27 Apr 2012
Budget air travel in Asia is booming with low-cost carriers linking a mind- boggling number of Asian cities. There are no frills. Luggage and meals are add-ons and the only guarantee is a seat.
The travellers are in a great position to take advantage of this - with scores of flights connecting us to major hubs such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Denpasar - and then onwards to a web of routes, spanning from India in the west to the Philippines and from China in the north to the Indonesian archipelago.
Whole airport terminals in Asia are dedicated to low-cost carriers. Kuala Lumpur International Airport led the way in 2008 when it opened the Low Cost Carrier Terminal chiefly to cater for Air Asia flights. It will be replaced by the new KLIA2 in April 2013 - a terminal expected to handle 35 million passengers a year.
Earlier this month, Tokyo's Narita Airport announced plans for a new low-cost terminal - Japan's second after Osaka - and it seems every spare gate will be needed with the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation expecting 50 budget airlines to be operating in Asia's skies by the end of this year.
Others will take off next year including the Qantas Group's Jetstar Hong Kong which plans to fly to China, Japan, South Korea and South-East Asia.
And existing carriers are continuing to grow, too. Privately owned Indonesian carrier Lion Air signed a $20 billion deal with Boeing this year to buy 201 of the new model 737 MAX aircraft and 29 next-generation 737-900ERS.
But while low-cost is increasingly popular, full- service flights have a place too. Companies such as Singapore Airlines recognise this by operating catered regional carriers such as SilkAir alongside their budget option.
Asia truly is your oyster and here are the airlines that can get you to where you want to go.
Air Asia needs little introduction to WA passengers. The Malaysia-owned airline has multiple daily flights between Perth and Bali and frequently releases cheap fares. But what may be more surprising is the list of exotic getaways that can be reached easily through its Denpasar hub which has connections within Indonesia and to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam which, along with the Philippines, all have Air Asia subsidiaries.
Japan will be added to the list in August giving travellers access to a host of destinations.
Those who want to stay with what they know in Indonesia can stick with Bali or head west for a city break in Jakarta. But for something different, why not try the Indonesian city of Surabaya? The famous trading port has a bustling Chinatown and is a gateway to popular climbing peak Mt Bromo and Madura Island - the centre of Madurese culture.
Accommodation ranges from budget to luxury and hotels such as Sheraton and Shangri-La Surabaya are easy to reach. Daily flights make the two-hour journey from Denpasar and fares are from $26.09. With fares between Perth and Denpasar from $100-$200, it's possible for an adult to get to Surabaya for less than $400 return.
Air Asia X has daily flights between Perth and Kuala Lumpur (one-way flights are about $300) opening up more destinations through the Malaysian capital. An example is Phnom Penh which can be reached from KL for about $150 return - so it's possible to reach the Cambodian capital from Perth for less than $500.
Air Asia's merger with Malaysia Airlines means travellers can expect more low- cost routes to be announced as the budget airline concentrates on regional services, allowing the national flag carrier to cover long-haul flights.
Jetstar flies to Bali, Jakarta and Singapore with a host of onward flights from the Lion City mostly on Jetstar Asia. Choose from places such as Phuket, Ho Chi Minh and Penang or further destinations such as Rangoon or Taipei.
Burma continues to open up to visitors keen to experience ancient pagodas, the stilted villages of Inle Lake and historic Mandalay and Jetstar flies from Singapore to Rangoon four times a week. One-way fares departing Perth start from $444. Meanwhile, Jetstar Japan, jointly owned by Qantas and Jal, is set to begin flights to South Korea within 12 months. - jetstar.com
From Perth, the Virgin Australia group flies to Phuket four times a week and to Denpasar nine times a week and frequently advertises promotional fares. ?irginaustralia.com
The Singapore-based airline flies from Perth to the Lion City twice a week connecting with centres as diverse as Dhaka in Bangladesh and Hat Yai in Thailand as well as the much-visited cities of Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong.
Well and truly off the beaten track, Dhaka is an exciting mix of Buddhist, Mogul and colonial influences and is dotted with forts, museums, mosques and traditional bazaars where jewellery and fine fabrics change hands by barter. Food is ultra cheap and accommodation ranges from budget to luxurious international chains. Tiger Airways flies to Dhaka four times a week with fares from $138.
The airline's new Indonesian affiliate Mandala Airlines began flights between Jakarta and Medan and between Medan and Singapore this month and will start flights between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur on May 4 with fares from just $25. The airline's two-plane fleet will grow to 10 by the end of the year. - tigerairways.com and mandalaair.com.
