Cathay Pacific Lets Social Media Stars into Its San Francisco Lounge

Cathay Pacific has recently embarked on what is at the very least, a truly unique and interesting experiment. Those who have a high level of influence in the world of social media will now be allowed to enter the airline’s lounge without charge whenever they happen to be flying Cathay Pacific Gives Klout Stars Lounge Accessout of the A concourse in San Francisco’s international terminal.

To me, this smells like a very smart promotion. The rationale is simple. Those who are social media stars are likely going to be Tweeting, posting on Facebook, and maybe even pinning things on Pinterest. If they have a wide reach, then Cathay’s lounge is going to be talked about a lot by a lot of people with influence. Not only will the airline get good, targeted exposure, but it will get some of the benefits of having a celebrity spokesperson without having to actually pay for it.

Why do companies get celebrity spokespeople? Because they think that you will have a more positive view of the offering and be more likely to buy it if someone you trust supports what they’re selling. That works to varying degrees (are you going to get a payday loan from MoneyMutal because Montel Williams says so?), but in this case, it should work wonders. There are plenty of social media stars who are hardly celebs, but they have avid followers that they can influence. If that helps keep Cathay Pacific top of mind and it gets people onboard the aircraft down the line, then it’s a success.

The threshold for success should be low because this can’t cost the airline much. The only real potential issue I can see is if so many people use it that it dilutes the experience for paying passengers.

The biggest issue, of course, is determining who should be considered a social media star. The vehicle Cathay Pacific has chosen is Klout. Klout uses a lot of voodoo and hocus-pocus to score people on their influence in social media circles. This score is on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the most awesome person to have ever lived. I rank as a 51, which is apparently good enough to get me in the door for Cathay Pacific. If you have a score of 40 or higher, you can get past the velvet rope.

There’s just one problem. So far, it’s only valid for those with the Klout app on the iPhone. I’m assuming that’s just a temporary issue, because there are plenty of people with Android phones or *gasp* Blackberries who might like to take advantage of this.

The big question in my mind is . . . how many people will actually use this? I mean, the Cathay Pacific lounge is in the A concourse at SFO’s international terminal. Without going through each airline, it’s effectively the home of non-Star Alliance airlines that fly internationally out of SFO. Oh, and JetBlue is there as well for domestic flights. The lounge is open four hours before each of the airline’s two daily flights. That means you can get in there from 935a to 135p and from 910p to 110a.

People don’t just have to be flying on Cathay to take advantage of this, so there is a wider audience than you might expect. Heck, if I’m flying JetBlue to Long Beach on the noon flight (and if I had an iPhone, which I don’t), I could walk right in and relax with the Cathay passengers. That’s pretty sweet.

And you know what? I’m sure I’d tweet about it. And I’d write it up in my trip report. And then maybe some of you would start thinking about how you wish you could try out Cathay Pacific. That’s exactly why the airline is doing this. I think it’s a very smart play, as long as the response isn’t too strong that it hurts the experience for paying passengers.

[Original photo via Flickr user Ken_Mayer/CC 2.0]


28 Responses to Cathay Pacific Lets Social Media Stars into Its San Francisco Lounge

  1. David says:

    You forget however about the credibility on the web of the person who’s doing the blogging. Start advertising too many products without disclosure, and twitter followers starts to go down…

  2. Rohit Rao says:

    Doesn’t appear to be too hard to get a 40… I think they’re going to need to raise the qualifying score…

  3. SEAN says:

    Sorry Brett, I need to call it for what it is. This is a freek’n joke. Ever herd of the term sheeple? Anyone who is easily influenced by online communication in the way you describe, are just that – sheep & we all know what ends up happening to sheep.

    • CF says:

      SEAN – I couldn’t disagree more. Why would you call them sheeple if they have trusted sources for information and they like to follow those sources?

      Let’s say that for some crazy reason, a guy named Bob considers this blog a trusted source. If I go into the lounge and check it out and give my honest impression (which I always do), then why shouldn’t Bob be influenced by that? Bob might be looking for a premium experience for his next flight to Hong Kong and he’ll probably remember when I covered it. That helps to build his impression of what’s good and what’s not.

    • SEAN says:

      Point taken. However, regardless how trusted a given source might be, the public needs to think for them selves & not get caught up in what someone says on social media. Hense my sheeple comment above.

      Sorry if you didn’t take it that way.

  4. If I saw some social media posts from inside the club posting about it, I would just think they got something for free and are saying nice things so wouldn’t make much of it.

    Wait until the first celeb or Silicon Valley billionaire starts seeing tweets about them from someone within the club saying how they just picked their nose, went to pee, stunk up the toilet, didn’t wash their hands, etc.

    Sounds more like CX is just trying to ‘buy’ good press.

  5. SEAN says:

    Sorry Brett, I need to call it for what it is, a pittiful joke. Cathay Pacific is looking for sheeple & giving access to a lounge to those who can leed the herd.

    • Jason H says:

      SEAN – I think you are having a reaction to something that you might need to pause and consider.

