Low Cost Airlines in Southeast Asia
Here’s a potentially money saving tip for your next Southeast Asia trip: Get the cheapest airplane ticket you can to the region (ie Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur) and then separately purchase an onwards ticket to your other regional destination(s) on a low cost carrier.
Southeast Asia is rife with budget airlines operating frequent schedules with decently-reliable service. One-way tickets within the region go for as little as $100, $50 or even less. Sometimes you can fly from Luang Prabang (Laos) to Hanoi for $28 and have seen domestic flights within Indonesia for $5!
Here’s our rundown of some of Southeast Asia’s budget airlines.
Air Asia is the region’s dominant low cost carrier, the Southeast Asia equivalent of Europe’s Ryanair and the United States’ Southwest Airlines. The airline also operates Flyasianxpress, AirAsiaX, Indonesia AirAsia and Thai AirAsia. But don’t let the schizophrenic branding throw you—those name variations are essentially the same airline bookable through the same website.
Air Asia’s route structure is especially strong in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand but they operate in all Southeast Asia countries (except East Timor) as well as destinations further afield including Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, Clark (Philippines), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Brunei, Dhaka, Singapore, Japan, Seoul and even Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, Abu Dhabi and London
Tiger Airways is a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Ryanair. Unfortunately, the airline too often delivers the service of the later with the prices of the former. Occasionally, however, the airline offers some bargain fares (particularly if you book in advance). All of Tiger Air’s Southeast Asia flights run through their Singapore hub. Some of their destinations include Bangkok, Phuket, Padang (indonesia), Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Bangalore, Chennai and several destinations in Australia.
Jetstar is an Australian airline geared mostly towards shuttling travelers between Down Under and Southeast & North Asia. However, Jetstar Asia based in Singapore is ranked second among the budget carriers in Asia. From Singapore, Jetstar fly to 17 destinations in ten countries including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Macau, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Manila, Taipei, Yangon, Bali, Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya with a fleet of seven A320 aircraft.
Cebu Pacific Air has grown in recent years such that today it is the Philippines leading domestic carrier. On popular domestic routes you can pretty much show up at the airport and get a seat at a reasonable fare. CEB launched its international operations on November 2001 and now flies to Bangkok, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kaohsiung, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Macau, Osaka, Pusan, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore, and Taipei. Beach goers might especially appreciate Cebu Pacific’s Singapore↔Cebu route.
Nok Air briefly flirted with international routes but is today purely a domestic airline within Thailand, operating all its flights to and from Bangkok’s “old” Don Muang airport. Air Asia, generally has the same prices as Nok Air.
Zest Air is another Philippine Airline. The vast majority of their routes are domestic. They operate to 20 local destinations and will launch its regional and Southeast Asian operations soon. As other budget airlines they often offer sale seats.
Mandala Airlines isn’t the most useful airline for Southeast Asia travel unless you are making your way between points on the Indonesian islands of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. However, this airline’s fares can be outrageously low. At present Mandala offers no international routes.
Lion Air is the largest private carrier in Indonesia (and also one of the few on this list to offer a business class). The airline doesn’t hide its preference that customers pay in cash (in fact, they don’t accept credit card payments 48 hours before a flight). In any case, Lion’s non-Indonesia destinations include Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore.