First Class Showdown: Singapore Airlines vs. Cathay Pacific

a plate with food on it

***This is part 7 of my “Plane-cation” trip report detailing a recent trip from San Francisco to New York, via Hong Kong***

1. Introduction
2. Singapore Airlines First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
3. Cathay Pacific First Class Lounges: The Pier and The Wing
4. Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to New York
5. Eating NYC – Bouley, Donuts, and Pizza
6. JetBlue Mint Class New York to San Francisco
7. First Class Showdown: Singapore Airlines vs. Cathay Pacific

In recent years, I’ve been fortunate to have flown First Class on both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, which are generally included in the conversation of the best First Class products in the marketplace today. But when I think back and try to compare the two, it’s actually been kind of hard to do. The main reason is that there’s always been a long, sometimes over a year, gap between my flights. So it’s sort of like trying to compare this year’s birthday to last – even if you had pretty much done the same thing, it’s still hard to determine which was definitively “better”.

But during this trip I’d truly have an opportunity to get a head-to-head comparison of the two, since I would be flying equivalent ultra long-haul flights on both airlines in the same 24-hour period. And I made sure to use this chance to keep a running tally of the pros and cons of each. Here’s a summary:


On paper, two numbers alone could probably settle this category, 6 and 8. Those were the number of seats that Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, respectively, put into their Boeing 77W First Class cabins. Therefore, the math is pretty simple, fewer seats = more space per seat.

The Cathay seat actually felt more like a suite, with an angled design that provided a small entryway into the seat and some extra space to stretch out. I also liked how the storage space for small personal items was easily accessible while seated.

cathay pacific first class hong kong to new york first class seat

The Singapore seat was definitely nothing to sneeze at, and provided more than enough legroom. However, the forward-facing design meant that I had to lean forward to access all of the storage space. Another quirk was that the seat had to be flipped in order to covert into the bed, which required assistance from the flight attendant each time and somewhat limited the flexibility of switching between sleeping and lounging.

singapore airlines first class san francisco to hong kong new seat

Overall, I just felt that the Cathay seat was more comfortable than the Singapore version. It’s worth noting that I do have a personal preference for cloth seats, which admittedly may have factored into the equation.

Winner: Cathay Pacific


The edge goes to the Ferragamo-branded amenity kit provided by Singapore Airlines over the Aesop-branded version provided by Cathay, both in terms of the bag itself, but also the contents inside.

singapore airlines first class san francisco to hong kong amenity kit

cathay pacific first class hong kong to new york aesop amenity kit

However, Cathay redeemed itself with the PYE-branded pajamas which are simply the best that you’ll ever receive on a flight. In addition, they still provided a voucher which was good for either a free gift or a discount at PYE stores. In the past, that free gift has been a box of very high-quality pocket squares.

cathay pacific first class hong kong to new york pye pajamas

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Technology/In-flight Entertainment

Singapore’s technology made Cathay’s seem like its from the stone age. Singapore’s 23-inch television screen had incredibly sharp resolution, and the newly refurbished seats had seat buttons that were intuitive to use and electrical chargers that were well placed in easy to find locations.

ingapore airlines first class san francisco to hong kong tv screen

singapore airlines first class san francisco to hong kong seat controls

I’m not even sure that you could categorize Cathay’s screen as “high-definition”, and I wasn’t a fan of the design which required the screen to swivel in and out.

cathay pacific first class hong kong to new york tv screen

Another point on the IFE went to Singapore, who’s Krisworld entertainment system had a much larger selection of movies to choose, including several of the latest blockbusters. On my Cathay flight I was resigned to watching the latest The Transporter movie that Jason Statham couldn’t even be bothered to show up for, and then watched Anne Hathaway boss around Robert De Niro for two hours in The Intern.

Winner: Singapore Airlines

Food and Beverage

Overall the food on Cathay Pacific was simply in another league compared to what was served on my Singapore flight. Not to make excuses for Singapore Airlines, but it’s worth noting that my after-midnight Singapore flight just offered a supper service compared to a full dinner service, and it was catered by the San Francisco outpost station vs. Cathay’s home base of Hong Kong.

