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Thai One On For Less With Two New Asian Discount Airlines

May 24, 2004 -- The low-fare airline model so popular in the US and Europe is finally crossing Asia. Over the past few months, Malaysian airline Air Asia ( has turned itself into a continent-spanning low-fare power, linking Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia with a web of cheap flights. Brand-new Singaporean airline Valuair ( is shaking up the normally high-fare Singapore-Hong Kong route, and forcing the big airlines to follow. Finally, it'll be possible to do the classic triangle of Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok at reasonable fares.

For Malaysia, Thailand, Jakarta and Singapore: Air Asia

We haven't flown on Air Asia, but they've gotten generally good reviews from customers and seem like a safe airline. They use the Southwest/Ryanair model - no frills, no assigned seats, middle-aged Boeing 737 planes and e-tickets for all passengers. One down side: with 29" seat pitch, their seats are extremely cramped. It's a good thing flights are short.

Air Asia's fares are spectacular. Continent-knitting routes that would appeal to US-based tourists include (all fares are one-way, including tax, in either Thai baht or Malaysian ringgit):

  • Singapore-Bangkok: THB 1457 ($36.60)
  • Bangkok-Phuket: THB 751 ($18.86)
  • Johor Bahru (about an hour by public bus from Singapore)-Kuala Lumpur: RM 78.99 ($20.79)
  • Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok: RM 154.99 ($40.53)
  • Johor Bahru-Jakarta: RM 143.88 ($37.86)
  • Bangkok-Chiang Mai: THB 751 ($18.86)
  • Bangkok-Khorat: THB 260 ($6.53)

Buy tickets online at

For Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bangkok: Valuair

Valuair is so new that we don't have much data on them at all. They just started flying this month, with two brand-new Airbus planes, fitted out with a roomy 32" seat pitch. Unlike Air Asia, Valuair offers assigned seating and free snacks on their flights. If Air Asia is Asia's Southwest, Valuair has potential to become the area's JetBlue.

Valuair flies from Singapore to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta. Bookable fares we found (all including taxes) :

  • Hong Kong-Singapore: HK$1307 ($167.59) one way, HK$1702 ($218.23) round-trip
  • Singapore-Bangkok: S$190 ($112.50) one-way, S$238 ($140.92) round-trip
  • Singapore-Jakarta: S$180 ($106.58) one-way, S$229 ($135.60) round-trip

Buy tickets online at

As you can see, Air Asia's fares beat Valuair's on most routes. The key to look at is the Hong Kong-Singapore route. Before Valuair started flying, tickets there cost at least $100 more. But now, according to the Singapore Straits Times, there's a full fledged fare war going on. Remember when you read their article that the prices they're listing are in S$, and S$1=US$0.59. (,4386,249319,00.html)

These two airlines look like great deals for budget travelers. Before you plunk down $999 for a Cathay Pacific All Asia Pass (, see if a combination of a simple trans-Pacific round-trip, Air Asia and Valuair can save you money.

Have you flown on either Air Aisa or Valuair? Tell us on our Message Boards.