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The Complete Guide to Budget Airlines in Asia

Daniel Burnham
By 
Daniel Burnham
Flight Expert
7 min read
Last updated 
September 26, 2019

If you're visiting Asia and hoping to see a few countries on a small budget, getting around the region on one of these no-frills carriers can save you quite a bit of money. In this article we’re breaking down the best budget airlines in Asia, including what kind of extra fees they include (like baggage and assigned seating), any other pros and cons, and what you should know before booking. 

Note: the flight examples listed below are based on specific searches done at specific times (and of course, prices will likely have changed). 

>> Read about budget airlines flying from the US or budget airlines in Europe.

AirAsia

AirAsia is a Malaysian low-cost airline headquartered near Kuala Lumpur. It one of the best known budget airlines in Asia, and often has great sales with rock-bottom prices. Food is also relatively inexpensive onboard—you can get a full meal starting from $4. There’s no seatback entertainment but you can rent a tablet preloaded with movies and TV shows for MYR69 (about $16). Furthermore, AirAsia also serves Hawaii, and it offers more non-stop flights in Asia than any other airline.

This is a sample fare of a roundtrip flight from Singapore to Bangkok in late September for a fare of $93.60. 

flight searching on AirAsia

AirAsia fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: Starting from $20 for 20kg (44lb)
  • Seat selection: from $4
  • Meals: From $4

While a carry-on bag is included, you should be aware that the airline is incredibly strict on the 7kg (15lb) rule, and the same goes for the checked bag. If you’re above weight, you’ll get dinged.

If you have checked luggage, the Value Pack offers the most for your money. For $25 each way, you’ll get 20kg baggage allowance, baggage delay and on-time guarantee, seat selection, and a meal. Otherwise, adding advance seat selection and a checked bag will add at least $24 each way or $48 roundtrip, about 30% of the final total. 

IndiGo

IndiGo is India’s largest domestic and international airline, and it’s a budget carrier in the same sense that Southwest is a budget carrier: While they do offer some upsells during the booking process, they are much closer to a full-service carrier. They actually offer free bags and it's possible to book reasonably priced refundable tickets. While the started in India they have been expanding rapidly and now serve other parts of Asia as well, including Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, and even as far as Turkey. 

This is a sample fare of a roundtrip flight from Mumbai to Singapore in late September for $310.

flight searching on IndiGo

IndiGo automatically selects the cheapest Saver fare for you. If you want to add Flexi Fare (add unlimited changes to your booking) you can do so for about $24 each way.

IndiGo fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: included 
  • Seat selection: from $1 
  • Meals: snacks from $2, sandwiches from $4

While you get one free checked bag with IndiGo, the weight restrictions vary per your final destination. You can carry up to 15kg (33lb) on domestic flights, and between 20-30kg on international flights. If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, it’s 20kg (44lb), while it’s 30kg (66lb) for some Middle Eastern countries. You’ll want to check with the airline in advance. Your carry-on bag must also not exceed 7kg (15lb). 

With fees for advanced seat selection starting at $2 roundtrip and no fee for your first checked bag, IndiGo’s extras add a negligible amount to the final cost of your ticket. 

Jetstar 

Jetstar is the low-cost subsidiary of Australia’s Qantas airline (technically Jetstar Pacific operates flights in and out of Vietnam, while Jetstar Asia operates other flights within the continent). The airline is known for having super-low sale prices, like return-for-free promos or insanely cheap weekend fare blowouts. In addition to flying all over North and South Asia, they also fly to and from Australia and Hawaii. However, baggage fees can be quite expensive. 

Here’s a sample roundtrip flight from Da Nang, Vietnam, to Hong Kong in mid-September for 3,552,494 VND (about $150).

flight search on Jetstar.


Jetstar fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: $20 pre-paid or $40 at the airport for a 20kg (44lb) piece of luggage
  • Seat selection: from $5
  • Meals: meals from $8, soup and crackers from $5

With advance seat selection and a checked bag adding at least $50 to the roundtrip price (in this case, about 25% of the total cost). 

If you’re trying to travel at the cheapest rate possible, Jetstar is a good option—but it’s not necessarily the most convenient one. 

Peach

If you’re traveling within Japan, Peach is a solid option for short-haul flights (especially to and from Okinawa). Its hubs are Okinawa and Osaka. Outside of Japan, routes are limited, but there are some flights to Incheon (South Korea), Taipei (Taiwan), Bangkok (Thailand), and a few other destinations. 

Here’s a sample fare of a round-trip flight from Okinawa to Tokyo in late September for 15,100 JPY ($140). 

flight search on Peach.

Make sure the cheapest flight is selected; Peach doesn’t automatically do this for you.

