Updated May 22nd, 2018.
I’ve been flying to Southeast Asia from the UK and other parts of the world for the past 10 years. As a nervous flyer (yeah I know, it’s the safest form of transport), I’ve done more than my fair share of research into the best airlines to fly with, and of course, how to get the cheapest deals.
Where to fly to?
If you’re exploring the whole of Southeast Asia on an extended backpacking trip, I’d recommend flying into Bangkok. Thailand’s energetic capital will excite you for further adventures, yet it’s safe and easy to get around, so you can find your travel feet before heading to some of the more challenging destinations!
Bangkok, located pretty much smack bang in the middle of Southeast Asia is also a great hub for transport to the rest of Asia and it’s cheap to fly in and out of here. (Kuala Lumpur, the home of AirAsia is also another good hub if you’re planning on exploring Malaysia and Indonesia.)
Do you need an onward flight?
Many of the airlines state that in order to board your flight, they require you to have an onward flight booked out of the country in which you are flying into before your visa expires. For example, upon arrival in Thailand, most nationalities receive a free 30-day visa.
Therefore, when you board the plane in Europe (or wherever) you are required to have a flight out of Thailand before those 30 days are up. It’s an annoying requirement for a backpacker who wants to travel spontaneously with no fixed plan. So what can you do to avoid this? Read our article for advice on proof of onward travel.
Flying to Southeast Asia: The Cheapest Flight Search Comparison Engine?
Recently in this slightly boring but very useful article, we did some research into finding out the cheapest flight comparison website on the net. These two winners were the cheapest companies that we found, and ones that we have used successfully in the past…
Recently, we did some research into the cheapest flight comparison website on the net. Surprisingly, the winner was this company, Momondo, that we’d actually never heard of before, but can clearly find you some of the cheapest deals around! Put it to the test and see what it finds you!
Whenever I have a flight to book, my first point of call is Skyscanner. They’ve always found me cheap deals over the years and their search engine is easy to use. For backpackers on a budget, Skyscanner is great, because they allow you to compare prices across a whole month, so if you’re flexible on time, but not budget, you can find the cheapest deals this way. They also allow you to search ‘Everywhere’ to find the cheapest flight to anywhere from wherever you are! We love this nod to the backpacker spirit of freedom!
What to look for in a flight to Southeast Asia?
These days, I don’t always go for the cheapest of the cheap flights to Asia. Through experience, I’ve learnt that compromising on my sleep and comfort in order to save a few quid just isn’t worth it. So, I look at the price of the flight and consider the following factors:
1. Duration of the flight and layovers in airports – Who wants to wait 14 hours in the airport in Mumbai just to save 50 quid? You’ll probably spend that amount of money on snacks and drinks in the airport at extortionate airport prices!
2. The arrival time of the flight – If I’m arriving into a new city (especially as a solo female traveller) I want to make sure that I arrive during the daytime. Things feel a lot less intimidating during the daytime in airports and you can at least get familiar with your surroundings in the daylight if you’ve got to get a bus or catch a taxi from the airport.
3. Hotel check-in times – Most hotels and hostels in Southeast Asia only allow you to check in at 12 noon or 1 pm. If your flight arrives at 5 am, you’ll likely have to pay for the previous night at the hotel in order to be allowed into your room. Flights arriving in the afternoon or early evening are the best in my opinion.
What are the best airlines that fly to Southeast Asia?
I’ve flown with a load of different airlines in my time and I have to say it’s all a bit ‘same same but different’. However, there were a few that stood out above the rest. Here are some of the airlines that have flights to Southeast Asia…
Offering flights from Europe and the US to Southeast Asia, Qatar Airways are a firm favourite of mine. They’re now second on the list of Business Insider Best Airlines in the world and have the second best in-flight entertainment! If you fly from the UK to Southeast Asia you’ll stop in Doha, where a cup of coffee will set you back the price of a week’s meals in Thailand. Don’t worry you’ll soon be in Southeast Asia…
Currently offering some of the cheapest flights from Europe to Bangkok via Skyscanner, Lufthansa are Europe’s largest airline and Germany’s national airline. So apart from jokes about the fact that they’ll always be on time, what else can we say about Lufthansa? Not much to be honest, apart from the fact that they were the first airline in 2004 to offer internet, and they have a direct flight from Europe to Singapore with no layover, taking 12 hours 15 minutes on the Airbus 1380. Ideal if you want to get to Southeast Asia as fast as you can!
Long voted the ‘best airline in the world’ (now in fourth place with Qatar Airways first!), Emirates, with a reputation for being a posh airline, are not as expensive as you might first think! Flyers often rave about their awesome in-flight entertainment system that allows for live streaming of TV and sporting events. If flying from the UK you’ll stop in Dubai along the way to Southeast Asia.
A few months ago I flew with Etihad Airways (simply because they had the cheapest flight that I could find on Skyscanner), and was very impressed, mainly with their overnight bag full of goodies; socks, a sleeping mask, ear plugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste (I’m easily impressed)! Everything else was great, but not as great as if I’d been flying in one of their ridiculously plush ‘flying apartments’. A backpacker can only dream…
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