Since I started reading blogs such as Head For Points and the Flyer Talk forums I've since collected hundreds of thousands of miles, but very few of them came from actually flying. Most were from churning credit card signup bonuses (what would be called "bonus whoring" in the online poker world) and various other offers that have come up from time to time.
I've previously written about some of the excellent miles redemptions that I've made for Business Class flights in the last couple of years:
Bangkok to Istanbul with Malaysia Airlines
The cash price for the same ticket was $12,670 USD (£10,315 GBP).
Without getting into the miles collecting hobby I'd never have the opportunity to fly this route in First. Even if I won the lottery I still wouldn't pay that much cash for one flight.
My flight was at 00:40 but there was no point in getting a hotel room for that night as I knew how good the Cathay lounges at HKG were. Instead I went out in Hong Kong for some afternoon shopping and noodles before heading to the airport at 6pm.
I arrived at the airport 6 hours before takeoff. I checked in was fast-tracked through exit immigration and security in just a few minutes. A breeze.
I was directed to go to Cathay's new First Class-only lounge 'The Pier' but I had done my research and first headed to 'The Wing', which has both Business Class and First Class sections. My reason for going there first was the excellent private cabanas in the First section.
The cabanas have a large bath, shower and sofa. It was a good place to relax and wash up after an afternoon getting sweaty walking around humid Hong Kong.
In most lounge or flight trip reports that I've read on the internet, the bulk of the article is usually about all the premium alcohol that's served. However, I'm a sober Scotsman and as much as it pained me to pass up the value of all those expensive champagnes and single malts I was determined to make up for it with another vice - binge eating.
Binge eating is all the more enjoyable when everything is free.
I visited The Wing's restaurant in the First section where there was a small buffet of quality grub and an A La Carte menu with 5 options. I don't often get the chance to order the whole menu in a restaurant so I ceased the opportunity and ordered all 5 dishes. The waitress acted as if that was unusual. She's obviously never seen me eat before.
The dishes were Lamb Stew, Pan-Fried Salmon Fillet, Hokkien Shrimp Fried Noodles, Slow Roasted Chicken, Mushroom Risotto with Scented Truffle.
It was all top quality nosh but as you can see, the portions were small. Not that I was complaining, as I planned on doing more eating when I got to The Pier.
I had a half hour walk around the airport as I tried to build up an appetite for more free food.
When I arrived at The Pier I walked straight past the bar....
..... and went straight to the restaurant.
The restaurant, which was beautifully laid out with a relaxed atmosphere, only had two other's eating there so the service was very fast.
The menu at The Pier contained everything I ate at The Wing, plus a whole lot more.
I didn't think I'd be able to eat the whole menu this time, but I'd certainly be able to put a big dent in it.
I started off with Pan-seared Canadian Snow Crab Meat with Pepper Aloi.
I bit through the crispy outer layer into some tender and delicious crab meat, and finished the tiny portion in about 10 seconds. I could have ate about 50 plates of the same. I wonder how they would have reacted if I asked for 50 plates, alas it was a better idea to sample the rest of the menu.
Next up was another starter, Yakitori Beef, which I asked for medium-rare and was cooked perfectly.
Followed by some Wok-fried Clams.
Followed by Wok-fried Beef Tenderloin.
Followed by the Angus Beef Burger with Truffle Mayonnaise. I'd heard about how good this was and it more than lived up to it's high expectations.
There was only a few items on the menu that I hadn't tried but after the burger I was feeling pretty stuffed.
So it was onto dessert. I always have room for dessert.
First was Poached Pear in Almond Syrup, which was served hot, along with a Vanilla Panna Cotta.
Both were excellent. In fact all the food was excellent, with The Pier's menu being a step above The Wing's. I wished that I had room for more, but all I could reasonable manage at that point was the Fruit Plate with Mango Sorbet.
After all that eating I booked myself in for a complementary foot massage. There was a 30 minute wait so I was given a wireless disc that would buzz when my massage was ready.
Feeling that I was slipping into a food-induced coma, I booked a day suite to have a nap.
The day suites are quite small and are really just a large sofa bed and table. They're nowhere near as impressive as the cabanas in The Wing. They are very comfortable and quiet and have a good view of the runway though.
30 minutes later I was woken up by the buzzer as my foot massage was ready.
The massages lasted 20 minutes. Having spent a lot of time in Thailand and having dozens of foot massages, I'd say that this one was below par, maybe a 4/10. The masseuse didn't put much effort into it at all. A massage has to be strong otherwise it's just a waste of time. It was very late and perhaps she'd been working all day.
After my massage I found a room full of cheese and fridge full of desserts and suchlike in jars.
I grabbed a jar of Mango Mousse and two jars of Coconut and Red Bean Pudding and relaxed in the computer room until my flight was ready to board.
It was my first time using an Apple computer since I was in High School so it took me a while to get used to the one button on the mouse.
On the plane the First Class cabin had just 6 seats. There were 4 customers, including myself, and 2 flight attendants looking after the cabin so service was excellent.
This is what the seat looked like:
The TV swings out so you can have it in front of you, and behind that is a large storage area with hangers.
Suffice to say it was the most comfortable I've been on a 13 hour flight.
Immediately after takeoff we were served caviar and champagne. I turned down the champagne in favour of a delicious mocktail. I still had a belly full of food but there was no way I was turning down the caviar.
Straight after that they wanted to serve supper. We'd been in the air less than an hour but it was after 1am already. I told the attendant that I was pretty full after eating everything in the lounge and she asked "oh, so you'd like to skip supper?".
I manned up and took my supper, choosing the Modern Hong Kong Menu.
A starter of pork belly salad rolls and a shredded duck soup went down an absolute treat.
Followed by an incredible main of Maine Lobster Ma Po Tofu.
I'd put that on par with the Angus Burger as being the best thing I ate that day.
Dessert was a sweet broth made with Longan, Foxnut and Golden Osmanthus, with a slice of Mango and Coconut Glutinous Rice Roll.
The Glutinous Rice Roll was incredible and reminded me of the similar ones I'd been eating at a Dim Sum restaurant in Hong Kong.
Feeling myself about to slip into another food-induced coma I went to the bathroom to wash up, while the flight attendant converted my seat into a bed. I was provided with a wash bag full of Aesop (an expensive Australian brand) products and some comfortable pyjamas.
No problem falling asleep on this flight.
After suffering through many overnight flights in economy in the past I really appreciated the level of comfort I had right then.
After a long sleep I woke up to a Dim Sum breakfast.
Along with a fruit salad, basket of pastries and a delicious Hong Kong Milk Tea.
And that was my First Class experience, comfort and food, and comfort food. We landed in Milan, Italy, with my Avios balance 120,000 miles lighter and me about 1 kg heavier.
I wish that I could travel like that all the time but it'll take me a while to earn more miles. I'm currently working my way through an American Express signup bonus and have been buying things for other people and having them give me the cash in order to hit the spend requirement on the card.
That might seem like a lot of hassle to most people but the end result is worth it - believe me.