Over the weekend, the South China Morning Post published two articles that pointed to forthcoming changes to the Marco Polo frequent flyer scheme run by Cathay Pacific. While most of the ideas under review affect Cathay Pacifics own loyalty members, the changes may mean that there are less award seats available for members of partner airline programs.
The first article focussed on a specifc change in the numbers of award seats it makes available to its own members, and to members of other oneWorld airline programs. Specifically, the idea is to increase the number of award seats made available to its own members, and at the same time reducing the number of seats made available to partners.
The second of two articles considered a number of possible changes that Cathay Pacific may have in store for the Marco Polo Club and the Asia Miles program.
Reducing award seats to partners
A significant change being discusses in the articles is the way in which award seats are made available to members of its own scheme, and to members of other programs.
Awards seats are typically a subset of the total seat inventory that is available on a given flight. The seats are set aside for Award flights, and are made available for Frequent Flyer members to redeem their frequent flyer miles for. In the case of Cathay Pacific, they have typcially not reserverd a certain number for their own frequent flyers, but have made the entire pool of award seats available to its own members, as well as to members of partner airlines, such as oneWorld parters Qantas and American Airlines.
According to the article, sources say the “plan is to slash the number of free air tickets available for partner airlines and to reallocate those to Cathay’s own Marco Polo Club members”. Of course, Cathay Pacific will frame this as an advantage to its own members. A spokesman for the airline is quoted as saying “A review is under way to ensure our programme continues to meet the changing needs of our members and is competitive with the loyalty clubs of other major global airlines.”
Clearly, this will impact members of programs, such as American’s AAdvantage program, or Qantas’ Frequent Flyers program. One issue is that it is possible in these programs to generate large numbers of points that can then be redeemed on Cathay flights. It seems, Cathay wishes to keep more of these seats for members that actually pay for seats on their aircraft.
Cathay are also looking at broader changes to their own program. These changes include ideas such as removing the ability of silver members to access lounges. This will have the effect of reducing costs, and reducing congestion in the lounges. A previous article had suggested that other items under review were priority boarding privileges
Overall, the changes that Cathay Pacific are looking at reflect the growing trend across many programs to more closely align the awards with the amount of revenue that a customer brings in. As noted in the article, “Hong Kong’s leading airline says its existing measures to reward travellers based on the number of flights and distance flown ‘are not the best measure of value’, and that airlines all over the world are recognising these ‘anomalies'”.
As has been the experience with other programs, it is likely that the changes to be made will benefit the big spenders, particularly those that travel in the premium cabins. This will be at the expense of people that fly on discount economy tickets.
For members of oneWorld progarms that look toward booking award seats on Cathay Pacific, this is certainly a development worth keeping an eye on.