Delta vs. Cathay Pacific Business Class. Which is better?

In the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of flying both Cathay Pacific and Delta international business class.  Which was better?  The answer may surprise you.  

Cathay Pacific

As I described in the post “So Long Alaska, and Thanks for All the Fish,” my family and I flew Cathay Pacific on an overnight flight from Vancouver to JFK in August.  We spent 25,000 British Avios points each for the one-way trip.

This is a picture of Cathay Pacific’s amazing seats.  To see more, view this interactive page. There, you can play with the seat controls and rotate the seat around for a better view.


My take:

  • Seats: Amazing.  Due to the privacy of the herringbone style seating, as long as I was seated I felt like I was alone in my own mini suite.  This, along with the fully flat-bed, made it possible to get to sleep easily.
  • In Flight Entertainment: Excellent.  Every seat came equipped with comfortable Bose headphones and 15″ screens.  Movie selection was very good.
  • Food: Good, but not great. 
  • Service: Disappointing.  Mostly, service was good, but I had to ask three times for an amenity kit that had been automatically distributed to all other business class passengers.  I really wanted those eyeshades!



Last week, my family flew Delta business class from Detroit to London, and then returned to Detroit a week later.  We spent 100,000 Delta SkyMiles each for the round trip flight.  Delta has several different international business class configurations.  We flew the Boeing 767-400.  Seats are depicted here:

This is a picture of Delta’s 767-400ER flat bed business class seats found on flights to and from London Heathrow.  Watch this video to get a great sense of the experience.  Hat tip to DeltaPoints for digging up the video.


My take:

  • Seats: Very good.  The seats didn’t compare well to Cathay Pacific’s in terms of spaciousness and privacy, but were otherwise excellent.  The seats actually included a built-in massage capability, but sadly it didn’t feel very good at all.  I kept the massage off for the trip.
  • In Flight Entertainment: Excellent. Every seat came equipped with comfortable noise cancelling headphones and 10.6″ screens. Movie selection was excellent.
  • Food: Excellent.  The primary meals were multi-course affairs with appetizers, mains, choice of rolls and bread, and a choice of desserts.  If I were to be picky I’d say that the salad was a bit too cold, and the chicken was a bit on the dry side.  Otherwise, the food was really amazingly good.
  • Service: Excellent.  Service was fast, courteous, and plentiful.


Which is better?

Lucky calls Cathay Pacific’s new business class a “huge winner.”  And, I don’t disagree.  The seats are amazing and have spoiled me for other flights.  That being said, while the Cathay’s food and service was good, Delta’s food and service was excellent.

For the overnight flights, I had no trouble sleeping in the Cathay Pacific seat, but I did have trouble on the Delta flight.  I think the difference was mainly with the privacy.  On the Delta flight, seats were pretty wide open to the rest of the cabin, so I felt like I was trying to sleep in a room full of people (which I don’t do too often).  With Cathay Pacific, on the other hand, the seats were so private that I felt like I was in my own little room, and so was able to sleep well.

I would very happily fly either of these again at any time.  Both were great experiences.  If I could choose, though, I would fly Delta for daytime flights (for the slightly better food and service) and Cathay Pacific for overnight flights so as to get better sleep.  I know that Delta offers herringbone style seating on some flights, so I’m eager to to try those as well.

By the way, I’m not usually a big fan of cannoli’s but I got one on the Delta flight and it was amazing.  I can’t wait to get one again!

2012-11-23 10.44.50

Delta dessert selection


2012-11-23 10.45.45

I made the right choice.  This Delta cannoli was fantastic.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. The difference (and it is huge) is that Cathay offers a F class as well, while DL does not. I have also been on both and I think the opposite is true, even though C on Cathay is not as good as F for service.

  2. “I know that Delta offers angled clamshell seats on some flights, so I’m eager to to try those as well.”

    Eager in the sense of morbid curiosity, right? Flat beds only for me, please! My thoughts on flat beds are that all are about equal, since I do often sleep in a room full of people.

    To me the bed is the most important factor in the desirability of a product–over 90% of what I care about. Food, drink, entertainment, and service are pretty unimportant to me for various reasons. But of course to each, his own.

  3. Heh sorry,

    this post is kind confusing. You said the answer( winner) will surprise me but i see no mention of a clear winner from your end?

    1) cathay is the winner because you had a better sleep?
    2) Delta is the winner because you had a better food?

    • Gerald: Good point! Most people would assume that Cathay Pacific would always be the best choice over Delta (at least if you get the new style seats on Cathay like I was in). However, I found that for daytime flights I would prefer the Delta option. So…

      Daytime flight winner: Delta;
      Nighttime flight winner: Cathay Pacific

  4. Wow. This is your first travel post in a while; I take the opposite view on this one. (your regular content, however, is extremely helpful!)

