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With many jaded Qantas Frequent Flyer members now looking for greener pastures, one option worth considering is Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club.
Perks such as lounge access and priority check-in are available when travelling with Qantas, thanks to Cathay’s membership in the Oneworld airline alliance – making it a partner to the Red Roo.
Unlike Qantas Frequent Flyer, The Marco Polo Club is focused entirely on elite status and perks. For collecting and burning miles on flights and other activities, members link their account to Asia Miles, an unaffiliated offshoot.
Marco Polo benefits go beyond the airport – members are also eligible for free upgrades, Internet access, fruit platters and other amenities at participating partner hotels, and discounts and upgrades on care hire with Hertz and Avis.
Here’s what you need to know about The Marco Polo Club to make the program work for you.
NOTE: Significant changes to the Marco Polo Club take effect from April 15 2016. For more information on this changes, see this separate article.
Marco Polo 101
Through Oneworld, Marco Polo members can work towards elite status when flying with the likes of Qantas, British Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, and of course, Cathay Pacific itself.
Membership comes with a one-time joining fee of $US50, payable through the Cathay Pacific website, with no ongoing fees to keep your account active.
Instead, you’ll need to take a minimum of four flights each year, with at least one of those on Cathay Pacific or its sister airline Dragonair.
You begin to amass both ‘Club miles’ and ‘Club sectors’ when travelling – these are used solely to determine your membership level, and expire after every 12 months of membership.
These are commonly confused with ‘Asia Miles’, which are earned in partnership with the program of the same name and can be redeemed for flights and upgrades.
Marco Polo tiers
Benefits like priority check-in and boarding on Cathay Pacific flights come right off the bat, and as you begin to travel more, you’ll progress through Silver, Gold and Diamond status.
How quickly your tier improves will depend on the airlines you normally fly, and the type of ticket you book.
With Qantas, Marco Polo is best for frequent travellers in first class, business and premium economy. Only the more flexible economy fares earn any miles at all – be they ‘Club miles’ or ‘Asia Miles’ – and even then, the earning rates are halved for all but the most expensive tickets.
If your travels only take you domestically on the cheapest economy fare, you’ll find it near impossible to reach elite Marco Polo Club status. In that case, this isn’t the program for you.
On the other hand, if you fly in at least premium economy, slot in a minimum of one Cathay/Dragonair flight each year or use Oneworld’s broader network for economy travel on American Airlines, LAN, SriLankan Airlines, or US Airways, you’ll do quite nicely.
Marco Polo Silver
After pulling in 30,000 Club miles or 20 Club sectors over 12 months, you’ll move up to Marco Polo Club Silver – that’s the same as Oneworld Ruby status, or Qantas Silver. These members enjoy similar benefits as Greens, but they apply across Oneworld.
On Cathay Pacific, extra legroom seats can be had at no charge, but this perk doesn’t extend to the partner’s spouse or travel companions.
In that instance, we’d suggest choosing the most desirable seat for the Silver member (the aisle or window in a row of three), and placing the middle or less-desirable seat ‘on request’ for the partner.
If it remains unselected, you’ll both have extra legroom – and if not, you’re always free to select two other seats together elsewhere.
Access to Cathay Pacific and Dragonair business class lounges is available when travelling on either airline, but again, this perk isn’t extended to any companions.
Silver members are also entitled to priority baggage handling and an extra allowance of 10kg on Cathay/Dragonair flights, except for flights to and from the Americas.
Marco Polo Gold
You’ll step up to Gold after earning Silver twice-over – that’s 60,000 Club miles or 40 Club sectors.
In practical terms, that’s only two return business class trips from Sydney to London each year, along with a single return business class journey to anywhere in Asia.
Baggage allowances are boosted by 15kg on Cathay and Dragonair, or one extra piece if bound for the Americas.
Gold members also enjoy Oneworld Sapphire status – matching Qantas Gold – which comes with priority boarding and worldwide lounge access for the member and one travel companion.
(The priority boarding benefit doesn’t apply on Qantas domestic flights, where Qantas restricts this perk to Platinum and Emerald members.)
Guaranteed economy seats are available on every Cathay Pacific flight – including those that are already oversold – if booked at least 72 hours before wheels-up.
Marco Polo Diamond
At the top of the pecking order are Marco Polo Diamond members, having racked up at least 120,000 Club miles or 80 Club sectors over a twelve-month period.
The lofty heights of Diamond sees members welcome in all Cathay Pacific and Dragonair business and first class lounges with two guests in tow.
Oneworld Emerald status also comes with access to first class lounges and check-in counters worldwide, including the Qantas First Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne with two guests when flying with Cathay Pacific: over and above the benefits of Qantas Platinum.
When travelling with other Oneworld airlines – including Qantas from Sydney to Hong Kong – Diamond members are only permitted one guest.
Earning Club miles and sectors
Australian domestic flights
The number of Club miles and sectors earned on flights depends on where you’re sitting, and how much you’ve paid.
When flying in Qantas' business class between Sydney and Melbourne, you’d earn 548 Club miles in each direction along with 1.25 Club sectors. Even in business class, climbing up the Marco Polo status ladder isn't easy.
Down the back of the bus, it’s a mere 219 Club miles and 0.5 Club sectors on all Flexi Saver fares and most Fully Flexible tickets, with the exception of the expensive ‘Y’ class fare, which earns at double these rates.
Sale and Red e-Deal tickets earn zilch towards Marco Polo Club status, so you’re best to continue crediting those to Qantas Frequent Flyer.
Flights to Asia
Flights to Asia provide a slightly better opportunity to earn status, with the program geared to encourage travel on Cathay Pacific.
On a return trip from Sydney to Hong Kong, you’d amass 9,184 Club miles and two Club sectors on all economy fares if flying with Cathay.
Tempted to jump on the Flying Kangaroo’s A380 before they disappear to Dallas? You’d only earn 4,592 Club miles and one Club sector on the return trip, which is again not ideal.
In both cases, you need to be travelling on the more expensive fares, which again makes Qantas Frequent Flyer more attractive for travel with Qantas.
Things are much peachier for business class passengers, with 11,480 Club miles and 2.5 Club sectors headed their way from a return trip with either airline.
Flights to Europe
A return sojourn from Sydney to London on QF1/2 would see business class passengers picking up a total of 26,432 Club miles and 2.5 Club sectors.
If breaking the journey in Dubai, that jumps to 5 Club sectors – calculated as 1.25 sectors for each completed flight.
It’s a similar story if travelling to Heathrow on Cathay via Hong Kong, although as each flight has a different flight number, you’d earn 5 Club sectors whether stopping over or flying through.
On the same QF1/2 return voyage, it’s just 10,574 Club miles in economy. Despite sitting through four take-offs, you’ll also accrue only one Club sector.
Via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific economy, both of those figures double – and in either case, it’s again only the more expensive fares that earn anything at all.
In short: if you regularly travel forward of economy or only ever travel on flexible fares, Cathay Pacific’s The Marco Polo Club is worth exploring. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort.
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