I’ve just returned to Hanoi after about four weeks of crisscrossing Southeast Asia by air, and I’d like to take a moment to extol the virtues of Air Asia. I boarded nine Air Asia flights in twenty-six days: eight of the nine arrived early or on time (one was an hour late due to weather); check-ins were quick and hassle-free; gate agents and flight attendants were uniformly courteous and friendly; and most importantly, the average fare for those nine flights was a mere US$68.
I have to admit I’m always a bit wary of low-cost carriers. The term conjures images in my mind of sputtering prop-planes, terrified passengers clinging to chicken coops with blanched knuckles, carry-on luggage being devoured by goats come untethered, and gobs of freshly chewed gum smooshed over the holes in the fuselage. But Air Asia’s fleet consists of relatively young and spotless Airbus A320s — the majority of the fleet, and of which the average age is 1.2 years — A330s, and Boeing 737s.
What are Air Asia’s drawbacks? Well, the concept is no-frills air travel, so if you want frills — weighty checked baggage, insurance to change or cancel your booking, refreshments on the plane, et al — you pay for them. But even with these additional charges thrown in it’s probably still cheaper to fly Air Asia than a major carrier. Also, there’s no assigned seating on Air Asia flights, so passengers tend to be annoyingly hypercompetitive about being first in line to board and leave the plane (you can avoid this hassle, however, by paying extra for “Xpress boarding” as well). There’s plenty of attempted line cutting and jostling for advantage, but if you’re in Asia, you’re probably accustomed to that.
There are of course other options for low-cost air travel in Southeast Asia, but Air Asia never gave me a reason to switch carriers, so I can’t comment on them from personal experience. You might try Jetstar in Vietnam, Tiger Airways in Singapore, or NokAir in Thailand, whose “We Fly Smile” motto is a wonderful example of the glorious Englibberish for which the Thai have an unmistakable genius. The list goes on.
Asia’s low-cost carriers are also economical way to reach Australia — if you book far in advance. A quick search on Tiger Airways turned up a Singapore-Perth flight in March 2009 for $146. On Air Asia X, a similar flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth or Melbourne can be had for $222. Just something to keep in your back pocket.
Another option is to take advantage of Bangkok Airways’ Discovery Airpass, which prices most domestic routes in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia at $60, and most international routes at $100 (long-haul flights at $150). In order to qualify for the Discovery Airpass, you have to book between three and six individual legs. However, the quoted fares exclude airport charges and other fees, so in the end you’ll probably still save money booking in bulk on a low-cost carrier.
Safe travels and thanks for reading!