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Cathay Pacific announced this year's version of All-Asia Pass: Buy one ticket, fly to Hong Kong and visit up to four other regional Asian destinations for a fixed price. The travel press usually picks this up and features it as a good deal, but is it really? The answer is, "sometimes yes, sometimes no."
Here's the base deal: Fly to Hong from any of Cathay Pacific's four U.S. gateways, then fly out and back to up to four cities in eastern and southeastern Asia. The Pass price to visit Hong Kong plus two other cities from Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco is the same—at $1,880—and, on a limited basis, $1,329 from Cathay's newest Gateway at Chicago. Add a third city and a fourth for an extra $351 each and complete travel within 21 days. The pass includes 40 "basic" cities from Sapporo in northern Japan to Beijing and Chengdu in China to Bangkok, Singapore, and Bali to the south.
Flights are on Cathay or its affiliate, Dragonair. Base pass prices apply to midweek trans-pacific flights; add-ons are available from other U.S. cities and for weekend travel, extended stays, and flights to additional Asian destinations as far away as Dubai. Depart the U.S. between August 16 and November 29. Buy flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York until seat allocations are filled (no specific date); flights earn some frequent flyer mileage. The $1,329 Chicago price, however, is available for purchase only through July 31; it applies to just two additional cities, and does not earn frequent flyer miles.
The basic idea is attractive: As long as you're flying as far as Hong Kong, you'd hate to miss out on such exotic destinations as Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Osaka, Penang, and Seoul. The downside is that you'd spend a lot of time on planes, flying from Hong Kong to each additional city and back, then out again to the next one.
But the real question is whether the All-Asia Pass is the best way to ticket a multi-city Asian trip. To check, I compared two possible pass itineraries with buying a base ticket to Hong Kong, then direct flights to the outlying cities. I based my test trips from Los Angeles; Cathay's fares to Hong Kong from the other gateways are a bit lower:
- Los Angeles/Hong Kong plus a side trip to Bangkok and Bali. The pass would cost $1,880, including the two extra cities. Cathay's base round-trip fare from Los Angeles to Hong Kong is $1,044, separate one-way flights cost $110 from Hong Kong to Bangkok, $179 from Bangkok to Bali, and $300 from Bali back to Hong Kong. Total cost of separate tickets: $1,633.
- Los Angeles/Hong Kong, plus a side trip to Bangkok and Tokyo. The separate tickets there cost $1,725, again less than the pass but not much less.
- But even separate tickets to and from Hong Kong may not be your best bet. I checked still another way to get in the same three cities as my second alternative itinerary: an open-jaw ticket from the West Coast to Tokyo, returning from Bangkok, with separate Tokyo/Hong Kong and Hong Kong/Bangkok tickets. The all-up cost of that approach came to a bit under $1,500. That's less than the pass and involves fewer dreary Asian flights in cattle-car economy cabins.
This is not to say that the All-Asia Pass is never a good deal. I'm sure you could construct itineraries that beat the alternative approaches I checked. And many Americans might feel more comfortable flying on Cathay or Dragonair than on some Asian low-fare line they don't know.
But the point of this is that you shouldn't accept any airline's claim that its promotion is a good deal without checking the alternatives. And, specifically, always check the open-jaw option for multi-city trips.
If you like the idea of All-Asia Pass, buy it online through Cathay Pacific's U.S. home page, or see a travel agent.