Low Cost Carrier Reviews: HK Express = Cheap Flights from Hong Kong

This is the first article in an ongoing series on AwardTravelWisdom which will highlight our experiences booking flights and flying on Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) around the world. LCCs are known as such because they target travelers who are especially price-conscious by offering a “no-frills” flying experience that is all about getting from point A to point B. By breaking apart many of the costs included in a traditional airline fare and charging for them a-la-cart, LCCs are able to offer extremely low fares. Their everyday fares are usually less than half the standard airlines, and if you manage to snag one of their promotional fares, almost the entire fare can be taxes. However, they tend to charge you extra for pretty much everything, so if you are the type that wants to bring three bags, wine and dine while flying and the such, then you’ll find that the “low fare” turns into an expensive flight very quickly.

HK Express is a relatively new Low Cost Carrier (LLC) based in Hong Kong. Most of you will probably never have heard of it before, which is the main reason I’ve chosen it as the first airline to review in this series. We enjoyed two comfortable flights on HK Express in November 2013, and thus recommend it highly as a low-cost way to travel to cities on their currently limited route network.

The other reason I’m highlighting them at this time is that they are currently running a Mega Sale through May 21st, with base fares for their flights from as low as $50 HKD (about $6.50 USD) if you fly between September 1st and March 28th 2015. Note that the extra fees that get tacked definitely add to the cost, but you can net a one way to Chiang Mai, including 20kg bag, for about $55. As a comparison, the cheapest alternative option is AirAsia’s direct flight, which will run over $100. Flights to Korea and Japan aren’t as cheap, but are still in the $100-150 range during this promotion.

HK Express is based in Hong Kong and started operations in late October 2013. Their parent company, HNA Group, also owns Hainan Airlines, one of China’s largest carriers. I came across HK Express last October when I was trying to figure out the cheapest and most efficient way for us to travel from Taiwan to Chiang Mai (CNX). Looking at a map, you’ll note that Hong Kong (HKG) is directly between these two places, but during my initial research in summer 2013, I noticed that there weren’t really any direct flights between HKG and CNX. The most direct route at the time cost several hundred dollars, and the cheaper routes involved flights that connected in either Singapore (TigerAir) or Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia). AirAsia has since started a direct route from Chiang Mai to compete with HK Express.

Hong Kong has historically had minimal options for budget travelers, as the flagship carrier at the airport, Cathay Pacific, has done what it could to keep LCCs out of the airport. This is a stark contrast to many other large Southeast Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore, where LCCs have a huge presence and give travelers cheap flight access across the region. Thus I was very happy when I heard that HK Express was starting operations, even though there were of course minimal reviews of their operations (at least not for English speakers).

Route Network

HK Express has a small but growing list of destinations out of their hub in Hong Kong. They began by targeting routes that few to none of their competitors flew directly from Hong Kong, but have since expanded to include some more popular routes. The Chiang Mai route in particular was an intelligent choice in my mind. HK Express proved that the route had plenty of demand, as evidenced by AirAsia recently started their own daily service in January 2014.

HK Express Destination Map, current as of May 18th, 2014

HK Express Destination Map, current as of May 18th, 2014

HK Express review: Our Experience on two flights

We ended up booking two separate flights on HK Express in order to give us a chance to visit Hong Kong: Taichung to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong to Chiang Mai 48 hours later.  The flights were both comfortable and uneventful, exactly what we want when flying.

Our HK Express Plane in Taichung. They hadn't updated the livery yet.

Our HK Express Plane in Taichung. They hadn’t updated the livery yet.

I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that our flight from Taichung was only 25% full; Taichung is out-of-the-way and HK Express had only started operations a couple of weeks prior. In order to reach the airport we had to take a 2-hour train from Taipei to a tiny station near Taichung, then hop in a taxi to the airport. We weren’t even sure the taxi driver understood where we wanted to go until we got to the airport, as the only way we were able to communicate it was to show him a picture of a plane on my iPhone. The airport itself was actually quite nice. The terminal was recently built and had a restaurant where we were able to get ourselves a delicious noodle soup. However, it wasn’t immediately clear where to check in, as HK Express didn’t yet have their own dedicated desks. I imagine that has been sorted out by now. When we landed in Hong Kong, the plane parked on the tarmac and we were bussed to the terminal. This is one of the many ways that LCCs cut costs in order to lower the cost of your ticket.

Enjoying a delicious noodle soup from homee Kitchen in Taichung Airport

Enjoying a delicious noodle soup from homee Kitchen in Taichung Airport

On the other hand, our Hong Kong to Chiang Mai flight seemed to be sold out. The flight was especially popular with locals, as we were among just a handful of passengers who didn’t seem to be from Thailand or Hong Kong. HK Express operates out of terminal two at Hong Kong Airport, so we actually exited on the other side of the train when we arrived at the airport station. Once we checked in, an underground train took us to the gate, from where we once again got a bus ride to the plane. The negative is that accessing all the food and shopping options in the main airport terminal can take a while, as the gates are on the ground floor away from everything. The flight went by quickly as we happened to sit next to a young internet entrepreneur who told us a bit about his company and why he was moving to Chiang Mai. We knew Chiang Mai was a popular place to stay for expats, but learned that it is also becoming a popular destination for digital nomads. There is even a shared work space, Punspace, in the trendy Nimman Haemin district west of the city center.

As previously noted, we enjoyed both flights and were very happy with the price, especially considering we only booked them a week in advance. Our Taichung-Hong Kong flight was only $75/person, and Hong Kong – Chiang Mai was about $80/person. As noted previously, they are running one of their regular Mega Sales until May 21st, so take a look if you are shopping for flights.

photo 1

View inside HK Express plane. The stewardess wouldn’t let me take more pictures for some reason.

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3 Responses to Low Cost Carrier Reviews: HK Express = Cheap Flights from Hong Kong

  1. Robert May 19, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been a big fan of Air Asia for my last 2 SE Asia trips (12 Air Asia flights, and only one 30 minute delay), and will be flying Air Asia again a couple times in July. Very efficient airline, and I always pay the extra few dollars to get the Hot Seats in the first few rows. Nice flight attendants and efficient operation. But I’ll definitely check out HK Express and compare next time.

    • Aurelien May 19, 2014 at 1:23 am #

      Hi Robert,

      We are also fans of AirAsia and I will definitely be writing about our experience with them in a future LCC Review post. I decided to start with HK Express because they aren’t as well known, and they have a nice sale happening right now.

  2. jim January 24, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    I recently took a flight on Hong Kong Express from KMG to HKG and I found two incidents that were so incredible I have to write and let other flyers know. So be aware when you choose Hong Kong Express on your next trip.

    Checked baggage charge – I had to pay CNY 292.00 in cash for my 17kg checked in baggage. I found the charge was so outrageous when I paid CNY 349.00+tax for the ticket. The charge for one piece of regular checked-in baggage was as much as the ticket price – wow! You can see other reviews also complained about the excessive baggage charge. I purchased my tickets on Ctrip and it did not warn about the big charge. I later learn on HKE site about the charges.

    Food and Drinks – I forgot the exact words from the announcement but essentially what it said was you are NOT ALLOWED (NOT JOKING) to eat/drink your food or drinks that you have brought on the plane with you. I guess they want to sell you their food and drinks. I don’t know if any other airlines do this… and I have flown on many airlines.

I would love to hear from you!

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