Before I came to Southeast Asia, I had heard that flights are “dirt cheap and you can get anywhere”, but I will admit, I was a bit skeptical. After some recent experiences booking last minute flights, I thought I would share some tips if you’re looking to save money traveling in SE Asia:
- Utilize Travel Apps: My two favorite apps to use when booking flights are Hopper and Skyscanner. They both have websites, but you can often get better prices on their apps, so I use them more often. When I want to book a flight, I look up flights on Skyscanner to get an estimate for the cost, then check Hopper to see if it predicts whether the price will go up or down in the coming days or weeks. You can also set an alert on Hopper to notify you when prices go down, so even if you forget about that flight you need to book, the app will still remind you. Skyscanner is basically a cheaper and more thorough version of websites like Expedia, and I have found much lower prices on it, so I highly recommend it! I have also heard good things about Momondo, so I may check that out soon :).
- Look at all of your airport options: I was in Koh Samui and wanted to book a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Booking directly from Koh Samui to LP would’ve costed me over $300 US, so I needed to look into other options. If you are on an island or somewhere not easily accessible, definitely check out other nearby airports. I found out that only specific airlines can fly into the Koh Samui airport and some budget airlines aren’t allowed to fly there at all. After a recommendation from a fellow traveler, I looked into the Surat Thani airport, which is the closest airport on the mainland of Thailand. A flight to Bangkok that would’ve costed me over $100 US from Koh Samui only costed $20 US from Surat Thani! I easily took a ferry to the mainland, then took a bus to Surat Thani to catch my flight the next morning. My experience in Surat Thani ended up being very interesting, considering I did not see a single other western person or meet anyone who spoke English. The plus side of staying overnight somewhere that is the opposite of touristy is that you can stay in a safe hotel with a great location for only $8 US. Long story short, I booked a flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok on Thai Lion Air for $20 US and a flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Air Asia for $50 US, totaling to $70 US instead of over $300! It was definitely worth taking an extra ferry and exploring a new city for a day.
- Carry-on Luggage: This one is simple, but can really save you a ton of money in Southeast Asia. If I purchased luggage on my flight to Laos, it would’ve costed me almost as much as the flight itself! Luckily, my backpack is small enough I can sneak it on planes even though it is over the 7 kg limit :). If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia, definitely consider downsizing your backpack- you will not regret it!
- Read the Fine Print: Before booking a flight, always read the fine print and see if checked luggage is included, if you need to print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport, if there are any additional taxes or surcharges, and if there is any flexibility with your ticket. It may be worth paying a bit extra to have the flexibility to change your dates if you need to!
- Compare Your Options: Though flying is usually fastest and cheapest in Southeast Asia (depending on where you are going), there are plenty of ways to get around. Before booking a flight, always look into your other options like an overnight train or bus, a ferry/boat, or a combination. There are tourist offices everywhere in most cities and they can easily book a combination ticket for you. Looking online is smart, but there are some modes of transportation that are not listed online. Whatever you choose to do, don’t stress! You can always figure things out on the fly, so I definitely recommend just going with the flow and booking as you go :).
Expert hint: Some budget airlines in Asia do not accept foreign credit cards when booking online. Do not fear! In Thailand, you can actually select 7/11 as a payment method when you check out and you can pay cash at any 7/11 location with a print out of your voucher. After a few days of frustration and calling the airline, I was amazed that this actually worked! I have also heard you can pay cash at travel agencies as well, but I’m not sure what they charge for commission.
For reference, some popular budget airlines in Southeast Asia are:
- Air Asia
- Nok Air
- Thai Lion
- Tiger Air
Hopefully this helps if you plan to travel in Southeast Asia in the future or are traveling right now! If you have any other tips to add, feel free to post in the comments section :).