The airline is fresh from signing that record-breaking deal with Boeing and already has a fleet of more than 70 aircraft flying to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh.
It operates mostly within Indonesia with scores of different routes from its Jakarta base. For an Indonesian adventure far from day spas and rock bars try Manado in Sulawesi. The former Dutch stronghold is famous for its diving areas with the walled reefs of Bunaken offshore.
Manado is a city of gardens and markets and the locals are known for their exotic tastes. Again, there are plenty of chain hotels for those who want to stay in comfort with backpackers available for as little as $5 per night.
The Minahasa Highlands have hot springs, rare bird and plant life and ancient above-ground burial sites.
Lion Air flies the 3 1/2 -hour route from Manado to Jakarta six times a day with fares from $88. - lionair.co.id
The Jakarta-based airline started in 2002 with a turboprop Fokker F27 but has grown rapidly into an international carrier with 39 aircraft serving cities such as Guangzhou, Dili, Singapore and Kuching mostly with Boeing 737s.
But the 42 domestic routes it plies are Batavia's main focus and the airline covers all parts of Indonesia. There are daily hour-long flights between Jakarta and Java's cultural capital of Yogyakarta, popular for its proximity to the ancient Hindu Mataram temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Fares start at $40 per person. - batavia-air.com
The only way is up for Sriwijaya Air which has more than 100 aircraft on order. The Jakarta- based airline has an extensive network flying to 35 Indonesian cities as well as to Penang and Singapore. Surabaya is popular with Indonesian travellers for its shopping malls and golf courses.
Sriwijaya has six flights a day from Jakarta to Surabaya with fares starting from $44. - sriwijayaair.co.id
Garuda Indonesia's low-cost wing is also set for dramatic growth. Citilink already has 10 domestic routes but has more aircraft due to start service this year and orders for some 25 Airbus A320s (and an option on 25 more).
As well as increasing services on the lucrative routes within the Indonesian archipelago, there are plans for the airline to begin flying to Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. - citilink.co.id
Another Malaysia Airlines subsidiary, FireFly is full service but does offer relatively cheap fares and has hubs at KL's old international airport and at Penang.
Besides linking Malaysian cities, FireFly also flies to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore and plans to open more routes as new Boeing 737s are delivered.
Combine a big city visit with a tropical island holiday on FireFly's daily flight from Kuala Lumpur to Koh Samui from $54. - fireflyz.com.my
SilkAir is part of the Singapore Airlines family and flies to some of Asia's most popular holiday hotspots.
More than 30 services radiate from its Singapore hub through the subcontinent, Asia, China and even to Darwin.
All flights have both economy and business class with in-flight meals featuring Asian favourites. SilkAir screens silent short films and television programs.
Chengdu is at the heart of China, geographically and culturally, and the Sichuan city is known for its teahouses and giant pandas and as a centre of literature, Buddhism and Taoism.
SilkAir has daily flights from Singapore starting from $308. - silkair.com
This Singapore Airlines offshoot Scoot is so new that it hasn't started flying yet but will begin services from Changi Airport to Sydney and the Gold Coast in late June and to Tianjin in China from August.
The medium and long-haul carrier will use Boeing 777-200 aircraft, significantly bigger than the Airbus A320 which is typically used on a low-cost route, and plans to have 14 in the air by 2016.
The airline recently announced the appointment of Darren Wright to the position of general manager Australia and part of his remit will be to identify other routes between Singapore and other Australian cities.
Mr Wright said the arrival of the low-cost carrier would be a boon for Australian passengers and was a promising development for tourism.
Scoot cabins will have economy class and ScootBiz has flights from Sydney to Singapore from $199. And there are also plans for flights to Europe and Africa. - flyscoot.com
This airline is marketed as boutique rather than low-cost and flies to all of Thailand's major resorts, with the focus on Koh Samui where it built the international airport and has just started flights to KL.
But it also offers services to Bangladesh, Burma, Singapore, Cambodia, Maldives, Laos, India and China. During the Songkran festival in April, fares from Bangkok to Phuket cost from $52. - bangkokair.com
Low-cost Nok Air began flying between Bangkok and Bangalore in 2007 but now uses its fleet of Boeing 737s to fly within Thailand and to Laos.