Peach fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: $15 for a 20kg (44lb) piece of luggage
  • Seat selection: from $5
  • Meals: meals from $7, noodles from $4

Once you’ve added seat selection and a checked bag, your cost goes up by at least $40 roundtrip. In this example, fees account for nearly 25% of the total cost. 

Note: Customer reviews indicate that Peach has had cancellation issues for their flights, so make sure to build in plenty of extra time into your itinerary.

PAL Express

PAL Express is a domestic subsidiary of Philippine Airlines. While their cheapest fare options don't include free checked baggage, they are otherwise a full-service carrier and offer food, frequent flyer mileage collection, and other extras.

Here’s an Economy Supersaver sample fare of a roundtrip flight from Manila, Philippines, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late September for $154.40. 

flight search on PAL.


PAL Express fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: 25kg free baggage allowance
  • Seat selection: from $8
  • Meals: free hot meal

As far as budget airlines go, PAL Express is dependable and convenient, although it won’t always be your cheapest option for airfare. With a checked bag free, adding advanced seat selection for $16 roundtrip adds only a small amount to the total cost and accounts for just 8% of the final amount. 

Citilink

Jakarta-based Citilink flies almost exclusively in Indonesia, with limited routes to other Southeast Asia destinations (though they recently announced flights to Perth and Frankfurt so their network is increasing outside of the Asian continent), so it’s best for hopping around the Indonesian islands. 

This is a sample fare of a roundtrip flight from Bali to Surabaya in late September for a fee of $94. 

flight booking on Citilink.

Citilink fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse)
  • Checked bag: 20kg free baggage allowance
  • Seat selection: from $5 (when you pay for seat selection you also get a snack and drink included)
  • Meals: from $3

Citilink has a surprising number of perks built into its fees (the snack and drink is a great one), which makes it a reasonably affordable option for traveling within Indonesia, even with the additional charges. Since a checked bag is free and you get a snack and drink when you pay for a seat, adding around $10 to your total roundtrip cost makes this almost feel like a full-service airline. In this example, those extra fees only contribute about 10% to the total cost. 

Spring Airlines

A Chinese low-cost airline, Spring has some incredibly cheap deals, but it's difficult to actually book these since their sale prices sell out in minutes due to high Chinese demand. Their promo fares are listed on the front page, and you have to snatch them up quick. They do have cheap regular flights as well, though.

Here’s a sample fare of a round-trip flight from Shanghai, China, to Taipei, Taiwan, in late September for a fee of $202.

flight searching on Spring Airlines.

Note that the taxes and extra fees nearly double the initial cost of your flight, which isn’t obvious when you’re selecting your route. 

Spring Airlines fees:

  • Carry-on bag: one piece of carry-on baggage up to 7kg
  • Checked bag: $44 for 20kg
  • Seat selection: included
  • Meals: from $11 (with drinks and snacks)

Their checked baggage fee is one of the most expensive in this list, with the roundtrip cost adding $88 to (and accounting for 30% of) your total bill. They also sell duty free goods over a loudspeaker in-flight, so it’s not a quiet journey.

Scoot

Singaporean airline Scoot has a mixed reputation. It sometimes has incredible deals to Athens and Berlin, which makes it the only real budget option between Southeast Asia and Europe, and flights between Bangkok or Taiwan and Japan tend to be a bargain. However, in general, prices on other routes within Asia aren’t as competitiveT, there are very high fees for extras, and their routes often have long stopovers. 

Here’s a sample fare of a roundtrip flight from Singapore to Guangzhou, China, in October for a fee of $190. 

flight searching on Scoot.

Scoot fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included (but they’re strict about dimensions)
  • Checked bag: from $20
  • Seat selection: from $5
  • Meals: from $11

Adding a checked bag and seat selection will add at least $50 to the roundtrip cost (with those fees accounting for about 20% of the new total). 

HK Express

HK Express has decent prices, but it’s only an ideal option if you’re flying out of Hong Kong. In particular HK Express serves a lot of very unique Japanese airports that are otherwise hard to reach without flying a full-service airline like ANA or JAL, including Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. However, many flights only operate once per day, so if the schedules don't line up perfectly (or your inbound flight is late), you can expect a 10+ hour wait in Hong Kong. 

Below is a sample fare for a roundtrip flight from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a fee of 1255 HKD or about $160.

flight booking on HK Express

HK Express fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included for up to 7kg
  • Checked bag: from $30 for 20kg
  • Seat selection: from $5
  • Meals: from $6

Although routes are limited, HK Express is a dependable and affordable airline. The also have a rewards program that could be handy to sign up for if you’re doing lots of inter-Asia travel. Adding a checked bag and seat will add at least $70 to your roundtrip though, accounting for about 25% of the total cost. 

