Money Saving Air Travel Tips

I am back in the States now after a long and successful trip around the world. There were some 30ish flight segments and a lot of tired eyes. However, the cost of a trip like this was not that bad, even with all of the flying. I was just sitting here thinking about how cheap air travel can be in certain parts of the world if you look around and more importantly know how and where to look. I am going to focus on the Middle East and Asia. Forget about those crappy European budget carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir. They are awful and treat people like crap. Granted they can sometimes save people money but generally that’s only if you book ahead, have no bags, like being packed in like cattle and don’t want to use credit card etc. If only every airline could be like Air Asia!

Air Asia is simply put the best airline, dollar for dollar, in the world. It is no frills yes, but you can get all of the frills you want for not that much extra money. For instance, they have hot seats which feature extra legroom, like exit seats for example. These seats never get sold and are always open but the rest of the plane is generally packed. So the move is to either to book it ahead and spend the extra $9US for the very comfortable seat; or wait until you are on the plane and see if the plane is full, i.e. if you have anyone next to you and then offer to pay the same money for the upgraded seat if you need it. It sounds so simple but it worked every time for me. I always flew in comfort with Air Asia.

I always opted for option 2 of waiting because there is no reason to book ahead and spend extra money if you don’t have to. Wait and see what the plane is looking like and then make the move. Most of the locals flying on Air Asia will never make the same upgrade move so most of the time I had 3 seats across the exit to myself to lay down the whole flight and get some sleep. Again, I know it sounds simple but it really works great and is great value.

Back to Air Asia and their quality brand. They have major hubs in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and literally fly everywhere in the ASEAN countries and many beyond as well including the UK, Iran, China and Australia. You can usually save at least half the money on the destinations and they are all non stops from KL (Kuala Lumpur).

The workers treat you fairly, they don’t bust your balls incessantly about the weight of your bag like they do in Europe trying to nickel and dime you for every dollar they can. And if they do, here is another great series of tips.

First, know how much your bag weighs in Kilograms because that’s what they use. Second, know the weight limit for carry ons, it’s usually 7kg for Air Asia which is about 17 pounds or so. Third, be aware that you are allowed a carry on less than 7kg and also a computer bag even if it’s a backpack like I use. Fourth, determine what your heaviest clothes are, i.e. sweatshirts, jackets, sneakers etc and wear them on the plane. If your bag is still over the 7kg limit move some things from your main bag to your computer bag like toiletries, jeans etc which can weigh a kilo or two. This is fool proof and worked for me every time I did it and always has. If you travel Air Asia 10 times, it can save you over $100US by not paying bag fees-not to mention time waiting for baggage claim.

Another tip is look around, even with Air Asia being so prevalent in Southeast Asia, there are several other great discounters. Some of these are Jetstar, Tiger, Silkair, Firefly to name a few and they all have hubs in the major airports in the region. It is certainly worth getting up early as well to catch some 6am flights as they can be a fraction of the price of waiting for a good time on a major airline. It is a bit of a tradeoff because the Asian airlines are easily the best in the world. However, if I can save some money and still get good service and nonstop flights, I am pretty happy and will always choose these discounters.

Another great tip is to know who flies where you want to go. Again, it sounds simple but it’s amazing how many people have no clue which airlines go where and to which cities. The move is this, type in the name of the city and airport in Google or Wikipedia, for instance Kabul airport, and then you will scroll down in Wikipedia and it will show you which cities and airlines service Kabul. That is how I found the airlines that fly there and eventually after price comparing decided to go with Safi Airways out of Dubai as opposed to the 5 or so other options I had.

Speaking of Dubai…Dubai is aiming to become the premier transit hub in the world and they damn well may succeed as their airport is great and has great connections literally around the world. However, you end up paying for this privilege. You can save a bunch of money by leaving from nearby Sharjah airport, which is the next emirate over from Dubai, literally a 20 minute taxi-depending on traffic or even get down to Abu Dhabi and catch a cheaper fare from there. I have also heard the Ras Al Khaimah, another emirate is launching a campaign to gain more airlines coming there as they try and develop their tourism infrastructure.

There is an airline out of Sharjah called Air Arabia that I flew a few times that was fantastic and goes around the Middle East, East Africa and into Asia for a fraction of flying Emirates out of Dubai. It is again a no frills kind of airline but they have nice new planes and are very professional. People often mistake budget carriers for being crappy old planes. This is not true. Generally they are actually the newest planes as these airlines are new. Try them out, you will like them and they will save you a lot of money!

