Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific boosts rewards for frequent fliers, even those in cheaper seats, to retain loyalty

Changes to Marco Polo Club programme also make it easier to remain a member, as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier consolidates its customer base amid restructuring efforts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 11:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 11:34pm

Cathay Pacific Airways will give frequent fliers, even those in cheaper seats, more rewards points per flight to fast track them towards premium travel perks, as the carrier consolidates its customer base amid an extensive restructuring of its business.

The latest tweaks to the Marco Polo Club programme take effect from December 8, some 18 months after the last revamp, which rewarded big-spenders over economy class and short-haul travellers.

Now, with more aggressive competition from full-service and budget carriers, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier will allow all loyal customers to move faster towards higher membership status, which gives them lounge access, larger baggage allowances and priority boarding, among other perks.

Cathay Pacific’s head of customer loyalty, in a statement on Friday, said: “We continue to improve our offerings to ensure the Marco Polo Club evolves to meet our members’ travel needs. The new club points will better reward our members so that their travel experience is enhanced and their loyalty recognised.”

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Cathay Pacific, recognised as one of the world’s best airlines, has seen its fortunes flag in recent times. It announced a HK$2.05 billion (US$256 million) loss in the first half of the year, and cut 600 jobs in May as part of a range of measures to steer it back to profitability. It also asked its pilots to accept pay freezes and changes in pension benefits.

Loyal Cathay Pacific passengers have been dissatisfied with the frequent flier programme. Previously they earned rewards points based on the cost of their flight, instead of miles flown or flights taken. This set-up made it harder for frequent fliers in cheaper seats to move up the membership tiers – which start at Green, then Silver, Gold and Diamond.

Frequent fliers in Cathay Pacific’s cheap seats face big let-down

In one example, most economy-class travellers to Taipei, Shanghai and Tokyo get five points per flight, which means being on 60 such flights to move from the Green to the Silver membership tier. With the upcoming change, most travellers would get an extra five to 10 points per flight from the economy cabin all the way to first class.

Economy and premium economy passengers on longer haul flights to London, New York City and Los Angeles will also now receive between 10 and 15 more points per flight.

While travellers who fail to earn enough points will be ejected from the programme or face an annual renewal fee of US$100, the upcoming change makes it easier for them to stay on as members. Green tier members just need to earn 20 club points in a year, instead of 100.

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Ellis Taylor of aviation journal Flight Global told the Post that the changes were “clearly aimed at gaining back” some of the trust and loyalty Cathay Pacific lost from the last revamp.

“The newest move ... will be welcomed by passengers, but I think from an investor perspective they will want to see other ways that the carrier will cut costs and boost its yields. Some cost cuts are coming through the phasing-in of the new Airbus A350s, but I think the carrier will need to work harder to keep its premium edge over its rivals,” Taylor, the publication’s Asia finance editor, said.

He added: “Given that Singapore Airlines, which is a major competitor to Cathay, unveiled new products that will go on its A380 fleet, Cathay clearly has a fight on its hands to maintain its premium offering, particularly in the lucrative business and economy class sectors.”