How to Get Cheaper Cathay flights by Starting Outside of Hong Kong

You may recall that HK Travel Blog previously shared how to save money on Cathay flights by originating in Thailand instead of Hong Kong. As our reader Nezistan commented, “this is true for just about any flight ex-BKK. If I have the time, I always fly ex-BKK and back into HKG for a fraction of the cost of ex-HKG.”

This topic came up again at our recent HK Travel Blog readers’ meeting in Hong Kong and we heard there that people would like to hear more about this savvy money saving technique Nezistan mentioned.

In short, there are certain airports apart from an airline’s hub, often called outports, from which it may be cheaper to start a journey than if starting it from their hub airport. This may be counterintuitive, as starting from an outport may include the same flights, plus flights to and from the hub airport, yet it may be cheaper. For example, our previous post on Thailand mentioned big savings from Bangkok to Hong Kong to London, versus just the Hong Kong to London flights. In fact, there is logic here whether or not you find it compelling: from Bangkok, Cathay is competing with carriers such as Thai and BA who offer direct service to London instead of a slower, stopping service. From Hong Kong, some passengers are largely price insensitive and will pay a premium for the convenience of being in a captive airport.

What this means for you is that you can save substantial amounts on flights if you have some flexibility around timing and willingness to travel. In this post we will focus on Cathay as the local carrier, but the same logic holds for many other carriers worldwide.

Where Do These Cheaper Tickets Originate?

There are certain airports which are known as being cheaper in general for Cathay flights. Others are sometimes cheaper, sometimes not.

The ones which are most commonly mentioned are Taipei (or any airport in Taiwan) and Manila. Vietnam, Thailand and China also sometimes offer substantial savings but not always. Colombo and even Kathmandu can be cheaper, though the time involved in positioning there is more significant.

Other markets can also be cheaper, sometimes dramatically so, but for certain routes only. For example, India and Japan both tend to offer big savings going to north America. For reasons of its own, including currency fluctuation, even Johannesburg is worth looking into for long-haul flights.

How Much Can I Save?

The exact amount you may save depends on your travel itinerary and flexibility with dates. As an illustration, we priced (on 10th April) an economy class journey to Vancouver, leaving on 24th and returning the following day. All travel is on Cathay and/or Cathay Dragon metal.

The pricing is shown below. This is all inclusive. We also looked at Japan but we wanted to do an exact comparison and on the dates in question, ex-Japan fares did not offer a saving.

Starting pointPrice (local currency unless stated)Price in HK$Asia MilesMarco Polo Club Points
Hong Kong12,572$12,57212,76270
Taipei35,854$9,09613,76480
Chengdu8,373$9,42115,078105
HanoiUS$1,225$9,51713,80680
ManilaUS$ 1,396$10,84314,18480
Bangkok45,320$10,17114,85890
Bangalore89,717$10,79217,67490
Johannesburg20,668$11,54927,323160

You can definitely save money here, although as the Hanoi example shows, Cathay’s pricing does swing significantly based on dates of travel.

 

                The prices in our table above are all for “Economy Standard” tickets, which on that date was the cheapest option from Hong Kong to Vancouver, except for Chengdu for which “Economy Standard” was not given as an option. In fact from some markets, there were cheaper tickets available with “Economy Save”: from Taipei, for example, an “Economy Save” ticket was the equivalent of HK$8,304. That price is cheaper, though note that it accrues fewer Asia Miles (8,602) and club points (55) than the one in the table above.

Looking at the prices, a couple are worth highlighting. One is from a Chinese city – in this case Chengdu. The price is already competitive, and the cheapest available is Economy Core so it’s more remunerative in terms of miles and club points. It’s worth noting that for another 600 RMB on the base fare, the transpacific segments would be in Premium Economy class.

Most incredible value, though, is the return from Johannesburg. Not only do you get Johannesburg to Hong Kong return legs thrown in for less than the starting price would be in Hong Kong, but look what happens when you drill down into the itinerary:

That’s right, on both of the outbound flights on this ticket, you can get premium economy seating even though the ticket prices in an economy class ticket bucket.

What Classes of Service Are These?

This is not just a money saving trick for those travelling in economy. The same approach can work in Premium Economy and Business Class. First Class savings are rarer. The savings in those classes can in fact be even more dramatic. Here’s an example: on a day when a ticket from Hong Kong to Paris in business class costs $35,179, the same flight originating in Colombo costs the equivalent of $24,776. The Hong Kong to Paris legs are on the same flight. Additionally, the Colombo ticket accrues 21,122 Asia Miles and 250 Marco Polo Club Points, compared to 14,892 Asia Miles and 180 club points for the Hong Kong ticket.

 

 

How Can I Book These Cheaper Tickets?

In general you can book these tickets the same as you would book tickets for itineraries originating in Hong Kong. However sometimes it may be a bit trickier. For example the Cathay ticketing office in Tsim Sha Tsui used to sell itineraries originating in Bangkok, but on a recent visit a staff member told me that they no longer do that (though you could book through the Bangkok ticketing office, online or through your travel agent, although be aware that Cathay often does not make its lowest prices available through travel agents).

Do I need to Start and Finish in an Outport?

Some people who may otherwise appreciate such savings do not want the inconvenience of having to travel to an outport to start their journey. It is necessary to do this, as if you don’t travel the first segment of the ticket, subsequent segments will normally be cancelled.

Compared to some other airline hubs, Hong Kong is quite convenient this way. Travelling to, say, Taipei to start a journey is not a great time investment. In some cases you may even be able to take the same plane out to Taipei and back again if that’s your thing. Alternatively, you can make a short break of it. For example, to use the ex-Taipei ticket, you could buy a return ticket to Taipei. By timing this to match your Vancouver timings, you could enjoy a weekend in Taipei before and after the long-haul itinerary. Stopovers are not usually allowed on the outbound, but often they are allowed on the inbound, so you can break your itinerary up so that it is basically a weekend away, the long trip and later on another weekend away.

If you travel regularly, you may “nest” these tickets, which is to say, book them so that the final (Hong Kong to outport) leg coincides with when you need to start your next such ticket.

If you do not planning making other travel in the near future, you may seek to purchase a cheap one-way ticket to your outport, and not using the final segment of your long-haul itinerary. Some airlines do not allow this, and every experience is different, but I have not had problems doing this with Cathay. If doing so, you will need to make sure that your luggage is not checked all the way through to the outport on your long-haul itinerary. If you plan to use a low-cost carrier to position to your outport, you may want to consider maximising the time in Hong Kong on the first leg of the long-haul itinerary – up to twenty four hours does not count as a stopover, and would enable you to pick up your luggage in Hong Kong and check it in, rather than having to carry it on your positioning flight, for which many low cost carriers charge fees.

If you cannot be bothered with positioning to an outport, one option may be to look at prices ex-Guangzhou. You can fairly easily travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by train or bus.

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