Beware of discount Asian airlines

If you’ve searched for an airfare to or from a destination in Asia, I’m sure you’ve seen the low priced options from JetStar, AirAsia or one of those other discount airlines. If you’ve never actually booked a flight with one of these airlines, it sure looks like a great deal. However, if you’re used to all-inclusive fares (checked baggage exempted) like you get in the U.S., you’re in for a surprise. All the prices I mention are per person, and since there’s two of us, the costs double.

Compared to the next lowest fare at $150 with a competitor, the nearly half-priced $79 ticket to Jakarta from Bangkok on Jetstar looked like a great deal, so I went ahead and started the booking process. The first thing I noticed was that there are three tiers of service and the low priced fare was the bottom tier. This basic service included very little and had severe restrictions, such as non-refundable, change fees, and no baggage allowance. With a 7 kg. limit for carry-on, that didn’t allow us to carry much onboard. For $42 more, the next higher service tier still didn’t offer checked bags, but you do get to change your booking with no change fee. But for $289 more, you get the highest tier of service which has 20 kg. of checked luggage allowed, refundable tickets, no change fees and the ability to select a seat anywhere on the plane.

I was looking for the no-frills version, but since our combined bags are over 15 kilos, knew I would need to check a bag, so I proceeded to the next screen to add a checked bag. Oh, but wait, that $79 flight is now $104. What?! Seems they don’t include the airport fees and taxes in the initial price.

After you enter all your personal details, you get to choose a meal, which adds another $12, and whether or not you want to be comfortable, because, of course, a blanket is extra too. And if you want your itinerary sent to your phone, that’s another $0.89. I decided I could use the meal, but I’ll skip the blanket and SMS text to my phone. After that, the screen for checked baggage appears. Checking one bag costs $29. Not much choice at this point, so I add one checked bag.

Moving on to the next screen is the familiar seat selection screen, but this one has a catch: you pay to have assigned seats, even the cheap seats. Add another $9 for seat selection, otherwise we could be seated far apart. Finally, I’m ready to pay. But wait, that’ll cost you too. Add another $12 total for using a credit card and now that cheap $79 fare ends up costing $166—more than double the advertised price. That $150 fare is looking better, however, it has a 6 hour layover and the departure times won’t work for us, so I bite the bullet and pay the bait and switch fare.

Now you know how those discount fares come up in searches looking so inexpensive. And it’s probably the reason Kayak and other travel search engines don’t include these airlines anymore. By charging you for everything that other airlines typically include, the discount fares end up costing as much or even more than other airlines. Just something to watch out for when booking your Asian flights.

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