Cathay Pacific begins paid access to its airline lounges

10 Oct 2018 by Craig Bright
Cathay Pacific Lounge, Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport

Cathay Pacific has joined a handful of other airlines that have begun offering travellers the ability to pay to access its airport lounges. Marco Polo Club members are now able to pay a HK$600 (US$75) fee per visit using their credit card to enter its facilities in Manila, Melbourne and Vancouver.

A relatively small number of airlines currently allow passengers to pay in order to access their lounges. Emirates, for instance, introduced the practice last year for its lounges in Dubai, before expanding this to its facilities in London Heathrow and Gatwick later in the year.

Currently the offer only extends to three lounges: Manila Cathay Pacific Lounge near Gate 114 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport; Melbourne Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge at Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 2; and Vancouver Cathay Pacific Lounge by Gate D67 at Vancouver International Airport.

Business Traveller reviewed Cathay Pacific’s lounge in Manila earlier this year.

The pay-to-enter option also won’t be permanent, with the promotion currently running until March 31, 2019.

In order to be eligible, passengers must have a valid booking on a Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon-operated flight on the day of travel. The promotion is also open to travel companions, friends or family members – the HK$600 fee is per person – and isn’t restricted to the member’s Redemption Group.

There do also appear to be some restrictions on the types of credit cards that can be used to purchase access at these lounges, though according to Cathay Pacific’s website travellers must check with lounge staff at the time of payment in order to clarify whether they are eligible.

CX Paid Lounge Offer

The move comes as Hong Kong’s flag carrier aims to return to profitability following its first ever back-to-back annual loss last year. Cathay Pacific recently hit the halfway mark in its three-year transformation programme that has seen it narrow its losses to US$33.5 million for the first half of 2018 – a significant improvement over the US$261 million loss it reported during the same period in 2017.

This has seen an increased focus on ancillary revenue from the airline, including the introduction in May of paid advance seat selection for travellers booking the cheapest economy class fares.

The decision by Cathay is an interesting one, as is whether this is a trial before possibly rolling it out across all of its lounges worldwide.

Airlines have traditionally regarded lounges as a value-add for their most valued customers, and as such are a cost centre for their businesses. Charging other customers for entry helps set off some of those costs, and may even turn the lounges from a cost centre to a potential profit centre. Airlines have done something similar for airfares, after all. Basics that were once included in an airfare have been stripped out and passengers given the choice of paying for those elements they put a value on.

But in the case of lounges, will the potential “ancillary revenue” the airlines hope to gain upset those premium passengers who use the lounge, and perhaps downgrade the experience not just in material terms (more people, less peace and quiet) but also in branding terms – if it is sold at US$75 per visit, then does this lessen the reward which comes with higher tier status?

Business Traveller contacted Cathay Pacific for clarification. It said the following:

“We listen to our customers and constantly explore new ideas that make Marco Polo Club membership more rewarding.

“The Paid Lounge Access offer is for ALL Marco Polo Club members (i.e. green and/or above), regardless of travel class. Members of all tiers can pay for their companions for lounge access and there is no limit to quota.”

Supplementary info –
Lounge access: Silver members (Passenger only), Gold members (Passenger + 1 guest) and Diamond members (Passenger + 2 guests)

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