A large number of budget and boutique airlines have exploded onto the marketplace, allowing travelers to comfortably and affordably travel (with the strong US dollar) throughout the continent unlike what’s happening here in the US. The following are our top 6 airlines focusing on travel in Southeast Asia.
Based out of Malaysia, AirAsia dominates the budget airline scene in Asia. With flights crisscrossing Asia, the carrier will undoubtedly be servicing an airport near your chosen destination. Recently, Tom and I flew nonstop between Bali and Bangkok (DMK) for $89 each. This was a fantastic value, especially considering the flight was 4 hours in duration. There is one caveat that must be mentioned. You will be nickel and dimed. Do you want an assigned seat? There is a fee. Do you want water or a snack? There is a fee. Do you want to check a bag? There is a fee. If you travel with a lot of equipment or luggage, be careful. You need to limit the number of bags and weight. We are used to flying on “global” carriers where we don’t worry about baggage fees. On AirAsia, we were charged over $175 in excess baggage fees (practically the same price as both of our tickets). Lesson learned! Note: all fees are discounted if you pay ahead of time on the website. Despite this bad experience, we now know how to “play the game” to travel on AirAsia and enjoy the price and destinations that the carrier offers. Our tips: pay more for expedited check-in (otherwise it is chaotic with crowds waiting in an endless line) and pack light!
- Exciting News! Thai AirAsia the first LCC to serve Luang Prabang (Map) This should shake things up quite a bit!
Although this airline is considered more “boutique” and fewer budgets, Bangkok Airways is a great way to travel throughout Thailand and neighboring countries. There are also flights to India and the Maldives. Bangkok Airways is “THE” airline for air travel to Koh Samui. With regular flights between the island and Bangkok (BKK), this is the only way to travel between the two destinations. The airport in Koh Samui is heavily supported by Bangkok Airways. It has a fantastic upscale island feel and is genuinely one of the most foreign airports we have visited. The service is efficient and friendly. There are no up charges. Although it costs more than budget carriers, traveling on Bangkok Airways might be worth the extra money to avoid the chaos of budget airlines.
3) Jetstar Asia
With the backing of Quantas, Jetstar has an SE Asia hub in Singapore. A one-way flight from Singapore to Hong Kong is a value at a little over $100. Comfortable flights with destinations across the continent make Jetstar a contender in the “budget” marketplace.
This carrier is based out of Singapore and has a large number of destinations throughout SE Asia, India, Maldives, and China. Tom and I flew 2.5 hours from Singapore to Bangkok (BKK) for under $80. Like AirAsia, there are charges for everything from seat assignments to water. However, it felt a little less chaotic. The fares are slightly higher than AirAsia, but it might be worth it depending on the flight schedule and destinations served.
Nokair flights enable travelers to discover the breadth and depth of Thailand. From the bustling hub of Bangkok to the Issan region of Udon Ratchathani to the beaches of Krabi, Nokair will take you there. However, be careful as this is another carrier that will charge you for any extras!
6) Thai Airways
**This is a bonus. Thai Airways is neither budget nor boutique, but there are some deals to be had! Tom and I flew Thai Airways from Bangkok (BKK) to Chiang Mai for $41. No up charges. No crazy baggage charges. Plus the short hour flight included a meal. AirAsia was less expensive by approximately $5 flying out of Bangkok (DMK), but with the added charges, it would’ve been much pricier.
Traveling throughout SE Asia is comfortable, affordable, and the service is nothing short of amazing! If you take the time to research the different carriers and routes, you will undoubtedly find a great deal for your budget and needs. Also, don’t forget the “global” airlines, such as Thai Airways. Sometimes the big boys win!