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Travelers on a December Dragonair flight from Hong Kong to Nanjing found an unexpected passenger in economy class: Hong Kong's secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Frederick Ma.

Ma and his senior colleagues have been flying tourist to save on expenses on behalf of their deficit-ridden city, whose fiscal shortfall may hit HK$70 billion ($8.97 billion) this year. Even Financial Secretary Antony Leung has been spotted wedged into an economy-class seat.

"Every dollar counts," vows Ma, 50. "Trivial though it may seem, the effect would be significant when we have hundreds of thousands of such measures." The savings from Ma's move to the rear on the two-and-a-half-hour Nanjing flight: $474. Ma reports that his Dragonair trip was a "pleasant one" and that he found "not much difference for such a short flight." Nevertheless, the Financial Services secretary hasn't turned his back on the class system entirely: He acknowledges that on longer flights he may opt for more lavish services -- and a plusher seat.