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Interview: Paper Girls with Becky Finley

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 22, I’ve spent the last 3 years travelling 22 countries and 20 states in 5 epic vehicles. I love hiking and eating and sitting on a boat in my bikini, and I haven’t experienced a full winter in 4 and a half years. I’ve had 5 tattoos, 2 broken hearts, 14 jobs, and over 100 hours in a plane. I can probably speak like 20 words in other languages.

How do you fund your traveling?

I work like a dog! I work and travel; I arrived in Sydney with around $1200 when I was 19, and my first week was spent exploring and finding a job. I worked at Taronga Zoo for 2 months, and ended up with maybe $4000, which I spent on several months backpacking in Asia. Then I restart and work again. The main thing is I truly believe I can get awesome jobs, so I do. I’ve worked in the zoo, promoting in a bar in Laos, as a rock climbing instructor, an outdoor adventure guide, an artist liaison and music booking agent, renovating a house on the beach in Hawaii… I don’t work for minimum wage because I’m worth more and after a days work my employers believe that.

What would you say are the most underrated and overrated parts of traveling?

The most underrated is the fact that you are only responsible for yourself, and you have so much time to just be whoever the fuck you want to be. You become entirely selfish and it’s really healthy and wonderful. The most overrated is the perception of how expensive and glamorous travelling is. I spend less travelling for a month than most people do at home in a month. Unfortunately, travellers contribute to the glamorous perception of travelling themselves, we all post pictures on yachts, but I’m less likely to take pictures of my hands swollen with bed bugs, or post about shitting my pants, lost on the way home from some dodgy street food. (I always want to post this but don’t want to be overly obscene).

Have there been moments where you have feared for your safety overseas?

In general, no. Mostly I put an enormous amount of trust in foreign strangers, which they totally deserve. I have done same insanely stupid shit though. I only feel scared after when I am looking back at the stories. Like, when I volunteered in Cambodia, it wasn’t through an agency, I just found a handwritten note in a hostel. I got on the back of this boys bike, he had one leg, because he had lost the other in a land mining accident that had killed his brother and sister. The ride alone was over an hour, he could barely balance us both, and he had a helmet but I didn’t. We got to this little village, I had no idea where I was, and no phone. No one had seen a white person for three months, and I was told the road was built on the bodies of those killed under Pol Pot. The boy who picked me up was the only one that spoke English, and when I asked if I could walk through the village, he said yes, but to be careful. The men followed me and leered, and he said some of the dogs were “bad”. I slept in a room in the house on stilts, with a bed frame but no bed, and a rat that scurried up the wall when I entered. The boy said the police came to sleep in a hammock under the house while I was there, because otherwise I wouldn’t be safe. At the time, the experience was really wonderful, the kids were so sweet and all called me ‘teacher’, but looking back, it could have ended pretty differently.

What is your opinion on souvenirs — and how do you regulate the acquiring of keepsakes when you’re backpacking?

I love souvenirs, not so much of places, but of life changing experiences or spectacular people. Regulation is super easy – do I want to carry that? Jewellery and tattoos are my go-to souvenirs. Also little scars and holes in my clothes are always cherished. I do buy souvenirs for other people; a point of pride was managing to bring my brother back a cobra in a bottle.

What is something you have had to sacrifice in order to live a nomadic lifestyle?

This is really hard to put this into words. If you have ever read Paper Towns, you might know what I mean when I say I feel like this lifestyle has made me a paper girl. I guess I feel like I’m often seen as the sum of the crazy experiences I have had, instead of a real life person. I often find myself in relationships where I am put on this adventure-girl pedestal, and expected to do no wrong, because I am just a character. My last ex told me, as I was lying in bed with a broken back after a sky-diving accident, that I wasn’t fun anymore. This sort of thing has been recurring for me; not that I stop being fun, but that I am not allowed to be human, and handle things badly sometimes. I feel like I have to be pretty careful now to select people in my life that aren’t fare-weather friends. Of course, travelling has also given me a family of the absolute best friends I have ever had.

How has traveling impacted your personal identity?

The biggest thing might be the family it has given me. The people I love that inspire me daily to be the best, and feel loved and adored and constantly supported. Travelling allows me to constantly reflect on who I am and who I want to be, as I head to a new place and dream up a new life. I feel like I have lived so many lives in the last four years. I feel like everything is possible, and anything is likely. Functionally, when I left for my first adventure, I called myself a Kiwi, and now I feel like an American. I feel out of place in the land I grew up in, and like I have explored many facets of my identity and found a place and people I want to call home. My travelling also led me to what I am now studying, and I already identify as an anthropologist. I don’t think I knew what anthropology was before I travelled.

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