      The rise of blogs and other social media are a two edged sword (which is an odd saying, but that’s a digression for a blog perhaps). The democratization of news and information that they enable have led to more information on otherwise obscure topics. However, they have also led to the compartmentalization of people and their opinions. Twitter is a natural extension of this process with the added “quick and fast” format that many people are demanding today. The reason they are demanding it is explored in several good books that I can post if you are interested.

      Remember that when the Internet was first “released” on the masses the established media positioned it as a frivolous waste of time and there were vast groups of people that said they would never jump on the bandwagon. Now those people are here in the Internet as it has left its juvenile stage and grown into a powerful tool for business and education. Social media is following much the same arch. Already the concept of a “wiki” has moved from a joke or a “bad source” to a tool for business.

      CX is trying to use the growing penetration of social media and the number of people that use social media contacts to help form opinions and make decisions to position their airline as cutting edge. It’s a good strategy with very little down side. Sure someone could write a negative review or tweet, but if CX reacts to it appropriately they can even mark those down as positives if they are seen as being honest and forthcoming in fixing an issue.

      • SEAN says:

        CX is trying to use the growing penetration of social media and the number of people that use social media contacts to help form opinions and make decisions to position their airline as cutting edge.

        Fare enough, but everyone needs to consider that just because social media is used to influence opinions &shape decision making, doesn’t meen the outcomes will be positive. Again as I posted to brett, the public needs to think for them selves. Just because Cathay Pacific is cutting edge, will that translate in higher profit margins?

  6. I think my major takeaway from this is that Klout finally has a mobile app. Nevertheless, I think an AVGeek roadtrip is necessary.

  7. D-ROCK says:

    I just learned that if you link BOTH your facebook and twitter to your Klout account that your score goes up…Mine is now 46 (was 33 only with twitter)… Brett if you can link your blog/flicker to Klout somehow, your score will go even higher!

    • CF says:

      I went in there and linked YouTube, Flickr, and LinkedIn and nothing changed. Apparently, I’m not very influential in those areas!

  8. David says:

    Wondering now if this is all an (albeit interesting) overblown reaction. Someone at Cathay’s office in SFO has probably been reading about Klout and Kred, and decided ‘we wanna be cool too !’
    It’s one station in a town where everyone is a tech wannabe. Certainly worth a trial, but may well be squished by management in HK if it doesn’t produce some results

  9. Chuckster says:

    Sorry Cranky but I have to go with the majority of the replies here. I believe that “social clout” is even more over-valued than Facebook stock. Just because someone has an elevated Klout score (much like their ego, I’m sure!) doesn’t mean they have a clue about the value of a product or service. If you, as an experienced travel industry insider, tweet from there telling me what a great value it is, I’m likely to pay attention. But when some techno-geek-hipster-mogul-wanna-be, with an inflated Kred score–which means they likely spend more time posting and checking in than doing something of value–tweets, I have to ask what their credentials are. Is a “celebrity” an expert on every subject just because they’re a celebrity? God, I hope not!

    • Jason H says:

      While a valid point to disregard it out of hand is folly of the opposite extreme. People often opt for the either/or extremes because it is easier to handle than forming an educated opinion. Not saying you are doing so, but that it is the majority rather than the minority.

  10. QRC3288 says:

    Sorry Brett, but it’s a complete joke. The folks I know who pay for premium classes on Cathay already know what Cathay is – they don’t need someone on Twitter to tell them about it. Myself, colleagues and peers have contributed at times upwards of $100k USD/year each to Cathay in recent years, and it is an embarrassment, a degradation of the brand and an point of complete disrespect. I know at least one person who has switched to SQ01/02 (SFO-HKG flight competitor to Cathay’s) because this was the last straw.
    1.) The CX new lounge in SFO is already well-hated for being too small. CX pax formerly used the BA lounge, which although not perfect, at least was big enough and had lounge boarding. No more. Whenever CX has a full 747, the lounge is already full with people sitting on the floor. Now they’ve added more people, better yet the types who are going to come in and eat up the already lame bandwidth of the lounge and are probably flying in Y class without status, or might even be getting their tickets for free.
    2.) Revenue and the dilution of premium class. This concept is dead on US airlines, where “First” class (both domestic and intl) is a royal joke. A CX F ticket costs about $15k USD round-trip to HKG. A J ticket is somewhere in the range of $5-7k. And there are no “systemwide upgrades”, automatic op-ups, etc. on Cathay Pacific that plague US airlines. Op-ups only happen for operational reasons. Business and first class frequently go out half full. But if you fly on Cathay’s first class regularly, you’ll appreciate it – and come back and buy more tickets in the future. Although not perfect, many of us feel like Cathay does a good job protecting the premium cabin, although lately there have been a few initiatives that have rankled feathers as CX faces a cyclical downturn. As a businessman who frequently pays for those tickets, it feels wrong and makes me less inclined to buy tix. We have great options in Asia, and ironically SFO literally has a SQ flight to/from HKG which has a very lovely J class (better than CX’s on the SFO route), although the F hard product isn’t as good as Cathay’s.

