Tips for Using Budget Airlines

Budget airlines have exploded around Southeast Asia since the year 2000. Almost every country, including tiny Singapore, boasts their own low cost carriers. Some countries have more than one carrier, while a few of the airlines have even gone regional in their service.

While budget carriers will definitely save you money, it's good to keep in mind the old adage "you get what you pay for." To help you get the best price and make your trip as enjoyable as possible, we've developed the following tips:

Book Early
Book your plane travel as soon as you can. Many of the low cost carriers only allow booking within the next three months, but you should book as soon as you can within this limitation. There are a couple of reasons for advising this strategy: Firstly, low cost carriers plan their schedules so that they fly full planes most of the time. If you wait until a day or two before you want to travel, you may find all the flights are full. Next, some budget airlines use a tiered pricing strategy, where a small number of seats are sold at rock bottom prices, and the rest are sold at a higher price. By booking early, you increase your chances of getting the cheaper seats. Lastly, there's the issue of fuel surcharges. All the Southeast Asian carriers charge an extra fee on top of the ticket price to account for the ever increasing cost of fuel. These charges are 'locked in' when you purchase your ticket, so unless you want to bet on fuel prices going down, booking early ensures you get the lowest surcharge possible.
Use Early Morning Flights
I'm not usually a big fan of getting up early to make a flight, but when it comes to budget airlines, it's a good idea to select the earliest flight possible. For one thing, these tend to be the less popular flight times, so several low cost carriers charge less for morning flights than they do for flights later in the day. There's also the issue of delays. Budget airlines make money by keeping their planes in the air as much as possible. This means they schedule the planes to be on the ground only a very short time between flights. In theory, it should work, but as is the case when people and technology are involved, things rarely work they way they're expected. Since there's no slack time between flights, any delay at one stop gets multiplied throughout the rest of the day. Flights later in the day are much more likely to be delayed than flights early in the morning. Delays of two hours or more are not rare.
Get to the Airport On Time
Another way low cost carriers save money is by reducing staff. This sometimes means that check-in staff do double duty as gate staff. Almost all of the budget carriers require that you check in no less than 30 minutes before your flight time. One of the main reasons for this policy is to ensure that passengers are checked in and at the gate when the flight is ready to board. The airlines are fairly rigid about this policy, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.

Budget Airlines

Air Asia
Air Asia is Malaysia's discount domestic carrier. If you book well in advance you can get some absolutely rock bottom fares. Air Asia flies to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur.
Jet Star Asia
One of Singapore's own home grown budget carriers. We've actually found flying with Jet Star to be a rather pleasant experience. See our complete review of Jet Star Asia for more information.
Valuair merged with Jet Star in early 2005 but still operates under a separate name. You can book through flights on either airline. Valuair flies mainly to destinations in Indonesia, including Bali, as well as Hong Kong and Manila.
Tiger Airways
Probably the largest of Singapore's budget carriers. Destinations include Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Macau and Manila.
The budget arm of charter carrier Orient Thai, One-Two-Go distinguishes itself by using larger planes than other low cost lines. Serves mostly the standard destinations - Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket.
Nok Air
Budget Thai carrier with Thai Airways as one of its major investors. Like most other budget lines, serves mostly the major tourist destinations such as Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Phuket. See our own detailed review of Nok Air.