The quality of the food on my previous Singapore flights has usually been very good, but something was just off about the food served on this particular flight. Each piece of “lobster” was the same exact shape and looked like they had come out of a tube or can. I was already suspicious based on the look of the dish, and after a couple of bites, judging by the rubbery texture I was almost 100% positive that this was not real seafood.

singapore airlines first class san francisco to hong kong lobster

That was contrasted against the truly spectacular Chinese meal I had on my Cathay Pacific flight, capped off with my first time trying Banoffee pie, which I’m still completely obsessed with.

cathay pacific first class hong kong to new york banoffee pie

Winner: Cathay Pacific


Tie. The service was superb on both flights, and of the highest quality that you’d expect from an Asian airline.

Overall Winner: Cathay Pacific

While Singapore’s technology and in-flight entertainment were better, at the end of the day, you don’t pick an airline for the quality of the TV and the selection of movies. Cathay Pacific’s superior seat, amenities, and food make this decision a no-brainer in my mind.

For those of you that have flown First Class on both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, who’s your favorite?


  1. Thanks for the article. I enjoyed reading your comparison. I flew SQ First Class SFO -SIN round trip last March and will be flying CX First next March. I am looking forward to seeing how I think they stack up.
    Except for the lobster, which I agree is lousy, I thought all the other SQ First meals I had were very good. The service of course was exceptional.
    I did not care too much for the SQ pajamas and am looking forward to trying the CX pajamas.

  2. Just curious. Read the full reports on the two transPac flights but you failed to mention SQ’s PJs. While I know the PYE ones on CX are very nice (and light cotton), I’ve had quite nice PJs on my SQ F flights which are more suitable as exercise outfits than PJs. These were supplied by Givenchy, also cotton but of a heavier variety.

    1. Singapore recently changed their PJ’s and they are no longer Givenchy-branded. But the new version still feels about the same, and it may be personal preference, but I just haven’t found them to be that comfortable. Most of my SQ ones also disintegrated after just a couple rounds through the washing machine.

  3. The Pye voucher is a discount of 500HK. That is quite significant. We purchased 3 shirts and the overall cost, with 2 vouchers, was about 85 USD. The vouchers brought the cost of 2 shirts to about 10USD a piece. Pye shirts, which are organic cotton, are very soft and comfortable. The sales women are wonderful. Sizes are Asian, so for US folks, you have size upwards. But the sales people are used to sizing for non-Asians. They didn’t have some of the sizes we needed, so they had a courier go to their warehouse, obtain the needed shirts and delivered them to our hotel. After we arrived home, we decided that we should have bought more shirts, because they are really comfortable.

    1. Do you recall the price of the dress or business shirts? Particularly looking at their collarless shirts when I pay a visit to the Shanghai shop. Assume only one CX voucher per item.

      1. @DavidB

        I am unsure about the voucher’s value in China. I think you can assume it would be close to HKD amount. DRESS shirts in HK were about 150 USD. I think you assume that only one voucher per item would be honored. Without the vouchers, I don’t think we would have purchased any PYE shirts. So in the marketing scheme, these vouchers got us in the door.

  4. The HK$ and RMB are about the same vis a vis the US$, about US$100. I believe there’s a bit extra value in RMBs, though only a dollar or two. But thanks, that means the shirt I’m interested in is likely about U$50 after using one of my vouchers. The one I got the other day is good until something like 2025, so I’m in no rush to use it. The one I’d use expires this November so do want to get something, and if not the shirt, then the hanky pack (if that’s still given out).

  5. unless you simply got lucky with finding Cathay first class reward ticket on the day you needed, what was your strategy in obtaining one?
    1. did you book business class (that is much easier to find) and then upgraded a few days prior to departure (when Cathay usually releases more first class seats)?
    2. or did you take that risk of booking only a few days before the departure?
    if you follow strategy #1, which miles would be better to use – Alaska or American? which airline charges you more for upgrade or makes upgrade more complicated?

    1. Since I was only booking a couple weeks in advance, I had access to the F inventory from the start. Additional seats opened up over the course of the next week, and I even made a couple further modifications.

      My general strategy when booking further in advance is to take the best possible option I can find at that time, and continue to keep an eye on things up until departure to see if something better opens up.

      I’ve found both AA and AS to be very easy to make modifications – in this instance it was with AA. Each time, just took a 5 minute phone call to resolve.

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