Most airlines have membership programs that offer rewards and benefits for frequent flyers. Cathay Pacific has two different programs, Air Asia Miles and the Marco Polo Club programs. Why are there two and which one should you join, if any? The best way to understand the two is to look at Asia Miles as the rewards program and Marco Polo Club as the loyalty program, with distinct features!
While many airline programs have a loyalty and a rewards program and some also track award miles to spend on free flights and status miles to earn elite benefits separately, Cathay Pacific breaks these two components into two separate programs:
Asia Miles is a free to join rewards program that allows you to earn and redeem miles with Cathay Pacific and over 700 partners, including hotels, car rental companies, merchants and banks. You can earn miles with any OneWorld partner airline, but also Lufthansa, Swiss or Alaska Air. You can also earn or transfer miles with a long list of financial institutions, making Asia Miles one of the largest programs in terms of partners. Asia Miles has 10 million members, a relatively small number compared to the big US programs. Asia Miles expire three years after earning them, regardless of activity.
Marco Polo Club is the loyalty component of Cathay Pacific’s membership offers. It has a $100 fee to join, giving you the entry level “Green” membership. Earning 20 club points in one membership year will renew your membership for free or you’ll have to pay $100 on renewal. You can earn elite levels with increasing benefits by earning club points on Cathay Pacific or OneWorld flights each membership year: Silver (300 club points), Gold (600) or Diamond (1,200). The elite level perks are similar to other loyalty programs, including priority check-in and boarding, preferred seats or lounge access. You’ll also get OneWorld benefits depending on your level, as well as some benefits with hotel partners.
To make the program even more complicated, the membership resets once you reach a higher level, for example. If you join as a “Green” member in January and earn 300 club points to achieve “Silver” by May, your point balance goes to zero and a new membership year starts. You now have to earn 600 points within the next 12 months to become Gold.
As a function of the entrance fee and loyalty focus, Marco Polo Club has only 1 million members.
Even Cathay Pacific seems to realize that this structure is complicated and confusing and they have created a good infographic to explain this in detail (including the images used above). It’s sad that an infographic is needed to explain all this, especially at a time where other travel companies are trying to make their programs more user friendly and easier to use!
Who should join? And which program?
If you occasionally travel on Cathay Pacific, you are best off earning in another OneWorld program, like British Airways’ Avios or American AAdvantage. The hard expiry date of three years makes it difficult to earn meaningful rewards for occasional flyers.
If you fly more frequently, but mainly on low-fare tickets that don’t earn miles in either program, you should consider joining Asia Miles. It’s better to earn points than not and if you have a credit card that allows you to transfer miles to Asia Miles, like Citi Prestige, you can top up your account for useful rewards.
Only if you live in Hong Kong or the region and Cathay Pacific is your main airline with frequent flights, especially in premium cabins, does it make sense to join Marco Polo Club. The entrance and renewal fee, the resetting of the membership year and point balance and the validity of club points for only one year all make it more difficult to achieve meaningful benefits than with competing programs.
If you are moving to Hong Kong, you might consider a status match to get you started, but don’t get your hopes up. Cathay Pacific maintains and air of aristocratic arrogance about their program. As a United Global Services member (United’s highest level, earned with significant spend), I was offered the “Silver” level, hardly a match worth considering.
Bottomline: Cathay Pacific has chosen a complicated program structure with arcane rules that provide a rewards program for the masses and a loyalty program for the few. While this might have been appropriate when Cathay Pacific was one of the leading carriers in Asia, it seems out of step at a time Cathay is struggling to compete with local competitor Hong Kong Airlines, mainland Chinese airlines and low cost carriers and does little to attract customers to the airline – on the contrary! If you live in Hong Kong, it’s worth digging through the rules and sign up. For everybody else, there are better airlines and programs out there!