Asia’s Budget Airlines
As budget airlines become more common and popular around the world, the area where they’ve probably ‘taken off’ the best is Asia. I seem to recall that the ball started rolling in the UK around 12-15 years ago with Ryan Air and Easy Jet, then several budget airlines in mainland Europe, but despite so many now appearing worldwide there is no doubt that Asia has the most and the best choice.
What it means is that as an Australian, getting around Asia is really affordable. From the States and from Europe, well, you still need to somehow take care of the long haul aspect before you can country hop around Asia cheaply and with ease. Jetstar do now fly to Hawaii, but it’s not particularly cheap. Air Asia will get you as far as Jeddah towards Europe, I thought maybe Kingfisher Airlines might get you to Istanbul or Europe but I went to their website to read ‘we have suspended all bookings until further notice’ so, there you are!
I was going to include New Zealand and Australia in this one, but I think that a separate post (just the one!) will be the order there. Let’s look specifically at Asia. The first budget airline that seemed to make a splash in Asia as far as I can recall was Tiger Airways. Tiger also operate in Australia, but got kicked out at one point before being allowed to return. They are based in Singapore and I have flown with them a few times.
Most recently I flew Singapore to Sri Lanka and in 2011 I flew Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City. Both of those flights were under $100. To get the most out of these airlines it’s important to book ahead (usually) and be subscribed to their emails. Tiger emails me a couple of times a week with its deals. Yeah, that’s annoying spam I guess, but every so often, when planning a trip you see a deal that’s just right for you.
Tiger has its issues in Australia, but in Singapore they operate from Changi (a great airport) and I haven’t had any issues with them. They tend to get a lot of seats in the plane. I think they’re really good value for money.
Air Asia’s main negative is flying through KLIA2, which is admittedly better than the old LCCT terminal as I’ve mentioned on previous posts. The prices are usually excellent, although the wait time is sometimes much longer than you’d like. They have a pretty extensive list of destinations across Asia and used to fly to Paris, but have since cancelled that destination. I took that flight (well, from Paris to KL) in 2011 before it was cancelled and it was only about 70%, and cost me $420 around 3-4 weeks before flying. Considering then with more time to book you might find it cheaper, I think it would have represented excellent value for money. Sadly, it’s no longer.
Air Asia have good connections to Japan, where they also operate internally, but they are based in KL, and have a great selection of flights inside Malaysia too. The price is good, booking is easy, but for a budget airline you can’t beat the inflight service of Air Asia, always friendly and willing to chat, relaxed, professional, I have always been impressed with Air Asia’s staff. The food is ok too, and isn’t THAT expensive really. Yeah, I’ve travelled with Air Asia a LOT. I don’t mind the wait in KL even when it was at the LCCT. Never experienced a delay with Air Asia either.
Then Jetstar now have a fair network across Asia. In Australia, Jetstar have (a not unfair) reputation for delays and hassles. I have flow Jetstar into Asia a couple of times from Australia, and there were delays but not more than an hour. They have built a network intra-Asia now too and fly domestically in some countries such as Japan and Vietnam. They do represent fair value for money, although flying into Narita is always going to add a fair whack onto your ticket price to Japan.
Flying direct Gold Coast to Narita was the last Jetstar flight I took, and it was okay. The best thing was lack of a layover. Comparing prices Japan to Australia Air Asia always comes out as cheapest I think it’s fair to say, but SOMETIMES the difference is negligible and with direct flights to Australia, it is prolly worth it if you can get the dates you want.
Remember, to get the best deals, book early, be flexible with dates. Be flexible with your routing as well. Go direct to the airlines website and also, be prepared for a credit card fee at the end, which is so annoying, because how the else are you going to pay online? Jetstar are the worst, I can’t remember how much it is but it’s a fair addition to the price, unless of course you have the Jetstar credit card. That’s what they want you to do!
Those for me are the big three in Asia, and their networks are expanding. No, you won’t get to Central Asia yet, but India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and China, yes. And Korea and Japan. China does have Spring Airlines. Hmmm. Delays are the order of the day there. I sat in a Spring Airlines plane for hours waiting to take off as the passengers turned on the crew and started throwing insults their way, the crew actually got on their knees and begged for forgiveness. They have now expanded to Japan as well and may be the cheapest way to get from China to Japan or vice versa – a surprisingly expensive flight usually. Their website is not the best, although I did book in China from a horribly slow internet connection.
Cebu Pacific are based in the Philippines and appear to have some good fares. Haven’t heard that much about them to be honest. Please comment on experiences with them if you’ve had any. They do fly to Japan as well as SE Asia, but connections and so forth appeared tricky on their website.
Dragon Air run out of Hong Kong, and profess to be the budget arm of Cathay Pacific but every time I have been to search out fares via their website, I found they were no cheaper than a full-service airline. Go figure hey!
So, there we have it folks, there’s a brief snapshot of Asia’s budget airlines. There are serious bargains to be had in Asia, if you can sort out a way to get from Europe or the States to get to Asia in the first place, getting around by plane is pretty darned cheap. And it’s such an amazing part of the world, what are you waiting for? May the journey never end!