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in September 2005
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Smart Traveler: Cheap Hops in Asia
Text by Hope Hamashige    Photograph by Yukihiro Kaneko

An Orient Thai Airlines Boeing 747 takes off from the island of Phuket, Thailand.

Low-fare carriers are multiplying in the East. 


Jetstar Asia
»Style and Comfort
Based in Singapore, with flights to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Manila. Fares: One-way Singapore to Bangkok start at $38. To Taipei, they start at $118.  Notable: Jetstar Asia, backed by Australian carrier Qantas Airlines, launched last December. Like Southwest Airlines, it was the subject of a reality TV series on MediaCorp TV about (what else?) running a low-cost airline. Entertainment is not free, but travelers can allay boredom on long flights with an array of music and movies "on demand."
 
Tiger Airways
»The Southwest Model
Based in Singapore, with flights to China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Fares: Singapore to Bangkok from $30 each way. Notable: Tiger Airways was formed by Singapore Airlines, the founder of Ryanair, and former America West CEO William Franke. It is the only low-fare carrier that flies to Vietnam. Passengers on Tiger Air can shop onboard for luxury goods like Gucci perfume and Elizabeth Arden cosmetics.
 
Air Deccan                 
»The Common Touch
Based in Bangalore, India, with flights to 33 cities in India including tourist favorites Goa, Chennai, and Delhi. Fares: The airline sells several seats on every flight for two cents. Most fliers will pay fares starting at $11 each way. Notable: A charter company launched Air Deccan in 2003. Its early success has spawned several imitators, including spiceJet, Kingfisher Airlines, and Air-India Express. Bulk sales of 14 round-trip tickets for about $550 are available for travelers who want to city-hop across India by plane.
 
Nok Air
»A Dash of Fun
Based in Bangkok, with flights to several Thai cities. Nok will fly to Macau by the end of 2005. Fares: Domestic flights from $28 each way. Notable: Nok is Thai Airways' low-cost spinoff. Its casually dressed cabin crews embody the airline's super-friendly approach. Nok's Nok Plus section offers a slightly larger seat, free snack, drink, and newspaper for a higher fare.
 
Orient Thai
»The Traditionalist
Based in Bangkok, with flights to several cities in Thailand through domestic subsidiary One-Two-Go. International destinations include Singapore, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (China), and Inchon (South Korea). Fares: One-way domestic fares start at $38. Notable: A former charter airline, Orient Thai relaunched as a low-fare carrier in 2002. It still serves hot noodle and rice dishes on international flights. The airline is also adding several medium-range jets to its fleet of big Boeings to serve its domestic destinations more efficiently.
 
Valuair
»Old-School Service for Less
Based in Singapore, with flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta (Indonesia), Chengdu (China), Xiamen (China), and Perth (Australia). Fares: Round-trip fares from Singapore to Bangkok start at $70. Notable: The airline was started by former Singapore Airlines workers in 2004. Though it bills itself as a no-frills low-fare carrier, Valuair still offers a few perks such as in-flight food and a loyalty program for frequent fliers.
 
AirAsia                   
»Trendsetter of the Orient                            
 Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with flights to cities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, China, and Singapore. Fares: On the competitive route between Bangkok and Singapore, one-way fares start at $13. Notable: Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes's TuneAir bought failing AirAsia for 25 cents. Since then, its two-plane fleet has grown to 26 and will expand to 80 by 2012. At the tender age of three, it's the granddaddy of Asia's low-fares. Look for jaw-dropping Internet specials such as one-way fares from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai, Thailand, for $2.75.


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