I am sure there are other tips but I am on my way out the door but wanted to post this before I left. Please feel free to add your own tips or favorite budget airlines etc. If you disagree with me, feel free to write that as well. Take care!

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  1. Nice tips and I will add the other problem with easyjet and ryanair is you have to fly into Luton and Stanstead airports and not the better connected and less expensive airports of Gatwick or Heathrow. Living in London, I wish they would all fly to City!

  2. I agree that Air Asia is fantastic. I will try the bag tip you suggested next time. I live in Bangkok and have always paid even though my bag in generally only 10kg.

  3. Very true, good piece. So important to know which airlines go where. Travelled from Danang in central Vietnam directly to Siem Reap with Silk Air and everyone was just shocked you don’t need to go via Saigon or Hanoi (always worth checking on Kayak!). Just to add some good airlines: Cebu Air is rapidly expanding and was very pleasantly surprised by them (very new planes). Also Bangkok Airways was ok (free meal) as was MasWings (Borneo only). The tip with the exit rows for AirAsia is great, they really were always empty. I personally wasn’t such a big fan as you do get good seats and refreshments for free with other low budget airlines out there but also can’t fault them. FYI as I heard that’s an issue for some who are a bit weary of flying the low cost subsidiaries from big airlines like SilkAir (Singapore) and Jet (Quantas) usually have western trained expats as pilots.

  4. Great idea about wikipedia…I just did that for a few places and it really helps with non IATA airlines you wouldn’t find online normally.

  5. That’s a great point Franzi about the western trained expats and that always makes me feel better when flying any non major airline, let alone budget and I imagine most would agree. I have never heard of MasWings but I’d imagine they are helpful around Borneo as flying and getting around there can be a pain. Also Cebu is pretty good and I agree Bangkok Air is OK but useful esp getting to the islands of Thailand from BKK.

    William, the non IATA airlines are often the most useful if you are traveling/backpacking in a region and unless you simply wait til you get there, wiki may be the best way to figure out which airlines fly and their websites-if they work! I am thinking of Daallo for Somalia!

  6. Joe, I forgot to mention, I hate ntohing less than having to fly to Stanstead in London with Ryanair or whoever bc the customs lines are unbearable at Stanstead. Then after generally at least an hour waiting you have to take an expensive and long train to Liverpool Street and then get to where you actually want to be in London which takes even more time.

    I go into and out of London a lot and always prefer LHR if possible because of the Heathrow Express and tube connections depending on how much time you have. Gatwick is OK for connections and I agree that City is the most convenient airport by far but it’s small so won’t get much traffic. I’ve actually only flow there once from Isle of Man.

  7. Another great resource is Optifly ( it will give you the fastest links between cities, who flies there, and even more impressive is when you scroll over the airline it named it will even tell you which days of the week it makes that flight. From there you can click on a certain airline name and it’ll take you direct to that airlines website. Another decent site is called Which Budget? ( where you can simply put in the route you wish to fly and it will pull up what budget carriers fly that route, which is helpful due to the fact not all travel search engines have budget airlines listed). Also, since you’re discussing airport location convenience, a website called To & From the Airport ( is awesome for figuring out the cheapest and fastest way from virtually any airport in the world into the city. It also is helpful in figuring out airport to airport fastest transfers. It’s can save you a lot of wondering and money, not to mention if you have a long layover in a city you’re unfamiliar with it will let you know if you will have enough time to leave the airport and head into the city (as it gives time estimates on how long it will take to get there too).

  8. Good story today, very useful info. I always use air asia when i am there and will also check out optifly, sounds like a great resource. I like the idea about waiting to buy the emergency seats.

  9. Good call on optifly, I know you’ve mentioned that site to be before and I am checking it out now. Looks very helpful-I bookmarked it.

  10. The man who’s record you’re trying to beat (C. Veley) good friend created Optifly a couple years ago and he turned me onto it. That site, together with Wikipedia to look up airports, is really all you need to figure out even the most challenging and obscure air routes quickly.

  11. Thats an amazing point about the open emergency exit seats on Air Asia. I never thought about it but they are always open and the rest of the plane is generally packed as you said. I will definitely do that next time. I live in Europe and often fly the budget airlines here. They are awful and if you go over the weight limit you can be charged up to 20 euros per bag, madness!

  12. I don’t think that Easy Jet or Ryan Air are that bad. I simply pay for bags and everything else online beforehand. It is fairly annoying but it saves the aggravation at the airport.

  13. Hey Lee, nice post today. They are starting to have the budget airlines coming to South America. I hope that this will be all over soon. It is in Brasil now only as far as I know.

