AirAsia pioneered low cost carriers in Asia and today is headquartered in Malaysia with subsidiaries in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Japan. They have been ranked the best low-cost airlines for six years in a row by World Airline Awards and despite the tragic crash of QZ8501, they should be on your list of airlines to consider!
AirAsia – who are they? AirAsia is operating across Asia and has set up subsidiaries in key countries, separate for short- and long-haul, operating under multiple airline codes (AK, I5, D7, QZ, XT, PQ, Z2, FD, XJ, JW). From a customer perspective, that doesn’t really matter much, so I will review them and their flights as one airline.
SkyTrax rates them as a 3-star airline, in line with other budget carriers as well as United, American or Delta. The lowest ratings are for the lack of inflight entertainment and the handling of delays/cancellations. AirlineRatings gives them a 4 out of 7 safety rating (Malaysia, Thailand), similar to other low-cost carriers. Recently acquired/merged Philippine operations are 3 out of 7 and Indonesia is under review, following the tragic accident of QZ8501 (read my analysis of the crash report here).
AirAsia serves 121 destinations across 21 countries, mostly in Asia and including some destinations in the Middle East and Australia. AirAsia has a fleet of 182 planes, standardizing on Airbus A320 for short-haul flights and A330 for long-haul flights. AirAsia has it’s own frequent flier program, BIG, across all subsidiaries and is not part of any airline alliance.
Why should I care? AirAsia has a large fleet and huge route network across Asia, serving many routes as the only carrier. Chances are, if you fly in South East Asia, they will come up as a choice. They have low-cost operation down to an art form and will be the lowest cost option on many routes they fly. In fact, when I booked my ASEAN Explorer trip, they were the lowest cost option on every single one of the 11 flights! Instead of competing with other airlines for market share, they create their own demand, allowing a whole new group of travelers to experience their first flight, sometimes competing with bus companies or ferries! Combine the super-low fares and extensive network with a new fleet of Airbus A320/330 and friendly staff and it’s easy to understand why they have won their awards.
They are one of the few discount carriers offering long-haul flights, a business class on those long flights and check-through services at their main hubs, adding services more typical for full-service network carriers!
What else do I need to know? As many other discount carriers, AirAsia makes money by breaking up traditional fares and selling you lots of add-ons: You pay for luggage, insurance, food, seat assignments and even airport counter check-in. And AirAsia will do its best to sell you those, sometimes with confusing web site questions.. You have to watch every step of the way, from booking all the way through check-in to decline add-ons, sometimes multipe times! If you make it through that, you have to be patient with the payment – make sure your credit card company is aware that you are making an online purchase in Malaysia (or Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines) or your card might be rejected.
You can check in online 14 days in advance and a seat will be assigned at that time. Because most people only check in a day or two before departure, I recommend to do it early to snatch the better seats. If you don’t like the random seat, you can change it for a fee.
Once onboard, the service is friendly (I’d be happy to have them on United any day!) and competent, planes are packed tight, food and drinks are available.. you guessed it, for a fee. Just bring your own entertainment, there is none on board. You can read my economy class review to find out more about the experience you can expect!
As far as budget airlines go, AirAsia has earned all those awards. They are not just cheap, they are a great deal and one of your best bargains around South East Asia!