The northern city of Chiang Mai is known as the Rose of the North and has hundreds of Buddhist temples, a night bazaar and fantastic restaurants. Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are from $60. - nokair.com
Thai Airways' low-cost airline is to make its first flight from Bangkok in July and will concentrate initially on domestic routes and short-haul flights to destinations such as Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen and Surat Thani before expanding to India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The airline will use new Airbus A320s and fares will include in-flight snack boxes. - thaismileair.com
After a series of delays, VietJet Air made its first flight on Christmas Day and will soon serve four Vietnamese cities, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang and Nha Trang. VietJet Air is one of the country's first privately owned airlines and unlikely to be its last.
Foreign investment has caused wages to rise and Vietnam's cities are booming - particularly Hanoi where the ancient Temple of Literature is a refuge from the bustle. The beaches of Nha Trang on the south central coast are also popular.
Flights between Hanoi and Nha Trang start on May 19 with fares from $60. Flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are from $41. - vietjetair.com
More than 10 million South Koreans took low-cost flights in 2011 and that figure is set to grow with record numbers of tourists visiting the country and locals heading to Japan and other parts of Asia for holidays.
Regional airlines are jostling for best position to handle this traffic with unprecedented numbers of aircraft on order and new routes planned.
In March, Jeju started daily flights between Seoul and Nagoya, Japan, while this month the Jeju City to Ho Chi Minh service was launched and yesterday was to see the inaugural flight between Jeju and the eastern China city of Qingdao. The airline already flies to Fukuoka, Hong Kong, Osaka, Manila and Bangkok.
Jeju City is a resort area on the island Jeju in the East China Sea. Its mild weather, five-star hotels and casinos attract more than four million visitors a year mainly from the mainland, Japan and China. - jejuair.net
Based in Busan, South Korea, this regional carrier is a subsidiary of Asiana Airlines - named by Skytrax as the world's best airline in 2010. Air Busan serves the Korean market flying to Seoul and Jeju. There are also international flights to Taiwan, the Philippines, China and Japan.
But Busan itself catches plenty of the tourist market as the city is known for its beaches and hot spring resorts. The airline flies between Hong Kong and Busan three times a week with fares from $250. - airbusan.com
Last month, Eastar Jet launched its Seoul-Osaka service which it will fly 14 times a week, increasing to an incredible 35 times a week by July. It signals a rapid rise for the airline which links Seoul with the resort island of Jeju and also flies to Bangkok and Kota Kinabalu.
The airline has also been considering other destinations in China, Japan and Russia. - eastarjet.com
National flag-carrier Korean Air launched its cut-price carrier Jin Air almost four years ago and it flies domestically and throughout the region with a service to Taipei four times a week the most recent addition on April 19. From its Seoul (Incheon) base, Jin Air serves Bangkok, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan and as far afield as Guam.
It also flies to three Philippines location including Cebu known as the Island of Festivals and a popular resort and shopping destination. - jinair.com
Peach launched last month with four domestic routes and international services from Osaka to Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei to follow by September.
The airline will use 180-seat Airbus A320s with lead-in one-way fares from Osaka to Seoul available from $46. - flypeach.com
Tokyo-based Skymark has an extensive Japanese network and has responded to the emergence of Peach by starting daily flights from Osaka to Tokyo and Okinawa.
These will increase again in the coming months while daily flights to Sapporo will be increased to four per day. The Tokyo to Sapporo route is particularly busy in the Japanese winter when skiers arrive in Hokkaido where the resorts average 14m of snow per ski season.
In 2010, Skymark became the first Japanese airline to order the giant Airbus A380 aircraft which it plans to use on routes from Tokyo to destinations such as London, Paris, Frankfurt and New York. - skymark.co.jp/en
The full-service Hong Kong airline flies throughout Asia and the subcontinent to destinations as varied as Chennai, X'ian and Manila. It will begin services three times a week to Jeju, South Korea, from May.
X'ian is but one of the airline's 16 Chinese destinations. The 3000-year-old-city is the home of the Terracotta Warriors and ancient Buddhist and Taoist temples while the ruins of a village dating back to 4000BC are nearby. One-way fares from Hong Kong to X'ian are about $393. - dragonair.com
Chinese airlines are also becoming more active, spurring greater competition.
Established in 2005, Spring Airlines was the country's first low-cost carrier and is reportedly making preparations for new services to South Korea including flights between Incheon and Shanghai.
