GBA Lifestyle News
Travel Outside HK Section
By Kate Springer | January 3rd, 2016

A travel tell-all by Kate Springer.

Coming up on April 15, 2016, the Marco Polo Club — Cathay Pacific‘s loyalty program — is overhauling its rewards system. If you’re a points-obsessed traveler like I am, then you might want to sit down for this. I have some very bad news.

I took a thorough read over the new accrual system today and, at first, couldn’t really see the difference. But then I applied the new system to my current status and saw that I’d actually have to spend at least HK$8,000 more a year just to retain my silver membership.

Say what? Yep, sorry guys, your long hauls in economy class aren’t going to count for much. Instead of basing points accrual on actual miles, the new system uses a points system based on flight class and distance. Economy short hauls earn 5-25 points and economy long hauls accrue 30-50 points.

Cathay has also raised the minimum requirements for each membership tier. Instead of hitting 30,000 points for silver — two roundtrip long-haul flights in economy a year — you now have to hit 300 points at a rate of 100 points per roundtrip long-haul flight, so three long-hauls instead of two. To hit gold, members need a whopping 600 points, which adds up to either six long return roundtrips or a million gazillion short hops.

For practical purposes, let me walk you through a real-life example of how much this sucks. Right now I have 41,089 points.

This June, I will be traveling to Newark International one more time for a wedding. After that trip, I will have accrued 57,193 points. Meaning, it would only take one short trip in Asia, or a little over 2,800 miles, to achieve Gold status of 60,000 points in the old system.

Under the new system, my current miles convert to 415 points. After the upcoming long haul, I’ll have 515 points. That leaves still another 85 points to achieve a gold status of 600 points. So now I actually have to either fly three short hauls or one more long haul to achieve gold.

In terms of cash, I’ll be spending upwards of HK$8,000 more if I want to achieve gold than if I were under the old system. And it’d be a hell of a lot more if I were starting from an entirely blank slate.

Going forward, it will be substantially more difficult to acquire silver status. In the past, you would fly two roundtrip long hauls and instantly get silver, which is awesome for its priority baggage service, business lounge pass and first dibs on seats with extra legroom.

After April, though, you will need to fly a minimum of three roundtrip long hauls to achieve the 300 points necessary. If you want to get a second pass for your companion — a longtime headache for those traveling with a green status spouse — then you need 450 points.

While making it harder for economy-class passengers, the new system has dramatically upped its rewards for First Class and Business Class passengers, who will collect more than double the points per long-haul flight (50 for economy vs. 120 for First Class).

In the past, First Class flyers would have earned 150 percent of miles flown (or 75 points for a long-haul) and Business Class passengers earned 125 percent (or 62.5 points).

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Cathay overhauled its Marco Polo Club to mirror other loyalty programs, which tend to have higher barriers to entry. But with a greater emphasis on money spent instead of miles traveled, it sounds to me like Cathay is screwing over its most frequent flyers in the process.