Travelling the skyway is increasingly accessible. Burgeoning middle classes in Southeast Asia have created a new market for budget airlines. Air passengers, both foreign and domestic, are taking flight on low-cost airlines and heading to thrifty airports.
The Kingdom of Thailand has a number of Baht-basic carriers to get you from the beaches to the city to the jungle. Some of these airlines show-up in major travel search engines, such as Expedia and Google Flights, while others do not. If you’re looking to save while flying, be sure to look beyond the search engines and visit these sites directly.
Coach buses and trains, both of varying calibres, have long served Thailand. As cheap air options took flight, the time-intensive, budget-friendly bus and train options became less enticing. When booked in advance, or with a promo code, or on sale, plane trips in Thailand can rival the costs of their earth-bound counterparts.
Vacation time is precious. Be sure to factor in Bangkok traffic and airport wait times when selecting your mode of travel. Just because you can fly, doesn’t mean you’ll save time.
Domestic, budget airlines are not all roses in Thailand as most restrict online check-in to travellers without infants and some do not offer online check-in from certain airports. Don’t go thinking these airlines are benevolent. They may not charge much for your ticket, but they still want your money. Services have been unbundled “to offer the customer a more customized experience”, but you should read that as you’ll pay for every little thing. Read through what is offered and think ahead about what you may need.
Be sure to read up on baggage restrictions and costs before booking. A more expensive ticket, or one in a different version of economy (basic economy, economy, and economy plus – all ways of saying you are flying a bus, with certain services included), may save you some dosh in the longterm.
Bangkok is serviced by two major international airports. Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). DMK was dethroned as the leading international airport when BKK opened in 2006. Most budget airlines are based out of DMK, but that is not true for all. When considering add-ons in those unbundled services, factor in the airport. Things like Priority Boarding can be a money grab when many budget flights from DMK involve being bussed out to your plane – we’re looking at you NOK Air.
Thailand’s Money Saving Options
Bangkok Airways – positioned as a “boutique airline”, this airline stands out among the others. That’s probably because it is not that budget-friendly for a supposedly budget-friendly airline. Bangkok Airways may cost more, but you do get more. With 20kgs (44lbs) of luggage included in the most basic ticket and meals on most flights, you do feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. In some places, like Koh Samui, this is your only airline option. Most airports served by Bangkok Airways have lounges. The Boutique Lounge is for ALL their travellers (Boutique Lounge at BKK is pictured below) while the Blue Ribbon Lounges are for premium members (access is also available for a fee). Bangkok Airways is connected to some larger international airlines and so you can collect points and travel further afield.
Thai Smile – Thai Airways International threw their hat into the low-cost arena with Thai Smile. As part of the Thai Airways family, you can collect points and snag some interesting codeshare options. Even their lowest class ticket includes at least 20kgs (44lbs) of luggage at the time of writing. It’s worth checking Thai Airways for domestic flights, but often you’ll pay their higher prices and end up on a Thai Smile plane.
Thai Lion – the Thai iteration of Lion Air, Thai Lion is a solid option when making your way around the Kingdom. Often on-time and friendly, we’ve never had a hick-up with them.
NOK Air – with planes painted like birds (nok means bird in Thai), this is Thailand’s response to Ryan Air. We are talking simple. Be aware that NOK is not known for being punctual and if flights are not full, the airline will cancel flights and combine folks into one fuller flight at a different time. As a smaller airline, they have the maneuverability to do this. It also helps that they are the only one that flies to Mae Sot (on the Myanmar border) and your only option if flying from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani (CNX to UTH) without going through Bangkok.
NOK does have package options where you can book a flight and a ferry to get out to certain islands. There is also a partnership with Singapore’s low-cost carrier, Scoot. The other big win is that they give you water in-flight. Pro-tip, that little bottle is always brimming full and you shouldn’t open it over your lap.
Thai AirAsia – a joint venture between a Thai and Malaysian company, Thai AirAsia does give you access to AirAsia’s wider regional network. You can also clock some BIG points for your travels. Like most budget carriers, AirAsia will give you nothing for free.
Thai VietJet – with limitations on where you can check-in online, our experiences with Thai VietJet have only been positive. Though we’re used to doing everything from an app, this airlines staff has made our travellers easy. They seem to have created a culture of helping and we’ve enjoyed that.
Orient Thai Airlines – this mainland Chinese airline exists to bring Chinese tourists to Thailand, but you can jump-on between Bangkok and Phuket. We’ve never flown them but they are an option.
NewGen Airways – this small airline has a charter look to them. They’re branding at DMK looks neato, but we’ve never flown them and so our insights end there.