Holders of American Express’ popular Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card will see their Plaza Premium lounge access reduced in April – not long after American Express also ended free Priority Pass membership for cardholders.

In a notice to cardmembers holding the Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card – seen by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific – American Express said that beginning April 1, 2020, the number of access to Plaza Premium Lounge “with your Basic and Supplementary Card of American Express Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card will be changed from unlimited access to a total of 10 times access for each calendar year”.

The initial 10 times access period is from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. From January 1, 2021 onwards, each programme period will be from January 1 to December 31, American Express said in the notice.

The changes have not yet been widely publicised, though several users of the card have been complaining about it in this online forum for expatriates.

The American Express credit cards are popular with frequent flyers of Cathay Pacific, as cardholders can earn two Asia Miles for every HK$6 (US$0.77) spent on Cathay flight bookings via www.cathaypacific.com and settled in Hong Kong dollar. Cardholders also get one Asia Mile for every HK$6 spent locally and 1.5 Asia Miles for every HK$6 spent in foreign currency.

“We are constantly reviewing the benefits of the products and services we offer to our customers from time to time in order to meet the needs of our card members.  The new lounge access arrangement for the Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card members was based on careful consideration, overwhelming majority of card members visit this lounge less than ten times a year. For Cathay Pacific Credit Card members, the lounge access arrangement remains the same,” said a spokesperson from American Express in an email when Business Traveller Asia-Pacific contacted the company for comment.

The reduced lounge benefits mean that if you were to use the credit card to access an airport lounge on both ends of your journey, the card would only cover your lounge access for five return journeys in a year. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific readers take an average of 27 flights per year, so this would only cover them for just over one third of their annual travel.

“Our team works together with partners and clients to evaluate benefits so they can decide how to best allocate benefits for their different card holders. AMEX Cathay Pacific Elite Card holders are entitled to 10 accesses [to] our global location annually effective from 1 April 2020. Amex Express Cathay Pacific Credit Card holders have two lounge access per year,” said Plaza Premium Group chief commercial officer Bora Isbulan in an emailed statement when Business Traveller Asia-Pacific contacted the company for comment.

“To cope with the demand we have been receiving from guests, we have indeed reviewed our lounge portfolios at Hong Kong International Airport, and we have opened a Plaza Premium Lounge near Gate 35 and soon another new location will open near Gate 60.  Combining Plaza Premium First, we are now able to cater to different travellers’ needs.”

Last year, American Express terminated free Priority Pass membership for holders of the Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card.

Those wishing for more lounge access can apply for the American Express Platinum Card, which gives Priority Pass membership as well as access to American Express’ Centurion lounges and International American Express Lounges. However, this card comes with a significantly higher annual fee of HK$7,800 (over US$1,000), more than four times the annual fee of HK$1,800 (US$231) for the Cathay Pacific Elite Card.

Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card holders still get free sign up to Cathay’s Marco Polo Club Green Tier (the entry level tier of the carrier’s loyalty programme). This is worth US$100.

In the airline’s regular “fan fares” email to customers on January 21, Cathay Pacific advertised a new welcome offer for the Elite Credit Card. Cardholders can earn up to 150,000 Asia Miles through local and foreign currency spend. For the first three months, eligible local spend gets you one Asia Mile per HK$2 spend, and foreign currency spend gets you 1 Asia Mile per HK$1 spent.

New customers to the card will have to decide for themselves whether this enhanced welcome offer compensates for the reduced lounge access.

The American Express Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card is available to residents of Hong Kong or Macau who earn at least HK$300,000 (US$38,591) per year and are over 18 years old.

According to Cathay Pacific’s website, Taiwan residents can also get an American Express Cathay Pacific Elite Card. Unlike Hong Kong and Macau residents, these cardholders are eligible for free Priority Pass membership (five uses per year) as long as they spend over NT$200,000 (US$6,664) per year.


[Disclosure: the author of this article holds a Cathay Pacific Elite Credit Card]