AIR ASIA REVIEW: Malaysia's "budget" Air Asia operates on a PREDATORY business model because they exploit unwary travelers' inattention to the fine prints. It's motto is: "Now everybody can fly". It's low-price bait has allowed many who otherwise could not afford to fly. They even run promotions which offer FREE air tickets. Air Asia is suitable for those whose time is not a constrain, who do not have connecting flights, who do not mind long delays up to 4 hours or more, who will not change their original flight plans, who do not have much to check-in or carry-on.
I believe the locals love it because they have become used to tolerating sub-standards common in many Asian countries. It is ideal for getaways & visiting the folks. The fact that Air Asia gives away free air tickets or charges nominal prices in itself should raise suspicion. So how do they do it? By zapping unfortunate travelers with the EXTRA charges, betting that they have to alter their original plans or somehow have to buy a new ticket on the spot.
Hence, there are many CAVEATS such as: (1) "free" or low-price tickets only if you book far far in advance. Only the airfare is free; you still pay the Fuel Surchage, Airport Tax, Security, Admin Cost...which together cost FAR MORE than the airfare. that's OK if you can plan 2 months ahead and stick to plans. If your plans change, kiss your ticket goodbye. Since you usually become aware of the change in plans sometime close to the original travel date, you'd have to pay a pretty high price. It looks like Air Asia's profit doesn't come from air fares.
(2) You must check-in 45 minutes before departure. Air Asia does not care why you did not check-in on time, but it's OK for them to delay your flight 4 hours. There is absolutely no flexibility there. They do not even care if you're connecting Air Asia flight arrived late. Their attitude is: "Not My Problem!" I was even denied boarding even though I had nothing to check-in and was at the counter more than 30 minutes before departure.
Needless to say, I had to purchase another ticket at punitive WALK-IN prices. Point is: if you have to abandon your ticket, they keep the Fuel Surchage, Airport Tax, Security, Admin Cost. For the record, after having flown 20+ times on Air Asia, I felt I have paid more than buying from a major airline either due to rebooking charges or voided tickets plus the aggravation. Understand that if your ticket becomes invalid for whatever reason, you will pay "WALK-IN" fares to catch a flight in the next few days. This is because their prices rise as it draws closer to departure date.
(3) Air Asia's counter staff must have been trained in its method of profiteering. I find them totally unhelpful & apathetic to my dilemma. Again, it's the "Your Dilemma Is Not My Problem" attitude. I view Air Asia as the "Caveat Emptor" (buyer beware) airline of last resort.
(4) Baggage limits are an uncompromisingly rigid 15kg checked-in and 7kg carry-on, even for international flights. They have a staff monitoring carry-ons as you enter the boarding area. I have seen many (myself included), get caught having to pay hefty per-kg rates, especially unsuspecting foreigners who expect all international flights to abide by a common standard. I have even witnessed a staff send baggage into the interior handling section and only then notify the entire family of foreigners that they had to pay a whopping excess baggage charge, after it was too late to retrieve their luggage. The staff got the lambasting she deserved.
(5) It's free seating so you might find others pushing & shoving to get a "good" seat. They do however, sell you "express boarding" privilege. (6) When booking online, they automatically add-on insurance charges, and make it confusing to decline the insurance. After you click to decline, a dialog box says that Air Asia recommends that you keep the insurance.
In most other websites, it would ask if you are sure and hence and "OK" would mean "go ahead with the decline." However, with Air Asia "OK" means you rescind your request to decline. To confirm your decline, you would have to click "Cancel" instead. In most other instances, a "Cancel" would refer to cancelling an earlier instruction (to decline). Incidents such as this makes me suspect that Air Asia's PREDATORY Business model is to exploit travelers' mistakes, change in plans & inattention to the fine prints.
I recently flew from Singapore to Chiang Mai, Thailand on this economy airline and thought I would do a little write up. First of all, the flight only cost $140 round trip. I wasn't expecting much, but I went ahead and sprang for the up-front seats for the additional $12 SGD (about $7-8 US).
First of all, you get to board first, a plus when you have carry-on luggage. I had 3 seats all to myself on a plane that was 95% full in back. I was able to put the arms up and sleep for most of the flight. The seats on the entire plane are leather and very comfortable. They don't recline very far, but the flight is short so it doesn't really matter. In some cases, I would say these seats were superior to many other carriers I have flown on.
The airline also charges for food, water and checked baggage, but for a 2 1/2 hour flight, I didn't need to pay for anything additional. I only brought carry-on luggage and ate before the flight. (They have a sign that says you cannot bring food or water on-board.) The plane was very clean too. The flight attendants were very pleasant.
Both flights took off a few minutes late, but we arrived on time at both destinations. Boarding was not over-organized, and it went smoothly. All in all, I really can't find a thing wrong with this airline. It safely took me where I was going and the price was right.