How to Find Cheap Flights to Borneo

Primary rain forest in Borneo
Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images

Knowing how to find cheap flights to Borneo is mostly a matter of choosing the correct airport.

Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo are surprisingly cheap—often less than $35! But you can save yourself a lot of time-consuming overland travel by choosing your entry point carefully.

Malaysia, where Kuala Lumpur and Borneo are located, is one of the most beautiful and easily accessible places in Southeast Asia. Many endangered species call the third-largest island on earth home, including orangutans and proboscis monkeys. If Taman Negara in Peninsular Malaysia, aka West Malaysia, feels just a little too touristy, grab a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo (East Malaysia) and get into the national parks.

Surprisingly, flights to Borneo are very inexpensive. You'll often find specials—even on last-minute flights—to the four main cities. Flight prices fluctuate depending on seasons; however, with four entry-point options, you can always get to somewhere in Borneo for under $50.

Weigh Your Travel Options

First, you've got to decide where to begin in Borneo. It's a good problem to have.

Understand that Borneo is divided into two states: Sarawak and Sabah. The independent nation of Brunei separates those two states. Essentially, you'll have to choose between starting in Sarawak or starting in Sabah. See both states if you have time. They each have their own charms and allures.

Going overland from Sarawak to Sabah, either around or through Brunei, is time-consuming. Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines offer numerous flights between Kuching (the capital of Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah).

Although the southern state of Sarawak is geographically bigger, it receives fewer tourist arrivals than Sabah. Sabah, in the northern part of Malaysian Borneo, is smaller geographically, but it's home to a bigger population. Sabah also boasts more popular tourist draws such as scuba diving in Sipadan, Mount Kinabalu, wildlife spotting trips on the Kinabatangan River, and the Rainforest Discovery Center.

Sabah seems to steal the show with better tourist infrastructure and more "organized" attractions. But that also means you'll contend with more visitors and pay higher prices. Sarawak shines each summer when the Rainforest World Music Festival is hosted just outside of Kuching.

Tip: If the weather is the biggest concern, Sarawak receives less rain in the summer months, while Sabah receives less rainfall from January to April.

Broaden Your Search

Many travelers mistakenly only check on flight prices between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. Although deals on flights to Kota Kinabalu are common, this popular route can jump in price—particularly during the high season months of February and March.

Fortunately, you can choose between four main entry points in Borneo:

  • Kuching (the capital of Sarawak); airport code: KCH
  • Miri (a city in the north of Sarawak); airport code: MYY
  • Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah); airport code: BKI
  • Sandakan (a large city in East Sabah); airport code: SDK

Tip: Keep in mind that national holidays such as Hari Merdeka, Malaysia Day, and other local festivals in Borneo could affect flight prices.

The annual Rainforest World Music Festival fills up hotels and transportation around Kuching.

Best Entry Points

Here are the best entry points based on nearby interests:

Fly Into Kuching (KCH) If You Want to Visit

  • The Rainforest World Music Festival
  • Bako National Park
  • Free museums
  • Traditional Iban longhouse stays
  • Gawai Dayak celebrations
  • Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
  • Gunung Gading National Park

Fly Into Miri (MYY) If You Want to Visit

  • Gunung Mulu National Park
  • Lambir Hills National Park
  • Borneo Jazz Festival
  • Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei

Fly into Kota Kinabalu (BKI) If You Want to Visit

  • A bigger city with shopping and infrastructure
  • Islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
  • Rafflesia Information Centre
  • Kinabalu National Park
  • Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
  • Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre
  • Tanjung Aru Beach

Fly into Sandakan (SDK) If You Want to Visit

  • Rainforest Discovery Centre
  • Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
  • Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
  • Boat trips on the Kinabatangan River
  • Diving in Sipadan
  • Gomantong Caves
  • Other things to do in East Sabah

Flying from Kuala Lumpur

There are numerous daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and Borneo. The three most popular airlines with regular flights under US $50 are AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, and Malindo Air. Air Asia operates out of its new hub in Asia, the KLIA2 Terminal.

If ticket prices are similar between airlines, keep in mind that Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air have a checked baggage allowance. AirAsia will charge you an additional fee for checking a bag.

Direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo take around two hours.

Flights to Kuching

Kuching is boasted as one of the cleanest, friendliest cities in Asia; the vibe there along the waterfront is pleasant and peaceful. You could begin your Borneo trip in Sarawak and then make your way north by bus to Miri while visiting the various national parks.

Kuching International Airport is pleasantly functional. Unlike when entering Sabah, you'll have to pass through immigration again to be stamped into Sarawak. Although you may already have an entry stamp for Malaysia in your passport, Sarawak maintains their own immigration control. This sometimes confuses travelers. For instance, you are probably permitted to stay in Malaysia for 90 days, but may only be permitted in Sarawak for 30 days.

AirAsia, Malindo Air, and Malaysia Airlines offer cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur. SilkAir and Tiger Airways fly between Singapore and Borneo. You'll also find numerous connecting flights between Sarawak and Sabah.

Flights to Miri

Surprisingly, Miri in northern Sarawak has one of the busiest domestic airports in Malaysia. Flights to Miri from Kuala Lumpur can often be found for $35 or less. Flying into Miri puts you closer to Lambir Hills National Park as well as Brunei, Gunung Mulu National Park, and Sabah.

AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines operate flights between Miri and Kuala Lumpur.

Flights to Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu International Airport is located just south of the city and is the second-busiest airport in Malaysia. Kota Kinabalu serves as the gateway for most tourists entering into Borneo.

AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines service flights from Kuala Lumpur, while several other airlines offer international flights to places in East Asia such as Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

If coming from outside of Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu is often the cheapest option due to flight volume.

Flights to Sandakan

Most people haven't even heard of Sandakan—a big city in East Sabah—and you can use that to your advantage. You'll often find cheaper flights for entering Sabah through Sandakan.

Even better, Sandakan is located much closer than Kota Kinabalu to popular attractions such as the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Orangutan Centre, scuba diving in Sipidan, and the Kinabatangan River.

Although the city isn't as pleasant to explore as Kota Kinabalu, it's a more practical option if time is important. You can always take the scenic bus from Sandakan back to Kota Kinabalu when you are finished exploring Sabah. The road skirts the gargantuan Mount Kinabalu.

Sandakan Airport is small compared to the other airports in Borneo, but it often works out as an excellent alternative for flights between Kuala Lumpur and Borneo.

AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines offer cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan.