With Cathay Pacific shutting down its regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon this week – retaining Cathay Pacific as the group’s sole full-service airline, and Hong Kong Express Airways as its low-cost arm – the exit has implications for many travellers and frequent flyers.
This includes members of Cathay Pacific’s own Asia Miles and Marco Polo Club frequent flyer programs, as well as for Qantas Frequent Flyer cardholders and members of other Oneworld alliance schemes: here’s what you need to know.
Cathay Dragon dropped, routes change hands
With Cathay Dragon no longer taking to the skies, many of the routes it previously operated will be handed over to Cathay Pacific itself, while other destinations will become part of the HK Express network.
Some cities may also be dropped completely – not being taken up by either Cathay Pacific or HK Express: at least, in the short term.
Cathay Pacific is yet to release the full details of its network changes, including how routes will be distributed between its full-service and low-cost brands, although the airline has been approached by Executive Traveller for information.
Why the Cathay Pacific/HK Express split matters for travellers
For business travellers and other frequent flyers, the outcome of the switcheroo will significantly affect their journey.
Flights migrated from Cathay Dragon to Cathay Pacific would retain the same key benefits such as the ability to earn and spend points, having airport lounge access by way of elite status, and being able to earn Club Points or status credits on flights.
Routes swapped over to HK Express, however, would make for a far less glamorous trip: with Gold or even Diamond status not even covering priority check-in, let alone airport lounge access.
While travellers may have a choice between Cathay Pacific and HK Express on some popular routes, certain destinations may only be served by one airline or the other, which may even differ between cities in the same country.
Take the Philippines, for example, where Manila is currently served by Cathay Pacific, but Davao City is instead a Cathay Dragon destination.
The business appeal of Manila – the country’s national capital, a popular hub for global call centre operations, and the home of a suitably upmarket Cathay Pacific lounge – underscore its place as a Cathay Pacific full-service destination.
But look to Davao City, which has a much smaller population, and no own-brand Cathay Pacific lounge (merely a contract facility, as had been made available to Cathay Dragon passengers), and this could fit the profile of a route better-suited to low-cost HK Express than full-service Cathay Pacific.
Of course, and as above, Cathay Pacific is yet to reveal how its Cathay Dragon routes will be handled: but this illustrates how various cities may be assigned to one airline over the other.
Best-case scenario: a Cathay Dragon route goes to Cathay Pacific
Cathay Dragon passengers have long been treated the same as Cathay Pacific guests, so adopting a Cathay Dragon route into Cathay Pacific will see little noticeable change for frequent flyers.
For starters, there’d be no change to the earning of Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Qantas Points, or indeed, most other Oneworld frequent flyer points or miles, from the switch from Cathay Dragon to Cathay Pacific.
That’s because Cathay Dragon was an affiliate member of the Oneworld alliance, under its parent company Cathay Pacific – and so the earning of miles or points was structured in the same way as for Cathay Pacific.
This is also true of the earning of Club Points in The Marco Polo Club, status credits in Qantas Frequent Flyer, and the equivalent in other programs, where earning rates on Cathay Pacific mirror those of Cathay Dragon.
Furthermore, Cathay Dragon passengers were already treated in the same way as Cathay Pacific flyers when it came to frequent flyer perks like priority service at airports, lounge access, and excess baggage, so switching a route to Cathay Pacific would have no change here.
As well, Cathay’s Business Plus loyalty program for SMEs and corporates already recognised flights on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon in exactly the same way: so taking a Cathay Pacific flight, rather than a Cathay Dragon flight, sees no change in benefits or rewards.
Worst-case scenario: a Cathay Dragon route goes to HK Express
At the other end of the spectrum, Hong Kong Express is a low-cost airline, and doesn’t participate in frequent flyer programs, or provide status benefits, in the same way as Cathay Dragon.
For example, passengers cannot earn frequent flyer points on HK Express flights: whether that’s Asia Miles, Qantas Points, or miles in other Oneworld programs – nor can they earn Club Points in The Marco Polo Club, Qantas status credits, or similar.
There are also no frequent flyer benefits to be enjoyed on HK Express: so even those top-tier Marco Polo Club Diamond, Qantas Platinum or other Oneworld Emerald members join the back of the check-in queue when flying HK Express.
That is, unless a passenger purchases the ‘U-First’ bundle on HK Express, which provides those familiar perks like priority check-in, express boarding and priority baggage: but still, not lounge access, which HK Express doesn’t offer to any traveller.
Passengers can, however, book HK Express flights using Asia Miles (but not Qantas Points).
Asia Miles bookings: Cathay Pacific vs Hong Kong Express
While Asia Miles reward bookings on Cathay Pacific occur at a fixed rate based on flight distance, rewards booked on Hong Kong Express are instead tied to the commercial fare price on a given flight, which means the number of miles needed will vary from flight to flight.
This generally means that booking Cathay Pacific will provide more bang for your mileage balance, particularly on shorter routes where cash fares might be more expensive, but some longer flights on HK Express might provide good value too, when cash fares are cheap.
As an example, Asia Miles members could book a one-way Cathay Pacific economy class flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok or Japan for a flat 10,000 Asia Miles, as a Standard Reward – a figure that includes checked baggage, and provides access to status benefits for those eligible.
HK Express, on the other hand, currently charges from 7,289 Asia Miles from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and from 14,615 Asia Miles from Hong Kong to Japan: but, that figure increases when extras such as checked baggage, seat selection, and other add-ons are ‘purchased’: not to mention the absence of lounge access and other perks, for those eligible on Cathay.
While HK Express may become the only option going forward for some Asia Miles members, it’s clear that the winners in this shake-up will be travellers on routes absorbed into Cathay Pacific itself – not those whose regular routes are handed over to HK Express.