Budget airlines are quickly becoming an integral part of the way we travel by providing us with cheaper prices to those much coveted, less-well-trodden destinations. But exotic travel doesn’t necessarily mean glamor, especially when you’re trying to do it economically. Here’s the lowdown on what you get for your dollar’s worth, and how to secure the cheapest tickets.
One of the first budget airlines in Singapore, Air Asia is still a good choice for budget travel especially within Malaysia. Direct from Singapore they only fly to Bangkok, but if you can get to Kuala Lumpur first they offer some of the cheapest fares to Borneo as well as a host of destinations in Thailand (such as Chiang Mai and Phuket) and a hotch potch of others like Jakarta, Manila (Clarke) and Brunei. Another option is to travel overland to Johor Bahru and get flights to eight destinations from there, most in Malaysia.
Because of the transfer times in both KL or JB, weekend travel by Air Asia is a little tight as there are no really late night flights. However there are two direct night flights to Bangkok that are scheduled, which leave you plenty of time to get to the airport from the office.
Cheapies and their Likelihood
Air Asia still offers cheap deals that seem to be readily available at most times. Although the really discounted fares are rare, most flights are still cheap. According to their website, Air Asia’s discounts are based on supply and demand, so the earlier you book, the less you’ll spend.
Air Asia is definitely a no frills airline—the interior of the planes look old, the planes sound old (everything seems particularly noisy on Air Asia flights), and they offer very limited creature comforts (alcohol isn’t available for purchase). However, if you’re willing to pay, food such as nasi lemak or goreng, cup noodles and sandwiches are available.
Because the only destination directly out of Singapore is Bangkok, this severely limits travel options with Air Asia, especially for short or weekend trips. There is also no allocated seating, but as most flights are short-haul, this shouldn’t be a big problem. Baggage check-in allowances are limited, however, to 15 kilograms.
Tiger Airways was really the airline that opened up destinations such as Vietnam and Darwin with their ridiculously low prices and for that we’re eternally grateful. Also made more accessible are some of the smaller destinations in China such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and Thai hubs like Chiang Mai and Krabi. But flights to Manila are also to Clarke, about 70 kilometers (two hours drive) from Manila.
Flight times with Tiger Airways are quite amenable to weekend trips for most of the popular destinations, such as Hanoi, Bangkok, Krabi and Phuket. Watch out for timetable changes on October 28.
Cheapies and their Likelihood
The unbelievable Tiger Airways fares you see advertized are real—we’ve been able to obtain them before. But to get the real discounts, you have to be dedicated to surfing the site regularly and be prepared to make a decision to travel whenever the specials are available. According to Tiger Airways, ultra cheap fares are sold on a first come first served basis, with no restrictions on travel.
Most things can be purchased on board the airline including cup noodles, sandwiches, alcohol and merchandise. Even blankets are available for a price. There’s also a free magazine if you happen to forget to bring your own reading material. Tiger Airways uses new planes—their starting fleet was brand new in 2004 with another three craft expected by the end of the year.
No allocated seating means that Tiger Airways flights typically see people queuing at the gate at least an hour before boarding. And if you can’t keep under the 15 kilogram luggage limit you can upgrade to a 20 kilogram limit for an additional $15 for a two-way trip rather than paying an extra $7.50 per kilogram.
One more thing—recently Tiger Airways has been in the habit of moving flight times around. This can mean that occasionally flights will change day as well as time which can affect your whole holiday—but at least they are willing to offer full refunds or allow you to choose other flight options without penalty, and they’ll usually let you know several weeks in advance.
Thanks to Jetstar, Cambodia has suddenly become a lot more accessible, with flights into both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Jetstar also offers cheaper flights directly into Manila (rather than into Clark) as well Denpasar (operated by Valuair), Yangon and, of course, Bangkok.
Many Jetstar flights don’t really work for weekend trips as outbound flights after 6pm on a Friday night are extremely limited. However, if your departure time is flexible, then most of the more popular destinations, such as Hong Kong and Bangkok, have multiple daily flights.
Cheapies and their Likelihood
Jetstar tells us that their promotional (read: really cheap) fares are usually available across all flights and all days, and will be released into the next available fare class as the plane sells out. However in our experience, the ultra cheapies sell out quick and tend to really only be available on flights departing Mondays to Thursdays. This is first come first served, so again, once a cheap fare is advertized it’s important to snap it up quick. Fares on Jetstar rarely get cheaper closer to the date of the flight—it’s more about buying the bargains when you see them.
JetSaver fares, as their name indicates, are the fares with the most restrictions, in particular the tickets are non-refundable, and departure and arrival destinations cannot be changed. Other fares tend to be more flexible, although cancellations will usually incur charges.
Some of the finer details are better taken care of on Jetstar than the other airlines—the planes are just under two years old, seats are leather and they are pre-assigned so there’s no mad rush before boarding. Beer, wine, scotch, gin and vodka are available for purchase on board as well as snacks, including hot meals for trips over three hours. Baggage restrictions are the normal 20 kilograms.
Jetstar doesn’t seem to advertise as many of the unbelievably cheap fares as the other two airlines. In this sense their website and email blasters are perhaps a more realistic indication of what price range you can expect. But the flip side is Qantas frequent fliers can earn points with Jetstar JetFlex and StarClass tickets.