The biggest cost for most travelers to Asia is airfare. Metasearch sites such as Kayak and Expedia can help you find the best deals to get to Asia, but often fall short locally — either not including local air carriers, or including their flights at a substantial markup. You’ll likely want use different strategies for getting to/from Asia than traveling within the continent.
Consider a round-the-world (RTW) ticket if you are planning a journey encompassing several continents. The major air alliances offer inter-continental packages, with prices based on the planned journey (generally, between $2500 and $7500). However, alliances offering RTW tickets do not utilize budget airlines. In Southeast Asia in particular, one can likely find more affordable flights using local carriers. Purchasing a limited RTW ticket combined with local flights as needed may be the most economical route.
Also be sure to examine the provisions for the RTW ticket closely. Many packages indicate a traveler cannot return to an overseas continent he/she has already visited on the ticket, and limit the kinds of changes that can be made. Also note that while changes may not be allowed online, they can sometimes be accomplished via a travel agent or at the airport.
As discussed in the previous articles of this series (Getting Around Locally and Boats, Buses and Trains), travelers need to consider safety. The FAA indicates that Indonesia and the Philippines do not meet international aviation safety standards, and most of the airlines based in those countries are on the European Commission’s blacklist of banned carriers. However, these countries comprise thousands of islands. If you’re going to travel through Indonesia or the Philippines extensively, you will likely need to fly. Travelers should weigh the risks of air travel against that of other modes of conveyance, or, if the risk seems too great, consider not going.
Safety information can be difficult to find, but resources include the FAA International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (IASA), the European Commission’s list of airlines banned within the EU, and the civil aviation authority of each individual country. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a trade organization which requires member airlines to pass their Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). A list of members can be found here.
Below are some carriers operating in Asia, as of January 2013 (organized by the location of the primary hub). Major North American and European airlines whose routes can be found via metasearch sites are not listed.
Air Carriers Operating in Asia
Air Asia — Budget flights throughout Asia. Based out of Kuala Lumpur, with subsidiaries in Bangkok (Thai AirAsia), Jakarta (Indonesia AirAsia), Angeles City (Clark Inter’l Airport, AirAsia Philippines), and Narita/Tokyo (AirAsia Japan).
Southeast Asia and Oceania
Thai Airways — Based in Bangkok. Flights throughout Asia. Also service to many worldwide destinations.
Thai Smile Air — Operated by Thai Airlines. Began operation in 2012. Domestic flights within Thailand. Also service to Macau.
Nok Air — Partially owned by Thai Airlines, based in Bangkok (Don Mueang Airport). Domestic flights within Thailand. Also routes to Penang Malaysia and Vientiane Laos.
Bangkok Airways — Routes throughout SE Asia. Also service to Hong Kong and Mumbai.
Vietnam Airlines — Based in Hanoi. Domestic flights and routes throughout Asia. Also routes to some U.S., Australian, and European cities.
Jetstar Pacific — Based in Ho Chi Minh City. Owned by Australian carrier Qantas. Domestic flights within Vietnam. Routes throughout SE Asia and to Australia.
Lao Airlines — Based in Vientiane. Domestic flights within Laos. Also routes to Thailand (Bangkok and Chiang Mai), China (Kunming and Guangzhou), Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap), and Singapore.
Lao Central Airlines — Based in Vientiane. Service between Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Bangkok.
Philippine Airlines — Domestic flights and service throughout Asia. Also service to some North American and Australian cities.
Cebu Pacific Air — Domestic flights and service throughout Asia. Also service to Dubai.
Airphil Express — Domestic flights. Service to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore
Seair — Domestic flights. Also service to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sabah Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu).
Zest Airways — Domestic flights. Also destinations in China (Shanghai and Quanzhou Jinjiang), Seoul, and Kuala Lumpur.
AirAsia Philippines — Domestic service to Angeles (Clark Inter’l), Kalibo, and Davao. Routes to Southeast Asia and Australia.
Sky Pasada — Service between Manilla, Basco Batanes, Maconacon, and Tuguegarao.
Tiger Airways — Flights throughout Asia. Also service to Australia.
Singapore Airlines — Flights worldwide.
Silk Air — Subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, flights throughout Asia.
Jetstar Asia — Based in Singapore, subsidiary of Australian carrier Qantas. Destinations throughout Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Malaysia Airlines — Based in Kuala Lumpur. Domestic flights and routes throughout Asia. Also destinations in Australia and the Middle East.
Firefly Airways — A subsidiary of Malaysia Air, based in Subang, Selangor (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport). Domestic flights. Also destinations in Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Note that many domestic carriers do not have online booking services. Airline tickets can be purchased via phone, an agent, or at the airport.
Garuda Indonesia — Domestic flights and service throughout Asia. Also destinations in Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Note that some Westerners have reported trouble using credit cards on Garuda’s online booking site.
Lion Air — Domestic flights and destinations in SE Asia.
Batavia Air — Media outlets reported that Batavia Air has declared bankruptcy as of January 1, 2013.
Mandala Airlines — Partnered with Singaporean carrier Tiger Airways. Domestic flights, routes throughout Asia, and destinations in Australia.
