For a low-cost carrier, HK Express offers excellent value for money. From reasonably priced tickets, to a generous cabin baggage allowance, to friendly onboard service, I found the onboard experience to be pleasant. That being said, the legroom on the aircraft was extremely tight. To quote an old Cathay Pacific marketing slogan – HK Express offers a mix of "Great Service, Great Fares, Great People".
I recently took a positioning flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok to take advantage of a good deal with Cathay Pacific to New York. Instead of redeeming Asia Miles for a one-way Cathay Pacific flight, I decided to give HK Express a try. While I’m mostly based in Hong Kong, this was (rather embarassingly) my first flight with HK Express. So, I figured that this would be a good opportunity to report back on my experience.
HK Express Airbus A321 at Hong Kong Airport
What is HK Express?
HK Express is a Hong Kong-based low cost carrier. The airline was previously owned by the HNA group, but was purchased by Cathay Pacific in 2019. With the shut-down of Cathay Dragon – Cathay Pacific’s full service regional subsidiary – HK Express provides feeder regional traffic for Cathay Pacific’s network, especially to secondary destinations in Asia. Cathay Pacific’s “CX” code has now been placed on most HK Express flights, meaning that some Cathay Pacific passengers will connect onto an HK Express flight to their final destination.
While HK Express is a low cost carrier, it offers more freebies than European low-cost carriers. All passengers are entitled to bring one carry on suitcase in addition to a personal item aboard each flight. HK Express also sells connecting itineraries, which is rare for a low-cost carrier. However, any extra frills beyond what I’ve mentioned (e.g. seat assignments, food and drinks, and checked baggage) will cost extra. On paper, the experience that HK Express offers is largely similar to the regional Economy Class product offered by many “legacy” European carriers such as British Airways, Iberia, and Lufthansa.
Tickets booked directly via HK Express are not eligible to earn Asia Miles via the Cathay programme – this feels like a missed opportunity, especially considering the Cathay programme’s efforts to integrate various lifestyle purchases into their membership earning scheme.
Onto the Review…
I booked a one-way ticket under HK Express’ “FunFlex” ticket bucket, which came with the following benefits:
- Unlimited date and time changes (note: cancellations are NOT permitted – I learned this the hard way)
- UFirst: Priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling
The ticket came out to around HKD1,000, which was about half the price of the nearest full-service competitor (Thai Airways) and about 1/3 of the price of a one-way Cathay Pacific ticket – even with the added FunFlex perks.
I also paid HKD65 to select a standard aisle seat. Seat selection fees prior to check in range from HKD60-65 for a standard seat, to HKD120-125 for an “upfront” seat with the same legroom as a standard seat, to HKD215-220 for a “sweet seat” (e.g. bulkhead or exit row seats with extra legroom).
The Ground Experience
I didn’t have checked baggage, so I cruised through security and made to Gate 47, which is where our A321-200ceo was parked. Our A321 was delivered prior to HK Express’ acquisition by Cathay Pacific and the airline’s subsequent rebrand.
HK Express A321 at Hong Kong Airport
I really like HK Express’ older livery, which is modern and has a very distinctive Hong Kong-inspired design – two things I can’t say the same about HK Express’ new livery. The airline has since taken delivery of A321neo’s with a new livery and cabin design.
There were four agents staffed to board our flight, which was a little surprising. As a low-cost carrier, I expected that HK Express would staff less ground crew per flight. With the current crunch on airport staff in Hong Kong, I’m not sure that having four people board an Airbus A321 is the best use of human resources. There was a sign at the boarding gate announcing that passengers were prohibited from bringing their own food and drink onboard, which is in line with many other low-cost carriers in the region, but feels particularly stingy.
HK Express Boarding Gate Setup
After a short boarding delay, the ground staff walked through the departures area announcing that boarding was to begin. I headed towards the priority boarding lane, which was well enforced. After a document check, my mobile boarding pass was scanned and I headed down the jetbridge to our aircraft.
I was welcomed aboard by the Senior Purser and turned right into the cabin.
HK Express Flight UO702
Thursday, August 17th, 2023
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Dep: 16:55 (17:21)
Destination: Bangkok (BKK) Arr: 18:50 (19:00)
Duration: 2 h 55 min (2 h 39 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321 (B-LEC)
Seat: 8C (Economy Class)
Hong Kong Express Cabin and Seat Design
HK Express’ older generation of A321 aircraft are equipped with 220 seats in an all-Economy configuration. These aircraft don’t come with Airbus’ new “Airspace” cabin design – meaning that overhead locker space was quite limited. However, it appeared that most passengers weren’t travelling with a full carry on.
HK Express Airbus A321 Economy Cabin
I’m a fan of HK Express’ cabin design, which is fun and modern but not overly tacky. The red and purple headrests provide a nice splash of colour in the cabin. Seats designated as “Sweet Seats” – which are either in a bulkhead or exit row – are marked with a red headrest.
HK Express Airbus A321 Economy Seat
HK Express’ last generation of cabins consist of Safran’s Z85 seats (previously also known as the Zodiac Dragonfly seat). If these seats look a little familiar, it’s because they’re the same “base” seat found on (the now-defunct) Cathay Dragon’s A320 aircraft. However, HK Express went for a much more bare-bones version of the seat in line with its low-cost offering.
