During some of our recent trips we have managed to save considerable money by flying with Air Asia as our regional airline within Asia.

Normally try we to fly with the larger full service carriers, but as we had a lot to fit and wanted to maximize our spend we thought on these occasions we would try one of the largest low cost carriers (LLC’s) in Asia. So when booking our recent trip diving in Subic bay, we decided to give them a go.

We were initially skeptical¬† as we have had a few not so good experiences when flying on LLC’s within Europe especially Ryan Air. However it was correctly pointed out to us that we can’t tar them all with the same bad service brush. Especially as we actually like one of the main LLC’s in Europe Easy Jet. But in our head Easyjet are not a traditional low cost carrier they offer the service levels of major carrier whilst competing on price.

So before we proceed with our review we should give a little background on LCC’s…….

What is a Low Cost Carrier airline?

Just a quick note to give some background to the article, and for those who are not familiar with the new breed of airline. We say new breed, but in fact this type of carrier has been around for about 20 years or so.

Firstly as the name suggests these airlines try to offer flights at low cost, enabling you the traveler to be able to fly further and more often.

For years the larger “legacy carriers” such as national airlines and established brands, have had a virtual monopoly on the market. For example if you lived in the UK then your airline would be British Airways, if you were French then you flew with Air France etc. This effectively gave the airlines free roam to charge whatever they needed. Meaning they got slack on efficiency and high cost bases, resulting in high fares for you.

Then a few trail blazing entrepreneurs, decided enough was enough. They set about revolutionizing the industry and the birth of the low cost carrier began. They saw the a huge potential to make the whole business model much more efficient and found numerous ways to cut costs, and reduce fares.

But all these cuts means less service right? well not exactly the base fare is massively reduced, then you add back on the services you require. Sort of like a pick and mix approach to flying. But every time you add something the price goes up. But it does mean you are only paying for the services you use.

This approach was hugely successful, and rise of the LLC has been phenomenal. In fact many of these carriers, now fly more passengers per year than the legacy airlines they set out to disrupt.

Air Asia Review

So now you know what an LCC is, you may be wondering what it’s like to fly on one? There are numerous budget airlines all over the world, and every region has them. One of the biggest in the Asian region is Air Asia, originally based only out of Kuala Lumpur, they now have subsidiaries all over Asia, with aircraft based based in many major cities within Asia.

Although this review is on Air Asia, you can apply it to virtually any carrier as they all operate the same business model.

Booking

One of the first major ways to cut costs, is distribute their own inventory. Instead of paying commissions to travel agents or GDS fees for reserving seats. These airlines look after their own inventory and only sell their own flights. It is possible to book through an agent, but rest assured the airline is not hiding hefty commissions within your fare.

So we heading to Airasia.com to book. The website itself is extremely easy to use and you can display pricing in a range of currencies (you will be charged in the local currency).

The only issue we found is as we are using this site to book to internal flights, we had to keep flicking back to the other booking site to make sure everything matched up.

Once we found our flights and selected them we were presented with the add on’s to choose. Now the first price you see only includes, a seat on the plane. No luggage, no meals, no changes etc.

We chose a value pack add-on, for only Euro 20.00 each way, we git checked luggage, pre seat selection and a meal on board.

Overall we would rate the booking experience 4/5 Star

Airport experience

Another major cost saving employed is by not using the same major airports as the big carriers. These big airports charge a lot per passenger and landing fees. In addition the cost to own a landing slot is expensive and sometimes sell for over $10Million US, that is just for the right to land a plane at a certain time, it does not include the cost using the airport.

So they use secondary airports which in Kuala Lumpur (their main base) is actually part of the main airport but a separate terminal and not near or connected to the main terminal. in other cities, such as Bangkok it’s a separate airport altogether and often far from the city.

Another cost saving is check-in, this is all done online prior to arriving at the airport and you print your own boarding pass at home. All you do at the airport is drop you bag and proceed through security. We actually liked this part in KL, there was no queue to deal with at bag drop, we walked straight up and were done in less than 5 mins.

Security and airside are the same as any other flight and not dependent on who your flying with, so not really applicable in the review.

Airport experience 5/5 could not fault it at all

Punctuality and onboard

Now remember when we said we didn’t like Ryan Air, one of Europe’s largest carriers, this is where we find some LLC’s to fail.

However our flight was on time, well we took off around 20 mins later than advertised, but landed on time. We cannot guarantee all their flights will be this good. In fact if you do a quick search then you will find plenty of results claiming that 65/70% of their flights are on time. Don’t think that is bad, a lot of major airlines fail to get more than 75% punctuality.

Once onboard the seats are not as comfortable as a major carrier and the leg room is noticeably smaller, but perfectly fine for a flight of a few hours or less. We certainly would not like to sit in one of those seats for more than 4hrs. Staff on board were great very friendly and helpful. The food which came as part of our add-on’s was ok and a sort of Malay curry¬† and a soft drink.

The plane itself was perfectly clean and well maintained.

Our rating for onboard experience is 3.5/5 Star

Overall

Overall we thought the experience was good, in relation to the price paid (a little over $150US for flights and extras, for a 3hr 50 min flight from KL to Manila)

We would fly with them again but probably not for a flight longer than 4hrs, we think that is the maximum length of flight for this type of carrier. In fact for a a short commute flight, say KL to Bangkok which is 2hrs they would be perfect (especially as their hand luggage only fare starts at less than $50 round trip.)

It is not always cheaper to use an LCC, sometimes it is cheaper to get an add on from your main carrier, so do check both options.