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Discount airlines in Asia

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Asian carriers have often offered lower fares than their European or American rivals. Now they are starting to catch the wave of discount airlines, pioneered in Europe and the US. In South-East Asia, an ASEAN-wide open skies agreement is in the works, but in the rest of the continent flights are still severely restricted by bilateral agreements.

Asian carriers are generally much cheaper than their American or European rivals, and there are some great bargains to be had. The low-cost airline industry in Asia is sure to boom in the coming years.

Travel Warning

NOTE: All fares quoted below are one-way (except where noted), include taxes and charges, and are widely available. Flight destinations may change and airlines may go bust without notice.


Below is the list of the carriers, grouped by their base country.


China[edit]

China's first low-cost airline Spring Airlines was launched in July 2005, and many seem set to follow. Internationally, you can already fly in to various points in southern China from cities in Southeast Asia (see section below). Hong Kong's pioneering long-haul LCC Oasis shut down operations in April 2008.

Spring Airlines[edit]

Spring Airlines [1] (春秋航空; Chūnqiū Hángkōng) flies from its base in Shanghai to over 30 destinations in China and Asia. Still expanding rapidly, Spring has recently opened international flights to Hong Kong, Macau, Ibaraki (Tokyo), Saga (Fukuoka) and Takamatsu from Shanghai and Shijiazhuang (Beijing), as well as Guangzhou, Jinjiang, Tianjin, Changsha, Dalian, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Hangzhou, Qingdao, Chongqing, Changchun, Fuzhou, Guiyang, Harbin, Hohhot, Mianyang, Nanning, Shantou, Shenzhen, Urumqi, Xiamen, Xi'an, Lanzhou, Yinchuan, Zhuhai, Changde, Chengdu, Kunming, Huaihua, Zhangjiajie, Guilin and Sanya in mainland China.

China United[edit]

China United [2] flies out of Beijing's Nanyuan Airport (南苑机场, NAY) to various cities in Northern China. The Beijing article has details.


Hong Kong[edit]

Hong Kong Express[edit]

Hong Kong Express [3] flies from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, Kota Kinabalu, Kunming, Penang, Phuket, Osaka, Taichung and Tokyo Haneda with more destinations planned.

India[edit]

India's airline market is rapidly liberalising. A number of domestic low-cost carriers have started operations. They are notorious for offering cheap tickets with high taxes and "fees." Rising fuel prices in 2008 have forced many airlines to cut back on flights. Indian low-cost airlines tend to have restrictive cancellation and rescheduling policies.

Low-cost flights into India remain more limited, although Air India Express does operate some international flights and various Middle Eastern carriers fly to India. Indigo also started international operations. There are also limited connections from South-East Asia: as of November 2007, Tiger flies from Singapore to Chennai and Kochi. Air Asia flies to Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, Bangalore in Karnataka, Kolkata in West Bengal from its Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, base. (Nok and Jetstar have terminated their services.)

Air India Express[edit]

Air India Express [4] is the low-cost spinoff of state carrier Air India. The carrier currently operates flights to Middle Eastern destinations Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Salalah, as well as from Chennai to Singapore, from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur and from Kolkata to Singapore.

Air India Regional[edit]

Air India Regional [5] is the low-cost regional airline of state carrier Air India.

Go Air[edit]

Go Air [6] is an Low Cost Carrier based out of Mumbai and operates flights to Delhi, Ahmedabad, Cochin, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Jammu and Srinagar.

IndiGo[edit]

IndiGo [7] is based in Delhi and currently flies to 20 destinations across India on Airbus 320/321's. It has recently started flights to destinations outside India like Singapore

Indus Air[edit]

Indus Air [8] flies Embraer regional jets from Chandigarh to Delhi and Mumbai.

This airline is no more operational as of April 2012.

Jet Lite[edit]

Jet Lite [9] - is the low-cost subsidiary of Jet Airways [10] and operates flights to 33 destinations.

Kingfisher Red[edit]

Kingfisher recently lost its licence to fly due to financial problems. Its planes are grounded until these problems are resolved.

