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Asia travel: Five trends to watch

Political transformation, medical tourism, high-speed rail, cheap airfares and a boom in cruising are among the hot topics in Asia travel.

March 06, 2011|By Andrew Bender | Special to the Los Angeles Times

Singapore's Tiger Airways, Malaysia's Air Asia, Thailand's Nok Airlines, Indian carriers JetLite, SpiceJet and GoAir, and Australian-based JetStar Asia Airways are among the ones to watch. Fares tend to be lower the earlier you book, though taxes, fees, checked baggage and meals can add up. Also be alert for the impact of rising fuel prices on fares.

Singapore is a low-airfare hub. A recent search of Tiger Airways found a round-trip ticket between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur of $37, though checking a 55-pound suitcase would cost you $27.50 more. The same round trip on Singapore Airlines: $223. A similar search on JetStar Asia Airways yielded a double-take-inducing one-way $1.56 fare to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, though taxes and fees increased that to $23.50.

Random searches for the two-hour flight between Delhi and Mumbai in India yielded round-trip fares of about $144 on SpiceJet and $194 on JetLite, versus $223 on JetLite's full-fare parent company, Jet Airways. Buy-on-board food included north and south Indian-style vegetarian meals.

Lower fare options are cropping up even in traditionally pricey Japan. Fares on Skynet Asia Airways, Skymark Airlines and AirDo average 20% less than on legacy carriers Japan Airlines and ANA, with occasionally steeper discounts. A recent search found one-way fares for the 95-minute flight from Tokyo to Sapporo for about $430 on ANA and JAL, $238 on Skymark and as low as $202 on AirDo.

Travelers to Japan from overseas can save even more with "Visit Japan" fares on JAL, ANA and Skynet Asia Airways, about $126 for a domestic flight when combined with a round-trip ticket to Japan.

Cruise news

"The global cruise industry is now looking toward Asia as a major growth engine," says Lanie Fagan, director of communications for Florida-based Cruise Lines International Assn. The association sees Southeast Asia as one of 2011's hot destinations. About 2 million cruise passengers passed through Hong Kong in 2010, and a record-breaking 1.14 million in Singapore, which is building an almost seven-acre deepwater cruise terminal expected to be completed by late 2012.

By 2015, the Asia Cruise Terminal Assn. is projecting about 7 million annual cruise passengers in Asia, thanks to a growing Asian middle class. Another sign of the times: Atlantis Events, which charters ships for gay cruises, offered its first Asia cruise in 2009 and doubled that in 2010.

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