    Most of the differences between dl and cx are indeed subjective, but I haven’t seen a DL review this positive in ages.

    The quality of Delta’s international premium cabin catering is weak, at best. While CX may not be over the top, I find their offerings to be consistently of higher quality. Cx’s J seats are also more spacious and private – more comfortable day or night – than the staggered J that you had on the delta-operated flight.

    • Tom // Sit in first: Obviously this review was based on very few flights so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I have an opposite experience on future flights. That being said, I can assure you that the Delta catering was far from weak. As to seat comfort, I didn’t see much difference when not trying to sleep, but I agree completely that it is a totally subjective and it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that others feel otherwise.

  5. As far as fly with other family members… Do you get the sense that you are not flying with them since the seats are so private?

    • patrick: Its funny that you should mention that. Yes, on Cathay it was hard to see or speak with my family at all (which could be bad or good depending on your situation!), but with Delta it was much easier.

  6. I don’t think this is a fair comparison. The flight from Vancouver to JFK is a short redeye flight, while Detroit to London is longer and have more time to enjoy a flight. Just wondering, why not use AA miles and have a free stopover?

    • romsdeals: It’s true that the redeye from Vancouver to JFK was shorter than the redeye from DTW to LHR, but they both had similar amounts of catering (dinner at night, breakfast snack in the morning) so I felt like it was a reasonable comparison. I’d be interested to see if a daytime flight on Cathay in business class has better service (although I’d rather pick first class if it was available).

      I didn’t use AA miles because I value AA miles more than BA points and I didn’t have many AA miles at the time.

  7. I flew Cathay business in October HKG-LAX and it was the best flight ever! Of course the seats are great, but so was the food, the service, and the IFE. I can’t wait to fly this product again!

  8. Is the Vancouver to JFK flights on Cathay Pacific always on that plane with these business class seats? Is it only a red eye flight or is there another one during the day with different plane/business class seat? What and how many miles did you use for this flight? I am looking at that as an option next year after my Fairmont/Banff&LakeLouise trip!

    • TravelBloggerBuzz: Yes, I believe that the Cathay Pacific flight between Vancouver and JFK is always on that plane with those biz class seats (as far as I know, anyway). It is only a red eye. JFK to Vancouver is awkward because you arrive at something like 2:30 in the morning. That’s why I chose to go the other direction and arrived JFK at 6 or 7 in the morning if I remember right. 25K Avios one-way.

  9. I like the DL seat when you have the staggered configuration where the seat is next to the window and the table (huge armrest?) is next to the aisle. That feels fairly private. If you ask for an extra quilt, you can fashion a quasi-mattress that is quite comfortable.

  10. I have never flown Cathay, but I have to agree with you on the Delta flight. I took the same one from London to Detroit in business with my wife 2 weeks a go (50000 miles) and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent food, entertainment and service. I did not sleep because it was a 9:00 am flight but the seat was very, very good (besides the massage…ouch). Outbound I flew Air France from DTW to Paris also in business (50000 miles)Airbus 340 and I liked the Delta better.
    By the way, I think I live in the same place you do (AA). Lets meet for lunch one day.

  11. Yep, I agree with you, but thing is that Cathay Pacific is a Hong Kong airline and they might be better at Chinese Food (or Hong Kong food), and since you are an american, maybe you feel more comfortable with American food. Delta really does not do a good job in Chinese Food or Hong Kong food.

  12. Greg, good article. However, you failed to comment on the actual planes each of the airlines are using. Being in Detroit, I fly Delta a lot to Europe and South America. The 767 they use on most of these trips is old and tired. It I snot really a modern plane when it comes to air quality, lighting and most important on night flights, the noise level. On occasions I took Lufthansa or Canada and they use either A330 (Delta has a few), 777 (American) or even the 787 (Canada). They are so much more comfortable. Service and food varies from one flight to the next, even for the same airline.

    • Maybe that 767 didn’t seem so old and tired when Greg wrote this back in Nov 2012 :-D. Five years seems like an eternity with the speed at which technology advances these days, doesn’t it?

    • I agree! Even in this old article I said that I liked the seats way better on Cathay Pacific, and that I wouldn’t choose Delta for an overnight flight. And since then I’ve flown Delta across the pond DTW to LHR many times and have been increasingly disappointed: The seats and entertainment consoles do seem to have aged faster than they should have, or they use old aircraft than the one I happened to fly when I wrote this post. And the catering doesn’t seem as good anymore either.

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