    The idea that a few bloggers and social media folks are going to ultimately have a net positive effect on people buying those premium tickets – as they take up space in the lounge from paying pax – is just a rationalization. Imagine, someone buys an F ticket SFO-HKG, walks into the lounge, there are the folks already sitting on the floor, there is the crew with the Klout scores of 40 with their computers spread out, headphones on, munching on whatever is free, it’s just a bad idea. It’s a terrible, terrible idea and I suspect i won’t be re-upped as soon as it expires in July.

    The only hope I have is that all these Klout score people post about what a crammed lounge it is. And it backfires on CX in the face and they never do something so stupid again.

    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/cathay-pacific-asia-miles-487/

    • Sean says:

      Honestly this post define for me exactly everything that is wrong with the attitude of people who buy first class tickets. It’s less about buying a comfortable chair to fly in then lording it over the so called little people with the fact that you can drop your company’s travel budget on your flights.

      • Sanjeev M says:

        Yes I also don’t like it when first class people feel over-entitled but they’re they ones subsidizing our cheapo economy tickets.

        Lets see what the effect on the lounge at SFO is. A report from a Cranky reader or somewhere on one of the airline forums would be good.

        • QRC3288 says:

          I’ve been there twice now. It’s a nice lounge but crammed.

        • Sean says:

          Saying first class fliers subsidize economy class is like saying someone who buys the more expensive bauble at a retail store su sidize those who buy something more reasonable. While space on an aircraft is rather inelastic, the truth is airlines could cut back on the suites and simply have more biz class and still come out even. The reality is that fliers are concerned with getting to their destination, and however the airlines decide to set up the cabin consumers will have to tolerate.

      • QRC3288 says:

        I don’t mean to sound over-entitled, my apologies for the tone. My vitriol is certainly not about lording over the “little people”. There are HEAPS of people who pay fair and square for economy tickets and earn their benefits, and they should get every ounce of what they’re entitled to. And they do it with a lot less $ for Cathay than guys who fly J and F, but they still are fair well entitled to the benefits the airline has promised them. Those promised benefits greatly affect pax’s purchasing decisions. Cathay has a “Silver” tier (30k miles a year), which gives spectacular benefits for the buck. Lounge access to any Cathay-operated lounge is one of them, and I know plenty of folks in HK who have given incremental Y business to Cathay just to earn that right. What does this Klout thing do? This Klout thing frankly $hits on them, it says “ha, you gave us incremental dollars to get to Silver status, but btw, it doesn’t really matter. Our not-too-clever just-out-of-business school 27 year old cooked up this promotion so let’s give it a shot to be hip!” There have been a few other promos Cathay has done recently that have ticked off us loyal “Marco Polo Club” (their loyalty program) members, by undercutting the program by handing out a lot of the benefits that used to be exclusively for people who earned them. Among a large community here in Hong Kong who flies very frequently, those recent efforts have been rewarded with colleagues and myself trying to shift business to Singapore and ANA. It’s not so hard to position a meeting in Singapore or Tokyo before or after our North America trips.

        My J and F rant was more a counter to the argument Brett is making about the economics of this – allowing Klout folks into the lounge. I get that argument that it gets the word out. But I think it is very short-sighted, and detrimental to CX as a premium carrier. I was using those #s trying to prove the point that it does not make economic sense for Cathay to do that, because it runs the risk of pi$$ing off the folks who are putting serious dollars in the airline’s coffer. It certainly isn’t meant as an affront to Y flying pax and my apologies if that’s how it came across. Because those Y pax are incredibly important to maximizing the operating leverage inherent in an aircraft. And, frankly it is an affront to those loyal Cathay Y pax as well, who have earned the right to enjoy that lounge and not have it flooded with guys flying Jetblue who will step on one Cathay flight every decade.

        My problem is the fact that this is a dilution of benefits for fair and square paying pax (including Y pax) who are, in essence, paying for those benefits via their loyal (and in the case of J and F pax, expensive) patronage of the airline. So there will be plenty of important “Klout” people flying Jetblue out of SFO’s intl terminal, who never will fly CX in their life (or if they do it might be once or twice in a blue moon, contributing very little revenue in the process), overcrowding the already overcrowded lounge, diluting benefits for everyone else who has “paid” for them, whether they’re flying Y, J or F.

        • Sanjeev M says:

          Good point. It’s like when DL values Amex cardholders as much as its butt-in-seat Silver Medallions by giving them a free bag.

          Yeah this is probably the byproduct of some MBA/Consulting firm. This is why airline people need to run airlines.

  11. V says:

    Klout is easily gamed into increasing your score. Google it and you can see how to artificially increase your score. This is the reason why it is not a reliable source of information.

  12. Certainly a good move from a PR perspective… until an influential blogger has a negative experience there. Companies are only just realising how influential some of these people are and like starting a facebook page, they don’t always know what they are getting into.

    This has potential negative side effects for them, so it does require some bravery on Cathay Pacific’s choice, but shows they have confidence in their lounge. Now to see if it has any effect at all…

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