HONG KONG will begin giving away 500,000 airline tickets from Wednesday in a bid to attract visitors and boost its flagging economy, just as it finally drops its compulsory mask-wearing rule.

The tickets will be distributed by the city’s airlines — Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and its budget unit HK Express, as well as Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. and newcomer Greater Bay Airlines Co.

Residents in Thailand, initially. Cathay will hand out 80,000 round-trip tickets in March, starting Wednesday with 17,400 allocated to Thailand. Then it will expand the handouts to Singapore and the Philippines later this week and other nearby Asian countries in the following days.

Hong Kong Airlines will also distribute tickets from Wednesday to residents of Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. The carrier hasn’t disclosed how many tickets will be handed out to each country. Greater Bay Airlines will give out tickets to Taiwan in May, followed by South Korea in July. HK Express will join the campaign in April, but it hasn’t disclosed details. 

Free tickets will open for mainland Chinese residents in April. Some 80,000 tickets will become available to Hong Kong residents in July, though it is unclear what routes they will be valid for. Authorities also haven’t given a reason for the different timelines and ordering of the handouts.

Cathay requires people to register on its website and take part in a quiz with three questions. The tickets will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis to those who get the answers right. Each applicant can submit one entry only. The winners will be announced on the campaign website on April 3 and receive a confirmation email the same day.

Hong Kong Airlines will also hand out tickets on a first-come-first-serve basis. It has released application details on its campaign page.

Cathay says participants must be at least 18 years old and each winner can only get one ticket. Winners still need to pay taxes and surcharges, and tickets aren’t refundable, redeemable for cash or transferable. You also can’t upgrade seats using cash or frequent-flier miles.    

Yes, according to Cathay. Winners will receive a unique code via email once the redemption period begins. That must then be used within a month to get a ticket.

When booking a ticket, the minimum stay in Hong Kong is two days and the maximum is seven days, Cathay says. Winners are required to travel within nine months of receiving the email containing the redemption code. Rebooking charges stand at HK$1,200 ($150). 

Tourism has traditionally been a major contributor to Hong Kong’s coffers, but three years of Covid restrictions kept the city largely closed off from the outside world and battered its economy, leaving it trailing rival hub Singapore. 

Hong Kong’s economy shrank 3.5% in 2022 — the third contraction in four years — and it had a whopping HK$140 billion deficit for fiscal 2022-2023, about three times higher than the government’s original estimate.

The ticket giveaway is part of a “Hello Hong Kong” campaign to promote the city as a tourism center and bring back visitors. Airport Authority Hong Kong purchased the tickets in 2020 as part of a HK$2-billion rescue package for the aviation industry. Visit for more information the Airport Authority. — Bloomberg