How to Find Cheap Flights to Asia

Bangkok city night view via aircraft window
Bangkok city night view via aircraft window. Getty Images/kampee patisena

Anyone who's planned a trip to Asia has, at least fleetingly, wondered what kind of voodoo is required to find affordable airfare. Cheap flights to Asia can often be difficult to find and paired with the fact that crossing the Pacific is a painfully long flight, the idea of booking an Asia vacation can be daunting.

Fortunately, the trip is worth the long haul, yet the ticket price proves to be a barrier for many budget travelers who would otherwise love to visit the continent. Luckily, travel insiders do have a few tricks up their sleeves for getting the best deals.

Get Yourself to Los Angeles or New York

Just like an aspiring artist, you've got to go where the action is. LAX and JFK tend to have a higher volume of flights to Asia than all other cities in the U.S. Good deals from other parts of the U.S. to Los Angeles can be scored from Delta, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Allegiant Air.

Consider actually breaking up your flight in Los Angeles by booking to separate flights with two different airlines. For example, rather than booking a flight from Louisville straight to Bangkok, you may find a cheaper fare by booking a flight from Louisville to LAX, then taking a different carrier later that evening from LAX to Bangkok.

Tip: If you plan to visit Southeast Asia, the cheapest flights from the U.S. typically arrive into Bangkok. Also, taking one-way flights may be better than booking a round trip.

Don't Be Hesitant About Using Asia-Based Airlines

Here's the secret: They often have better food, legroom, and service than airlines based in the U.S., believe it or not!

These Asian airlines fly out of Los Angeles and often have cheap flights to Asia:

  • Korean Air
  • Air China
  • China Southern
  • Asiana Airlines
  • China Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Japan Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • China Eastern
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific

Learn to Love the Budget Airlines

Although devoid of frills -- at least free ones, anyway -- Asia is blessed with excellent budget airlines. Tickets between countries can often be found for less than $50 US. AirAsia -- based at Malaysia's new KLIA2 terminal in Kuala Lumpur -- is the largest budget airline in Asia; they are your best bet for finding a cheap hop between large cities in Southeast Asia.

Finding cheap flights on budget airlines is usually done by booking well in advance or checking their sites for last-minute deals. You can sometimes even find free last-minute flights, although you'll still have to pay tax and fees. Sign up for AirAsia's newsletter or follow them on Twitter to find out about last minute specials.

Always Fly Into Big Cities

Typically, flying into Bangkok is usually going to be cheaper than flying into smaller airports such as Phuket or Chiang Mai. The same applies for flying into Kuala Lumpur and other large, regional hubs.

If you find a flight into a neighboring country for significantly cheaper than your planned destination, consider taking that flight, then making a "hop" using AirAsia or one of the other budget airlines that fly between capital cities in Asia. Sometimes the bonus day or two in an unplanned country is very rewarding, although you should check to see if there are any visa fees first.

Here are a few cities that serve as major hubs in Asia:

  • Beijing (PEK)
  • Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Tokyo (TYO)
  • Seoul (SEL)
  • Bangkok (BKK)
  • Kuala Lumpur (KUL) 
  • Singapore (SIN)
  • Saigon (SGN)

Consider Ground Transportation

Once on the ground in your target country, you have a few more transportation options. If time is less of a factor, consider taking the train or even a bus from the capital city onward to your destination. For instance, flying into Bangkok and taking the overnight train to Laos is often cheaper than just flying into Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

Similarly, the bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore is comfortable and may save you money getting from one to the other.

Ground transportation prices in Asia are usually excellent deals; however, be prepared for crowded buses, bumpy roads, and delayed trains in some developing countries.

Do Not Assume That All Booking Sites Show the Best Deal

Sometimes the large flight consolidators and booking sites do not have access to small budget airlines' databases; you may or may not be finding the lowest fares available, despite whatever promises are made.

Tip: Sometimes booking sites use nefarious means to make you want to book a flight. They may show flights for days around the day you picked as more expensive so that you assume prices are going up. Some sites will even save your previous flight searches -- because they know you want a particular flight -- then add an additional amount to that flight price when you return to the site. Try clearing the cookies or using an incognito search on your browser each time to avoid these scams.

Once you locate a decent deal on a flight booking site, check for the same flight directly on the airline's site to see if cutting out the middleman saves anything.

Use Frequent Flier Programs

Flying across the Pacific and missing nearly 10,000 frequent flier miles is a shame; two return trips to Asia could easily net you a free flight. Chances are that you'll be hooked on Asia the first time and will want to return -- why not let those miles add up?

These airlines offer cheap flights to Asia and participate in Delta's SkyMiles program:

  • Aeroflot Russian Airlines
  • China Airlines
  • China Southern
  • China Eastern
  • Korean Air
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Thai Air Asia
  • Vietnam Airlines