Sometimes airlines find profit in flying a plane to a certain destination via another, so to fulfil two low-demand destinations. These flights were instrumental to the economic viability of longhaul flights prior to the 80s, since planes didn’t have the range to fly ultra-longhaul. Nowadays, with profitable aircraft such as the A350 or 787, there’s much less need for fifth-freedom flights – which makes them all the more fun when you actually get to fly them.
Fifth-freedom flights these days are normally run when there’s insufficient demand for a flight to be run to a single destination, so airlines “tag” the flight onwards to sell the fifth-freedom segment as well (for example, Egyptair can’t justify the demand to operate a direct flight between Cairo to Hong Kong, so they route their twice-weekly flight via Bangkok to generate revenue between Bangkok and Hong Kong as well). Other airlines operate “novelty” fifth-freedom flights, where they’ve sustained a fifth-freedom flight for years and are unwilling to give it up despite the fact that a direct flight may be more viable. Emirates is a good example of that (continue reading to find out more).
Thai Airways’ flight between Hong Kong and Seoul allows the airline to compete on the Hong Kong to Seoul segment (this isn’t one of the more interesting fifth freedom routes out of Hong Kong in my opinion – I’d much rather fly Korean Air or Asiana business class, which is usually reasonably priced)
Believe it or not, I haven’t actually had the chance to fly any fifth-freedom routes. The closest I’ve gone to flying one is Singapore Airlines’ flight between Singapore and San Francisco via Hong Kong – however, I flew the Singapore to Hong Kong segment, whereas the Hong Kong to San Francisco segment would’ve been the fifth-freedom flight. So I thought I’d list a few of the fifth-freedom flights I’d like to try in the coming years.
Emirates A380 from Hong Kong to Bangkok
The biggest “novelty” fifth-freedom flight out there is probably Emirates’ A380 between Hong Kong and Bangkok. Emirates has five flights daily between Hong Kong and Dubai, and it probably would be economically viable for them to fly a sixth (the Bangkok to Dubai segment of this flight is one of six daily flights between the two cities).
Emirates’ A380 probably doesn’t have the best business class hard product flying between Hong Kong and Bangkok (the airline used to offer first class on the route, though now operates a two-class A380). Cathay Pacific runs reverse herringbone seats on certain flights between Hong Kong and Bangkok, which are superior to Emirates’ staggered seats, at least in my experience. However, between the inflight bar and the top-notch inflight entertainment system, it probably is the most fun way to get between the two cities. Fares are normally pretty competitive as well.
That said, I’d probably only fly Emirates between Hong Kong and Bangkok if I were flying in business class, or guaranteed an economy class seat on the upper deck, as there are more comfortable ways to get between the cities in economy.
Emirates Airbus A380 Business Class
While Emirates operates a night flight between Hong Kong and Bangkok (so far all my trips to Bangkok have been short trips where a day flight would’ve been much more useful), if I have a more flexible timeframe in the future I’ll be sure to jump onto the opportunity. Fares run from ~HK$4,500 roundtrip.
Air India 787 from Hong Kong to Osaka
Hong Kong to Osaka is a very high-yield route, with prices normally running upwards of HK$10,000 roundtrip between the two cities during peak season. However, I’ve seen much cheaper fares (around ~HK$6,000 roundtrip) when booking a business class ticket on Air India. Air India features forward facing fully flat beds in business class (I’ve flown a similar configuration on LATAM, which was comfortable), and I’ve heard good things about the product.
I consider the hard product inferior to Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines’ longhaul products, but superior to their respective regional products (as well as ANA’s regional product, which ANA runs exclusively on this route). That said, all three airlines normally charge much higher prices for the same route, and from what I’ve seen, the service offered is largely comparable. So for less than half the price of what the other airlines usually charge, I’d consider Air India a very lucrative way to travel between Hong Kong and Osaka.
