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Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to Get a Cheap Ticket to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a wonderfully inexpensive place to travel. It is just that getting there usually isn't so cheap. In case you are looking for cheap flights to Southeast Asia, it is best to begin looking early. As frequently fliers and Southeast Asia wanderers, we've put together a list of ten tips to hopefully help you save money on your Southeast Asian air fare to put to better use while traveling on the ground.

Find a Cheap Southeast Asia Flight

  1. Book your air travel as far in advance as possible, but set up a Kayak Alert to monitor fairs.
    You can expect air fares to increase rather than decrease as your travel date approaches. However, there can be occasional market news, such as dips in oil price, that can occasionally cause the cost of a ticket to (temporarily) reduce. You can set up an alert on Kayak.Com to track air fare costs to certain destinations. This can be especially helpful if you are planning your trip more than six months or more in advance. We still suggest you book your ticket at least 90 days in advance, however, as after that fare will likely only increase—and a lot.
  2. Book directly from the airline's Web site.
    While is our favorite search site for international tickets, but when flying between Southeast Asian destinations, look at the airlines' Web sites directly.  Kayak can alert you to what tickets are probably cheapest, and then you can go directly to the airline to actually purchase your ticket. In our opinion, Orbitz and Expedia are simply pains that tack on additional costs to airfares, and we've had poor experiences with them both.  Now, we always buy a ticket from the airlines directly. Most airlines guarantee a direct booking with them is the cheapest available fare (or you get the difference back), but also it makes customer service much easier as you deal with the airline directly, not a third party reseller. 
  3. Look at other arrival destinations.
    You might be planning on a trip that starts in Singapore and allows you to work your way up the Malay peninsula, or maybe Bangkok is your jumping off point. If you can be flexible, though, you can compare the fares to the major Southeast Asia travel hubs—Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and Singapore's Changi. Reversing your journey or other arrival/departure changes can sometime save you hundred of dollars.  If flying west, Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh or even Siem Reap can sometimes offer up deals. Also it can sometimes be cheaper to arrive at another travel hub and then book a forwarding ticket from there to your preferred arrival destination on another airline. See #7 below--we once saved $600 by flying to Bangkok and booking a forwarding flight to Siem Reap rather than booking a direct flight.
  4. See if there are any promotions you can avail.
    Promotions usually require you book tickets during certain dates and then travel during later, specified dates, and that means planning ahead. These can, if you find them, result in big savings. You can often register with specific airlines to receive notifications about deals to certain destinations.
    For region providers, you can check out Southeast Asia airfare promotions here, but look at your local providers' Web pages, too:
  5. Think about making a trip outside peak season.
    In Southeast Asia, this generally means traveling during the rainy season. It also means you will
    Coming in the rainy season
    can have its advantages
    save almost everywhere especially if you are staying in "higher class" places.  However, if you come at the beginning or end of the rainy season you are liable to encounter less rain, less tourists, cheaper hotel prices, and a lusher, greener world of jungle and rice paddies.  However, if diving or trekking are your prime pursuits check out the best times to go to the particular area you are considering.
  6. If planning on air travel within the region, consider a regional air pass.
    AirAsia is the least expensive airline to air travel within the region. Unfortunately, Malaysian Airlines discontinued its ASEAN pass this year—one of the best deals in the region. Thai Airways currently has a three flight Thai domestic pass for US $278 with additional flights that can be added for less than $100. You can also check out the SkyTeam Asia Pass that includes wider Asia with many SEA destinations.

  7. Consider booking forward tickets separately.
    Changing airlines can be a pain. It means booking at least a four hour layover (we suggest five), picking up your bags and then going back and checking them in again. However, if it can save you a few hundred dollars, it might be worth it. Here is a recent example:

Flight directly to Siem Reap, 
Cambodia, from Portland, Oregon, USA: $2200

Flight to Kuala Lumpur 

from from Portland, Oregon, USA: $1700

Flight to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur:

Savings by booking onward ticket separately: About $300

  1. Ensure you check the baggage allowance for your ticket.
    This is particularly if you are traveling budget. Many flights on the airlines below will have a 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) check-in baggage limit, and you can expect to pay about $20 per kilogram over. I once got stuck paying $350 for excess luggage in a $150 flight on Malaysia Airlines. It can be an expensive and unpleasant surprise to learn your overweight luggage is more than your budget plane ticket. And while your international ticket to Southeast Asia may have had a big baggage allowance, if you are planning to do any domestic flight travel, be aware. It can sometimes be less expensive to stash your extra luggage in luggage storage if you will be returning to the same airport.  That being said, it can also sometimes be much cheaper to pay for an extra bag on the flight that shipping from less developed locales such as Cambodia or Laos.
  2. Enroll in frequent flier programs and fly the same airline whenever you can.
    Those frequent flier miles really do add up, and if there is not a huge difference in ticket price, go with the same airline for your long legs. Two trans-Pacific flights on the same airline can often add up to a free domestic USA ticket since a one-way trip to Southeast Asia from the USA West Coast will be around 10,000 miles (a reward domestic tickets usually start at about 25,000 miles).

  3. Try to Get Upgraded to First Class
    If you are a frequent flier member, you can also request an upgrade if available. Otherwise, book a full fare coach ticket—a Y class ticket. Commonly referred to as "Y-up" tickets, travelers with a Y booking code may request complimentary upgrade to first class seating. Airlines created the Y booking code to get around tighter corporate travel policies, while still catering to their most lucrative passenger segment. While not a sure deal, it can make an eight hour trans-Pacific flight feel a lot more comfortable.
  4. Book ahead!
    Probably the single most important thing to save money on a plane ticket is to book as far in advance as possible.  As mentioned above, there can sometimes be dips in price but generally airline tickets go up as they approach the departure date--and sometimes dramatically.  We once had a fare go up $600 WHILE we were booking the ticket.  Don't let that happen to you.  A little forward planning can pay off big time.  And while you are in Southeast Asia, why not take advantage of some of the lower-costs to off-set the cost of your trip 

    Read our article "How To Get Your Trip to Southeast Asia Paid For (Practically)" to learn how!


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