SpiceJet[edit]

SpiceJet [11] started operations in May 2005. As of November 2009, they fly between 18 major destinations in India exclusively on Boeing 737-800/900 planes.

Sri Lanka[edit]

Air Asia[edit]

Air Asia now flies from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo.

Mihin Lanka[edit]

Mihin Lanka [12] is Sri Lanka's first LCC. The airline is based in Colombo and flies to various points in India as well as Dubai, Kuwait, Bodhgaya and Varanasi.

Japan[edit]

Japan's low-cost carriers have had a rocky ride, with most being snapped up by the majors. Don't expect any 5-cent tickets, as even promotional fares are usually above ¥10,000.

True low-cost flights into the country are quite limited, and due to capacity constraints not many fly to Tokyo. As of July 2011, your options are:

Cebu Pacific (international)[edit]

Cebu Pacific [13] flies from Manila to Osaka.

Jetstar (international)[edit]

Jetstar [14] flies from Taipei, Cairns and the Gold Coast to Osaka and from Cairns and the Gold Coast to Tokyo.

Jeju Air (international)[edit]

Jeju Air [15] flies from Seoul, Busan and Jeju to Osaka and Kitakyushu. From Japan to Korea, flights can be booked from Nagoya to Seoul as well.

Air Asia (international)[edit]

Air Asia [16] flies from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo Haneda, Nagoya and Osaka.

Air Do (domestic)[edit]

Japan's first low-cost carrier, Hokkaido International Airlines [17] flies from Tokyo to Sapporo, Asahikawa and Hakodate. It was absorbed by ANA in 2000 but continues operations.

Skymark Airlines (domestic)[edit]

Skymark Airlines [18] flies from Tokyo to Sapporo (and through to Asahikawa), Kobe (and through to Nagasaki), Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Naha. From Kobe flights are operated to Sapporo, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Naha. From Kitakyushu flights are operated to Sapporo and Kobe and from Nagoya to Sapporo and Naha. Finally, Fukuoka and Naha as well as Kagoshima and Amami are connected by a route.

Solaseed Air (domestic)[edit]

Skynet Asia Airways(has changed its name to Solaseed Air) [19] flies from Tokyo to Miyazaki, Kumamoto and Nagasaki.

StarFlyer (domestic)[edit]

StarFlyer [20] flies between Tokyo and Kitakyushu multiple times daily.

Amakusa Airlines (domestic)[edit]

Amakusa Airlines (AMX) [21] operates flights between Osaka and Kumamoto, between Fukuoka and Amakusa and between Kumamoto and Amakusa.

Peach Airlines (international)[edit]

Peach Airlines [22] flies to and from Sapporo, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Osaka, Naha, and Ishigaki. They also offer flights to Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

Korea[edit]

South Korea's staid aviation scene was shaken up in 2005 when the first low-cost carrier started operation.

T'way Airlines[edit]

T'way Airlines [23] flies from Seoul and Jeju. Formerly called Hansung Airilnes, the carrier suffered an accident (no injuries) that closed operations for several months but started flying again in March 2006.

T'way began service to Bangkok in October 2011.

Jeju Air[edit]

Jeju Air [24] flies from Seoul to Busan, Jeju and Yangyang, and also offers direct Jeju-Busan flights. It also has Incheon-Manila, Incheon-Hong Kong, Incheon-Osaka, Incheon-Fukuoka, and Busan-Cebu routes.

Jin Air[edit]

Jin Air flies from Seoul to Bangkok, Guam and Clark, Philippines.

EastarJet[edit]

EastarJet operates flights from Seoul (Gimpo Airport) to Jeju and does charter service from Incheon to Phuket. One-way flights available starting from less than 30,000 won (27 US$) (see [booking.eastarjet.com] for more information).

Air Asia[edit]

Air Asia operates flights from Kuala Lumpur to many countries in Asia Pacific including India, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia.

