Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club: Elite Program Restructuring Unveiled – Changes Effective 15 April 2016

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Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club has now unveiled their planned program restructuring which will shift the focus more towards revenue in order to obtain frequent flyer status.

MP Changes

With this, Cathay Pacific is following a trend among frequent flyer programs to reward those the most who pay the largest amount of money on their tickets while reducing the benefits for those passengers on cheap tickets.

As your primary source to read into all of this in detail you should refer to Cathay Pacific’s own website for Marco Polo Club members (access here).

As the Cathay Pacific network continues to grow, so does the need to evolve the Marco Polo Club. New cabin products and additional routes, in particular ultra-long and ultra-short ones, mean that the way members earn status no longer accurately reflects their contribution to the airline. To meet the changing needs of our members, we have looked at ways to provide better, more flexible benefits, and to enhance the overall membership experience for our travellers. Starting 15 April 2016, we will be changing to a new points-based system, which will change the way you earn status and are rewarded.

The language is pretty clear. Especially this bolded sentence which Cathay calls ‘contribution to the airline’ is nothing else but a definite ‘no money, no honey’ announcement.

New Ways To Earn Status Credits

Under the new points-based system, you will be able to earn faster in premium classes, and with more eligible fare classes on Cathay Pacific and Dragonair than before.  This is a more balanced approach towards rewarding members across all club tiers. You will continue to earn and redeem Asia Miles as you do today.

Let’s have a look what that actually means in real life. This chart shows how many tier points are needed in order to achieve status under MP’s new scheme.

MP Tiers

As far as I have been told the counter resets every time you reach one level (hard to believe but who knows…) and this would make it VERY hard to get to Diamond in one year.

Anyway, to decipher what these hurdles actually mean in terms of flying activity we refer to the published charts for each individual oneWorld airline, beginning with Cathay Pacific themselves.

MP Chart

You see a similar pattern to what British Airways Executive Club has in place. Higher points per flight segment depending on your booking class measured on the flight distance. The distance barriers are much different though, however if you are flying business class on routes above 2,751 miles you will still do ok and it’s relatively easy to achieve Marco Polo Status, especially if you have a connection to/from secondary airports in Asia beyond Hong Kong.

But if you look on the bottom part of the chart you will see where the changes will hit very hard. Economy Class travel! Especially the lower booking classes will earn almost nothing anymore as far as status credits are concerned.

Consider this: A cheap Economy Class flight up to 3,700 miles (thats 8-9 hours of flying) nets you a whopping 5 status credits. To get to lowly Silver Status you would need 60(!!) of such flights.That’s 222,000 flight miles or 165,060 if you do the absolute (impossible) minimum of 2,751 miles per flight. This horror marathon in Economy would get you SILVER. Of course you can also achieve that with 60 short hauls within Asia that are not even near that flying distance but still you see where this is going.

Examples of some popular flight routes in miles:

HKG-LHR 5.990, HKG-LAX 7.255, HKG-JFK 8,066, HKG-NRT 1.839.

Interesting is that you earn substantially MORE base points for cheap Economy Class flights on partner American Airlines on very long flights such as HKG-DFW.

MP AA Chart

The flight from Hong Kong to Dallas-DFW is 8,116 miles long and would earn 40 Club Points in AA’s cheapest booking class while a flight the same length on Cathay Pacific to JFK only earns 10 points.

It’s pretty obvious to say that the times for Economy Class travellers to credit their Miles to Marco Polo Club or Asia Miles are pretty much over if they intend to go for status. And I’m not even talking yet about their horrible redemption rates.

For Premium Class travellers on the other hand this might become a real gravy train. Not only did Cathay give them an incentive of crediting these flights to Marco Polo but there are now also some instruments in play that allow Gold and Diamond Members to upgrade their flights. Those are called ‘Mid Tier Benefits’ – Incentives for those member who exceed their required hurdle of Club points.

Gold Members enjoy:

1,000 club points: Four Bookable Upgrades
You will be eligible to earn four single-sector Bookable Upgrades to one cabin class up for yourself and travel companions on qualified flights at 1,000 club points.

Diamond Members receive:

1,600 club points: Four Bookable Upgrades
You will be eligible to earn four single-sector Bookable Upgrades to one cabin class up for yourself, your travel companions, or anyone you have designated as a member of your redemption group at 1,600 club points, providing you with the flexibility to discover more and travel better.

As well as another candy short after

1,800 club points: A Complimentary Companion Gold Membership
You will be able to gift a Companion Card to a family or friend with a complimentary 12-month Gold-tier membership to the Marco Polo Club.

There were some negative changes in the booking guarantee for seats on Cathay Pacific.

Gold Members will continue to be able to book a guaranteed seat in Economy Class with at least 72 hours’ notice on reservations booked with a Y fare class ticket. Diamond Members will also be able to book a guaranteed seat in Business, Premium Economy, or Economy Class with at least 24 hours’ notice on reservations booked with a J, W, or Y fare class ticket.

Conclusion

The results of these changes are pretty obvious and outline that more and more programs are going back to their roots of trying to reward good [read: big spending] customers. While that is absolutely right and justified I’m not so sure if at the same time they should completely abolish and neglect the loyalty of those who fill the back of the cabin. Many companies these days have ‘Economy Only’ travel policies and those business travelers will not be happy.

I suggest those negatively effected travellers to have a look at other programs such as British Airways Executive Club (short haul Business Class tickets make it very easy to achieve oneWorld Emerald status) or American AAdvantage. Keep in mind that most oneWorld programs require you to fly at least 4 segments per year on their own aircraft or designated codeshares.

You might also want to check if the American Express Platinum Charge Card in your country of residence comes with Marco Polo Gold Status (Canada has this feature available and I think Australia as well).

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