How to Protect Yourself from Hidden Fees on Asian Low-Cost Carriers

Low Cost Carriers have grown in popularity in Asia in recent years, and for money-savvy travelers they can offer substantial savings. But beware the hidden charges! Advertised fares don’t always tell the whole story.

Airlines and Aviation

I was once almost conned into booking a flight on an low-cost carrier (LCC) from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Thailand.

The advertised fare was, in fact, so cheap that I almost thought I couldn’t afford to stay home.

I’m serious! It was winter, and the ticket was selling for less money than it would cost me to heat my flat for one month during Hong Kong’s brief but brutal winter.

So why not spend four weeks in Thailand? I had a friend I could stay with. The weather would be warm. The food would be cheap.

And the savings on my utility bill would cover the cost of the ticket! Or so I thought  …

After figuring out dates, I set about booking a ticket. It was only when I hit the check out button that I was slapped in the face by reality.

The total fare was nearly triple the advertised price!

There were all of those charges, which together, almost tripled price of the advertised fare!

How could this be possible?

Fuel Surcharge

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The first extra was the fuel surcharge, which – contrary to popular belief – is set by the airline not the government.

In some countries, airlines have to advertise the TOTAL price, including departure taxes, fuel surcharges, and any other fee.

In most Asian countries, however, there are no such regulations to protect consumers. So some airlines add can fuel surcharges, which can mask the true cost of the ticket.

By the time I finished adding up of the the charges for “extras”, I decided that the fare was comparable to that of a legacy air carrier.

I kind of resented being conned this way, so I decided to go with a legacy carrier.

Before I continue, I hasten to point out that some legacy carriers also use fuel surcharges to mislead passengers.

When comparing ticket prices, ALWAYS check to make sure that all fees and taxes are included.

The Rise of LCCs in Asia

Photo Credit: Jimmy Harris.

Asian LCCs such as AirAsia, HK Express, Jetstar, and Tiger Airways have become increasingly popular with Asian travelers in recent years.

While savvy travelers can save a considerable amount of money on the basic price of an airline ticket, many travelers are not fully aware of just how much money miscellaneous fees can add to the cost of their trip.

And there is more to it than fuel surcharges. Here are a few more things to consider …

Food and Beverage

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Most legacy airlines include beverage service, and sometimes they throw in simple snacks or light meals – even on the shortest of flights.

Budget airlines, as LCCs are also called, usually charge for food and beverage, and the prices are not to be taken lightly.

According to,some LCCs mark up the price of food and beverage to outrageous levels.

The cost of beer, for example, averages 360% more than it would cost in a supermarket.

The markup for soda is even worse. A 250 milligram can of soda costs HK$22.60 (S$4.00) on Tigerair, against just HK$5.60 for 500 milligram can of soda on the ground. The markup is a breathtaking 707%.

Extreme Markup

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Do LCCs have something in common with hotels, which are equally guilty of extreme markups for snacks and drinks in the mini-bar?

HK Express charges as much as HK$25.00 for a 40-gram container of potato chips, which comes to HK$68.75 per 110  grams, a 450% increase on the price the same snack would cost at a supermarket.

To avoid high markups, you should eat something before boarding your flight, or bring your own snack.

Keep in mind, however, that some Asian LCCs don’t allow you to consume food or beverage that hasn’t been purchased on board. So be discrete.

I even flew on one LLC once that didn’t even serve complimentary water! Everyone knows how important it is to stay hydrated in the air, with the low humidity levels of airline cabins.

This seems tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, if you ask me!


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Asian LCCs normally allow passengers to carry on hand luggage with a weight of up to seven to 10 kilogrammes.

If you wish to check your bags, however, HK Express, Jetstar, and Tigerair charge between HK$150 and HK$260 for a 20-kilogramme bag on a short-haul flight if you pay for that during the initial booking process on line.

If you wait to do this at the airport, however, you will be charged up to HK$570 to do the same thing, an increase of 280%.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Asian LCCs usually let their computers assign seats. If you want to change the seat that has been assigned on line, you will usually be charged a fee for doing so.

Sometimes if you wait until you check in at the airport, however, you can change seats without being charged. It’s not a given, but there’s no harm in asking.

A standard seat costs HK$34, HK$35, and HK$45 on Tigerair, Jetstar, and HK Express, respectively. Seats near the front or seats with extra legroom range from HK$73 to HK$200.

Be forewarned, however, that seats in the first row usually have less legroom since there is no seat in front of them.

I once paid extra to sit in a front-seat seat, only to discover when I sat down that it had LESS legroom than the cheap seats. Fortunately, the flight wasn’t full, and the flight attendant let me change seats.

Singapore Airlines

Photo Credit: Terrence Ong.

But LCCs aren’t the only airlines to gouge passengers with hidden fees. Legacy carriers have also caught on that fees can enhance the bottom line.

I once was unable to book a flight on Singapore Airlines because of a technical problem with their website.

Every time I would get to a certain point in the booking process, the page would freeze.

After making several unsuccessful attempts, I picked up the phone and booked my flight the old-fashioned way.

I was NOT amused when I got my credit card bill at the end of the pay cycle and discovered that I had been charged a US$25 fee for booking my flight by phone.

Not because I was too lazy or technologically incompetent to book my flight on line – but because the airlines’ webpage had a glitch!

Technology to the Rescue

All of these extra fees can add up, substantially increasing the cost of your ticket.  So what’s a traveler to do?

There are travel-planning websites that can calculate airline fees for you. Take, for example. Its website offers a fee calculator to help travelers avoid paying excessive fees.

“To help budget efficiently, our Fee Calculator allows travelers to select a preferred payment method, the number of checked bags, and includes any extra fees in the total price when searching for flights,” says Debby Soo, Kayak Vice President, APAC.

“ strives to be Hong Kongers’ best travel companion, providing the best tools for travel and planning.”

When All Is Said and Done …

Despite this cautionary tale, I DO often fly budget airlines in Asia, and AirAsia is one of my favourites.

The airplanes are clean. The seats are comfortable. And the flight attendants are friendly.

For short flights, I don’t mind forgoing food and beverage. Airline food isn’t very good in the first place.

And if I’m going to be staying at resorts, I don’t need to pack that much anyway. I can usually fit everything I need in a carry-on bag.

The key is to read the fine print and make sure that you know exactly what you’re paying for.





One Reply to “How to Protect Yourself from Hidden Fees on Asian Low-Cost Carriers”

  1. I had a very difficult time getting a full refund from Sichuan Airlines when I could not go because I had a heart attack. I was told that Chinese people do not expect full refunds even if the reason and the length of time you cancel beforehand is reasonable. It was also very difficult to reach a live person at the airline phone numbers to talk to. My Chinese friends did not find this unusual, but I found it quite distressing. I had to ask for help from my credit card company by putting the amount of the ticket in dispute, and also had to ask help from a Chinese friend living in China to find someone at the airline to talk to. And it still took several weeks to get my refund.

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