Discount airlines in Asia
This article is a travel topic
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 the US and Europe. 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.
China's first low-cost airline 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 Express
Oasis is a new carrier based in Hong Kong. They currently have flights to London with typical one-way fares about US $400 economy and $900 business. Flights to Vancouver are about US $500 economy with business fares starting around US $1100. They hope to eventually fly to Frankfurt, Rome, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Note that as of July 2007 they have two-for-one deals on business fares to both London and Vancouver.
India and Sri Lanka
India's airline market is rapidly liberalizing. Half a dozen domestic low-cost carriers have started operations and more are on the horizon.
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. Singaporean carrier Jetstar has terminated its flights to Kolkata and Bangalore, but Nok Air flies from Bangkok to Bangalore, and Tiger and Air Asia are both planning to fill in the gap at some point.
Air India Express
Air India Express 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.
SpiceJet started operations in May 2005. The airline promises Everyday Spicy Fares for as low as INR 99.
Japan's low-cost carriers have had a rocky ride, with most being snapped up by the majors. Dirt-cheap fares are simply not available.
Skynet Asia Airways
South Korea's staid aviation scene was shaken up in 2005 when the first low-cost carrier started operation. (Needless to say, North Korea's aviation scene remains virtually non-existent.)
Air Arabia, the largest LCC in the Middle East, are based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. A coach 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 (US$32) 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); 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).
Jazeera Airways flies to many destinations across the Middle East and India. It has main hubs in Kuwait and Dubai.
Southeast Asia has the most developed low cost carrier networks in Asia, with many operators and fierce competition. As of September 2007, all countries in South-East Asia except East Timor and Laos can be reached by LCC, and Air Asia plans to start flights from Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane in December 2007.
Adam Air operates flights throughout Indonesia and also flies internationally on the Jakarta-Singapore and Penang-Medan routes. Like many Indonesian airlines, Adam Air has a spotty safety record, including a fatal crash on January 1st 2007.
Malaysian airline Air Asia 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. 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 open seating, primarily Internet/phone booking and no complimentary refreshments. AirAsia operates Flyasianxpress or FAX and AirAsiaX in addition to two associated Companies: Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia
Garuda Citilink operate a domestic route network in Indonesia. Fares start from 125,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($15). Warning: this subsidiary of Garuda Airline does not currently accept credit card purchases online or at its call center, requiring payment via a limited number of ATMs in Indonesia or directly at their office in Jakarta.
Cebu Pacific Air
Cebu Pacific flies primarily within the Philippines, but also flies from Manila, Cebu and Davao to Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Singapore, and (starting fall of 2007) Guangzhou, Macau, Shanghai, and Xiamen. Flights to Seoul and Busan are also available, but need to be booked through a travel agent as they are not bookable on Cebu's website.
Jetstar 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 and Denpasar (Bali). Jetstar's Australian registered planes also fly to Cairns via Darwin. Jetstar is also set to launch operations from a Vietnam base in 2008.
Thai Airlines low-cost spinoff Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting a lurid 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, call-center 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, Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Udon Thani, Trang, Krabi and Loei, from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, Udon Thani, Pai and Mae Hong Son, and from Hat Yai to Phuket. Also, they have opened an international route to Bangalore (India) in 2007.
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 killed 89, although the jury is still out on what caused it.
PB air flies domestic Thai routes and Da Nang, Vietnam.
Phuket air is now defunct, but is trying to fly again.
Tiger Airways is a low-cost airline set up in Singapore jointly by Singapore Airlines and the people who started Ryanair. Services currently operate from Singapore to Australia (Darwin, Perth), China (Guangzhou, Haikou, Macau, Shenzhen), Indonesia (Padang), Philippines (Manila), Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket, Udon Thani), Vietnam (Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City), India (Chennai).