Flights within Thailand (domestic) can be very inexpensive due to lots of competition. Air Asia is the most well known of the low cost carriers operating in Thailand. They also have the largest low cost network within Asia and operate in several countries in the region.
In a discussion with fellow travels the question came up: Is Air Asia really that cheap?
The reason behind this question is because Air Asia charges a fee for everything beyond the flight fare and 1 carry on bag.
I decided to put this to the test myself by trying some test bookings to compare Air Asia to Bangkok Airways who includes 1 20kg checked bag, a meal, and seat selection in addition to the 1 carry on bag allowance in the fare quoted. All of the extra amenities on Bangkok Airways are included and cannot be removed to create a lower fare.
For my example I looked at a one way flight between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. To make an even comparison I found the lowest fares quoted on Bangkok Airways’ website. I got and idea of what the average low fare was for the time (July 2016) and then looked at Air Asia flights.
After finding the average Air Asia lowest fare on the same route I then added all of the add-ons that cost extra to make it equal to what you get on Bangkok Airways: 1 20kg checked bag, an in flight meal, and cheapest seat selection.
The result was interesting! The initially quoted fare on Bangkok Airways was 1390 THB + 100 THB airport tax. The initially quoted fare on Air Asia was 590 THB. That is more than double the difference!
Enter Air Asia add-on fees: 1 20kg checked bag was 330THB. Meal was 90 THB. Cheapest seat selection was 70THB. That adds up!
In the end Air Asia did end up being cheaper: 1080 THB total versus Bangkok Airways 1490 THB total. The Bangkok Airways flight costs 27.5% more for the same amenities. That is a pretty good savings!
Note that 410 THB is not a lot of money in the western world. At the current exchange rate at the time of writing this comes out around $11.55 USD. Although 410 THB in Thailand can get you a fare bit! This equals to around 5 happy hour beers at a bar or a couple of fancier meals at least.
Here are the screen grabs of the two fares I compared for reference: (Bangkok Airways left, Air Asia right)
The results are interesting as we can see that Air Asia can be cheaper but not THAT much cheaper if you utilize all of the services that Bangkok Airways would include with a standard fare.
The math changes a lot if you are traveling without checked luggage. Air Asia is the clear winner since you be able to subtract 330 THB from the total getting you half the total cost. Personally I only travel with carry-on luggage if at all possible as I hate waiting in airports any more than I absolutely have too. There is no discount for zero checked baggage on Bangkok Airways.
It always pays to comparison shop for your own personal situation when you are considering flying on a low cost airline anywhere in the world. Depending on the competition in the market and how much the add-on fees cost you can either save significant money or end up close to even. It pays to do the homework and book what is right for you without being tricked by an initially low fare that goes up quickly with add-on fees.