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Cathay Pacific

Always wish you could reserve your cheap seat early with Cathay Pacific? Now you can as airline changes economy class policy to offset losses from price war

Hong Kong’s biggest airline did not previously provide this option for the most discounted economy class fares and passengers had to wait until 48 hours before take-off to select a seat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 1:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 10:36pm

Cathay Pacific is to allow customers flying on the cheapest fares to reserve their seat for a fee of HK$150 (US$20) for regional flights and HK$300 for long-haul ones.

Hong Kong’s biggest airline did not previously provide this option for the most discounted economy class fares, and passengers had to wait until 48 hours before take-off to select a seat.

But there’s a catch – it will only apply to certain sections of the plane, according to an internal document seen by the Post. However, more parts of economy class could be available later, another document said.

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As the airline feels the pinch from a price war with budget carriers, mostly mainland Chinese and Middle East airlines, the document states explicitly the move is to “increase source of revenue to” Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon as a whole. 

The move is likely to be welcomed by passengers, who will get more choice, and the “peace of mind” that comes from being able to pick their preferred seat.

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Rival airlines have made similar moves in recent times.

Singapore Airlines, until January this year, offered all passengers seat selection free of charge regardless of the type of ticket or cost. The benefit was removed for those flying on the cheapest tickets and now the charge is up to US$8 for a regular seat. Emirates charges up to US$35 for a regular seat on similar cheap bookings.

Cathay will test the fees on flights to Perth, Manchester and Chicago “soon” according to a source familiar with the plan, likely to be as soon as this week for travel from May 31. 

A “progressive” roll-out on all other routes has yet to be determined.

In 2017, Cathay posted a smaller than expected HK$1.25 billion loss as the airline restructured in the face of stiff competition and structural challenges, including rising costs in staffing and fuel.

Dragged into the price war with rivals, the airline slashed ticket prices, meaning it has been earning less money to meet its soaring costs.

In recent months, Cathay has raised charges on a number of services to raise more money from ancillary items such as excess baggage, the cost of booking an extra legroom seat and allowing passengers to “bid” to sit in business class.

The airline also increased the cost of passengers booking its unaccompanied minors service to HK$800 from HK$500. The cost of booking an extra legroom seat went to HK$1,400 from HK$1,140.