This fall has been a stressful one for me. I’ve had mountains of work to get through, which isn’t a bad thing for a freelance writer. But this autumn, there have been moments where I just want to pack up and leave for a vacation.
So I did just that. In mid-November, I traveled to Seoul for a week. Beyond checking in with some friends I hadn’t seen in years, I didn’t have plans. I just sort of hung around. I still worked, but a change of scenery went a long way to making me feel a little more sane.
It was all possible because of a low-cost carrier. The last 10 years or so have seen these budget airlines become commonplace across Asia. It has made travel across the continent easy, and has changed the way people think about vacations.
Air travel used to be costly. Even domestically, getting around via plane could cost a pretty penny. The shinkansen was just as expensive and so I joined other budget-conscious travelers in taking night buses across Japan. While economic, this usually meant trying to sleep during an eight-hour ride arriving at a destination in the early morning. It’s tough to take in the local spots when you just want to pass out.
That changed in 2012, when the first Peach Aviation flight took off. It proved a huge hit both with people wanting to travel around Japan or even a few destinations in Asia. It was the first of many low-cost carriers at around the same time, such as All Nippon Airways Co.’s Vanilla Air and Spring Airlines Japan. They became so popular that Narita Airport added a third terminal servicing only budget carriers.
What separates these carriers from the rest? Well, the price is the main draw, with tickets for one-way flights in Japan usually costing around \6,000. And even cheaper seats can be had if you buy at the right time. The trade-offs, however, are noticeable. You usually have to pay extra to store a suitcase, and food and drinks cost extra. Don’t expect any entertainment options, either — make sure you have a book.
Still, for short trips, it isn’t a big deal. And even for international destinations, it’s not too bad. No-frills carriers flying to Taipei, Hong Kong and Cebu in the Philippines can be found at most major Japanese airports. Overseas travel used to be a special once-in-a-while occasion, but with budget airlines, people can head out for weekends without spending too much.
Which is what I did when I booked a cheap flight on Air Seoul to get a break from the Tokyo grind. Now if only there was a way to get something with a lower price for my trip back to the U.S. come Christmas. (Patrick St. Michel)