Knowing the Basics: Airways around Asia

Outside of the major airline alliances, there are also lots of other carriers to travel the airways around Asia and even beyond. There are still a few countries with flag carriers that are not part of any alliance, and even more other competitors that have established deep international air links over recent years.

Here we discuss the other options for air travel, some of which many travelers may be surprised as rewarding alternatives to the known alliance member players.


Cebu Pacific plane

Low Cost Carriers

In recent years, Asia — especially southeast Asia — has become home to a thriving economy of very affordable travel. Just about all the routes around Asia are plied by at least one of these budget carriers, and more and more passengers are taking to the skies.

South-east Asia

Now in southeast Asia alone, there are about ten or so of these lowcost carriers (or LCC’s). Just to name a few there are (alongside their IATA codes):

  • AirAsia (AK) of Malaysia
  • Cebu Pacific (5J) of the Philippines, Value Alliance co-founder
  • Jetstar Asia (3K) of Singapore, offshoot of Jetstar Airways, subsidiary of Qantas
  • Lion Air (JT) of Indonesia
  • Scoot (TR) of Singapore, subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, Value Alliance co-founder 
  • Nok Air (DD) of Thailand, Value Alliance co-founder 
  • VietJet Air (VJ) of Vietnam

The Value Alliance is a collective of LCCs that are aiming to smoothen the interconnected experience for their member passengers throughout the Asia Pacific. It still remains to be seen whether they would be providing any membership incentives for their passengers as with the major alliances today.

Rest of Asia

In addition to the south-east Asian budget carriers there are also other players around the rest of the continent, the more notable ones including:

  • Lucky Air (8L) and Spring Airlines (9C)  of China
  • IndiGo (6E) of India
  • Hong Kong Express Airways (UO) of Hong Kong
  • Jeju Air (7C) of South Korea, Value Alliance co-founder
  • Peach Aviation (MN) of Japan


LCC routes from Kuala Lumpur. courtesy The Travel Dragon


Some of these low cost carriers already have their respective loyalty programs. For example, AirAsia has its BIG membership program, Cebu Pacific has GetGo, and then Scoot uses the KrisFlyer frequent flyer program as a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. Each one has its own advantages, but they are mostly limited to earning and redeeming points and rewards in their respective home countries. For most domestic and intra-regional travel these may be sufficient but lack incentives for continued patronage.

The rise of these LCCs has been a boon to cost-conscious budget travelers, and Asia’s economies have mostly benefited from the increase in tourism. As these airlines expand and new ones arise, there can only be more links between the airports around the region and, ultimately, opportunities to get even more value out of air travel.


Well-Connected Independent Airlines

It might be rather unfortunate that the majority of low-cost carriers are regional air networks, that they hardly fly long-distance. There are some exceptions; Scoot, for example, flies to Athens, Greece and Cebu Pacific travels to Dubai in the UAE, but these are only quite few.

However there are some carriers that are independent of the three major alliances and yet have built an extensive network of destinations they both fly themselves to and of partners that will get their passengers to places. Here we highlight the most notable two.


Alaska Airlines plane. copyright Ken Fielding

Alaska Mileage Plan

A pretty unknown player in Northern America is Alaska Airlines, but one that is unfortunately overlooked too often. The Mileage Plan program of Alaska and its partner airlines make it possible for travelers to book — and earn miles on — flights across the world with just one ticket.

Alaska Airlines has a great selection of Asian carrier partners:

  • Cathay Pacific, oneworld member
  • Emirates
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Japan Airlines, oneworld member
  • Korean Air, SkyTeam member
  • Singapore Airlines, Star Alliance member

This carrier has its main hub in Seattle in the USA and dominates the Pacific states. In spite of this limitation, it has great linkages across the sea via Qantas or the airlines above. On the other side it has access across the Atlantic with British, Air France or KLM, among others.

Moreover, that the Mileage Plan has competitive miles earning rates helps, and as you move up their status tiers you will even get better mileage bonus rates. Should you be lacking in miles, they also occasionally conduct promotions directly selling miles at attractive rates. Asian Miler especially recommends this program for travelers aiming to fly in premium cabin classes on Alaska and their partners.


Etihad Airways plane. copyright Julian Herzog

Etihad Guest

On the other side of the Asian continent, the Middle Eastern carrier Etihad Airways is really worth mentioning. It is the flag carrier of the UAE and maintains its hub in Abu Dhabi, and partners of Etihad make flying and earning miles with the Etihad Guest frequent flyer program quite convenient and attractive. 

Etihad Airways has an amazing variety of Asian airlines partners:

  • All Nippon Airways, Star Alliance member
  • Asiana Airlines, Star Alliance member
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Garuda Indonesia, SkyTeam member
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • Korean Air, SkyTeam member
  • Malaysia Airlines, oneworld member
  • Oman Air
  • Philippine Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines, oneworld member

On top of these, the airline is codeshare partners with Air France and Canada, KLM, SAS, South African and American, among others, to various major cities and just beyond. With its strategic hub location in between Asia, Europe and Africa, the airline makes for a valuable and competitive option for travel in all directions.

However, we note that the Etihad Guest program’s miles earning potential leaves a lot to be desired. In some booking classes for regional or shorthaul routes in Asia on partner airlines, travelers only get to earn a fraction of the distance (if at all). Therefore, be sure to pay attention to the booking class code when purchasing tickets.


Asian Miler says…

In Asia there’s just so many options for any traveler to get around. To get the most value out of your travel you have just a few things to think about.

If you are a frequent domestic or intra-regional traveler on a budget, then the loyalty program of your home low cost carrier may be sufficient. However, don’t expect too many opportunities for earning points outside of actually flying.

If you travel only on occasion, then the no-frills fare offerings of LCCs will provide you sufficient value in savings over time. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to chase flights for the sake of miles as they will only cost you more in the long run.

If you are rather impartial to any of the major alliances and yet value the convenience of flying to various destinations, taking a look at the alternative independent airlines would help. Alaska Airlines could provide you perks if you travel mostly to the Americas, while Etihad Airways could be rewarding for frequenting Europe. Crediting to them when flying on their respective partners’ planes can give you more mileage and rewards.


Final Word

When you think about it, the competitive landscape in Asia allows us to travel more while earning status and miles. These days we can really choose an airline based on our schedules, budget and preferences. We simply have to keep in mind that we have to stick to the chosen plan. That way our travel will truly be rewarding.