Does Cathay justify a price premium? I was thinking about this recently in relation to a trip between Phuket and Hong Kong.
I bought this ticket the day before travel in person at a Thai travel agency. The price was 7,300 baht ($1,715) for a one way ticket from Phuket to Hong Kong, a bit more than the cheapest ticket price quoted at that point on Cathay’s website. The travel agent charged that price for cash payment; the price was higher if paid by card. There were cheaper options available from where I was but I decided to take this Dragon flight partly because of their safety record and partly because of their service.
The ticket booked into L class and earned 1,426 Asia Miles and 10 Marco Polo club points.
At the Airport
I arrived at Phuket airport from another flight mid-morning, nine or so hours before departure. The Cathay Dragon checkin desk was open for an earlier flight of theirs than mine but told me I could not check in there for my flight until three hours before departure.
I could, however, check in online and go airside as long as I did not check the suitcase I had planned to check. As I had been planning to do some work in the airport, I decided to do that. Checking in online took a few minutes of additional time, which annoyed me given that Cathay Dragon had an open checkin desk I would have hoped to use. It also meant that I had to lug the case with me, and deal with the faff of a digital boarding pass, such as stopping at the gate desk for the agent to call someone to verify my identity document details.
Passport control at the airport took a while because it had so few staff, but security was a breeze with no queue. Cathay Dragon used to use Thai’s lounge but now uses the slightly underwhelming Coral lounge. There a call was made prior to the flight boarding, from gate 15.
This flight was operated by an Airbus 321 (registration number B-HTD).
The inflight entertainment system had a decent range. It did, however, have problems, suddenly stopping for five minutes or so for everyone before takeoff. After that my own system kept freezing. Additionally, every time an announcement was made, the system would then revert to a preset volume rather than the one to which I had adjusted it. I have noticed this on my last few Cathay Dragon flights and it is annoying.
I had an empty seat beside me but it was the only one I saw in economy class.
We had mild turbulence and every time the turbulence sign went on there was a prerecorded announcement to accompany it – five or six times throughout the flight.
Arrival time was estimated at 11:07. We arrived at a remote stand (W122L) between a HK Express plane and an Air China one. By the time the bus arrived at the main terminal building it was 11:40 p.m., ten minutes after the stated arrival time. Those extra few minutes cost me my quickest onward connection on local transport, which had we got to the main terminal at the advertised time or before would not have been the case.
The crew was fine – they served the meal and walked around the cabin occasionally. During the safety video they did not indicate the exits as they are supposed to, which I felt was an omission.
Food and Drink
The meal was a choice between chicken and rice or pork and pasta. I chose the chicken, which was middling. The ice cream was a Thai coconut ice cream, which I felt showed a bit more imagination than yet another Haagen Dazs on a Cathay Dragon flight. Overall this felt like a very slightly more substantial meal than Cathay Pacific serves on flights of similar duration.
In selecting this route I had considered a variety of carriers. I chose Cathay Dragon partly because of its safety record. But over and above that – which is a big thing, in fairness – I question whether the premium was justified over budget carriers. HK Express, for example, offers the same route. With Cathay Dragon, I had to use online checkin due to my arrival time at the airport, I could only use an underwhelming lounge which I could have used using a Premium Pass, I had an entertainment system which was faulty and a mediocre meal. That justifies a premium over a no frills carrier but it does not justify much of a premium in my opinion.