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What It’s Like Flying HK Express [June 2024 Review]

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Ryan Smith
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Ryan Smith

Senior Editor & Content Contributor

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Countries Visited: 197U.S. States Visited: 50

Ryan completed his goal of visiting every country in the world in December of 2023 and now plans to let his wife choose their destinations. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publicat...
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Chris Dong

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Chris is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud aviation geek and transit nerd). Formerly full time ...
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Sometimes, when passing through an airport, I see signs for an airline I’ve never heard of before and often wonder what it’s like flying on that airline. Recently, my wife and I flew HK Express (also known as Hong Kong Express) from Tokyo to Hong Kong. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like flying on this airline, read on.

In many ways, HK Express (airline code UO) felt like flying other low-cost Asian airlines. The cheap fares reel you in, while the add-ons eat up some of the original value that created the initial excitement. That said, the actual experience of flying with the airline was quite good overall.

Here are the positives and negatives we experienced with HK Express.

HK Express Positives

Let’s start with the good stuff. Whether you’re a fan of low-cost carriers or not, some of these positives will make you satisfied regardless.

Comfortable Seats

As airlines race to the bottom with seat comfort and pitch (the space between your seat and the one in front of it), it’s always good to find a comfortable seat. HK Express surprised us here, offering a fair amount of padding and solid comfort on the Airbus A321neo that we flew from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG).

HKExpress economy seats
Standard economy seats on an A321neo.

Most likely, you can chalk that up to the newness of the cabin on our flight. While cushioning was good, skimpy armrests between seats were not. That said, the actual seat itself was better than we expected.

Clear Explanation of Costs

With any low-cost carrier, HK Express included, you’ll pay for anything beyond a seat. While purchasing your ticket, you’ll find optional add-ons for everything from priority boarding to checked luggage and inflight meals available for preorder.

Meal costs for this 4.5-hour flight ranged from ¥39 (~$5.50) to ¥65 (~$9.15).

HKExpress meal cost
Preorder meal options and costs. Image Credit: HK Express

Additionally, choosing a seat in advance comes at a cost. Choosing a standard seat costs ¥60 (~$8.45); however, choosing a seat near the front of the plane costs ¥110 (~$15.50). The cost for a Comfort Seat, those in the first few rows and exit rows with additional legroom, cost ¥210 (~$29.50). That’s on par with what some U.S. airlines charge for choosing to sit in the exit row if you don’t have elite status.

HKExpress seat cost
Costs for choosing a seat in advance. Image Credit: HK Express

It was also possible to pay for priority boarding. While all of these costs add up quickly — making your “bargain fare” not such a bargain if you get the extras — they were at least clear throughout the booking process. No one wants surprise charges when checking in at the airport or boarding an aircraft, and HK Express made the costs and inclusions easy to understand.

Hot Tip:

Both our ticket purchase and checked baggage fees were coded as “airline” on our credit card. You should use one of these top credit cards for airline purchases to earn the most points when paying for an HK Express flight.

Helpful Flight Attendants

I’m not sure if I’ve ever praised flight attendants on a low-cost carrier before. These airlines don’t run a business model focused on “wow” service. That said, HK Express had incredible flight attendants. What earned them this praise? They helped with the most annoying part of the boarding process: people who block the aisle and slow everyone down.

HKExpress A321 neo economy cabin
HK Express economy cabin on an Airbus A321neo.

Any time a passenger looked lost, struggled to put their stuff in the overhead bin, or generally blocked the aisle (and thus the people behind them), flight attendants went into action, herding people into their seats, putting items into overhead bins, and encouraging everyone to work for the efficiency of all passengers.

Sure, the cabin attendant who jammed my wife’s backpack into the overhead bin could’ve been a bit nicer about it, but the crew kept the boarding process rolling like a well-oiled machine, and we managed to depart early because of it. Well done.

Hot Tip:

While HK Express is fully owned by Cathay Pacific, it isn’t possible to earn Cathay Asia Miles (though you can redeem them). Because its flights are generally cheap, you may not find good value in redeeming your Asia Miles with HK Express.

HK Express Negatives

Not everything was roses when flying with HK Express. I have 2 chief negatives to highlight if you’re considering flying with this airline.

Disorganized Boarding at the Gate

While flight attendants did a great job of running the show once you got inside the plane, what happened before you got there was a mess. The boarding process at the gate was a free-for-all.

HKExpress boarding gate 98 Tokyo NRT
The singular boarding line at Tokyo NRT airport.

A paid service called Express Boarding could be added to your ticket, letting you board in a dedicated line. We never saw anyone use it. Thus, everyone filtered into a single “economy boarding” line that had no rhyme or reason. There were no boarding groups and no boarding by row numbers. You boarded based on however quickly you realized boarding had started and jumped in line.

HKExpress economy and express boarding lanes
The unused Express Boarding line and general boarding.

Expensive Checked Baggage Fees

While I appreciate that costs were clearly outlined during the booking process, I did find the cost for checked luggage exorbitant. Moreover, it climbed the closer we got to our departure date.
At the time of booking, we paid ¥330 (~$46.40) each to add a checked bag of 25 kilograms (55 pounds) to our reservation.

If you didn’t add checked bags at the time of booking, that option disappeared. Later on, you could only add luggage in increments of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) or 32 kilograms (70 pounds). 20 kilograms is on the lighter side for luggage weight limits, as 23 kilograms is pretty standard for most airlines.

HKExpress baggage fees
Checked luggage costs. Image Credit: HK Express

Moreover, the costs for checked luggage seemed high compared to what other airlines charge. The 20-kilogram option cost ¥370 (~$52, more than we paid for 25 kilograms at the time of booking), and the 32-kilogram option cost ¥490 (~$69).

In summary, while the costs were made clear, they seem higher than average, and you’ll do best by adding checked luggage at the time of booking.

Hot Tip:

When paying online, HK Express offers to let you pay in your home currency, a process known as dynamic currency conversion. Make sure to pay in local currency using a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.

Final Thoughts

We wound up on HK Express out of necessity. We needed a flight departing from Tokyo Narita late enough that we could catch it after arriving on ZIPAIR on a separate ticket (meaning we had to go through passport control, claim luggage, and do a new check-in). We also wanted a flight that would still get us to Hong Kong that same day. HK Express was 1 of just 3 flights meeting those criteria, and it was the cheapest option.

The flight exceeded expectations in terms of punctuality and seat comfort, and we liked that all of our costs were made clear upfront. However, the boarding process was hectic, and the checked bag fees seemed abnormally high.

I wouldn’t intentionally seek out HK Express in the future, but it’s helpful to know what the experience is like if you’re eyeing an HK Express flight as part of an upcoming trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is HK Express a good airline?

The airline has a solid safety record and operates as a low-cost carrier. Thus, you’ll pay for any extras you want, and the airline is rather strict with weight and size limits for luggage. If you know and follow those rules, the flying experience can be a good one.

What terminal does HK Express use in Tokyo?

At Tokyo NRT, HK Express uses Terminal 2. At Tokyo HND, HK Express uses Terminal 3.

Does HK Express include checked bags?

Checked luggage is not included with your fare. You’ll need to add it (for an additional cost) if you want to check luggage on your flight.

What’s included with my HK Express ticket?

Essentially, all you get is the seat. Meals, drinks, snacks, and checked luggage are not included automatically. You’ll need to pay for these if you want them.

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About Ryan Smith

Ryan completed his goal of visiting every country in the world in December of 2023 and now plans to let his wife choose their destinations. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.

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