Air India Boeing 787 Hong Kong Airport
The airline also offers a fifth-freedom flight between Hong Kong and Seoul, though I don’t find the prices to be nearly as competitive (mainly because the market itself isn’t as high-yield, and I’d rather fly Asiana’s A380 business class than Air India’s 787 business class, all else being equal).
Egyptair A330 from Hong Kong to Bangkok
Egyptair offers a lie-flat seat between Hong Kong and Bangkok twice a week on their A330, and their prices are often pretty competitive (I can’t confirm the exact price, since the homepage wouldn’t load at the time of writing). If your schedules happen to match with Egyptair’s Tuesday and Saturday night departures out of Hong Kong (or afternoon departures out of Bangkok), Egyptair might be a fun choice to get between Hong Kong and Bangkok, mostly because the flights are rarely full, judging the seatmaps over the next few weeks (once again, the hard product features forward-facing fully flat beds – superior to Cathay Pacific, Thai, and Hong Kong Airlines’ regional products, but not as good as their longhaul products).
Royal Jordanian 787 from Hong Kong to Bangkok
Yet another compelling option between Hong Kong and Bangkok would be Royal Jordanian, which offers fully flat beds on their 787s. Prices run from ~HK$4,800 roundtrip, which isn’t bad, but is about level with what you’d get on any of the other fifth-freedom airlines. The good thing about Royal Jordanian is that they often run promotions that can drive fares down to around HK$3,500 roundtrip. The product is once again comparable to that of Egyptair, though I marginally prefer this product due to the added privacy (it’s one of the more reviewed fifth-freedom routes out there, though, so personally for the excitement factor I’d prefer Egyptair, all else being equal).
Singapore 777 from Hong Kong to San Francisco
Singapore Airlines’ 777 probably won’t be a product you’ll be choosing based on price, at least in business class. The airline operates 777s between Hong Kong and San Francisco, and you’ll probably be best off paying 82,000 KrisFlyer miles one-way when flying in business class on the route (alternatively, you can shell out ~HK$40,000 for a roundtrip flight). If paying cash I’d actually consider flying Hong Kong Airlines business class instead, where prices are often way more competitive – I actually prefer their reverse herringbone business class seat, whereas their staggered business class seat is still very good.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 Business Class
You’ll be surprised, however, to learn that premium economy runs at around ~HK$11,000 roundtrip, which I find to be very competitive. I’d take that any day over Cathay Pacific’s similarly good, though way more expensive premium economy product.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 Premium Economy
Soon Singapore Airlines will also have a more competitive economy product compared to Cathay Pacific, as Cathay Pacific continues to gear towards 3-4-3 economy class on their 777s (I do marginally prefer the storage options on their A350 seat, though, compared to Singapore Airlines’ economy seat; however, only one of Cathay Pacific’s three flights between Hong Kong and San Francisco is currently operated by an A350).
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 Economy Class
As you see, most of Hong Kong’s fifth-freedom flights run between Hong Kong and Bangkok, which has historically been a pretty low-yield route. The beauty of fifth-freedom flights is that not only do they offer pretty low prices themselves, but they also drive down the prices of their competition. For example, Ethiopian also used to offer pretty cheap fifth-freedom flights between Hong Kong and Seoul (they now offer a tag flight on their A350 between Hong Kong and Manila, though I was surprised to learn that they aren’t permitted to sell that segment), and together with Air India they drove down the prices of the market, causing Korean Air and Asiana to offer pretty competitive prices nowadays as well.
It’s also worth noting that there are markets where fifth-freedom flights are even more lucrative – especially when Asian or South American flights operate intra-European routes, where business class would otherwise just be economy class with a blocked middle seat.
I hope to try out the above fifth-freedom flights in the future, as well as a few others. For now, my travel schedule is rather sparse since I’m completely packed with senior year (don’t worry, it’ll get much more interesting towards the end of next year). Expect a review from a certain airline’s A320neo, a certain airline’s 777, and an A330 that I’ve reviewed before. 😉
What are your favourite fifth-freedom flights?