Cathay Pacific’s HK Express to charge fliers for carry-on suitcase option under new baggage policy

Cathay Pacific Airways budget airline HK Express will charge passengers more if they wish to travel with a carry-on suitcase, with the option no longer available to those flying on the cheapest fares under the carrier’s new baggage policy.

The policy took effect on Wednesday as part of an increase in the number of fare types from two to four.

HK Express said the move would give travellers more options, based on whether they wished to “travel light or be well-prepared for a journey”.

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“HK Express Airways (HK Express) has expanded our fare categories from two to four tiers, enabling customers to make flexible choices according to their travel needs and reduce unnecessary expenses,” the airline said.

“Our variety of flexible fare options allows customers who prefer travelling light to enjoy more affordable fares, and, if needed, purchase extra allowances for checked baggage and select add-on services.”

The airline said customers who booked their tickets on or before Tuesday are still entitled to the previous policy’s allowance of up to one small personal item and one piece of cabin baggage with a maximum weight of 7kg (15.4lbs).

The new fare categories are “Ultra Lite”, “Lite”, “Essential” and “Max”, with the main difference being the amount of carry-on and checked baggage allocated to passengers.

The Ultra Lite option, which is the cheapest fare, allows passengers to bring on one small personal item weighing less than 7kg. It must also fit under the seat of the passenger in front and not exceed a length of 40cm, width of 25cm or height of 20cm.

Under the Lite fare, passengers can bring one small carry-on item and a cabin suitcase with a combined weight of under 7kg. Fliers must pay extra for checked baggage.

Those in flying on an Essential fare can bring on one small personal item weighing no more than 7kg and a piece of checked baggage with a maximum weight of 20kg.

Max-fare customers are allowed one small carry-on item and a cabin suitcase with a total weight of under 7kg, plus one piece of checked baggage weighing 32kg or less.

Passengers check in for a flight to Seoul with HK Express in November of last year. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Cathay Pacific CEO Ronald Lam Siu-por said the new fare categories from HK Express came after the company took into account passengers’ needs and the practices of other airlines in the region.

“HK Express is the only low-cost carrier in Hong Kong. Its vision is to provide the most favourable ticket prices for Hong Kong passengers,” he told attendees at Cathay’s annual general meeting on Wednesday.

“When it sets its ticket prices, it will take into account the approach of other low-cost carriers in Asia, as well as our passenger needs.”

Lam said some passengers in the past had asked if HK Express could offer cheaper fares if customers refrained from bringing any checked baggage.

The airline CEO also discussed Cathay’s capacity target, saying the flag carrier was on track to reach 100 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the first quarter of next year.

The company had already reached 80 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity, a target that aligned with its goal for this year’s second quarter.

“Our progress so far has been very satisfactory. We are confident in meeting the target,” he said.

Cathay Pacific CEO Ronald Lam says the new policy factored in practices by other airlines in the region. Photo: Dickson Lee

Andrew Yuen Chi-lok, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Aviation Policy and Research Centre said the move would benefit the airline and customers, as passengers could buy tickets based on their actual needs, while the airline would enjoy smoother operations and more profits.

“I think the change would primarily mean that the airline can attract different types of customers,” he said, noting the measure would be particularly beneficial to budget airlines since their customers tended to be more sensitive about prices.

The academic said the method of fare segmentation used by HK Express was becoming more common among budget carriers due to increased competition, with price being a major factor.

Yuen said that in addition to the adjusted fare structure, the airline could consider expanding its coverage to second or third-tier cities in mainland China and around the world, as some traditional airlines lacked the resources to do so.

HK Express CEO Jeanette Mao told the Post in a past interview that the airline aimed to double the number of flights to the mainland over the next two years and increase its overall capacity by the end of 2024.

The company currently only flies to two destinations on the mainland, Beijing Daxing International Airport and Ningbo, with a third one to be announced soon.

Social media users expressed mixed reactions to the new baggage policy.

“It is already too much to not allow a suitcase onboard, honestly, you will not be able to carry a lot with 7kgs,” one user wrote.

“If they also change the policy to count checked-in luggage individually, I will just buy a ticket from a traditional airline.”

“I support this. I hope the ground staff will stringently enforce this policy,” another person wrote.

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