Competition hots up for air travellers
FROM the skiing grounds of the Rockies in the northwest to the tropical Everglades in the southeast, North America offers plenty of attractions to keep people from Hong Kong going back for more.
More than 280,000 Hong Kong residents made Canada and the United States their first ports of call in 1992. Of this total, about 53 per cent went to the United States, with the remainder going to its northern neighbour.
But the latest figures show that the number of visitors to Canada is growing by more than 10 per cent, compared with the 1.5 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in the US.
Not surprisingly there is strong competition on the trans-Pacific route, as airlines battle to boost their share of the expanding market.
North American carriers flying from Hong Kong across the Pacific are Canadian Airlines International, United Airlines and Delta Airlines. Two others, Northwest Airlines and American Airlines, fly out of Tokyo's Narita airport.
Canadian has a daily non-stop service from Hong Kong to its hub in Vancouver, with an excellent connection to Toronto.
The airline flies Boeing 767-400s to Vancouver, a route on which a no-smoking policy is in place.
Vancouver and Toronto are the two Canadian cities which are most popular with visitors from Hong Kong. From these two gateways, travellers have access to an extensive airline network.
Canadian, together with its regional domestic airlines, has the largest route system linking more than 120 destinations stretching from Resolute in the Arctic Circle to Sault Ste Marie in Ontario.
With such a wide network and because of the great distances involved - which is true of most of the large North American airlines - an air pass is worth considering.
Hong Kong passengers who buy a return ticket on Canadian can take advantage of its Go Canadian Fares air pass.
This allows stopovers in up to eight destinations - C$436 for three cities in low season and up to C$774 for eight cities in high season - in Canada and the continental US.
Join the airline's frequent-flyer programme, Canadian Plus, and all that travel could translate into free air tickets, hotel accommodation, car rentals or - uniquely - points in the programme that can be donated to Canadian charities.
United has a daily non-stop service operating Boeing 747-400s from Hong Kong to the US West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
United's Visit USA air pass is available to residents of countries other than the US and Canada.
When bought along with a return ticket to Hong Kong, the air pass fares range from US$359 (HK$2,764) - three cities in low season - to US$759 (10 cities in peak season). The airline also has a frequent-flyer plan.
Delta offers three non-stop flights a week from Hong Kong to Los Angeles - on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday - and a North American network of more than 260 cities.
Northwest has daily flights from its Asian hub of Narita to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and New York.
Its USA Pass, which must be bought together with a return ticket to Asia, can be used to reach more than 200 destinations in the continental US and Canada from any of the gateway cities.
Economy prices range from US$349 (three cities in low season) to US$759 (10 cities in peak season), with surcharges for extending the pass to cover Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Caribbean.
Under Northwest's frequent-flyer programme, World Perks, points may be earned not only for flying with the airline but for staying at certain hotel chains such as the Hyatt, Marriott and Holiday Inn.
American Airlines also operates out of Tokyo and has flights from there to its three gateway cities: Dallas (daily); Seattle (daily); and San Jose in northern California.
The carrier, which claims to have the most extensive network in the US, has a Visit USA air pass which Hong Kong residents can buy even if they are not flying the trans-Pacific sector with American.