Monday, August 27, 2007

Cheap flights in Asia

Anyone savouring overseas travel but are put off by the high extra fees for fuel levies. Whilst its true that flights are often more expensive, there is another revolution going on in the travel business. You might be well versed with discounted regional or domestic travel, but in the last few years more markets are opening up, particularly in Asia. Some of the new airlines include:
1. Tiger Airways - see - its based out of Singapore. I found the connections really bad. Had to stay overnight in Singapore, and got to Darwin at 3AM.
2. Cebu Pacific Air - see - they have limited routes in Asia outside their home base of the Philippines.
3. Air Macau - see - you need a visa for Macau, which is a pain.
4. Viva Macau - see - you need a visa for Macau, which is a pain since it costs, and you cant leave quickly.
5. Asian Spirit - see
6. Air Asia X - see - this group is expanding its network in Asia. It is a Malaysian based airline 20% owned by Richard Branson, and it services Manila (Clark Airfield) and the Gold Coast (Australia) as well as other airports around Asia).

You can see a more comprehensive global list at See
Unfortunately there are still a number of Asian countries that have not opened their airspace to discount airlines fearing that they will steal business from their national airlines. Japan is an example, but Korea is at least taking some steps with discount airlines having some access to Pusan, which is only a ferry ride ($150) from Fukuoka, Japan. Japan Airlines is haemoragging under its operating losses, so I dont see any likelihood of discount airlines entering that market soon.

One of the better discount airlines is Tiger Airways, based out of Australia and Singapore. Being in the Philippines I was not willing to pay the high fares charged by the national carrier Philippine Airlines ( So I decided to test the discount airlines. I flew from Clark Airfield in Metro Manila to Singapore, where I stayed overnight with a friend, then flew on to Darwin. What they dont tell you, and is not clearly stated is that its really a poor connection. Not only would you be loosing on a Singapore hotel, but you are taking 30 hours to complete a 4hr direct flight. Why? Well you leave at 13:00, arrive in Singapore, and I guess for the sake of getting airport access, you are required to fly the next day. My flight was 17:30 from Manila, which saw me arrive in Singapore at 21:00. Not too convenient for calling in on a friend or hotel since I'm obliged to stay overnight until I caught the onbound flight to Darwin at 20:20, to arrive in Darwin at 02:35 - thats 2:35AM - at which time there is nothing open. Fortunately there was a place upstairs I could work on my computer. But its clear that the airline regulators are not making it easy for discount airlines. No doubt this will be the case until governments around the world have an opportunity to sell their national carriers. There are several other hurdles - Tiger has a pretty tight baggage weight limit of 15kg. So I would check the conditions on your ticket. See see I was fortunate in that I did want to catch up with a friend, and wanted to go on a campervan trip from Darwin....but otherwise you'd have to question the benefits of discount airlines. Certainly it suits students and adventures. If you have a good book to read or a laptop with long battery life, airport lounges arent such bad places to hang out.

For my trip, I paid $280 for a one-way flight from Manila (Clark) to Darwin, but add on $120 for a hotel in Singapore, then $50 in taxis in Singapore and Darwin, my overland adventure was $200 in (net) fuel costs, plus food costs for a week. When you compare that to a direct flight from Sydney to Manila of $580+$230 in taxes = $810 with Royal Brunei, then $830 direct to $650 overland, then the direct flight is cheaper. Of coutse the direct option is much cheaper as a return ticket.

I am not terribly happy about the need to stay overnight in Singapore for future trips. When you start changing airlines it no longer makes sense, so what about other airlines? Tiger Airlines is attractive because Singapore is a hub for Asian airlines. Tiger can take you to Alice Springs, Bangkok, Chennai (India), Changmai (Thailand), Darwin (Aust), Gold Coast (Aust), Guangzhou, Haikou, Hanoi, Hat Yai, Ho Chi Minh City, Kochi (India), Krabi (Thailand), Launceston (Aust), Macau, Mackay (Aust), Manila, Melbourne, Padang, Perth, Phuket, Rockhampton, Shenzhen (China), Sunshine Coast (Aust) and Udon Thani. You can see a visual map of these destinations at

Well next week I will be rturning to the Philippines and I am considering several options since I am coming back in June'08 via Japan. There is the choice of:
1. Direct flight to Manila with Philippine Airlines or Qantas
2. Flying Viva Macau to Macau, then getting a Cebu Pacific flight to Manila
3. Another option for another trip is overland through Indonesia. This trip requires little baggage. I would envisage a ferry-bus trip in the Philippines to Davao City in the south, a ferry/flight to Manado, Sulawesi, then flight to Darwin via Jakarta, then overland to Sydney via Cairns, Brisbane. This time I will go to Katherine Gorge.


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