Hotel Lisboa Macao

Steeped in cigarette smoke and reeking of newly acquired wealth that needs to be flashed and wasted, its street corners in the heart of the Taipa and Cotai casino districts earmarked for gold merchants, watch dealers, and currency traders, Macau is the world’s closest approximation to Las Vegas – but bigger, a little tackier and trashier, and with more casinos. Like Vegas, it also markets itself as a family-friendly vacation destination, which also like Vegas is kind of true, from a certain point of view… but we all know that’s kind of, well, just marketing-driven bullshit, right?

That’s not to say it isn’t without charm. The historic Portuguese districts are well worth a look, and some of the mega-resorts here are on par with many of the world’s bests. There are numerous starred restaurants under the direction of starred chefs, with many of these eateries offering more-affordable-than-you-might-think prices. The waterfront areas near Macau Tower are very pleasant and scenic.

Whatever the reason for visiting, here are a few practical travel tips to consider when planning your trip.

Though Macau does technically have its own “international airport” – it looks to have been built with a smaller budget than most of the Special Administrative Region’s mid-range resorts – in most cases it makes more sense to fly into Hong Kong, then to make the one-hour journey by ferry to Macau. Flights into and out of Hong Kong, as one would expect, tend to have more competitive fares, more airline options, and better schedules; ferries depart every 15 – 30 minutes nearly 24 hours a day.

At the time of writing, one-way ferry fares for economy class range from approximately HK$160 to HK$240, depending on which company you choose; Turbojet is generally the most reliable and comfortable. Super Class seats are a little extra, but the perks aren’t really worth it – top-deck seating, priority disembarkation (in most cases), and a seat service of a cold, somewhat shitty airline-style lunch.

On windy days, when the water is particularly choppy, some feel that sitting on the top deck helps fend off motion sickness, but I’m not sure I’m buy that. That said, check Turbojet, Cotai Water Jet, etc’s websites for infrequent deals. For example, Turbojet was at one point offering complimentary upgrades to Super Class with advance online purchase of an economy seat; hey, when you’re hungry sometimes even shitty ferry food hits the spot.

MGM Grand Macau

Whether you’re flying into Hong Kong on the world’s best or worst airline, all passengers heading to Macau can bypass customs and immigration and transfer directly to the Macau ferry terminal via SkyPier; it’s a fairly nifty and efficient setup.  Unfortunately, getting back to Hong Kong International Airport from Macau isn’t such a breeze when flying out on certain regional budget carriers.

While most major airlines conveniently have an arrangement that allows you to check in for your flight at the Macau ferry terminal, then take the boat directly back to the SkyPier airport connection, many budget airlines do not – and this, friends, is a pain in the fucking ass.

Here’s a quick comparison of your journey to the airport when flying, say, United Airlines versus Tigerair:

United Airlines

- Purchase a ferry ticket for Hong Kong International Airport.

– Check in for your flight at the ferry terminal; check your baggage if you have any.

– Pass through Macau immigration, then allow 1.25 hours for the boat ride.

– Arrive at SkyPier, take a shuttle train to security and immigration, arrive at terminal, and do your killing-time-in-the-airport thing (and skip the duty-free booze; prices are generally so-so).

– Board your flight and rack up miles for Mileage Plus, the world’s best free frequent-flier miles program.

Tigerair

– Purchase your ferry ticket for Kowloon or Hong Kong City, being careful not to confuse the latter with Hong Kong International Airport; sounds silly, but it’s easier to do so than you might think, particularly if you purchase your ticket online. If you do make a mistake, tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable, so you’ll have to buy a new one. Ferry departure schedules also differ, of course, which could compromise the time you’ve allotted for transit to the airport.

– Pass through Macau immigration, then allow 1.25 hours for the boat ride.

– Arrive at Kowloon or Hong Kong City ferry terminal, then proceed to Hong Kong immigration and customs.

– Schlep your bags through the terminal and find the public taxi stand, which in Kowloon is located a few floors down.

– Get in the taxi and allow 35 – 45 minutes for the ride to the airport, assuming there isn’t any traffic. The fare will generally run from HK$235 to HK$300; note that tips won’t be turned away, but are not expected.

– Get in line to check in for your flight; as far as I can tell, at the time of writing Tigerair does not offer online check-in for flights originating from Hong Kong.

– The check-in counters for Tigerair and other budget airlines are located in Terminal 2, so after passing through immigration and security you’ll need to board a shuttle train bound for Terminal 1, where all departure gates are located.

– This is apparently not always the case, but whenever I’ve flown Tigerair from Hong Kong the departure gates have been between 500 and 520; in this case, you’ll need to take yet another transfer, in this case a shuttle bus to a small satellite concourse.

– Board your flight, finally, and earn Rewards Points for Tigerair’s meh loyalty program, provided you qualified and paid for their partner credit card; Stripes, their member program, does not inclue the option to accrue and redeem miles.

So… which travel-day itinerary sounds more appealing?

Granted, this isn’t necessarily an all-things-equal scenario. When flying elsewhere in the region, going budget certainly has its advantages: like flying into Hong Kong versus into Macau, budget carriers like Tigerair generally offer more flight times from which to choose and more competitive airfares. They also fly to regional destinations that major international carriers do not.

Still, the “SkyPier Advantage” offered by many airlines is a significant one, unless you foster a masochistic fetish for multiple transfers and long-as-possible travel days. Keep this all in mind when weighing your flight options next time you’re bound for Macau.

Brian Spencer is a freelance writer and editor based in Singapore; more of his work for the Perceptive Travel Blog is here.