Low-cost airlines in Asia
This is one of several Wikivoyage articles about air travel on a budget.
Asian carriers have often offered lower fares than their European or American rivals. Now they are starting to catch the wave of low-cost 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.
Below is the list of the carriers, grouped by their base country.
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 (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 Bangkok, Siem Reap, 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 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 Express
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
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, from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur and from Kolkata to Singapore.
Air India Regional
IndiGo is based in Delhi and currently flies to 20 destinations across India on Airbus 320/321's.
AirAsia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai and to Kochi
It is Pakistan's second largest airline with over 20% share of the domestic market. Airblue operates scheduled flights operating 30 daily services linking four domestic destinations Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar with international services to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Muscat. Its main base is Jinnah International Airport, Karachi.
Besides serving major domestic routes i.e. Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, D.G.Khan and Peshawar, Shaheen Air has also been operating flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Jeddah, Medina, Riyadh, Dammam, Riyadh, Al Ain, Kuwait, Doha and Muscat from almost all the major international gateways of Pakistan.
Air Asia now flies from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo.
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)
Jeju Air (international)
Air Asia (international)
Air Do (domestic)
Skymark Airlines (domestic)
Skymark Airlines 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)
Amakusa Airlines (domestic)
Peach Airlines (international)
South Korea's staid aviation scene was shaken up in 2005 when the first low-cost carrier started operation.
T'way Airlines 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.
Air Busan was launched in 2008 and based in the city of Busan as a subsidiary of Asiana Airlines. Domestic destinations from Busan are Seoul Gimpo and Jeju Island. International destinations are to Japan (Tokyo-Narita, Fukuoka & Osaka), China (Quigdao, Xi'an, Hong Kong & Macau), Taiwan (Taipei) and the Philippines (Cebu).
United Arab Emirates
Air Arabia, the largest LCC in the Middle East, is based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. An economy service connects Sharjah with Dubai for USD2.50. 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 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) Muscat (MCT) Samara (KUF) Sulaimaniyah (ISU) Yekaterinburg (SVX) Yerevan (EVN) Riyadh (RUH)
Nas Air 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).
Southeast Asia has the most developed low cost carrier networks in Asia, with many operators and fierce competition. All countries in Southeast Asia can be reached by LCC.
Bases across multiple countries
Malaysian airline Air Asia has the distinction of having been acquired for RM1 (USD0.25), 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 2 December 2001. They operate on the now-classic model of cramped 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.
- Malaysia: Alor Star, Bintulu, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Terengganu, Kuching, Labuan, Langkawi, Miri, Penang, Sandakan, Sibu, Tawau
- Thailand: Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Narathiwat, Phuket, Ranong, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani
- Indonesia: Bali (Denpasar), Balikpapan, Bandung, Banda Acheh, Batam, Medan, Padang, Palembang, Pekanbaru, Solo, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Makassar, Manado
- India: Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Tiruchirappalli, Trivandrum
- China: Haikou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Guilin and Tianjin.
- Hong Kong
- Taiwan: Taipei
- Cambodia: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap
- Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam
- Clark in the Philippines
- Yangon in Myanmar
- Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth in Australia
- Christchurch in New Zealand
- Vientiane in Laos
- Sri Lanka : Colombo
- Bangladesh : Dhaka
- France : Paris
- United Kingdom : London
- Iran: Tehran
- Japan: Tokyo : Osaka
- Republic of Korea: Seoul
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, Medan and Denpasar (Bali). Jetstar's Australian registered planes also fly to Cairns via Darwin. Jetstar Pacific, 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.
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. 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 any Online Travel Agents in Indonesia.
Garuda Citilink operate a domestic route network in Indonesia. Fares start from IDR125,000 (Indonesian rupiah) (USD15). 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.
From early 2011 Lion Air started accepting non-Indonesian issued credit cards for finalised 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.
Cebu Pacific Air
Cebu Pacific flies primarily within the Philippines and is one of the most successful airlines in Asia and one of the largest low-cost carriers. Internationally, it flies from its twin 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 on-line is done with ease but payments done with VISA cards may land you to with response from the airline and booking by telephone will result in higher seat prices. Fares start from PHP800 for both domestic and international flights but the extra costs that make the tickets expensive are the tax and fuel costs.
PAL Express is the subsidiary of Philippine Airlines and was formerly known as Air Philippines. They often have offers in their website for connections from and to Manila and Cebu as low as PHP500. They have inter-island flights in some provinces. They operate only one international flight into Singapore which connects it to Manila and Cebu with its Airbus A320.
Zest Air or Zest Airways is the first airline to be run as a 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.
SEAIR or South East Asian Airlines 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.
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's budget terminal to Australia, Perth), China (Guangzhou, Haikou, Macau, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Xiamen), Indonesia (Jakarta, Padang), Philippines (Manila), 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 subsidiary in Melbourne, Australia from which it flies to many domestic destinations across 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.
- Bangkok Air, ☎ +66 2 270 6699, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, Over 3,000 baht per leg being typical, but it provides services more typical of major airlines including free beverages and snacks at the airport lounges.
- Nok Air, ☎ +66 2 900-9955. Thai Airlines low-cost spinoff 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-centre Tel-1318 or at the airports. Payment can be made via credit card, counter service, 7-Eleven, or on-line credit card. Those who make the booking on-line can choose their seating right after the purchase. Currently, they fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Loei, Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ranong, Surat Thani, Trang, and Udon Thani. From Chiang Mai they fly to Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, and Udon Thani.
- Orient Thai, ☎ +66 2 229-4100-1; Reservations in Thailand. , 1126Orient Thai] 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. 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.