Long gone are the days where your budget travel options in Southeast Asia were Bali, Bangkok, and the capital cities. Thanks to a handful of low-cost budget airlines in the region, once far-flung gems (like the orangutans in Malaysia or the blue-flames of Indonesia) are more accessible than ever.
Choosing the Right Bag for Budget Airlines
If you’re going to play the budget airline game in Southeast Asia (or anywhere else, for that matter) it is imperative that you learn to pack lighter and travel carry on only. Sure, the tickets are cheap, but budget airlines make their money by sticking it to you on the extras, like your baggage fees.
Do not make any assumptions about baggage allowances on any budget airline. Check ahead of time and read the fine print. Even if a carry on bag is allowed, it is likely to have smaller dimensions, or greater restrictions on weight, than your flight to Southeast Asia, on a big international carrier, did.
Your best bet for avoiding a long list of fees and the inconvenience of having your bag gate checked (for a fee, of course) is to travel in a slightly smaller carry on backpack than you are used to.
The Outbreaker travel backpack in the smaller, 35 liter, size is perfect for most budget airlines.
Outbreaker is a great bag for Southeast Asia because of the harness system that ensures a comfortable carry, even if you’re walking a ways, and the waterproof sailcloth construction. Say it with me: monsoon.
This bag is designed to let you carry as much as possible in the allowable space and to be comfortable doing it.
Whether you go for the 45L Setout travel backpack, which is a max-sized carry on, or the smaller 35 L version you will be pleasantly surprised by how spacious and flexible these bags are. These bags are available in both men’s and women’s fit versions; here’s looking at you ladies! No more squeezing your female body into pack harnesses built for men. You’re welcome.
If you’re a minimalist or are taking shorter trips, the Seout Divide might be all you need. For serious digital nomads, the Laptop Backpack is perfect for carrying your mobile office set up, and it slides neatly beneath the seat in front of you. There’s even enough room for a change of clothes and the “extras” you’ll want to keep handy on a long travel day.
The Official List of of Southeast Asia’s Cheap Airlines
On a flight map where AirAsia reigns, there are still plenty of local low-cost carriers for budget travelers to consider, especially if you are living the good life in slightly off the beaten path destinations, like Indonesia or the Philippines. Broken down by country, here’s our definitive list of Southeast Asia cheap airlines—including pointers on where and which airlines to fly in countries that don’t boast their own carriers.
While it may not have the roar of AirAsia’s regional dominance, Indonesia’s Lion Air definitely earns it’s spot as a recommended low-cost Southeast Asian airline. Paying a fraction of the cost of flights on major carriers means you’ll have a portly bundle of savings left over for exploring the world-renowned jungles and 9th century Buddhist ruins that draw millions of international visitors to Indonesia each year.
Airlines in Indonesia fly to destinations such as India, East Timor, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and other destinations within Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and more).
Low-cost airlines in Indonesia:
You can also find partner airlines with AirAsia and AirAsia X.
Main hub: Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International (Jakarta)
Pro tip: Wings Air has had three accidents in the last two years alone—though there were no fatalities, factor that in.
You wouldn’t be the first budget traveler to joke that Vietnam’s budget airline pilots fly their planes like they ride their motorbikes—slightly recklessly. If you’re willing to brave the skies, though, you’ll be rewarded with an adventurous experience that doesn’t cost you a fortune. Further, Vietnam makes a great homebase if you’re keen to slow travel around the region (especially Ho Chi Minh City), and any traveler lucky enough to visit here will be warmly welcomed with incredible landscapes, culture, and cuisine. Pho real.
Between Vietnam’s two low cost airlines, you can fly to: Thailand, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Myanmar, and Macau, as well as other destinations within Vietnam (it’s a long country and trust me, those train and bus rides can be brutal).
Low-cost airlines in Vietnam:
Main hubs: Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon), Noi Bài International Airport (Hanoi)
Pro tip: For VietJet, only one in ten flights take off on time. Plan for a 60+ minute delay for any flights booked with this low-cost airline.
Sawasdee ka, budget travel heaven! Thailand’s contributions to cheap airlines in Southeast Asia can connect travelers on the beaten path to more far-flung destinations. Nok Air is the queen of shoestring flights in the region, thanks to its relative level of comfort. But, as with any of Southeast Asia’s cheap airlines, you’re rolling the dice on luggage allowance and on-time departure. If you’ve got time to kill and learned the art of packing lightly, you will love connecting between Thailand’s varied regions and climates on puddle-jumpers and Boeing 737-800’s.