HK Express Airbus A321 Economy Seat
As is common with most low-cost carriers, the seats were exceptionally poorly padded. I found the seat to be perfectly fine for the two-hour hop down to Bangkok, although I could see these seats getting very uncomfortable for longer regional flights.
To my surprise, the seats even reclined. Admittedly, the recline was very limited.
HK Express Airbus A321 Recline!
The worst thing about the HK Express experience was the legroom, which was a measly 28 inches. These seats are tight – I’m about 175cm tall and my knees were digging into the seat in front of me for the entire flight. If you’re even slightly taller, I would strongly recommend booking a “Sweet” seat for extra comfort. Even though our flight was only two hours, I was more than ready to get off the plane and stretch my legs by the time we landed in Bangkok.
HK Express Airbus A321 Legroom
One nice thing about HK Express’ A321 aircraft is that each seat comes with an individual air nozzle, which came in handy considering how hot the cabin got.
HK Express A321-200 Air Nozzles!
There was a safety card in the seat pocket which was in pretty bad condition.
HK Express A321-200 Safety Card
There was also an inflight menu in the seatback pocket, which you can check out here. There were three “hot” meal options, including Hong Kong-style curry fish balls, a cheese hot dog, and a Pork Shogayaki with rice. Additional hot options were available for pre-order for this flight at a lower price. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as snacks are also available for purchase.
HK Express Menu Card
In addition, HK Express offers a duty free service onboard, which included a surprisingly extensive selection of options – including rail tickets for Japanese destinations and even SIM cards.
HK Express Duty Free Magazine
As boarding wrapped up, the captain made an announcement welcoming passengers onboard. This was followed by an announcement from the Senior Purser. Rather interestingly, HK Express has the same system for crew “rankings” as Cathay Pacific. I’m not sure if this was already the case prior to its 2019 acquisition by the Cathay Group, or if it is part of Cathay Pacific’s efforts to bring HK Express in line with its own brand.
Also: I really liked the small graphic on the bulkhead in the front of the cabin, which added a bit of character to the cabin.
HK Express Cabin During Takeoff
A manual safety demonstration was then performed by the crew. After a 30 minute delay due to congestion at Hong Kong Airport, we taxied to our runway and took off. I dozed off and woke up just as we began levelling out from our climb.
Our takeoff was uneventful, except for the fact that the passenger across the aisle from me proceeded to take his shoes off. Yuck!
It’s worth noting that there is no inflight entertainment or inflight WiFi offered on HK Express flights, so be sure to download some content before your flight to stay entertained.
Hong Kong Express Meal Service
Immediately after takeoff, the crew rolled a cart throughout the cabin offering food and drinks for purchase. Interestingly, I noticed that there was a lot of take-up for full hot meals throughout the cabin – so I’d definitely recommend pre-ordering online if you’re looking to eat something more substantial if you fly with HK Express.
I ordered a can of beer – which came from a local brewery in Hong Kong – as well as some curry fish balls. The friendly Flight Purser told me that the curry fish balls would be heated up in around 10 minutes. My total order came up to HKD65.
I really like that the inflight food and drink selection was heavily geared towards showcasing Hong Kong-based brands, as well as popular local snacks and drinks. Overall, I find that HK Express does a great job of showing its connection to Hong Kong through its branding and marketing.
HK Express hEROES Beer
I enjoyed the beer, which tided me over until the curry fish balls arrived.
HK Express Curry Fishballs
The curry fishballs were excellent – although admittedly it is a dish that is pretty much impossible to mess up. The fishballs were a little larger than you’ll find at a typical street food stall, and the curry sauce was tasty without being too heavy. While the fishballs were twice as expensive as on the ground, I felt that the price was reasonable – especially considering that it was being served at 35,000 feet in the sky.
Service onboard was quite good. The crew were friendly, attentive, courteous, and professional. I have no complaints – and was really impressed by how polished and efficient the crew were.
Descent and Arrival into Bangkok
HK Express A321 During Descent
I spent the rest of the flight alternating between napping and reading. Our descent and arrival was smooth, and immigration lines were mercifully short. I took some time to visit Bangkok Airport’s Thai food court for a quick meal (highly recommended for a cheap and delicious meal, by the way!) before I hopped on a shuttle to my airport hotel for a quick night’s rest before my flight back to Hong Kong the next morning.
Bottom Line: Hong Kong Express
HK Express very pleasantly surprised me on this short journey from Hong Kong to Bangkok. For the price, I really enjoyed my experience. Between the generous baggage allowance policy, friendly and professional service, and a good-value food-for-purchase selection, HK Express is a solid option for budget intra-Asia travel. That being said, I would keep in mind that HK Express is ultimately a low-cost carrier. Legroom on their aircraft is uncomfortably tight, and the lack of WiFi or any form of entertainment may be a deal breaker for some travellers.
For full context – I boarded a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong the next day and found the experience to be substantially better, but not necessarily worth the price premium that they charge over HK Express.
Overall, HK Express is a solid low-cost airline. Considering that their fares are often significantly less than their full service competitors, HK Express offers really compelling value. I’d fly HK Express again in a heartbeat.