Speculation: Could Another Airline Join Oneworld? Cathay Wants To Acquire HK Express

by Chris Dong

Will there be a new Oneworld carrier joining the alliance soon? Cathay Pacific is in talks to acquire low-cost carrier HK Express. Both airlines are Hong Kong-based, with Cathay Pacific a founding member of the Oneworld alliance.

Hong Kong Express: A Fast Growing Budget Airline

As reported on by the South China Morning Post, Cathay Pacific publicly announced it was “in active discussions about an acquisition involving HKE (Hong Kong Express).”

HK Express is a relatively small, but fast-growing airline that began its life in its current iteration as a low-cost carrier in 2013. It currents has service to 24 Asian destinations. HK Express operates a fleet of 24 narrowbody Airbus aircraft in an all-economy configuration.


HK Express mainly serves leisure destinations from Hong Kong.

The parent company of HK Express, the HNA Group, also owns the financially troubled Hong Kong Airlines.

See Also: Review: Hong Kong Airlines Business Class From LAX to HKG 

I flew HK Express in January to position to Da Nang, Vietnam as part of the incredible Cathay Pacific first class mistake fare. I had an overall pleasant experience for a budget carrier. It reminded me of flying AirAsia, except the food selection was less varied and taste was markedly worse.

Will HK Express Join The Oneworld Alliance If Acquired?

I realize there’s a lot of “ifs” here. However, as a frequent flyer of Oneworld myself, this would impact me on a personal level, and I’d be speculating anyhow. If acquired, I think there are two possibilities.

(1) HK Express could join Oneworld Connect.

Oneworld Connect is a new-ish program for non-alliance airlines to share certain Oneworld services and benefits like priority check-in and priority boarding. However, full mileage and elite earnings aren’t usually part of the equation. Think of it as a junior league Oneworld.


Fiji Airways was the first Oneworld Connect member.

(2) HK Express could become a Cathay Pacific subsidiary with no alliance connection.

After all, there’s precedent here. Singapore Airlines owns budget carrier Scoot but has no affiliation with Star Alliance. Same with Qantas owning low cost carrier JetStar with the latter not part of Oneworld (with the exception of Jetstar’s participation in Oneworld around-the-world fares). There are other examples out there too.

Matthew over at Live and Let’s Fly had a fantastic write-up on the explosion of  low-cost carriers and finding middle ground between becoming full-fledged alliance members and being totally independent.

Keep in mind HK Express is already part of its own mini-alliance and frequent flyer program, U-Fly. It’s the program for five low-cost HNA Group airlines: HK Express, Lucky Air, Urumqi Air, and West Air. Yeah, we haven’t heard of them either. 

The Upshot

My guess is that HK Express, if acquired by Cathay Pacific, would not have a full Oneworld alliance membership and may join Fiji Airways as a Oneworld Connect member.

While less competition isn’t great for consumers, this potential move by Cathay Pacific makes sense to keep pace with other airlines. I’m hopeful that if this deal goes through, I can flash my Oneworld status and use Cathay’s amazing Hong Kong lounges — even when flying on a budget. 😎


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Evan March 5, 2019 - 8:22 am

Don’t hold your breath about that lounge access; look at the Vueling situation with BA and Iberia.

Chris Dong March 5, 2019 - 8:30 am

I know, it was *mostly* tongue in cheek but top tier BA Golds do have lounge access if flying a BA marketed ticket on one of those LCCs.


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