When looking for discounted flights within Asia, Andy and I started looking into the discount carriers as the pricing is so much lower than the traditional carriers. The discount carrier that had the best pricing and right flights for us was AirAsia.
We flew AirAsia 3 times during our 3 week trip trip around Southeast Asia. We could not have been happier with our experiences or the pricing that we paid for our flights.
Reasons That AirAsia Can Offer Discounted Fares
- They charge for everything – from online processing fees, checked baggage, assigned seats and food/drink on the flight
- It’s a discount airline that doesn’t provide the same level of service that you would expect from a traditional Asian airline
- They fly into smaller airports – they have a hub in Bangkok, not the larger Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), but the smaller Don Muang Airport (DMK)
- There are no connecting flights so you have to book each leg of your trip individually, paying fees for each leg of the trip
Booking AirAsia Flights and Avoiding Unnecessary Fees
Since we didn’t want to spend more than necessary on travel, we avoided as many fees as we could.
We didn’t book assigned seats
Since our flights were all relatively short and we were together for our 3 week trip, we didn’t spend additional money guaranteeing seats next to each other. On all 3 of our flights we were still seated next to each other, either across the aisle or directly next to each other.
On one of our flights, the flight attendant saw that we were traveling together but not sitting next to each other and offered us the entire back row so we could sit together. Although the last row does not recline and we were the last ones off the plane, it was nice to be able to sit together without paying the additional fee.
We declined travel insurance
When booking a flight through AirAsia, there is a default setting which includes travel insurance. You don’t need to pay this fee, just un-check this box when submitting your order for your tickets.
Pre-paid our baggage
There is maximum size of 56cm x 36cm x 23cm (22″ x 14″ x 9″) and weight of 7 kilograms (just over 15 lbs) for carry on baggage. This equates to a standard backpack size which worked well for us since we were able to carry on our valuable items without any issues.
Since we had our travel backpacks that were too large to carry on, we prepaid the checked baggage fee for these when we booked our flights. This saves you money versus purchasing your checked baggage during airport check in.
Avoided paying for food and drink
Since the flights were relatively short, it was easy for us to avoid paying for food and drink on our AirAsia flights. One exception was our flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi which took off very early in the morning, so early that the airport shops were not yet open. I needed to eat something for breakfast and get a drink to wash it down with. I had 2 choices – either purchase on the plane or wait until we landed. I decided to purchase on the plane so when we landed we could take right off for the beach.
While the prices were somewhat steep, they weren’t unreasonable compared to the inflated rates that you would you pay at an airport.
Sat in a standard vs. premium seat
AirAsia has seats towards the front of the plane which are their premium seats. These seats do not offer additional leg room (besides the exit rows) and are charged at a premium. You do get to board earlier but with the stringent carry on requirements, it is less of a benefit since the overhead bins aren’t filled up like they are on US domestic flights where everyone carries on a roller bag.
The flight staff is very strict about not allowing anyone who did not pay for a premium seat to move to a premium seat during the flight. You are allowed to move to a standard seat during the flight but will have to pay a fee to move up to a premium seat.
Booked direct flights
AirAsia’s structure is not set up to do layovers. If you have a layover between 2 flights, you need to book 2 separate tickets (including the incremental fees for each ticket). You will also have to collect your checked bag at the baggage claim and check it for your next flight as they don’t check through baggage. Luckily for us, all of our flights were direct which saved us not only money but also time.
Paid in Thai baht instead of US dollars
Whenever possible when traveling, try and book your travel with local currency. When a foreign company converts from their currency to a foreign currency, they give themselves a more favorable exchange rate. Your credit card will get you the best exchange rate possible.
Make sure that you’re using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees which will save you a 3% international transaction fee per charge. Luckily this is a pretty standard benefit for many travel specific credit cards, including our favorite the Chase Sapphire Preferred which earns us 2x miles for travel and dining transactions.
The Flight Experience
I had read some horror stories about AirAsia before we left, but I think that you’ll always find people complaining on the internet. Fewer people spend the time to write about their great experiences than talk about negative experiences.
In reality, AirAsia was a perfectly good airline and reminded us of Southwest airlines back home. The plane was a standard plane with leather seats with 3 seats on each side of the aisle. Personally we prefer leather seats instead of fabric as they seem more sanitary. The legroom was similar to what I expect for domestic US carriers and perfectly sufficient for the short flights that AirAsia offers.
The flight attendants were very nice and the pilots were great – we had some of the smoothest landings that I have ever had in my life!
I would absolutely recommend them to anyone who is interested in low cost travel around Southeast Asia. My only word of advice is to avoid as many of the incremental fees as possible, that way you have more money to spend on your destination when you arrive.