Seat sales by the 5 largest low cost airlines in the region (AirAsia, Jetstar, Cebu Pacific, Tiger Airways and Scoot in no particular order) can prove to be great sources for bargains and are certainly worth looking out for. I can still recall some of the good deals I got which included:
- Singapore – Manila (around 3.5 hours flight per way, roundtrip for USD 20)
- Kuala Lumpur – Abu Dhabi (around 8 hours flight per way, roundtrip for USD 110)
- Kuala Lumpur – Christchurch (10 hours flight per way, roundtrip for USD 170)
- Kuala Lumpur – Vientiane (2.5 hours per way, roundtrip for USD 60)
It is during such instances that going for the budget carrier option becomes truly justified, with prices that won’t break the bank.
At the same time however, getting these deals can prove to be equally frustrating with websites crashing and sale fares disappearing quicker than you can say buy, leaving prospective passengers with a strong sense of urgency to get the booking done. I have had my share of frustrations. Though I have not learned to overcome the latter yet, from my experience, there are a couple of things that we, as bargain hunters can do to secure that good deal and make the entire booking process much easier. Read after the jump
One – Know the seat sale methodology of the various carriers
Each carrier has a different methodology in conducting their seat sales (short summary of each below):
AirAsia and AirAsia X – This carrier which has the largest network among the LCC’s in the region has some promotion almost every week but their REAL seat sales can only be classified into two. First type would be the system-wide sales which are held on average about once in every quarter. The second type would be the promo fares given whenever AirAsia starts flying into a new destination. For both types, the airline typically announces the sale a few days before the actual start date and prices are provided as well. Do note that the travel period for these are usually 8 months to a year into the future. The airline also has a reputation for hyping up these seat sales, and for their website to crash during the first 2 days of the sale.
Jetstar Asia – The greatest deals to keep an eye on from this airline are the Friday Frenzy deals (AirAsia has since copied this as well) which offer deals to various destinations across their network for travel dates that are not as far into the future – sometimes great offers may be had for departures as near as 2 weeks from booking date. These deals are usually available only from 11AM to 6PM on Fridays so it would be wise to subscribe to Jetstar’s newsletter in order to be alerted of the deal.
Tiger Airways – After fixing their sale schedules for some time, Tiger Airways has gone to a dual way of fixing seat sales. The Thursday sales remain and this has been rebranded as Tigerflash. This is the airline’s way of clearing yet un-bought seats for very near departure dates. For travel dates several months away, the schedule remains unpredictable. This being said, the airline also has a privilege program (SGD 29.95) called Stripes which allow members to be alerted and purchase promo fares before anyone else. In my opinion, the membership fee is worth the price given the potential savings, especially for passengers with a tendency to book as a group.
Cebu Pacific – This airline is probably the most gimmick-y of the lot when it comes to seat sales. The Cebu Pacific seat sales worth waiting for are usually those held during holidays or notable days (recent samples include October 10, 2010 or 10-10-10, Christmas Eve, Easter and Philippine Independence Day to name a few). These usually start at the strike of midnight and run out pretty quickly. But the good thing is that the sale fares are almost always very competitively priced. Prices can go as low as double digit (in USD terms) for roundtrip short-haul international flights and single-digit (in USD terms) for domestic flights within the Philippines.
Scoot – Singapore’s newest budget airline is pretty gimmicky as well during seat sales, requiring some effort from the customer’s end to get a good deal. First is Scoot’s Morning Glory Tuesdays where cheap seats can be had during 7 to 9 AM every Tuesdays. These are usually pre-announced so prospective passengers have the ability to see whether the destinations are relevant to them. Aside from this, Scoot occasionally has the “Chat with Nic” concept where guests have to enter into a chat room (where messages are heavily moderated) with a staff from Scoot actually spilling out deals. Such sessions are usually held on a Thursday night, from 9PM to midnight.
Two – Keep yourself updated
Sign up for the newsletters of these 4 LCCs. They all send out mailers whenever they have seat sales – though the promptness can sometimes come into question. AirAsia and Tiger Airways usually announce their seat sales beforehand while Jetstar and Cebu Pacific announce it a bit late. In this case, it’s also wise to join these carriers’ facebook and twitter accounts (do make sure you join the official ones).
Some of these airlines have co-brand cards as well which give cardholders a certain edge in information. For instance, Cebu Pacific Citibank Visa cardholders in the Philippines receive seat sale announcements the day before the public does, through email and SMS while Standard Chartered Tigerair Platinum cardholders in Singapore get to enjoy advance access to hot fare deals.
Three – Familiarize yourself with the schedule and have a good idea of where you want to go and when
Seat sales are not the best times to dilly-dally and decide whether to have a beach holiday in Bali or in Phuket instead. Use the calendar and formulate a general idea beforehand of where you want to go and when you can devote the time to go there. Be more flexible about the dates and destination if you can as this will give you more leeway when booking. Know your limits as well. It is usually more difficult to get a promo fare for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday flights while Wednesday is usually the easiest.
Have a general idea of which airline flies where. AirAsia has the most extensive network, and is the only Asian budget carrier to fly to Europe and Middle East but most depart from KL. Jetstar on the other hand, specializes on Australia and New Zealand routes. Tiger Airways specializes on routes departing from Singapore (obviously!) while Cebu Pacific specializes on routes departing from Manila (obviously!). Popular destinations such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh and Jakarta are served by all four of these budget carriers.
Four- Register with the airline’s website and have your travel companions’ travel details ready
Store your companions’ birthdays and passport details somewhere and keep them handy for the booking. AirAsia has a feature (for members – registration is free) where details of the passenger plus a few companions can be stored online for easy booking later on.
Five – Book your tickets once the sale starts!
If the sale starts at 12:01AM – log on at 12:01AM. Usually the promo fares are very limited. On average, one can expect only 10 seats (maybe even less) per flight carrying the promo fares, so it’s first come first served!
When booking, how many of us have encountered getting the sale fare for the departing leg but a more expensive fare on the returning one (or vice versa) ? On a roundtrip basis, the fare may still end up being cheaper than regular price… or not. As such, it helps to compare with other carriers for that more expensive leg. Even if that other airline does not have any system-wide seat sale going on, who knows they may be able to price it more competitively. Jetstar has a price-beat guarantee for any sector with a comparable flight timing and it’s something you can invoke to lower your fares. You don’t necessarily have to return using the same carrier on the departing flight.
Seven – Book the bare-boned tickets first and add-on later!
When I say bare-boned ticket, I mean the basics – no baggage, no food, no comfort kit. Do remember that sale fares are almost always non-refundable and rebooking may not make economic sense. And more often than not, the travel periods are very far into the future it’s sometimes difficult for some people to plan ahead. Thus, it’s very important to minimize one’s losses just in case one is unable to make it come the travel date. For carriers such as AirAsia, Tiger Airways and Cebu Pacific, there is no extra charge in booking auxiliary services such as baggage a few days before the actual departure. For Jetstar however, fees are a little more expensive when additions are done after the actual booking.