Sriwijaya Air — Domestic flights. Also service to Penang Malaysia and Singapore.
Merpati — Domestic flights.
Citilink — Subsidiary of Garuda. Domestic flights.
Trigana Air — Domestic flights.
TransNusa — Based in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (Timor). Routes throughout the eastern islands Indonesia with many connections to Denpasar/Bali.
Indonesia Air — Charter flights with some scheduled commercial routes through central and eastern Indonesia.
Kal Star Aviation — Domestic flights, with a few routes to neighboring countries.
SusiAir — Charter flights with some scheduled domestic routes. Note that, due to a series of fatal accidents, the U.S. embassy prohibited embassy personnel from utilizing SusiAir on May 4, 2012.
Royal Brunei Airlines — Based in Brunei on the island of Borneo. Service to major SE Asian cities, Shanghai, Hong Kong. Also routes to London and Melbourne.
Qantas — Based in Sydney. Worldwide flights. Many routes throughout Oceania and SE Asia.
Jetstar Airways — Based in Melbourne. Subsidiary of Qantas. Routes to Japan, Beijing, and several SE Asian cities. Jetstar sister companies service other areas of Asia.
Hawaiian Airlines — Based in Honolulu. Service to Japan, Guam, Samoa, the Philippines, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti.
Cathay Pacific — Worldwide flights, service throughout Asia.
Dragonair — Subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. Service throughout Asia.
Hong Kong Airlines/Hong Kong Express — Routes throughout China and Asia.
Note that many English websites for Chinese carriers have difficulty accepting non-China-based credit cards, even when the site appears to accept the major credit cards. Domestic flights can be purchased once in China through a travel agency, and are often more reasonably priced than when going through a foreign intermediary. However, Westerners sometimes need to have their flights purchased in advance in order to obtain a visa. CTrip.com is a booking service that will accept Western credit cards. Below are a few of China’s core airlines.
Air China — Based in Beijing. Domestic and worldwide service.
China Eastern — Based in Shanghai. Extensive domestic coverage and routes throughout Asia.
China Southern — Based in Guangzhou, Guangdong. Domestic service and worldwide service.
Hainan Airlines — Based in Haikou. Domestic service with some worldwide routes.
Shangdong Airlines — Subsidiary of Air China. Based in Jinan, Shangdong. Domestic service, with destinations in Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.
Shenzhen Airlines — Based in Shenzhen, Guangdong. Domestic flights. Also routes to Osaka, Thailand, Singapore, Seoul and Taoyuan Taiwan.
Taipei is serviced by two airports: Songshan and Taoyuan.
EVA Air — Based in Taipei. Flights throughout Asia, with destinations in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
UNI Air (website in Chinese only) — Subsidiary of EVA Air. Domestic flights.
China Airlines — Based in Taipei. Domestic service between Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Makung. Many routes throughout Asia. Also destinations in the U.S., Europe, and Oceania.
Mandarin Airlines — Subsidiary of China Airlines, based in Taichung, Taiwan. Destinations throughout China and Taiwan. Also routes to Macau, Japan, Korea, Malaysia (Sabah/Kota Kinabulu), the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Seoul is serviced by two airports: Icheon and Gimpo.
Korean Air — Worldwide flights.
Asiana Airlines — Worldwide flights.
Jin Air — Subsidiary of Korean Air. Domestic service between Jeju and Seoul. Also service to Hong Kong, Macau, China, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Laos, and Thailand.
Eastar Jet — Domestic flights between Jeju and Seoul, Gunsan and Cheongju. Also service to Bangkok, Taipei, Sabah (Kota Kinabulu) Malaysia, and Japan (Osaka and Tokyo).
Jeju Air — Based in Jeju. Domestic service between Jeju and Seoul, Buson, and Cheongju. Also service to Bangkok, the Philippines, Japan, Guam, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, and Qingdao China.
T’way Airlines (website in Korean, Chinese, or Japanese only) — Domestic service between Jeju and Seoul. Also service to Japan and Taiwan.
Tokyo is serviced by two airports: Narita and Haneda. Osaka is serviced by the Kansai International Airport.
ANA (All Nippon Airways) — Worldwide service.
JAL (Japan Airlines) — Worldwide service.
Skymark Airlines — Domestic service.
Jetstar Japan — Partially owned by JAL and Australian carrier Qantas. Domestic flights. International service to Australia and greater Asia.
AirAsia Japan — Jointly owned by ANA and AirAsia. Domestic service includes Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Naha Okinawa. International service to greater Asia.
Middle-eastern airlines servicing Asia
Qatar Airways — Based in Doha, Qatar. Worldwide service, with routes to many Asian and SE Asian cities.
Etihad Airways — Based in Abu Dhabi. Service to India, China, South Korea, Japan, and some SE Asian cities.
Emirates Airlines — Based in Dubai. Service to India and major Asian cities.
Kuwait Airways — Based in Farwaniyah, Kuwait. Service to India, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
The airline industry is in constant flux, and routes change frequently. If you have any information to add, please comment.
Stay tuned for part four of this series focusing on transportation in Asia. In the next segment, we'll take a closer look at traveling around Japan.