Cathay Pacific overhauls Marco Polo Club frequent flyer scheme

By Chris Chamberlin, September 30 2015
Cathay Pacific overhauls Marco Polo Club frequent flyer scheme

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.

Use your lounge pass at Cathay Pacific's The Pier Business Class lounge
Use your lounge pass at Cathay Pacific's The Pier Business Class lounge

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.

Also read: Cathay Pacific exec: why it's time to revamp Marco Polo Club

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

To keep all conversation in one place, comments made by AusBT readers in a related Q&A thread have been moved here to the article proper.

Originally posted by TheRealBabushka:

Just had a look at their Club Points earning table and compared it to the Qantas Status Credit table.

Damn! CX is stingy!

Who in the right mind would stick with Marco Polo Club?

Originally posted by Rkwm:

After 24 years of top tier support to CX it will now end after examining the changes . It is appalling and uncompetitive .A " slap in the face " to years of support .I am bewildered by the impersonal email dispatched by the " Sales and Marketing Director", firstly the revisions are disjointed and obviously developed without consideration as there are too many open ended details and further it implies clearly that the revisions are of great benefit to supporters of the airline which is totally incorrect ver much the opposite.Glad QF are extending their service to HK. As of April 2016 I will offer no further support to CX .Stingy is polite!

Originally posted by moa999:

Certainly an 'enhancement'

The points required is very similar to QF SCs at each level (300/600/1200) (well QF renewal anyway), but the points earn is way below.

e. 0-750m (eg SYD-MEL) in J -- QF 40SC, CX 15points

   7500+m (eg SYD-LHR) in J - QF  280SC, CX 100/120points

   7500+m (eg SYD-LHR) in F - QF 420 SC, CX 140points

And they have followed QF in that any non-CX flight earns even less, albeit it is on all routes, not just selected ones

eg. actual QF SYD-LHR earn on CX is F 100pts, J 85pts.

Originally posted by KG:

What I do not have clear for myself  is the following (anybody out there that can explain?):

1. I earn Gold at 600 clubpoints, if I earn 400 clubpoints more I get 4 oneway sector upgrade (i.e. earn 4 upgrades with a total of 1000 clubpoints)

2. I earn Diamond at 1200 clubpoints, if I earn 400 clubpoints more I get 4 oneway sector upgrades (i.e. I earn 4 upgrades with a total of 1600 clubpoints).

I understand you will get the upgrade certificates when you start from scratch and work your way up at reaching Gold and subsequently hitting 1000 clubpoints and then if you earn Diamond and make the 1600 treshold, you get them again presumably. However, if you are a Diamond, will you get 4 upgrades when reaching 1000 clubpoints when you are trying to requalify, or only when you reach 1600 ?

Qantas - QFF Platinum

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 214

I'd like to thank Chris for deciphering the ins and outs of the MP Club, excellent work.


03 May 2012

Total posts 114

With HK being such a large commercial centre, CX must have a large amount of HK travellers doing massive amounts of travel in premium cabins. That is the only basis on which this is explicable. If QF had these status hurdles the First Lounge in Sydney would have tumbleweed rolling along the marble floors. 

10 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

Indeed there are lots of HK CX pax who travel very frequently - think of the finance-types who will fly to LHR or FRA or JFK in F just for a day or two of meetings, and do maybe three or four such trips every month.  On QF they would be earning something in the vicinity of 25K status-credits in a year.  I have no doubt that there are some QF customers who rack-up that many SCs, but it would only be a small handful. 

07 Jan 2014

Total posts 43

These changes benefit the F/J flyer (which is as it should be) - to keep Diamond a J class flyer LON-HKG now needs only 6/7 return trips in discount Business rather than the 9 they would use to need. 

What I don't undestand is this:

What is the competitive advantage that the Marco Polo Club offers, which would make members stick around?

For example:

QF: The Qantas domestic network and suite of services for the domestic market is unparalleled. This helps to maintain loyalty even when QFF is not the best value programme going.

SQ: Silkair has been intentionally kept out of the Star Alliance network precisely to ensure Krisflyer members, who require regional travel, remain loyal so as to benefit from the perks of elite membership. The inconsistency of SQ or MI metal used on regional routes forces Krisflyer members to stick around.

With Dragonair being a OW affiliate in its own right and the open nature of the Hong Kong market, it makes me wonder why the bar has been raised. Am I missing an angle here?

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

I'm not sure MPO has a competitive advantage in its own right after these changes - but I think CX still has a competitive advantage in that its product is excellent. And if you fly mostly CX or KA, then MPO still makes sense over other OW programmes.

I would still rate the new MPO above QFF. Sadly the routes I fly don't have any other competition.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 74

I actually wonder what these premium passengers are going to think after the changes have their effect. They are the ones currently complaining about lounge over crowding and they also love that diamond is so difficult to currently attain and enjoy the service that comes with this. 

Now there will be more diamonds so existing ones will get their nose put out of joint. 

at the same time, lower end passengers will desert CX for the cheapest fare so it's lose-lose for CX!

10 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

All the more reason for Cathay to build a Concorde room-style F-only lounge at HKG, and ASAP.   Like NOW, please.

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

I don't think there will be more DMs overall. There will be more DMs from regular J class travellers but fewer from Y and PEY travellers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Sep 2015

Total posts 3

I read on the CX website that it now costs US$100 per year in Marco Polo membership fees. Is this correct, is it now a yearly fee, or have I read it wrong? I paid US$50 to join about 3 years ago and I thought that it was a one off fee. 


11 Jun 2013

Total posts 12

Last week Cathay made me happy by announcing an additional flight to & from ADL each week.

This week they've screwed me over by _really_ chomping down on the value of flights. :(

The new points required for a tier are  old_miles_required/1000 .

Putting everything into mileage groups means I get much less benefit:  the 4,271 miles from ADL to HKG is worth 35 economy (Y) points-- that's about 20% *LESS*.  Even worse for layover economy (L) which is 30 points or 30% less.

HKG to AMS was 5,761ml ... now 45 points in Y - more than 20% less value.

... or in other words I have to fly 20-30% more to get the same level.

So much for ever reaching diamond, even by travelling 60% of my life.

If SQ wasn't so stingy with lounge access in SIN, I would dump CX immediately.  Now it looks like it will be a matter of who's best on the day.

I was CX Diamond for a few years and what I considered the best benefit was access to the first class lounge.

During my two years as diamond, I did not get one upgrade.

I got bumped down to Gold last year and Iwill look withinterest as to what happens with the new program.

I fly CX in preference to all other airlines, but if they start to make the program too difficult htne I will revert to flying on the cheapest carrier and be selective about CX travel.

Good example negative CX experience was my last trip MEL to HKG CX 178. On the midnight flight, Business had free seats but because I had already upgraded from Economy to Prem Economy, they would not allow a "double upgrade". It would have been good customer service for Gold Status to have been upgraded especially considering the flight was then delayed for more than 2 hours.

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