Getting a cheap airfare to Asia

First published on 1st February, 2005

You're heading to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam and you need a cheap flight. To get a good, cheap airfare to Asia, you'll need to spend time researching cheap air ticket websites like Adioso.com or telephoning travel agents. The best time and place for this research is during office hours at a desktop where nobody can see the screen.

Searching the internet for cheap flight to Asia deals can be tedious and boring, but persist and you could easily save yourself $100 and, in doing so, score yourself the cash to pay for another week in a beachside chalet on a tropical Thai island. However don't ignore the human travel agent -- one who can work the system and deliver the goods.

As with any "deal" if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is, but there are great cheap airfares to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam out there. Regardless of which route you choose, put the time in and you will be rewarded.

Here are some common points to consider:

Is the flight direct?

I once met a French guy in Agra who had flown from Paris to Delhi - via Moscow and Kabul - the flight took over 30 hours -- sure his airfare was less than mine (I flew direct from London to Delhi) -- about thirty pounds less. What you may save financially in taking an indirect cheap flight, you will lose in lack of sleep, comfort and convenience. A lot of flights to Asia from Europe come via the Middle East -- particularly Dubai, but in most cases the layover is just an hour or so -- there's nothing wrong with that -- but if you're routing yourself from Sydney to Bangkok via Manila in order to save fifty bucks, spend the extra money.

Airmiles

If you will be taking frequent domestic flights and plan to return to Asia again, don't dismiss miles out of hand.

For example Star Alliance member Thai Airways has affordable and convenient domestic flights -- if you flew from London to Bangkok return with Thai and did two sets of internal flights, and repeated that trip the following year, the year after you'd have close to enough miles for a free return ticket to Thailand.

Restrictions

What happens if you miss your flight? Be sure to check carefully what the restrictions are on any cheap ticket - especially on refunds and particularly regarding changing the ticket? There's no point saving yourself $50 by buying a cheap ticket if it will cost you $100 to change it when you decide to spend an extra week on the beach.

Human or machine?

The only time I buy online is when I know I can't get a cheaper price with an agent or if I'm using a discount carrier where I have to book online. I do this for the following reasons:

a) When I beg in front of my laptop it doesn't respond
b) Cheap flight sites are not aware of upcoming deals that are starting tomorrow and so won't tell you to come back tomorrow to save yourself $50.
c) Cheap flight sites tend not to cover all airlines, rather they will work with the bigger players - it's often the little players that offer the best deals.
d) Cheap flight sites will not wait-list you on 25 different flights to Singapore (and eventually get you on) when everything appears to be full -- a website will just tell you all the flights are full.
e) Humans are still (mostly) more intelligent than machines and will be able to show you unique ways to plan out a flights itinerary.
f) A cheap flights site doesn't remember (nor appreciate) the gift you gave it last time it helped you out at the last minute to get you squeezed onto a full flight.

Low-cost carriers

There are now a throng of low-cost-carriers serving Southeast Asia, led by KL-based AirAsia. Fares can be ridiculously low -- AirAsia was recently flying Bangkok to Hanoi for US$25 one way -- now that is simply unbeatable! The main low-cost players in the region are AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Jetstar and Nok Air.

With deals like these, it can be more cost effective to fly from your home country to Bangkok, Singapore or KL with a traditional carrier, then pick up a LCC flight to your final destination. Don't expect your ticketing agent to suggest doing that -- they'll probably try to suggest you fly with the international carrier's partner -- at a considerably higher cost.

Unless you're travelling overland, everyone needs to fly to reach Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, spend a little bit of time researching online ticketing sites and talk to a few travel agents - it's not difficult, is bound to be more interesting than what you should be doing at work, and, at the end of the day will probably save you some of that money you're working so hard to earn.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.


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