Southeast Asia's Top Low Cost Airlines

These cheap airlines fly over 50% of Southeast Asia's airborne travelers

Southeast Asia's backpacker-friendly sights and challenging terrain seem tailor-made for low-cost carriers (LCCs); Australia-based think tank Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation reports that regional capacity has increased over 800% in 10 years, from 25 million seats in 2004 to almost 200 million in 2014. At present, over half of all Southeast Asia airborne travelers fly via LCC.

Amidst the fierce competition over airborne butts on seats, a few names rise to the top - some by dint of their wide-ranging network across the Asia-Pacific, others by their capture of low-cost seats within a single domestic market.

  • 01 of 07

    AirAsia: All over Asia

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    ••• Image © Uwe Schwarzbach / Creative Commons

    Formerly a moribund Malaysian government airline, AirAsia (airline code: AK) was sold to maverick entrepreneur Tony Fernandes for a token 1 ringgit (about one US quarter) in 2001. From a single Langkawi-Kuala Lumpur connection, AirAsia now flies to 88 destinations across Southeast Asia, Australia and North Asia. AirAsia is now Asia's fifth-largest airline in Asia by fleet and passenger numbers.

    Hubs & network: Given its wide reach, it's no surprise that AirAsia is actually composed of six affiliated short-haul airlines: apart from the parent company operating out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, AirAsia also runs affiliates based in Thailand (airline code: FD), Indonesia (airline code: QZ), Philippines (airline codes PQ and Z2), and India (airline code: I5), reaching over 80 destinations across the Asia-Pacific.

    Seat sales & booking: Seat sales are announced periodically over at AirAsia's Facebook and Twitter pages; travelers can book flights at AirAsia's official site....MORE Smartphone users can download the official AirAsia app to book flights while mobile.

    The carrier also runs the AirAsia Big loyalty points program, and sells a newfangled Asean Pass that allows users to plan multi-city itineraries across Southeast Asia on a single low-cost pass. (It's great, but it's not perfect - check out our look at the Asean Pass' fine print.)

  • 02 of 07

    Cebu Pacific: Flying Filipinos

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    ••• Image © Philip Capper/Creative Commons

    "We go where Filipinos go" is Cebu Pacific's unofficial motto, and as Filipinos are some of the world's most widely-traveled foreign workers, the principle has paid off handsomely for this Manila, Philippines-based low-cost airline. From three domestic destinations in the Philippines in 1996, Cebu Pacific (airline code: 5J) has since grown its operations to cover 14 countries across Southeast Asia, North Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

    Hubs & network: Cebu Pacific operates from its primary hub in Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, though a growing complement of international flights arrive at Cebu's Mactan International Airport. The low-cost carrier's Airbus fleet flies to 24 cities in 14 countries across Asia, Australia and the Middle East, including flights to Bali, China, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

    Seat sales & booking: Cebu Pacific's all-too-frequent seat sales are announced over at their Facebook and Twitter pages; travelers...MORE can book flights at Cebu Pacific's official site. Cebu Pacific also runs GetGo, a loyalty/rewards program that grants points based on frequent flights and purchases at partner retail outlets. Smartphone users can download the official Cebu Pacific app (iTunes) to book flights while mobile.

  • 03 of 07

    JetStar Asia: Asia-Australia Bridge

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    ••• Image © Aero Icarus / Creative Commons

    Australian flag carrier Qantas maintains a prominent presence in Southeast Asia through JetStar, its low-cost carrier brand. JetStar Asia (airline code: 3K) operates from Singapore's Changi Airport, while JetStar Pacific (airline code: BL) operates as Vietnam's most popular low-cost domestic carrier.

    Hubs & network: JetStar Asia connects Australia with over 20 stops across Asia/Australia - Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam); along with stops in India, Japan, New Zealand and China.

    Seat sales & booking: For early warnings about JetStar sales and promotions, visit their official site, or sign up for updates from their Facebook and Twitter pages. For destination-specific fare sales, go to their site to sign up for a Price Watch alert on the stop of your choice. Smartphone users can download the official JetStar app (Android, iTunes) to book flights while mobile. JetStar runs a once-a-week Friday Fare Frenzy from 12 noon...MORE to 6pm (Singapore time, GMT +8).

  • 04 of 07

    Lion Air: Indonesia Roars

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    ••• Image © Steven Byles / Creative Commons

    Lion Air (airline code: JT) runs Indonesia's largest airline network out of Jakarta's sprawling Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. The airline was founded by former travel agent Rusdi Kirana in 1999 after he realized that online ticket booking would quickly make his line of work obsolete (source). The airline's quick growth has not come without hiccups; Lion Air has a persistent reputation for flight delays, and was recently ranked as one of the world's most dangerous airlines.

    Hubs & network: From its hub in Jakarta, Lion Air flies to 100 destinations within Indonesia, along with international connections to Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai), Malaysia (Penang and Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

    Seat sales & booking: Travelers to Indonesia can book flights at Lion Air's official site. Smartphone users can download the official Lion Air app (Android, iTunes).

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Nok Air: Thailand's Biggest Bird

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    ••• Image © Beashel / Creative Commons

    "Nok" is the Thai word for "bird", and the airline's paint job reflects the name - every Nok Air plane bears a smiling beak painted onto its nose. Nok Air (airline code: DD) operates out of Bangkok's designated terminal for low-cost carriers, Don Mueang Airport.

    Hubs & network: Nok Air flies from Bangkok to over 20 destinations within Thailand, including Chiang Mai and Phuket. The airline also flies one international flight to Yangon, Myanmar.

    Seat sales & booking: Travelers to Thailand can book flights at Nok Air's official site. Smartphone users can download the official Nok Air app (Android, iTunes)

  • 06 of 07

    TigerAir: Singapore Shows its Stripes

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    ••• Image © Kurt Clifford / Creative Commons

    TigerAir (airline code: TR) is Singapore Airlines' low-cost carrier brand, operating out of Changi Airport. Its bid to expand its network across the Asia Pacific has met with some setbacks as of late: TigerAir's acquisitions in the Philippines and Australia were sold to other airlines, and its Indonesia partner went bankrupt. Its core network remains as strong as ever, though.

    Hubs & network: TigerAir flies from Singapore to over 50 destinations across 14 countries in Southeast Asia, North Asia and South Asia.

    Seat sales & booking: For early warnings about TigerAir sales and promotions, visit their official site, or sign up for updates from their Facebook and Twitter pages. Travelers can also download the official TigerAir app ( Android, iTunes) onto their smartphones to book via mobile . Members of TigerAir's membership program Stripes enjoy early notification of upcoming sales and special fare rates.
  • 07 of 07

    VietJet Air: Hot in Vietnam

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    ••• Image © DaiHyun Ji / Creative Commons

    One of Southeast Asia's youngest low-cost carriers, VietJet Air (airline code: VJ) launched in 2011 as the first private airline to be established in the country post-Vietnam War. Starting with flights between Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang, VietJet Air has begun flying to nearby countries, starting with Singapore in 2013.

    VietJet Air often courts controversy by showing off its stewardesses dressed in skimpy clothes - it launched its maiden flight to the beach town of Nha Trang by having the female flight crew dance in Hawaiian grass skirts mid-flight!

    Hubs & network: VietJet Air flies from its hubs in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to 12 domestic destinations and 3 international destinations - Singapore, Bangkok in Thailand and Taipei in Taiwan.

    Seat sales & booking: Travelers can book flights at Vietjet Air's official site.