Posted on : 05-06-2011 | By : Michael Harman | In : Life in the Philippines, Retirement
I’ve been selling discount airline tickets to the Philippines for over 20 years now and would like to share some insights with you regarding air travel to the Philippines. My experience is only from the U.S. so anyone with experience from other countries are welcome to share.
I almost always travel on Philippine Airlines economy class from LAX to Manila and use my PAL frequent flyer miles for a free business class ticket for Manila to Cebu. This allows me to use the Mabuhay Lounge (business class lounge) in Manila and Cebu with free food, drinks etc. Flight from Manila to LAX is always non stop (same as SFO) and no other airline offers that. From LAX or SFO to Manila, there is usually a technical stop for fuel, but only a one hour stop and you don’t need to get off or change planes as other carriers require going thru a hub. About 1/4 of the time, it is a non stop from LAX or SFO to Manila and that makes it the quickest flying time to Manila. You only change planes in Manila at the same Centennial Terminal II. PAL is the only carrier with tru fares to other domestic cities in the Philippines and you only change gates in Manila and no need to change terminals (as it was more than 10 years ago). Luggage can also be checked all the way to Davao also. And with PAL, international limits apply to Philippine domestic destinations, unlike if using a different international carrier and separate Philippine domestic carrier (domestic limits are much less and you will have to pay a over weight fee). By the way, currently you are allowed two checked pieces of luggage at 50 pounds each and one carry-on of 15 pounds.
I realize there are airline loyalties and you can’t mention PAL without someone saying “Plane Always Late”, but PAL’s on time record is not that bad. I usually ask the flight attendant when I first get on the plane “Is it true, P.A.L. stands for…(I pause), Plenty Attractive Ladies?” and then I get excellent service the rest of the flight. One other trick I have learned is to wear a suit when I travel. As a frequent flyer member, you stand a chance to get an upgrade to business class if economy class is overbooked and they don’t want to pay to “bump” passengers and why would they give some stranger an upgrade to business class when they have a well dressed Mabuhay Member that is loyal to them that they can give the upgrade to? I personally have been upgraded to business class about 10% of the time.
I actually never paid for an airline ticket during the 10 years I was giving pen pal tours. PAL gave me a free ticket when I had a certain minimum of passengers on the same flight (started out as 10, then increased to 150. And as a travel agent, I have often received vouchers for a free flight or travel agent discount. I took 3 to 5 groups of American men to Cebu from 1991 to 2001. I currently go to Cebu 2 or 3 times a year. As soon as my two children graduate from college (they are studying here in California) in about 5 years, I plan to stay in Cebu 6 months and California 6 months…or maybe just stay in Cebu.
PAL flies from LAX, SFO, and LAS with thru fares from major cities. Not the cheapest carrier for sure, but promo fares from LAX/SFO AND LAS are very competitive. Las Vegas flight goes via Vancouver and makes it much longer flight than SFO or LAX. Average time from SFO to Manila is less than 16 hours with refueling and can be less than 13 hours. Return trip has the jet stream pushing, so 10 to 11 hours is not unusual. LAX is about 30 minutes longer than SFO as they take the same route to Manila, but LAX flight goes along California coast to south of SFO first (about 30 minutes). PAL flights leave in the evening and arrive in the morning plus 2 days (you cross the international dateline). I like that as I have all day when I get there, then have a good sleep and not tired at all from the flight. Going back to California, it leaves Manila late night and arrives about 2 to 3 hours before you leave (again, the international dateline) and I get back home to Tulare about midnight and ready to sleep.
Delta has now taken over Northwest Airlines and currently has some low fares as it goes via Tokyo, Japan and has lost lots of passengers who fear going via Japan. Delta has good schedules and main hubs from DTW, MSP, ATL, LAX, PDX, SEA etc. Thru fares from all major and regional cities are low priced and good connections also. But all go via Japan and change planes. Flights leave in the morning and arrive at night the following day in Manila, so no immediate connecting flights to Philippine domestic cities. I have flown Delta (and before when it was NW) and its a great airline.
Many people going to Cebu prefer by-passing Manila and there are now several options. Most well known is Cathay Pacific which hubs in Hong Kong. Flights from U.S. originate in KFK, LAX, SFO, SEA and have interline from other major cities. There is only one flight a day from HKG to CEB and some days it does not connect immediately with the international flight and some passengers are forced with long layovers and some have complained that Cathay did not wait for them for their immediate connection and they were put on a PAL flight via Manila which they wanted to avoid. Cathay allows a stop over in Hong Kong and some passengers take advantage of that. Cathay still has some low fares, but now are about the same as PAL.
Latest up and coming airlines that has flights that avoid Manila and going direct to Cebu (direct means one stop or one change of planes) from the U.S. and that is Korean Airlines and Asiana Airlines, both going thru Seoul, Korea. Korean Airlines is now the low priced leader and has flights from Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco non stop to Seoul. Then they have a flight from Seoul to Cebu non stop. Flight gets into Cebu just before midnight, so be aware that it is your first day in the Philippines if you stay only 21 days on tourist passport visa. KE and OZ both have thru fares and interline from all major and medium cities in the U.S. Some flights have long layover in Seoul on one or both ways but they give you a free hotel room or free city tour of Seoul, but you need to confirm this before you leave.
Other carriers that by pass Manila going to Cebu are Singapore Airlines but I think that makes the flight much longer as you go past the Philippines to Singapore before you go to Cebu. But the Silk Air (partner carrier of Singapore Airlines) flight from Singapore goes to Cebu and then Davao, so it is a good option for those who want to bypass Manila to go to Davao.
Last ones I know of are China Airlines and Eva Airlines that hub in Taipei Taiwan and then non stop to Cebu. They were low priced leader before Korean companies started aggressively selling Cebu. Haven’t heard much from them but they have nonstop flight from JFK, SEA, SFO, LAX to TPE. The have thru fares from all major and medium U.S. cities. Flights are similar to PAL, leave west coast at night, arrive MNL or CEB morning plus two days.
Low fares season is when school is on here in the U.S. December is high fares, peak of the peak and June, July and first half of August are high fares season. Rest is either low fares season or shoulder season (between high and low fares season). All carriers have multi level fares (not all seats are sold at same price). Usually the cheaper the fare, the more restrictions…penalties for change/cancellations. Ask before you buy…many fares/tickets are not refundable and must be used within one year and change/penalty fees apply (use it or loose it).
Definitely sign up for frequent flyer miles. PAL’s miles only last for 3 years and expire. Other carriers’ miles never expire. Takes lots of miles to get a free international ticket but not so many for U.S. domestic (use it to get to west coast hub then the flight from there is cheaper from interior U.S. city). Use the miles for upgrade to business class. Many passengers do this on Delta and Cathay. But if you do not fly at least once a year, it may not be worth the effort…but hey, its free to sign up and they email you their promos, so it’s at least worth something.
I sell discount airline ticket part time as most of my time is taken up with our assisted living for the elderly here in California but I will be happy to help you and answer any travel questions you may have. Your comments are welcome and we wish you a great flight. Enjoy my videos.