The MTRC have been making a big fuss about the trains on the Airport Express running every 12 minutes rather than every 15 minutes. Yes, but up until a year ago, trains were running every 10 minutes. Then (at the height of the SARS "crisis") they reduced the service to 4 trains an hour, and it has taken them until now to increase the regular service to 5 trains an hour. The original service of 6 trains an hour continues to be available during holidays such as Christmas, Chinese New Year and Easter.
It's all rather odd - the airport is successful and yet taxi drivers are complaining about the reduced level of business (compared with the old Kai Tak airport in Kowloon) and the Airport Express is also suffering.
One consequence of this is that the fares on the Airport Express are now a bit of a joke, with a vast and confusing selection of discounts available. Most of them are only available if you ask, and simply using your Octopus card is unlikely to give you the best deal (though you do get a free trip on the MTR to and from any AE station). The exception being if you are making a return trip to the airport on the same day, in which case your return journey is free, and this is done automatically if you use your Octopus card. Some of the other offers are:
- If two or more people travel together (one-way), you can buy a group ticket and save 30-35%.
- Use a taxi to go to Kowloon or Tsing Yi stations, and you can get a 50% discount for up to 5 people using an Octopus card - as long as you ask for it.
- Children can travel free and students and the elderly get 50% off - as long as you use your Octopus card and ask for the discount before you travel (and this promotion seems to come and go, somewhat randomly).
- If you are travelling on your own and not using the MTR (or if your company pays your expenses) you can even buy a special ticket that gives you a small discount and Asia Miles.
You can combine some of these offers - the taxi discount and the free return journey mean that you only pay HK$15 each way between Tsing Yi and the Airport - but most are mutually exclusive, so if you use the group ticket you lose the free MTR journey.
Of course, even the full fares are a reduction on what was originally announced when the Airport Express was first launched nearly 6 years ago. There were a lot of complaints at the time about the high fares, and eventually the introductory discounts were made permanent. Now there is no need even to pay these reduced fares!
I think everyone knows that if you are travelling by air it is worth spending some time checking for the best offers (or at least find a good travel agent who will do the job for you), but should it really be necessary to do the same thing when taking a train to the airport? It also seems somewhat absurd that, having come up with the Octopus card to make travelling around Hong Kong simpler, the MTRC should encourage travellers to buy special tickets instead. Passengers are given a choice between the convenience of simply using their Octopus cards or queueing up to get a discount.
Having said all of this, I must add that the Airport Express is clean, comfortable and fast. It's also much more convenient than most of the comparable services in other countries, especially the very short walk from the platform to the check-in desks (which is ten minutes at Shanghai's Pudong airport according to the SCMP, and probably about the same at Heathrow Airport).