9 Ways to Hack a Hong Kong Layover
There are many good reasons why one might be spending a couple of hours at Hong Kong International Airport. In my case, a Hong Kong layover was in the cards even before my actual destination had been decided. International flights are almost always cheaper from Hong Kong than from the Philippines, so when I was still just fiddling with Google Flights, trying to see where I could go on a budget, my “From” city was always Hong Kong. It actually makes sense even from a non-budgetary perspective: most long-haul flights from the Philippines fly from Manila, but I live in Cebu, so I would still have to fly to Manila anyway to catch a flight. On the other hand, I could just as easily fly from Cebu direct to Hong Kong and catch a flight there — and let’s be honest, I don’t know anyone who would prefer a Manila layover to a Hong Kong layover.
Did you know?
You can save $400 on a Philippine Airlines flight to London by flying from Hong Kong — with a short stop in Manila — instead of flying straight from Manila.
That said, my flight from Cebu landed in Hong Kong at 8:55 AM, but my flight out was still at 11:20 PM, so I had to find ways to make the nearly 15-hour interval bearable. Here’s what I learned.
Take the Airport Express to the city.
It’s not the cheapest way to travel between the airport and central Hong Kong, but the Airport Express is fast and unaffected by road traffic, which could be important if you’re on a layover and need to factor in travel times in your plans. Plus, a Same Day Return ticket on the Airport Express costs the same as a one-way ticket — your ride back to the airport is basically free. Another plus: there are complimentary shuttle buses from Airport Express stations to various points in central HK, including the ferry terminal and the big hotels by Victoria Harbour, making it convenient for sightseeing. Finally, there’s one more reason for taking the Airport Express…but we’ll get to it in #2.
Fares for Same Day Return tickets:
- Airport to/from Tsing Yi station – HK$60
- Airport to/from Kowloon station – HK$90
- Airport to/from Hong Kong station – HK$100
Avail of in-town check-in at the Airport Express Kowloon and Hong Kong stations.
At the airport you can check in ~3 hours before your flight, but at the Kowloon and Hong Kong stations of the Airport Express, you can check in as early as 24 hours prior — yes, including bag drop. That way, you don’t have to go [back] to the airport very early: you can check in whenever it’s convenient, go around the city and back to the airport without having to bring heavy bags with you, and then go straight to Passport Control.
This is a cool perk even for travelers who aren’t just in Hong Kong for a layover. You know how, on the day of check-out, if your flight is still many hours away you try to leave your luggage at your hotel/hostel, do a little more sightseeing, and then come back for your bags and go to the airport? Well, imagine if you can check in at your hotel/hostel and they take charge of sending on your bags to the airport and onward to your destination. That’s what Airport Express’ in-town check-in basically does.
My own experience: I bought a Same Day Return ticket at the airport; took the Airport Express to Kowloon station; checked in and dropped my bags, bringing only my carry-on backpack with me; took the free shuttle to the harbour; walked around, went on a harbour cruise, walked around some more; then took the free shuttle back to Kowloon station and the Airport Express back to the airport. I’d checked beforehand at the travel forums if anyone had had problems with luggage they’d dropped in-town, but I didn’t see any complaints, and sure enough my bags were waiting intact for me at CDG.
A few things to note:
- You do need to have an Airport Express ticket that’s valid on the same day as you check in. (You will need it to go past the barriers leading to the check-in area.) That’s another reason why taking the slightly more expensive Airport Express to the city is a good idea: the convenience makes the additional expense worth it.
- There are some airlines that don’t allow in-town check-in. Cebu Pacific, for example, doesn’t offer this option. Philippine Airlines does, though; when I was there, their counter was at the rightmost end. Verify with your airline if they allow in-town check-in and how much lead time they need between bag drop and ETD.
Alternatively, you can leave your luggage at the airport.
There’s a baggage storage facility at Terminal 2. Just follow the signs to Terminal 2 — or find the Airport Express boarding area and take the wide ramp down to the lower level — then follow the signs to the baggage counter. The hourly rate is HK$12.
If you’d rather not leave the airport, there are plenty of free places there in which to park yourself and your bags.