Air Busan[edit]

Air Busan [25] launched as a domestic airline in October 2008. International operations commenced in 2010 with services from Busan to Fukuoka, Osaka and then in July 2010 to Tokyo (Narita) in Japan. The Tokyo service appears to have been suspended and was not listed in late 2010.
From 2011 they plan to operate mid-haul international services from Busan to Taipei in Taiwan and Cebu in the Philippines.

Air Busan operate Boeing 737-400 (3 aircraft), 737-500 (3 aircraft) series. They also operate Airbus A321-200 (1 aircraft) and took delivery of further Airbus A321-200 aircraft in 2011.

Services are hubbed from Busan and include Gimpo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Jeju, Hongkong, Taipei and Weihai are operated in association with Korea's Asiana Airlines. Air Busan also fly to a few locations in China, including Xi'an and Qingdao. See the Route Map for an up to date list of routes

Middle East[edit]

United Arab Emirates[edit]

Air Arabia[edit]

Air Arabia [26], the largest LCC in the Middle East, are based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. An economy service connects Sharjah with Dubai for US$2.50. They fly to a variety of destinations in the Middle East, East Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. They operate a modern fleet. Their fares are often very good value, starting at 119 UAE dirhams on some routes. They offer a connecting flight service.

They sometimes seem to use bait-and-switch advertising; their advertised rates are not always available when you try to book. Actual rates are often much higher, though usually still well below those of major airlines. Luggage allowances are about half of what one would expect for a mainstream carrier, which can be quite a surprise at check-in (one check-in bag, not two!).

The airline operates flights to Mumbai, Jaipur, Kochi, Nagpur, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad, and Chennai in India. Other cities across the globe touched by Air Arabia are Aleppo and Damascus (Syria); Alexandria, Assiut and Luxor (Egypt); Amman (Jordan); Astana and Almaty (Kazakhstan); Athens, Bahrain; Beirut (Lebanon); Chittagong (Bangladesh); Colombo (Sri Lanka); Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh (KSA), Doha (Qatar); Istanbul (Turkey); Kabul (Afghanistan); Khartoum (Sudan); Kuwait; Muscat (Oman); Sanaa (Yemen); Sharjah (UAE) and Tehran (Iran).

Flydubai[edit]

Flydubai [27] is a low cost airline of the United Arab Emirates from Terminal 2 at Dubai International Airport. Airline fare includes all taxes and a 7 kg hand baggage allowance. The airline currently services 26 destinations in the region. Aleppo (ALP) Alexandria (ALY) Amman (AMM) Assiut (ATZ) Bahrain (BAH) Baku (GYD) Beirut (BEY) Colombo (CMB) Damascus (DAM) Djibouti (JIB) Doha (DOH) Erbil (EBL) Istanbul (SAW) Kabul (KBL) Karachi (KHI) Kathmandu (KTM) Kharum (KRT) Kuwait (KWI) Latakia (LTK) Lucknow (LKO) Luxor (LXR) Moscow (VKO) Muscat (MCT) Samara (KUF) Sulaimaniyah (ISU) Yekaterinburg (SVX) Yerevan (EVN) Riyadh (RUH)

Atlas Blue[edit]

Atlas Blue [28] flies from Marrakech and Agadir in Morocco to destinations around Europe (mostly France)

Menajet[edit]

Menajet [29] flies a limited network from Beirut, Lebanon.

Nas Air[edit]

Nas Air [30] operates domestic flights in Saudi Arabia.

Since Nas Air was launched on February 17, 2007 the company has grown rapidly, today the airline operates to 13 destinations within Saudi Arabia and 11 international destinations, with over 300 flights per week. International destinations include cities in Kuwait, India, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Jazeera Airways[edit]

Jazeera Airways [31] flies to many destinations across the Middle East. It has main hubs in Kuwait and Dubai.

Southeast Asia[edit]

Southeast Asia has the most developed low cost carrier networks in Asia, with many operators and fierce competition. All countries in South-East Asia can be reached by LCC.