Cebu Pacific

Cebu Pacific is based in the Philippines, with routes in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, China, and even Australia and the Middle East. The airline really shines when it comes to longer haul destinations and unique routes, like Manila to Dubai. Their fees for extras are reasonable, but passengers have reported that the airline does a poor job of communicating delays and cancellations.

Below is a sample fare for a roundtrip flight from Manila, Philippines, to Hanoi, Vietnam, for a fee of 8,349 PHP ($163).

flight booking on Cebu.

Cebu Pacific fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included 
  • Checked bag: from $17 for up to 20kg
  • Seat selection: from $5
  • Meals: from $5

When you select your flights, Cebu Pacific will automatically add fees like seat selection and a meal to your flight, so check to make sure you haven’t selected something you don’t want before purchasing. If you do want to add these, it’ll add at least $46 to your roundtrip cost. In this example, fees account for about 20% of the total, comparable to most of the others on this list. 

Lion Air

Lion Air, and Indonesian airline with its hub in Jakarta, has some incredibly great sales prices (e.g. Bangkok to Singapore for $3!), but checked bags are charged per kilogram starting at 1kg, which adds up very quickly. There’s no advance seat selection and the website is outdated and can be buggy, making for a less pleasant booking experience. On the plus side, if you’re coming from AustraliaMany Lion Air flights are marketed under the brand Malindo, which also flies to Australia

Below is a sample fare for a round-trip flight from Jakarta to Bangkok, Thailand, for a fee of 1,837,200 IDR ($130 USD).

flight searching on Lion Air.

Lion Air fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse) 
  • Checked bag: $3 per 5kg, $6 per 10kg, $9 per 15 kg, and $12 per 20kg
  • Seat selection: N/A
  • Meals: many flights do not have food onboard

While $12 per 20kg isn’t terrible, even a few kilograms over the weight limit could bump your luggage costs considerably. Furthermore, seat selection is not unavailable. While a roundtrip price of $24 for checked luggage (about 16% of the total cost) is not unreasonable, other issues, including no advance seat selection, can be frustrating. 

Air Arabia

Emirati airline Air Arabia is one of the best budget airlines in the region, with really low baggage fees and a unique route network throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Although it’s a budget airline, its services are comparable to full-service airline. They also have frequent monthly deals with no surprise fees—the price you see is all-inclusive. 

One of our favorite things about Air Arabia is how completely transparent and functional their website is. When it’s time to book, they’ll tell you exactly what is included in the basic fare, and they’ll let you know which is the fastest flight. When booking, you can also choose to add a free stopover for yourself in Sharjah and pick the number of days you want to stay in the UAE.

Here’s an example from Sharjah, UAE, to Muscat, Oman in October for 799 AED (about $217).  

example flight on Air Arabia.

Air Arabia fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included up to 10kg, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse) 
  • Checked bag: from $10
  • Seat selection: from $1
  • Meals: from $6

On this flight, there’s an offer to upgrade to a package that includes baggage and seat selection for 64 AED (about $17), which is a deal compared to the minimum of $22 it would cost to add these a la carte for a roundtrip journey. Still, fees make up a very small percentage of the total cost—less than 10%

flydubai

Flydubai, a subsidiary of Emirates, also serves the Middle East, as well as some parts of Africa and Europe. Although it’s not quite as cheap as Air Arabia, it’s still a great option if you want a really good value for your money. (Their promo section is pretty useless, on the other hand.) The airline has a proper business class cabin, and it codeshares with Emirates flights, too, so while can book them independently as a budget airline, you can also transfer from a long-haul Emirates flight to flydubai to connect to a smaller airport.

Below is a sample fare for a roundtrip flight between Dubai and Amman (Jordan) for $428 roundtrip in October. 

flight search on flydubai.

Flydubai fees:

  • Carry-on bag: included up to 7kg, as well as one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse) 
  • Checked bag: from $30
  • Seat selection: from $15
  • Meals: $10 for a standard meal

Flydubai does offer the chance to bundle things like seat selection and a checked bag. In this case, it would have added just $27 to the total, a much better deal than adding it a la carte. Adding a checked bag and seat selection individually will add at least $90 to the roundtrip fare.

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Last Updated 
September 26, 2019
The Complete Guide to Budget Airlines in Asia
Daniel Burnham
Flight Expert

Traveler. Plane spotter. Gourmande. Daniel has many further vices—among them is a weakness for craft beer, fine pastries, and premium aircraft cabins. His possessions still fit into a single backpack, and he listens to Audible at 3x speed. A Midwestern exile, you’ll find Daniel down at the hawker center on fine mornings reading the Financial Times with a steaming kopi and roti prata.

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