Cathay Dragon closes: what it means for Marco Polo, Qantas flyers

With some Dragon routes moving to Cathay Pacific, and others to low-cost HK Express, some flyers will fare better than others.

By Chris Chamberlin, October 22 2020
Cathay Dragon closes: what it means for Marco Polo, Qantas flyers

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.

Cathay Pacific highlights Manila's popularity as a business destination by offering a full Cathay Pacific lounge.. Supplied
Cathay Pacific highlights Manila's popularity as a business destination by offering a full Cathay Pacific lounge.
Supplied

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.

Travellers flying Cathay Pacific, rather than Cathay Dragon, would continue being rewarded as before.. Supplied
Travellers flying Cathay Pacific, rather than Cathay Dragon, would continue being rewarded as before.
Supplied

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.

Book a flight on HK Express, and there's no serve of frequent flyer points, or status benefits.. DepositPhotos
Book a flight on HK Express, and there's no serve of frequent flyer points, or status benefits.
DepositPhotos

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.

Read more: Cathay Pacific axes its Cathay Dragon regional arm

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.

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Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 327

Whether I was on a Cathay flight or a Dragon flight, it was all CX to me.

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 42

I hope HKG-WUX becomes a CX route rather than a UO route. Always preferred CX/KA from HK to Wuxi as my other options have always been Domestic Chinese airlines or Scoot via Changi. 

KA/CX doesn't fly to Wuxi, not yet at least. However, CX should use its new A321neo to initiate this HKG-WUX route. This route has more potential than NGB.

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 42

You're right, it was to Ningbo I always flew KA, not Wuxi! Haven't flown to China in so long that I'm mis-remembering things!

22 Oct 2020

Total posts 1

Just wondering why didn't they drop HK Express instead of closing down KA. Also, what if I will buy separate tickets from these two airlines will they merge it? For example SIN-HKG via CX and HKG-CRK (just an assumption that it is already operated by UO) will they merge these two tickets for a more seamless travel otherwise I will clear for immigration in HKG, retrieve my check-in baggage and do the check-in process again.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2018

Total posts 146

HK express is basically the only low-cost airline in Hong Kong, and so far the only really successful one. Meanwhile, KA and CX have great overlap in terms of product and staff that it isn't that hard to see them further integrated given the brand is already basically identical. 

05 Jul 2016

Total posts 22

Cathay may market some of the HK Express flights under their own CX flight number, as they planned with the HKG-CXR route, in which case you could book them on a single CX ticket, having luggage allowance included and even earn miles, tier points credit and lounge access if Marco Polo Club member. There should be no problem checking through from CX to UO, and hopefully it would also work in the opposite direction (though I would be surprised if it did not ;)). I hope they considered this, so the only disadvantage compared to KA/CX would be the actual flying on this airline with no service. Honestly I am more surprised that in an effort to save cost, they closed KA and get rid of their teams who reportedly worked under less lucrative contracts than their CX counterparts.

A very good summary, thanks Chris. I rely on Cathay Dragon for a number of ex-HKG routes and I'd hate to see some of those taken over by HK Express and leaving me without recognition of my MPC status or earning MPC points. I hope Cathay does something to recognise this is a potential downgrade for many travellers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2013

Total posts 12

One disadvantage, Cathay Dragon used LSG Skychefs (Lufthansa) rather than Cathay Pacific Catering, which explains why the catering on the Dragon was usually better than when flying on Cathay Pacific. In days past an economy early morning flight to Taipei on Cathay Pacific would be a warm savoury bun served in a paper bag, whereas on a Cathay Dragon flight at a similar time to the same destination a full continental breakfast was served.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2018

Total posts 146

It's not hard to imagine a future where a Jetstar esque approach is offered to frequent flyers of the MPC when flying on HK express with priority checkin, free baggage and lounge access. 

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 127

From what I have seen so far, using Asia Miles for HK Express isn't good value.


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