Executive Traveller exclusive
Even a whispered rumour of changes to an airline’s loyalty program can carve fresh worry lines onto the faces of frequent flyers.
Paul Smitton, CEO of Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles business – whose remit also includes the Marco Polo Club – is understandably eager to tamp down such concerns following this week’s announcement the group will launch “a refreshed customer relationship programme in the first half of 2022.”
Talking exclusively with Executive Traveller, Smitton attests there’s no radical overhaul packed with sweeping changes to either Asia Miles or the Marco Polo Club from the traveller’s perspective.
Behind the scenes, Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club – which today exist as their own business units with their own mechanisms – will be brought together under the Cathay super-brand.
Bringing rewards and recognition together
“You can draw a Venn diagram with rewards on one side and recognition on the other side, but the overlap in the middle is quite large,” explains Smitton, who took the reins at Asia Miles in July 2018 after executive roles in the loyalty divisions of Qantas and Virgin Atlantic.
That overlap will vanish by mid-2022, with the seperate programs being integrated into the new and yet-to-be-named Cathay program.
Instead of needing membership in both schemes, there’ll be a single log-in which will also serve as the customer’s Cathay Pacific profile, with a ‘dashboard’ approach for managing miles and status in the one place.
“It’s about moving to a single customer program and a single customer profile so that one account can do it all,” Smitton says.
“This is a chance for us to simplify things and remove an unnecessary later of complexity.”
All Asia Miles and Marco Polo Club members will see their membership, miles, points and perks automatically transferred to the new Cathay program.
“Asia Miles won’t go away, it will still the currency you’ll earn and use for rewards,” Smitton says, “and those miles will accurate in your Cathay account.”
“But Asia Miles won’t be a program itself – what you’ll engage with won’t be Asia Miles (as a brand), but the Cathay brand which sits above it all.”
Smitton praises Asia Miles as “almost like a super currency” for the region.
In addition to dominance in Hong Kong “we’re already well advanced in the Taiwan market and the across the border to the Greater Bay market.”
“In fact that’s very interesting for us as Hong Kong and the Greater Bay become more integrated as a single market and we become much more connected with that region.”
Marco Polo Club
The fate of the Marco Polo Club as Cathay Pacific’s status and recognition brand is less certain.
“We haven’t decided that yet,” Smitton admits. “We haven’t decided what we are going to call the new Cathay member program… but there’ll be one program, and Marco Polo Club members will have status in that, so status and benefits are not going away.”
If anything, Smitton sees the integration of Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club as opening some new opportunities.
“I don’t think we are a million miles away today from where we need to be next year,” he says.
“Both programs have been around for 20 years and we’ve been tweaking and modifying them along the way.”
“Obviously in bringing the two together there will be opportunities where we can make them even better, but making the new program bigger and better is what it’s about, not taking things away.”
Spend your way to status
One of those new opportunities will be earning Marco Polo Club points – the means through which Cathay Pacific passengers climb the loyalty ladder, moving up the tiers from Green to Silver to Gold to Diamond – on the ground instead of in the air.
It’s a move which other airlines are making – especially with the pandemic cutting back on travel – and “it recognises there are other ways customers are important to us beyond flying,” Smitton reasons.
As a first step, three new credit cards launched onto the Hong Kong market in partnership with Standard Chartered can earn cardholders up to 100 Marco Polo Club points while they also build up a mountain of Asia Miles.
Other card-based perks which bridge the gap between spending and status include passes to Cathay Pacific business class lounges and complimentary Marco Polo Club Silver and Gold membership.
The cards also serve as a launchpad for the Cathay hero brand, which – sans ‘Pacific’ – takes pride of place on the front of the card, above the iconic brushwing logo, while the Asia Miles logo is now consigned to the card’s rear.
More Cathay, less Pacific
Get ready to see more Cathay and less Pacific in the months ahead, including the online shopping experience.
“We currently have the Asia Miles shop where you can spend miles and cash, and earn miles for buying things with cash, and a Cathay Pacific shop for airline merchandise,” Smitton says. Those will come together into a single “Cathay shop”.
Adopting that one word is the linchpin connecting the airline to the greater goal of a “premium travel lifestyle” ecosystem.
“When many people talk about Cathay Pacific they often just abbreviate it to ‘Cathay’,” Smitton relates.
“We thought that’s actually a great simplification of the brand which we can leverage beyond the airline itself, into a business opportunity for a wider engagement around what we see as a premium travel lifestyle brand (and) a single Cathay ecosystem.”