Outside the major hubs, Southeast Asia is not well served by the major airline alliances for point to point travel for those on a budget. The major state carriers are either expensive (Thai, Singapore and Malaysia) or expensive AND unreliable (most of the rest). A number of carriers are a big hassle to book online and The Rapid Traveler always tries to avoid telephone bookings for the risk of errors. There are plenty of budget airlines that come and go (perhaps The Rapid Traveler should have avoided Indonesia’s Adam Air).
Air Asia has made all the right moves, winning many awards and is constantly growing (Wikipedia profile). Tony Fernandes, the founder, is a fascinating character (BBC profile, INSEAD interview, and the dress as a stewardess bet with Richard Branson).
It is no frills other than the sassy outfits of the flight attendants (a relief in dour Malaysia), but the up-sell for everything is in good fun. Sponsoring the Oakland Raiders gives a sense of the zesty attitude. Its destinations (full list; route map) now cover all the countries of Southeast Asia, East Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, and even the UK (London Stansted) and France (Paris Orly).
The main hub is Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s (KUL) Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), which is 20 km from the main terminal, so watch those connections! On his first Air Asia flight, The Rapid Traveler did not do proper research, spent the night at KUL’s transit hotel thinking it was a quick transfer to Air Asia and nearly missed his flight waiting for the bus between terminals. Secondary hubs are in Bangkok and Jakarta.
Costs can be incredibly low and open up possibilities for quick jaunts to places that would otherwise be skipped. One long weekend trip in Malaysia The Rapid Travel darted to Penang, Malacca (by car from KUL) and Kuala Terengganu (for Kapas Island) for airfares cheaper than bus.
Booking online can have a few hiccups that will be covered in the next post, and are the only downside to The Rapid Traveler’s many experiences with Air Asia.