Flight Review: Hong Kong Express (A320) from Hong Kong to Siem Reap
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My traveling partner and I recently spent two weeks in Asia, starting the trip with a comfortable first-class Cathay Pacific flight from New York City (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG), with a stop at The Arrival Lounge and a stay at the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel. The next stage of our trip was four days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where our nights would be spent at the Park Hyatt. Little did we know, booking the flight to get there turned out to be more complicated than we'd anticipated.
Naively, we thought we’d have a ton of options for an intra-Asia flight — and we did, if we were willing to connect. But since we weren't looking to make the 2.5-hour flight substantially longer, giving up a day in Siem Reap in the process, we ruled that out. We were left with only two options: Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express. Cathay Dragon offered superior amenities but didn't have any award seats available — we would have used 15,000 Avios plus $36 or 17,500 American AAdvantage miles — and the cash price was significantly higher at $807 per person. More importantly, the timing wasn’t as good — Cathay Dragon listed a 2:50pm departure, while the Hong Kong Express flight departed at 7:45am. HK Express would cost us each $399 and give us the better part of the day in Siem Reap.
We also had options for a Fun, Fun+ or Flex ticket, all of which had different fare rules and options like the ability to change your flight, priority boarding, a bigger bag allowance or the choice of a certain type of seat — none of them came with food though. Since our plans wouldn't change, we booked the most basic Fun fare.
During the booking process, flyers could purchase various extras, like checked-bag allowances, food and water.
We found the website intuitive and easy to use, with all fees clearly marked.
Considering it was such a short flight, we decided to roll the dice and not pay in advance for bags, seat assignments or meals, using the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card to purchase two tickets at $399 each. As a result, we earned 3x points, or 2,394 Ultimate Rewards points, for the travel purchase.
We were a little apprehensive about the check-in process — you never know what to expect with budget airlines or what fees you’ll be surprised with — but were able to check in easily online and it was pleasant and painless. Although the HK Express website states that passengers won’t receive an e-ticket, you are able to print out boarding passes online for free, which we recommend, as the line was lengthy, especially for such an early morning flight.
You can purchase priority check-in, but if you’re not checking bags — and since that doesn't extend to boarding — we’re not sure it's worth it.
Early morning travelers should note that while Terminal 2 has around-the-clock check-in, the departures hall where you go through security doesn’t actually open until 6:30am, so you’ll have to walk back to Terminal 1 to go through security, then back to Terminal 2 to get to your gate. The terminals are connected indoors, but it does add some time to your check-in process. If you have an early flight, you might want to give yourself more time than you normally would, as this added about 20 minutes to our trip.
After check-in, while we were waiting at the gate, an agent came over and eyed our (admittedly bulging) standard-size carry-on bags and asked us to gate-check them. Since we knew we would have to apply for visas on arrival in Siem Reap, we figured we wouldn’t lose any time waiting at the carousel, so we were happy to oblige — in fact, our bags made a few go-arounds before we even got to them. Though the agent made it seem mandatory, we did see other passengers decline and carry their bags on.
At this point, we also asked if we could get seats together. The gate agent informed us that until everyone checked in, she wouldn’t be able to switch them though. About 15 minutes before boarding, the same gate agent walked over to us, told us she had new seats for us and wrote the new seat numbers on our boarding pass — and seemingly didn’t note this in the system. Not surprisingly, this caused a fair amount of confusion onboard as it now appeared three sets of passengers had the same seats. In the end, everyone just grabbed an empty seat and worked it out themselves.
The boarding process involved everyone lining up in one long line and boarding randomly. And while that might seem disorderly, it was actually quick and easy, in part because no one was jostling for pre-boarding groups.
Cabin and Seat
The seats were a little tired and dated, and the tray table was in need of a wipe-down, though, for a no-frills airline on a short flight, it was comfortable enough.
The seats have a 28-inch pitch, which was cramped even for me, and I’m only five feet tall. My traveling partner is 5'10" and after stowing his bag, he had very little room to stretch out, as you can see in the photo below.
Hong Kong Express is a low-cost carrier, so there are no amenities or in-flight entertainment available. There’s no seat-back screen, no Wi-Fi and no cabin service, per se, unless flight attendants are distributing pre-purchased items. The cabin crew came by before takeoff to distribute water we had bought and once more during the flight to hand out customs forms.
Food and Beverage
All food and beverage onboard is available for purchase; nothing is complimentary. For a reasonably short flight, we didn’t need much. At the time of booking, our bottle of water cost $1.50 (a 40% discount) and we could add a meal for between $9 and $13. Though there was no menu in our seat-back pocket, the one on the website listed beer and wine for $4.50 to $5, cold drinks for $3, hot drinks for $3, snacks for $2 to $4.50, Cups of Noodles for $3, fresh meals for $6.50 to $9 as well as several combo options.
If you preorder your meal, you'll end up getting a 20% discount. Note that you aren’t allowed to bring any food or drink items onboard, even if you bought them at the airport post-security — that means no bottles of water or unopened snacks — so you’ll either have to purchase food onboard or wait until your arrival to buy snacks. We chose not to order food, figuring we’d eat at the airport prior to the flight, but this turned out to be a mistake. The only eatery near our gate opened at 7:00am, leading to a rushed food purchase before boarding — it was even more rushed since we couldn’t bring it with us, so we had to scarf everything down before boarding.
Hong Kong Express provided a safe and reliable way to travel. Though it certainly lived up to its no-frills promise, the experience somehow didn’t feel as bare bones as Spirit Airlines can sometimes be, maybe because all the fees were clearly listed and at this point it’s common to pay for food and bags. The booking, check-in and boarding processes were also pretty painless. It was a smooth ride to Siem Reap with an on-time arrival. Hong Kong Express is a solid option if you’re looking for intra-Asia flights. It also has a frequent-flyer program called Reward-U, which lets you redeem points for flights and any seat on any flight is eligible. Unless you’re flying this route regularly, you probably won’t find a ton of use for it, but it never hurts to sign up just in case.
Have you ever flown on Hong Kong Express? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.