My favorite spot was a row of chairs at the leftmost end of the Arrivals Hall (leftmost as you emerge into the hall after collecting your bags, facing outwards). A big column partially blocked it from view of the rest of the Arrivals Hall, giving it a smidgen of privacy. A charging station came in handy, especially as I was trying to get in a bit of work while waiting for my flight. For a “desk” I piled my bags onto an airport trolley and settled my laptop on top. I even managed to take a nap. 😀 I secured my things by chaining them to the airport trolley and to the metal chair with a chain lock.
Terminal 2 also offers a lot of seating options — a fact I discovered a bit too late while on my way to the lounge.
For more comfort, at a price, airport lounges are your best bet.
There are airline lounges within Hong Kong International Airport but if you don’t qualify for those, you have another option: Plaza Premium operates 1 landside and 3 airside lounges, all of which accept non-members. Lounge amenities typically include baggage storage, a shower, snack food round the clock and heavier fare at meal times, and use of chairs and tables and other facilities. Sleeping quarters are available as an add-on.
On my way home, my flight arrived from Florence at 11:50 AM and my flight to Cebu was not due to depart till 9:45 AM the next day. My initial plan was to spend the night at Rainbow Lodge HK, a cheap but well-reviewed hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui. However, after a week of traveling, I wasn’t too keen on hauling my bags to the city, looking for a place to eat, waking up early, and going back to the airport. (I was flying Cebu Pacific so in-town check-in was not an option.) I had always been a bit curious about airport lounges so I figured this particular layover was a good time to finally try it out.
For access to the Plaza Premium lounges, you can walk in or, if you want to be sure of a spot, you can book online through their website:
- 2 hours – USD 62
- 5 hours – USD 88
- 10 hours – USD 103
However, Viator also offers lounge access for the following prices:
- 3 hours – USD 54.12
- 6 hours – USD 77.69
- 12 hours – USD 90.70
It was, as I said, my first time to try a lounge and for the price I paid I expected something a bit luxurious. The landside Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2 fell rather short of luxury. That said, it was good enough: give me a chance to shower, a place to curl up, and a constant supply of food and I’m happy. Plus I didn’t have to wake up early to catch a bus back to the airport — that was really my primary motivation 😀 — so no regrets.
And if you want hotel-level comfort, there’s an actual hotel beside the airport.
You can literally see the Regal Airport Hotel from the Arrivals Hall.
Other hotels near the airport include:
Sometimes, when there are tons of options, I get tired of trying to decide where to eat and end up eating at McDonalds. 😀 This time, I resisted — I’m so proud of myself 😀 — and ended up eating beside McDonalds. 😀 I ate at Tai Hing, which is located in the middle of the Arrivals Hall; their congee and watercress honey tea are really good.
Terminal 2 offered cheaper and more varied choices. There was a place that sold a meal for something like HK$25 — just rice and egg and some sort of meat, really, but good enough and filling enough. There was a Starbucks at the upper level, though I didn’t get a chance to look in, and the airport website listed a branch of Cafe de Coral.
As for water, there are many drinking fountains around the airport, so all you need to do is bring an empty water bottle.
You have to take your laptop and your camera out of your bag at the scanners.
I was prepared to take out my laptop — it’s common enough practice at major airports — but I wasn’t used to taking out the camera as well. I had to do a bit of digging through my bag, never fun. The security guys were nice about it though.
(At London Heathrow, I totally didn’t remember I had an entire bottle of Mountain Dew in my backpack and got pulled aside at the scanners. I said “I forgot” sheepishly to the security person and he practically rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, you always forget.” Fortunately, there were no such sweeping assessments of ineptitude at HKG.)
Give yourself enough time to get to your boarding gate.
I’ve had a few people tell me how much they hate the airport in Hong Kong because they’ve had to rush to get to their plane on time. 😀 It’s such a huge airport, you have to ride a train to get to your boarding gate. That’s actually a nice touch though — at other airports, you’d have to walk miles. (Well, maybe not miles but it will sure feel like it with luggage.)
Just get to the airport early enough, don’t dawdle at the shops (there are shops by the boarding gates), don’t do anything that might get you sidelined at security (like bringing a tub of peanut butter over 100 mL — true story, happened to a woman on my flight), wear comfortable shoes that you can run in if necessary, just be sensible and you’ll be fine. 🙂