  14. Hi Lee. Agree totally about Air Asia and Air Arabia. You can also add Bangkok Airways to that list. They also do special deals where you can book another minimum 4 sectors, 1 full fare and the others at $50. I flew BKK to Maldives for $125.00 and BKK to Luang Prabang and LP to Vientiane for $50 each I also booked BKK to Chang Mai but never used it and never intended to. It was a great saving. Mike

  15. That is an amazing deal to the Maldives and also to/from Luang Prabang. Both are generally expensive to get to as you know, esp the Maldives direct from anywhere except Sri Lanka…which is also now connected by Air Asia…just an aside, Sri Lankan Airlines is pretty good. I’ve flown them 3-4 times and its always been good service and relatively comfortable seating and without the hassles of many Indian Airlines.

  16. Hi Lee. The Bangkok airways deal is the discovery airpass if anyone is interested.
    The prices have gone up a bit since I used the pass a few years ago but not by that much. You can have 6 segments now too.

  17. Speaking of Air Asia, they’re even going to try and make it to NYC, and later L.A — maybe as soon as 2011.

    KUALA LUMPUR, Dec. 3 (AFP) – The head of budget long-haul carrier AirAsia X said the eurozone debt crisis would not prevent the airline expanding in Europe and that he hoped to open a route to New York next year.

    Tony Fernandes said he would ”absolutely not” rethink plans to begin new flights into Russia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, adding that the company had survived other crises in the past.

    ”No (cut back in expansion),” the airline’s founder told AFP. ”Absolutely not. We have been through the last nine years – many financial crises, many oil crises and many political crises – but people still want to fly.

    ”I think AirAsia actually provides a relief from all these financial troubles. People want to get away and have a break. So not at all.”

    Fernandes was speaking after launching the carrier’s inaugural flight to Christchurch, to which it will begin four non-stop weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur from April 1.

    The route will add to AirAsia X’s expanding network, which already includes Australia, India, Taiwan, China, Britain, South Korea, Japan and Iran, and will from February 14 also boast France.

    AirAsia X, an affiliate of regional low-cost carrier AirAsia and Virgin Group, was launched in January 2007.

    Fernandes cited strong bookings for the Kuala Lumpur-Paris route, which the airline began taking last month, as evidence of the firm’s ability to weather the European financial crisis.

    ”Our strategy has always remained the same despite calamity in the world. I was looking at our load factors to Paris, it is truly unbelievable. We are really full. It is one of our best routes,” he said.

    The airline is aiming to start new routes to Moscow, Budapest and Prague from 2012 after it takes delivery of new aircraft.

    ”To me if we can have an entire fleet of A330’s that will be fantastic,” said Fernandes.

    He added that he also hoped to kick of flights to New York next year, describing North America as being ”definitely on our plan”. He added: ”We would like to fly from one of the European points into New York and at some stage into Los Angeles. It may come in 2011.”

    Fernandes said the airline has ordered 25 A330-300 and was ”pushing” Airbus to provide more range for the planes.

    ”If we can get the A330 into most of Europe then European expansion will be much larger than it is presently,” he said.

  18. Now the Caribbean is slowly getting into the low-cost game as well. REDjet out of Barbados is the Caribbeans first low-cost airline and just launched Dec. 1st. So far it only flies to Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, but they have huge plans to eventually hit all the island countries and have fares as low as $10 one-way on 160+ seat MD80s.

  19. Another awesome low-cost carrier is Condor, based out of Germany. They offer flights all over the world, including long-hauls to Alaska (Anchorage and Fairbanks, direct), the Seychelles, all over Brazil, Central America (all direct flights to/from), the Caribbean, and SE Asia. For example, you can fly from Anchorage-Frankfurt non-stop for about $320 one-way in the summer.

    They easily have some of the most unique flight routes out of any airline.

  20. Air Berlin (also obviously out of Germany) has fantastic fares around the globe at very affordable rates. They have a pretty wide range, including direct flights to major US cities (Miami, JFK, L.A., SF), North Africa, Kenya (Mombasa) and South Africa (Cape Town), all over Thailand, Cambodia (Phnom Penh-Berlin, non-stop), Caribbean (Jamaica, the DR, Cuba), Mexico (Cancun, non-stop), Iraq, and directs to Vancouver, BC.

    Sample: Berlin-Phnom Penh ($420); Berlin-Cape Town ($480); Montego Bay – Berlin ($425); Cancun-Berlin ($443)…

  21. Great points thx…

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