Bases across multiple countries[edit]

Air Asia[edit]

Malaysian airline Air Asia [32] has the distinction of having been acquired for 1 ringgit (US $0.25), but they have now grown to the largest (and most profitable) operator in the region as well as being SkyTrax's World's Best Low Cost Airline for 2009. Originally founded by government-owned conglomerate DRB-Hicom, the heavily indebted airline was purchased by former Time Warner executive Tony Fernandes's company Tune Air Sdn Bhd for the symbolic sum of one ringgit on December 2nd, 2001. They operate on the now-classic model of cramped seating, primarily Internet/phone booking and no complimentary refreshments. AirAsia operates Flyasianxpress or FAX [33] and AirAsiaX in addition to two associated Companies: Thai AirAsia [34] and Indonesia AirAsia [35].

They have bases in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (near Singapore), Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Bangkok and Jakarta, operating flights to:

Jetstar/Valuair[edit]

Jetstar [36] is a Qantas-backed LCC currently flying from Singapore to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh, Manila, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Taipei, Osaka and Yangon. Flights to India have been terminated. Jetstar's subsidiary brand Valuair flies to Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan and Denpasar (Bali). Jetstar's Australian registered planes also fly to Cairns via Darwin. Jetstar Pacific [37], its Vietnamese subsidiary, launched operations in 2008. Online check-in is available only for flights originating from Australia and New Zealand and food purchased outside the flight may not be consumed on board.

Indonesia[edit]

Garuda airlines began accepting both Indonesian and non-Indonesian issued VISA and Mastercard for online booking payments in early 2011. They also have offices in many nearby countries. Since early 2011 Lion Air/Wings Air have accepted both Indonesian and non-Indonesian issued VISA and Mastercard to make payments using the Lion Air online booking system, Batavia Air use a method co-opted from Pay-Pal and Merpati do not accept other than Indonesian issued credit cards for payment. For Merpati flights originating in either Kuala Lumpur or Dili seek out the airline office or use a travel agent. Hotels and tour companies can often arrange Merpati and other Indonesian airline payments but if you use this sort of service apply some scrutiny to their charges. Jetstar, Air Asia (Including Indonesia Air Asia) and Virgin Australia (previously Virgin Blue) provide for online credit card payments using both Indonesian and non-Indonesian credit cards.

Fares from all airlines mentioned below can be compared using Tiket2 [38] website.

Batavia Air[edit]

Batavia Air is no longer operating since January 2013.

Citilink[edit]

Garuda Citilink [39] operate a domestic route network in Indonesia. Fares start from 125,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($15). This subsidiary of Garuda Airline now accept credit card purchases online or at its call centre, as well as payment via a limited number of ATMs in Indonesia or directly at their office in Jakarta.

Lion Air[edit]

Lion Air [40] flies from Jakarta to domestic destinations and Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Warning: as of March 13, 2008 Lion air only accepts online credit card payment more than 48 hours before the departure time of the flight. Payment can be made via many popular Indonesian ATMs.

From early 2011 Lion Air started accepting non-Indonesian issued credit cards for finalise online booking payments for Lion Air and Wings Air bookings. Wings Abadi Airlines are the regional feeder airline to the Lion Air national trunk routes.

Mandala Airlines[edit]

Mandala Airlines [41] commenced operations in 1969 and had an extensive domestic route network in western Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Bali and Kalimantan). In recent years Mandala adopted a discount airline (LCC) business model with promotional fares as low as Rp 30,000 (US$3).
On 13 January, 2011 Mandala airlines suspended their operations due to debt problems. But now operating again with the name mandalatiger.

Merpati[edit]

Merpati Nusantara flies to many destinations missed by those listed above including Nusa Tenggara, Kuala Lumpur, Papua, Maluku, and East Timor. Merpati like Jetstar is technically not a discount airline, but due to its large number of short haul routes it must compete and therefore offers competitive pricing.