Low-cost airlines in Thailand:
You can also find partner airlines with VietJet, AirAsia, Scoot, and Lion Air.
Main hubs: Don Mueang International Airport (Bangkok), Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok), Chiang Mai International Airport (Chiang Mai), Phuket International Airport (Phuket)
Pro tip: Nok Air’s luggage allowance depends on the type of ticket you book—Nok Eco flyers are entitled to a 15 kilogram checked baggage allowance, while Nok Flexi flyers are offered a 20 kilogram allowance. Promo tickets are not eligible for free luggage.
“Singapore” and “budget” might not be two words that align closely in your mind, but hear me out. This tip of the peninsula can be a great launch point for low-cost regional travel, or even connect you—affordably—to the South Pacific and east Asia. We’ll miss you Tiger Air (sort of— your customer service stunk but your planes were cute) and gladly welcome newcomer Scoot to the skies.
Pro tip: Stock up on grub at the Hawker food stalls in town before you travel to fully complete your budget Singapore experience.
Singapore connects you with medium to long haul destinations such as Taiwan, New Zealand, India, Australia, and Japan, as well as the usual suspects in the neighborhood: Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Macau, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
Low-cost airlines in Singapore:
Main hub: Singapore Changi Airport (Singapore City)
Pro tip: Jetstar won’t reimburse you for forced overnights or delays in flight departures—don’t bother calling their customer service, just use the extra hours as an excuse to try more types of Laksa.
Malaysia’s dreamy coastlines and futuristic cityscapes are just scratching the surface—factor in the crossroads of three incredible cultures (Malay, Chinese, Indian), and you’ve already gotten more than you bargained for. Luckily for you, there’s more savings to be had in the kingdom of AirAsia.
The list of places you can fly with low-cost powerhouse AirAsia is extensive. Take a deep breath—here we go: the UAE, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, the United States (Hawaii), Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Taiwan, Laos, the United Kingdom, Mauritius, Oman, France, Japan, Singapore, and Iran. Phew!
Low-cost airlines in Malaysia:
Main hubs: Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Kuala Lumpur), Penang International Airport (Penang)
Pro tip: The affiliate airlines of AirAsia, and its subsidiaries, are many. Just check out this list:
Hop, skip, jump, and fly—affordably—between the incredible islands of the Philippines or to other destinations in Southeast Asia. Assuming you can stand no-frills airports (even the available plugs are minimal), flying with budget airlines in and around this archipelago can be a pleasant experience, overall.
Once you’ve had your fill of jewel-toned waters and loveable islands, hop on a low-cost plane from the Philippines to one of these great places: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Macau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the UAE, and Vietnam.
Low-cost airlines in the Philippines:
You can also find partner airlines with AirAsia.
Main hub: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila)
Pro tip: Fly CebuPacific if you like your short-haul flights to double as real-life game shows or as a living reminder of how much bright yellow and khaki clash. Prizes included!
Southeast Asian Countries Without Cheap Airlines
Unfortunately for all of us wearing Chang shirts and colorfully patterned MC hammer pants, there are a few gems around Southeast Asia that don’t boast their own national low-cost carriers. On the bright side, many of the above mentioned airlines do their best to let us keep the party going. Here’s a list of airports to find budget flights in countries without their own airlines:
- Cambodia Look for budget flights that land in their main airport hubs: Siem Reap International Airport (Siem Reap), Phnom Penh International Airport (Phnom Penh)
- Myanmar (Burma) Find low cost flights at Yangon International Airport (Yangon) or Mandalay International Airport (Tada-U)
- Laos welcomes international flights at its main airport in Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang International Airport
- Brunei budget-travelers will land in Brunei International Airport (Bandar Seri Begawan)
- Timor-Leste Fly budget from Indonesia to Nicolau Lobato Airport (Dili)
Southeast Asia has long been a mecca for budget-minded explorers like yourself. In fact, many of the countries in the region are well equipped to share their signature, warm welcomes with you, on their own budget airlines, from takeoff through landing and beyond.
Take screenshots of our ultimate list of Southeast Asia’s cheap airlines, or bookmark it for easy access in the future. After all, once you’re there, you’ll want to spend more time drinking fresh coconut and less time remembering which low cost regional airlines to book!