Hong Kong is offering 500,000 free flights to visitors in an effort to revive tourism after being mostly closed off to international travelers for nearly three years during the pandemic. The tickets have been doled out in phases. The initial batches were only available to Southeast Asia residents and then to those in mainland China. But now, North Americans are finally able to apply.
The giveaway is part of a recently launched Hong Kong Tourism campaign, titled “Hello, Hong Kong”—an effort to welcome back the 56 million travelers who visited the city annually prepandemic.
Here’s what you need to know about snagging a free airline ticket to Hong Kong.
How to get free and discounted airline tickets to Hong Kong
On May 17 at 5:00 p.m. PST/8:00 p.m. EST, contestants in the United States will be able to enter for their chance at one of the round-trip economy class tickets to Hong Kong. The tickets will be distributed through Cathay Pacific’s website, on a first-come, first-served basis. If they’re not already, customers need to first become a Cathay member (which is free) and then visit the promotional page of the airline’s website to receive a promo code to book. (Our advice would be to go ahead and sign up for a Cathay account in advance of the giveaway.)
The flights to Hong Kong will be available from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s unclear how many tickets are available—per a press release “a limited number” have been allotted for Americans.
Additional caveats include:
- Passengers will still need to pay airport fees, surcharges, and taxes on the tickets
- Only one ticket is available per transaction
- Customers must travel within the next nine months with a minimum stay of two days and a maximum stay of one month
- All tickets are non-transferable and non-exchangeable (and only the taxes and surcharges are refundable)
In addition to the flight giveaway, Hong Kong is offering travelers “Hong Kong goodies,” a collection of freebies and vouchers that include their choice of:
- A welcome drink at more than 100 participating restaurants, bars, and hotels
- A cash voucher worth HK$100 (USD$12.75 currently), which can be used for dining and shopping
- An “exclusive gift” that will be provided to visitors at attractions and museums throughout the city
The vouchers are being distributed at the Hong Kong International Airport visitor center, Kowloon visitor center, and the Kong Kong West Kowloon station visitor center throughout 2023.
The effects of the pandemic on Hong Kong’s tourism sector
The airline ticket giveaway is part of a larger Hong Kong COVID relief package. During the early days of the pandemic, Hong Kong gave the airlines $255 million to stay afloat. Some of that money is now being used to supplement the flights.
While only 500,000 flights will be given away, Fred Lam, CEO of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, said, “We hope those who secure the air tickets can bring two or three more relatives and friends to the city. . . . We believe this can help bring Hong Kong over 1.5 million visitors.”
From 2020 until the end of 2022, Hong Kong largely aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-COVID” strategy (an effort to keep the number of COVID cases as close to zero as possible). It eventually started to relax its entry rules, but at a slower pace than other Asian countries, such as Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan. The city only dropped the last of its COVID travel rules in late December 2022 (though masking indoors and on public transport is still mandatory).
Hong Kong received 56 million visitors in 2019—more than seven times its population—before the pandemic began. But its strict COVID-19 restrictions had a severe impact on visitor numbers over the past three years, devastating the tourism sector and its economy. Hong Kong’s 2022 visitor numbers were just 1 percent of the 2019 numbers, and the city’s GDP last year fell 3.5 percent compared to 2021, according to government data.
At the start of this year, Hong Kong finally dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine rule and PCR tests for incoming travelers, resulting in a slight increase in arrival figures.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.