It already flies to nearly 30 Chinese cities as well as to Tokyo. Spring uses Airbus A320s with one-way fares from Shanghai to the Japanese capital from $63.40. Flights to Macau are as low as $15.70. - china-sss.com
Full-service Eva Airways is yet another airline with a route map that covers all parts of China.
From its Taipei hub it flies to North America and Europe as well as to Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia. Seoul was added this week while Eva, which already flies from Taipei to Brisbane is, tipped to make a full-time return to Sydney later this year.
The airline uses a combination of Boeing and Airbus and is considering the new 787 Dreamliner aircraft. - evaair.com
This Taiwanese airline mainly serves the Chinese market but has a growing fleet which will allow it to start new routes to Jeju from next month and to Bangkok, Malaysia and Indonesia within a few years. - tna.com.tw
Air India's low-cost arm uses a fleet of Boeing 737s to serve a big domestic network from its bases in Trivandrum and Kochi but the airline also flies to the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Although it is a budget airline, Air India Express has a complimentary light meal service and the carrier's planes are easy to spot with each tail painted to reflect a different aspect of Indian culture.
Chennai has an interesting past with many forts and temples and fantastic Tamil cuisine. Air India Express flies between Kuala Lumpur and Chennai four times a week with fares from $135. - airindiaexpress.in
GoAir's mission on launch in 2005 was to make flying as affordable as train travel and the airline which makes more than 1000 flights a week across India has largely succeeded.
A fleet of Airbus A320s serves a complex web of routes and the airline has placed an order worth more than $7 billion for 72 Airbus A320neos, a new aircraft under development.
Flights between Mumbai and Chennai will start on Tuesday, with flights from $74. GoAir chief executive Giorgio De Roni said recently the airline would be considering starting international flights. - goair.in
Founded in 2006, IndiGo is one of India's leading low-cost airlines. It has 341 daily flights serving nearly 30 cities, mostly from its Delhi hub, and recently opened routes to the Middle East, Nepal, Singapore and Thailand.
And its rapid rise is set to continue with more than $15 billion worth of Airbus A320 and A320neos on order, which will bolster its existing fleet of 56.
The airline keeps fares low using a classic budget model. It only offers economy class, charges for food, has no entertainment and has one-way fares at roughly half the price of return tickets. With its bazaars, gardens and tomb complexes, Lucknow is a highlight of northern India and a centre of Hindi and Urdu language.
IndiGo Air has flights from Singapore via Delhi from $207 one-way. - goindigo.in
Jet Konnect is the low-cost airline of India's biggest carrier Jet Airways and offers no-frills services to 56 cities throughout the country. Fly from Mumbai to Jaipur from $93. - jetkonnect.co.in
SpiceJet uses Boeing 737s and Bombardier Dash 8 planes to operate 243 daily flights to 29 Indian cities but also serves Nepal and Colombo. Kozhikode on the Malabar coast is an ancient spice trading port formerly known as Calicut and is known for its markets and food.
SpiceJet's fares for the daily 90-minute flight from Chennai are from $36.86. - spicejet.com
Travellers can get to just about any part of the country on the Philippines' largest low-cost airline which flies to 32 domestic destinations and operates another 19 overseas routes to China, Japan, South Korea and South East Asia.
This month the airline began flights three times a week between Manila and Siem Reap and with Cebu Pacific due to take delivery of 22 more Airbus A320 and 30 Airbus A321neo aircraft by 2021, the network should stretch even further.
From June 1 to August 31, fares from Manila to Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi start from $20 while domestic tickets are as low as $6.55.
These include flights from Manila to the South China Sea port of Laoag which has casinos, historic Spanish colonial buildings, baroque churches and a number of beach resorts. - cebupacificair.com
This airline mainly serves the domestic market but has flights to Hong Kong and Singapore with a route between Manila and Kuala Lumpur due to open on June 21. Nine new Airbus A320s are due for delivery next year, joining a fleet that includes Bombardier Dash 8 planes.
Fares from Singapore to Manila are from $86. airphilexpress.com
Zest links Manila and Cebu with a host of Filipino cities but also flies to China, Taiwan, South Korea and, from October 5, to Kuala Lumpur.
Cebu City is known as "the Queen City of the South" and is known for its beaches, basilicas, religious statues and shopping.
Zest Airways has up to six flights a day between Manila and Cebu City, with fares from $33.45. - zestair.com.ph
This carrier primarily serves the domestic market in the Philippines with international flights to Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and, from May 1, to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
The airline launched its new route with tickets from $19.40. - flyseair.com