Philippines[edit]

Cebu Pacific Air[edit]

Cebu Pacific[42] flies primarily within the Philippines. The airline is one of the most successful airlines in Asia being one of the largest low-cost carries, internationally it flies from respective hubs of Manila and Cebu to Bangkok, Busan, Jakarta, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taipei, Guangzhou, Macau, Osaka, Shanghai. Seoul, and Xiamen. Booking online is done with ease but payments done with VISA cards will land you to no response from the airline and booking by telephone will result to higher seat prices. Fares start from ₱800 in both domestic and international flights but the extra costs that make the tickets expensive are the tax and fuel costs.

AirPhil Express[edit]

AirPhil Express[43] is the subsidiary of Philippine Airlines, it was formerly known as Air Philippines. The often have offers in their website for connections from and to Manila and Cebu as low as ₱500. They have inter-island flights in some provinces and operates only one international flight in Singapore which connects it to Manila and Cebu with its Airbus A320. The airline is has ordered more aircraft for increasing passenger demands and has expected it to be delivered in 2013. Its main hubs are located in Manila, Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga and it is expected to take over Philippine Airlines' domestic operations in the future. All PAL Express flights, since 2009, had been operated had been transferred, in 2010, to AirPhil Express.

Zest Air[edit]

Zest Air or Zest Airways[44] is the first airline to be run as cooperative in the Philippines, it was formerly known as Asian Spirit. The airline has its main hub in Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 in Manila. It operates 19 domestic flights and 3 international flights to Shanghai, Busan and Seoul. Edit 1/2014 seems they are booking through the Air Asia website now.

SEAIR[edit]

SEAIR or South East Asian Airlines[45] operates flights to 6 destinations within the Philippines which includes Boracay with its Dornier 328 and Airbus A319 and operates 2 international flights; Singapore and Hong Kong and will soon start services to Macau, its international flight tickets are sold through Tiger Airways[46].

Singapore[edit]

Tiger Airways[edit]

Tiger Airways [47] is a low-cost airline set up in Singapore jointly by Singapore Airlines and the people who started Ryanair. Services currently operate from Singapore's budget terminal to Australia, Perth), China (Guangzhou, Haikou, Shenzhen and Xiamen), Hong Kong, Indonesia (Jakarta, Padang), Philippines (Manila), Macau, Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket), Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), India (Chennai,Tiruchirapalli,Bangalore and Trivandrum). In addition, the airline has also set up a subsidary in Melbourne, Australia from which it flies to many domestic destinations accross the country. No free food or drinks are provided on Tiger flights. If you buy any while on-board your change will be given in Singapore dollars, even if you're flying from Macau to Manila. Please note that Tiger charges extra for check-in luggage, pre-allocated seats and credit card fees on top of the usual fees and charges, so consider these when you compare prices.

Thailand[edit]

Nok Air[edit]

Thai Airlines low-cost spinoff Nok Air [48] took to the skies in 2004 sporting a purple paint scheme with a bird's beak painted on the nose, and employing a price scheme similar to that of Air Asia.

Passengers can book on the web [49], call-centre Tel-1318 or at the airports. Payment can be made via credit card, counter service, 7-11, or online credit card. Those who make the booking online can choose the seating right after the purchase.

Currently, they fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Surat Thani, Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Udon Thani, Trang and Loei, from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Udon Thani, Pai and Mae Hong Son. Nok's international routes to India and Vietnam have been terminated.

Orient Thai[edit]

Orient Thai [50] flies domestic flights in Thailand as well as international flights to Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Seoul from both Bangkok and Phuket. They stopped flying for a while in 2008, but as of March 2009 are flying again.

Note: Even by low-cost carrier standards, Orient Thai's on-time record is notoriously poor and their planes, particularly the 747s, are old. A crash in September 2007 that killed 89 people was later found to be due to pilot error.

Bangkok Air[edit]

Bangkok Air promotes itself as a boutique airline, it flies routes not normally covered by other airlines such as Phuket to Ko Samui, Bangkok to Ko Samui, its prices are high compared to a budget airline, $100 per leg being typical but it provides services more typical of major airlines including free beverages and snacks at the airport lounges.


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