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Oneworld alliance member and Qantas partner Cathay Pacific will make sweeping changes to its Marco Polo Club frequent flyer scheme from April 15 2016, impacing how elite status is earned as well as the perks it provides.
It's a mixed bag, with an all-new points-based qualification system, a loss of ‘anytime lounge access’ privileges for Diamond guests but free confirmed upgrades for both Gold and Diamond members.
Here's how the changes will affect you.
Club Points replace Club Miles, Club Sectors
‘Club Points’ will become the new and sole determinant of Marco Polo Club status, superseding both ‘Club Miles’ and ‘Club Sectors’ as used today.
The number of Club Points you’ll earn in the air depends on the airline you’re travelling with, the class of service, your specific fare type and the distance of your flight.
For example, a return journey in Cathay Pacific business class between Sydney and Hong Kong would earn 170 Club Points on the higher-priced J and C fare types, or a lower 140 Club Points on the more affordable D and I fares.
In premium economy, you’re looking at either 90 or 70 Club Points, depending on your fare type.
Cathay Pacific, Dragonair flights earn more than Oneworld flights
As we saw of the wide-reaching Qantas Frequent Flyer changes in July 2014, the new Marco Polo system favours travelling with Cathay Pacific and Dragonair over its roster of Oneworld partner airlines.
Case in point: fly with Qantas on that same Sydney-Hong Kong return journey and you’d instead net 120 Club Points on any business class fare type down from either 140 or 170 Club Points on a Cathay Pacific aircraft.
Similarly in premium economy, you’d net 60 Club Points on a Qantas round-trip against 70-90 Club Points on Cathay Pacific.
Tier qualification rates increase
Retaining your existing status – or reaching a new one – will require you to either travel more frequently or book higher-priced fares.
Currently, Marco Polo Club Green can be retained each year with just four flights, such as Sydney to London and back via Hong Kong. That increases to 100 Club Points, earned on 2.5 return London trips on the cheapest earning economy fares or still one return on higher-priced tickets.
Silver is boosted from 30,000 Club Miles/20 Club Sectors to 300 Club Points – achieved on two business class return trips between Sydney and Hong Kong on the highest J and C fare types.
Similarly, Gold increases from 60,000 miles/40 sectors to 600 Club Points, or twice Silver.
Diamond is also migrated from 120,000 miles/80 sectors to 1,200 Club Points – double the Gold ratio. If Diamond members accrue a higher 1,800 Club Points in one year, they’ll also be given the chance to nominate a partner or friend for partner Gold status.
Club Miles and Club Sectors earned prior to the changeover will be adopted on a pro-rata basis, so if you had completed 80% of the necessary mileage to retain your status or move up to the next one, your Club Points total will adjust to reflect 80% of the new threshold.
Gold, Diamond get free upgrades
Earning 1,000 Club Points gets a Gold member four free one-way upgrades each year on ‘ultra-short’ to ‘medium’ Cathay Pacific and Dragonair flights, such as between Hong Kong and either Cairns, Dubai or across Asia.
Diamond members will also receive four yearly one-way upgrades on Cathay Pacific/Dragonair services, but which are valid to any destination: including from either Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth to Hong Kong: termed ‘medium-long’ routes under the revised program.
Each upgrade is valid to the next-highest cabin class – either economy to premium economy (or economy to business class where premium economy isn’t offered), premium economy to business class or business class to first class.
Diamond members lose anytime lounge access
Top-tier Diamond members have long enjoyed using Cathay Pacific and Dragonair business lounges when travelling with any airline, but that comes to a halt.
Instead, members must present a Cathay Pacific, Dragonair or Oneworld alliance boarding pass to access a Cathay Pacific first class or business class lounge, but can bring two guests in tow.
All tiers can earn lounge passes
Green members will gain a one-off Cathay Pacific lounge pass after accruing 200 Club Points, while Silver travellers get two more after hitting 450 Club Points: usable to ‘guest’ travel companions into the lounge when the Silver member already has access.
Two more business class lounge passes arrive at 800 Club Points for Gold-grade members, while Diamond guests unlock two first class passes of their own at 1,400 Club Points – again, useful to bring additional guests into lounges for members who already enjoy access on their own.
More economy fares will earn Club Points
Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club scheme has long favoured business class and first class passengers, although travellers stuck in economy catch a nice break with the cheaper S, N and Q fare types eligible for Club Points.
These fares currently earn no Club Miles or Club Sectors, which provides an opportunity for these guests to accrue elite status for the first time, or to help retain their existing membership tier.
Marco Polo Club Green fees increase
The joining fee for Marco Polo Club will double from US$50 to US$100, although the main benefits including priority check-in and priority boarding will remain for entry-level Green members.
Key benefits for the other tiers including lounge access for Silver-level members and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald lounge access for Gold and Diamond members also remain unchanged.
You can take a ‘membership holiday’
A short-term reduction in travel doesn’t have to lose your Marco Polo Club status: just take a ‘membership holiday’ for 12 months during the quiet times and you can return where you were before your break.
That’s particularly great for expecting parents or business travellers with newborns taking time off work and their business schedule to enjoy time with their new bundle of joy.
Speaking of children, the minimum membership age will also drop from 18 to 12, allowing your kids to earn Club Points on their holidays and qualify for lounge access and excess baggage benefits of their very own.
Guaranteed seats get more expensive
Travelling at the last minute when flights are already full will soon hit harder at the hip pocket, with ‘guaranteed seats’ for Gold and Diamond members increasing in price.
Economy seats will be restricted to Y fare types only – the most expensive economy ticket type – up from a midrange V fare at present, while business (available only to Diamond members) also hikes from being a second-tier C fare to the highest fare type, known as J class.
Guaranteed seats in premium economy remain fixed at the W rate for Diamond members: already the most expensive ticket type.
For more information, head to the Cathay Pacific website.
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