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It seems only fitting that the continent with the largest population is home to one of the greatest concentration of low-cost carriers. Asia is home to almost 45 discount airlines, some privately owned, others operated or partially owned by national carriers as a low-cost no-frills alternative. Several more are expected to join in the Asian airfare wars in the near future, especially with the opening of new low-cost terminals and airports in cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (both due to start operations in March 2006) and extensions to landing rights in places like Macau.

So if you're considering a trip to Asia and are interested in several domestic or short haul sectors once you get there, it may well be a financially prudent decision to fly like the locals do, and book those flights with a local low-cost carrier. If you are nervous about the types of aircrafts used and safety records of airlines that you may never have heard of, rest assured that airlines like our first example will get you to your destination safely and in style.

Jet Star Asia (www.jetstarasia.com) is a Singapore-based partnership between Qantas, two prominent local businessmen and an investment company. It's a regional extension of the Jetstar brand, which was launched by Qantas as a low-cost airline in the Australian domestic market (hence the reputation of safety). Their bold and distinctive brand is indicative of the fresh and vibrant approach toward low-cost travel in the Asian region. Jet Star Asia flies to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan from its Singapore hub. A few added touches make this budget choice a rewarding one. You can redeem OneWorld/Qantas frequent flyer points to purchase flights on most sectors; you can buy Jet Star Asia flight gift vouchers for that special someone; and you can make date, time and passenger name changes for only $6 per sector. Their online promotional deals and JetSaver specials include one-way flights from a tiny $6 from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand, or $18 to Bangkok, $42 to Hong Kong or $89 to Bangalore, India. Check the website for current deals as they change seasonally. Your service fees (airport taxes and fuel surcharges) may be higher than most of these fares, although they generally range from $20 to $40 per round-trip flight.

Air Asia (www.airasia.com) is based in Kuala Lumpur and is one of the airlines moving to the new low-cost terminal in Kuala Lumpur next month (March 2006). One of Asia's leading low-fare no-frills airlines and among the first in the region to introduce e-ticketing, Air Asia was established in 2001 and flies to Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, China, Singapore, Macau, Cambodia and domestically within Malaysia. The website is easy to navigate featuring online booking, packages and various specials. The following package specials are available from Kuala Lumpur:

  • The "Bali Spa Bliss" package includes round-trip airfare to Bali, three-night's accommodation at the Saphir Mabisa Inn, daily breakfast, welcome drink, a two-hour treatment (aromatic foot bath, body scrub yoghurt body splash, body massage, & flower bath) and a 90-minute spa facial with foot reflexology. This package is priced at just under $200 per person based on double occupancy.
  • The "Precious Time for Love" special includes round-trip airfare to Bali, three-nights' accommodation in a luxury garden suite villa at Jamahal Private Resort & Spa, round-trip airport transfers, daily breakfast, three-course candle lit dinner, one-hour aromatic massage for two and free use of beach access and facilities. The package is priced from $432 per person. These deals must be booked by March 31, 2006.

Tiger Airways (www.tigerairways.com) is based in Singapore and flies to destinations within a four-hour flying radius, including Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Macau, Indonesia and even Northern Australia (Darwin). Established in December 2003, the airline now serves 12 cities around Asia with a fleet of new Airbus A320 aircraft with more new destinations to come. The airline is moving from its current base at Changi International to a new terminal in Singapore in March. Sample one-way fares include a midweek from Singapore to Hanoi, Vietnam in March 2006 for $12 or midweek Bangkok to Singapore in April, 2006 for $24.

For travelers to Hong Kong, nearby Macau, the heart of Asia's gaming, leisure and entertainment industries, makes an excellent alternative for low-cost intra-Asia flights. New Macau-based airline Macau Asia Express (website is not yet operational), an airline partly owned by the Chinese government, will begin flying to Asian and Chinese cities in the fourth quarter of this year. Macau Asia Express will be the second airline to be based in Macau, after Air Macau (http://en.airmacau.com.mo), which started operations in 1995. Viva Macau (www.viva-macau.com), another budget carrier, is awaiting approval from aviation authorities to operate flights out of Macau -- an airport that charges carriers significantly lower fees than its neighbor Hong Kong and many other airports in the region. It is expected to commence flying to Asian, Australian, Middle Eastern and select European destinations this summer.

Adam Air (tel. + 6 221/691-7540; www.adamair.co.id) is based in Jakarta Indonesia and flies to various destinations in Indonesia including Medan, Denpasar (Bali), Jogjakarta and Singapore. With almost 400 flights per week, sample fares include Jakarta to Singapore round-trip from $54. They are currently not accepting online bookings but the website has an online facility designed with the words "coming soon" across it.

Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com)is among the older and more established Asian discount airlines, and its sectors are slightly more expensive than some of the newer players. It flies to a total of 20 destinations in eight countries: Bangkok, Samui, Phuket, Sukhothai, Pattaya Beach, Chiang Mai and Trat in Thailand; Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat in Cambodia; Jinghong, Xi'an, Guilin, Hong Kong, Zhengzhou, Hangzhou and Shenzhen in China; Luang Prabang in Laos, Yangon in Myanmar (Burma); Singapore; and Hiroshima in Japan. Sample one-way fares currently on special include Bangkok to Shenzhen from $114, Bangkok to Samui for $51and Singapore to Bangkok from $101. They also offer a useful Discovery Airpass program that can only be purchased from outside Thailand. Flight coupons for sectors between Cambodia, Laos and Thailand start are $50 with longer sectors ranging between $90 and $150.

Air Deccan (tel. + 91/3900-8888; www.airdeccan.net) is India's first low-cost carrier. They offer a number of special value packages including the Value Flier Plus -- $1,086 buys you 12 sectors of flights valid for 12 months, with over 100 Indian destinations to choose from. Standard one-way Internet fares in March, 2006 from Delhi to Mumbai start at $26 or Cochin to Bangalore is priced from $28.

Aero Asia (tel. +9221/4544-951; www.aeroasia.com) is a Pakistani low-cost carrier that flies predominantly domestically -- to Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Multan and Peshawar, with a few international sectors to the Middle East (Dubai, Doha, Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain). The airline offers online bookings, e-ticketing, advance seat allocation, up-to-date in-flight entertainment, enhanced menu choices and special packages. Sample fares include Lahore to Karachi for $32 or Karachi to Islamabad for $19.

Obviously there are dozens more that could be included here. A resource for most discount and low-cost carriers and where they fly is the excellent Attitude Travel (www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines/asia/byairline.html).

Talk about these and other low-cost Asian carriers on our Air Travel Message Boards.