Who doesn’t like saving time and hassle while traveling? I’ve discussed expedited entry programs before, and I’m certainly a fan. The Easy Pass program in Germany is a nice feature, allowing certain registered foreigners to use the automated kiosks for passport control. Japan also has a Trusted Traveler program, although I have not personally used it. There are other options as well, but the two I’ve mentioned above are free for US citizens, as well as others.
During a recent trip, I transited Hong Kong, and again utilized the E-Channel Frequent Visitor system to bypass a huge wait for passport control. I registered for this program some years ago, but I am happy to report that it is even easier to use now. On my last time through I bypassed a queue of hundreds of people for a bank of kiosks with no wait. These kiosks are intended for Hong Kong residents, and frequent visitors. This huge time savings was my motivation to share this process in more detail here.
Frequent Flyer membership to get Frequent Visitor access in Hong Kong
There are various options to qualify for this, among the easiest is membership in many Frequent Flyer programs that serve Hong Kong. I haven’t seen a current list, but Australian Business Traveler has a list they last updated in 2014.
Here are the options from AusBT, with my addition of American, and there are others added since 2014:
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air France
- Air New Zealand: Silver, Gold, Gold Elite
- Asiana Airlines
- British Airways: Silver, Gold
- Cathay Pacific: all Marco Polo members
- China Airlines
- China Southern
- Eva Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Hong Kong Airlines
- Hong Kong Express
- Japan Airlines: Crystal, Sapphire, Premier, Diamond; JAL Global Club
- Jet Airways
- Korean Air: all Morning Calm members
- Lufthansa: Frequent Traveller, Senator, HON Circle
- Malaysia Airlines: Silver, Gold and Platinum
- Philippine Airlines
- Qantas: Gold, Platinum, Platinum One, Chairman’s Lounge
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Brunei
- Singapore Airlines:Gold and PPS Club
- Swiss: all Miles & More members
- Thai Airways
- United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K
- Virgin Atlantic: Gold
I’m sure there are changes to this list in the meantime. For example, I know American now qualifies, but it basically seems like most airlines that fly into Hong Kong qualify, and in most case elite status is not required.
Other options to qualify for using the Frequent Visitor E-channel
(from the HK immigration page):
A passenger is eligible to enroll for the e-Channel service if fulfilling the following criteria:
Holding one of the following valid documents:For passenger not holding one of the documents mentioned in item (3) above:
(1) Aged 18 or above; (2) Holding a valid travel document and where appropriate, valid multiple visit visa; (3) – HKSAR Travel Pass; – APEC Business Travel Card with ‘HKG’ printed on the reverse side; – Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) Frequent Visitor Card; or Bolding mine: – Frequent Flyer Programme membership card issued by airlines which have joined this scheme (please enquire with airlines for details). (4) – Holding a valid travel document which is not required to have entry visa / permit for entering the HKSAR; – Has made visits to the HKSAR via the Hong Kong International Airport for no fewer than 3 times in the past 12 months immediately before enrollment for the e-Channel service. (5) No adverse record in the HKSAR.
When I originally registered for Frequent Visitor access, I used my United elite card. At that time, a barcode sticker is affixed to the back of my passport. As I recall, this barcode was read to access the kiosks. Now just the machine scans the passport information page. My passport still has the sticker, but I don’t believe there is any obvious indication for new enrollees to prove they have access. There are dedicated checkpoints at security for residents or Frequent visitors, but this didn’t seem to be policed very strictly.
How to enroll in Frequent Visitor E-Channel
The first time I attempted to register for this program, I walked right past the registration areas, missing it all together. These desks are just past the passport control area, but before getting to the baggage claim area. Once you get your passport “stamp”, find an Enrollment office, and get signed up. Map below:
Hours for Enrollment offices at Hong Kong International Airport are as follows:
Hong Kong International Airport
Arrival North Hall (after arrival counters)
Arrival South Hall (after arrival counters)
7:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
At the enrollment, an eligible passenger is required to present his/her valid HKSAR Travel Pass, APEC Business Travel Card, HKIA Frequent Visitor Card or Frequent Flyer Programme membership card, his/her valid travel document and a multiple visit visa (if applicable), sign an enrollment notice, have his/her fingerprints and photograph taken and have a bar-code sticker affixed to the enrolled travel document.
How to save time on both arrival and departure
Hard to quantify time savings exactly since lines can vary greatly depending on various factors. But still, I find the time savings worthwhile, and this program offers 3 main benefits. To me, the main benefit is in using automated kiosks for residents with minimal lines on arrival and departure. This process eliminates the need to speak to a customs/immigration agent, as the system is automated. At the kiosk, users scan their passport, then a set of gates open, and then there is a fingerprint scanner. Next the machine spits out the entry stamp (on a small piece of paper). Additionally, this system allows for expedited access to security screening upon departure from Hong Kong.
On my recent trip, I discovered that there is the option of using the kiosks when departing Hong Kong, even without registration, using a process called Smart Departure. Requirements for this include:
A departing visitor is eligible to use “Smart Departure” at the Hong Kong International Airport without enrollment if fulfilling the following criteria:
If you travel through Hong Kong, and haven’t signed up for the Frequent Visitor E-Channel yet, why not?