Air Travel to the Philippines

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.



  1. frequent flyer memberships are contract between passenger and airlines. if you will give your ff number to travel agent, they should be able to enter in the record when you purchase your ticket. but not all messages from the travel agent “stick” on the record so always follow up with phone call on your reservation (i still reconfirm every flight at least 24 hours in advance) and give your contact info (phone number) seat request and frequent flyer number. then at check in, always present your frequent flyer card. this is standard procedure for passengers.

    yup, i think free business class is better than hotel/bump as most business class is now more than $3,000 round trip.

    i think you will eventually have a problem with every airline and if you vow never to fly that airline again, you have burned every bridge and there are no more airlines. life is too short, dont let the airline “own” you.

    my wierdest experience is on a flight to manila…you know how lots of elderly fil-am want to go back to philippines to die?….well, she expired on the plane next to me. they just ask us to move and they laid her across the seats and covered her with a blanket. i guess everyone know what happened.
    also was on a flight where baby was born (they dont like that tho). btw, its good luck to have baby born in your jeepney, house, hotel, resort, boat etc in the philippines.

    true, some carriers have promo with 70 pound boxes, but that is a promo only.

    PAL stops in guam or hawaii from lax and sfo on the outbound most of the time now cause of load and headwinds, but on return always a nonstop. true, you cannot get off plane now, they did before, but could not locate some passengers and had to wait a long time to get them back on board.

    oh, forgot, hawaiian airlines now flies to manila
    low fares also. i think sfo and lax are departure hubs. they do allow stopover in hnl also.

    btw, if you really need tickets during december, try to purchase 6 months in advance as that is when seats open up and you can get the lowest fares then. also for sinulog, start early as those seats go fast also.

    the flight is only means to an end…its what’s at the other end that counts.

  2. Ya… I agree with LOTS you say. In my 20 years I went back and forth to the USA 36 times. At first i did not know I would be making so many trips so I always went for the cheapo fares, left on a Tuesday or Friday, never bought on line as I wanted an open return and consolidators are almost always cheaper, booked at least 4 weeks in advance, and flew mostly Oct. or late Jan to April.

    I often leave from SFO and PAL reserves the option to change your flight to go through Hawaii, NEVER DO this. They do not let you off the plane during refueling, this makes the flight one way 19 hours, you think 15 is bad, try 19!

    I agree that if you are not going to Manila, and of course you will have tones of junk (pasalubong), FLY PAL. But after I had flown PAL 6 times I got my first FREE flight (miles) and was sold… Until they changed so that miles expire on my flight #4 and each time was about to get that free flight I found that my use or lose miles were… lost. Pissed me right off. To make it worse, I left one time after losing my Mabuhay card, so I just applied for a new one to get credit for the miles, but you think after I was able to access my old account they would consolidate the miles????? Not on your life.

    Further, there is a time limit to file for your miles, now lets face it if they wanted to give you your miles it would be a simple thing… AUTOMATIC EVEN… but no you have to remember several key numbers, or no miles award. I was TOTALLY CHEATED out of more miles than I ever used. And because of that I refuse to fly PAL, no matter the fare, no matter the connection, I hope I put the bastards out of business.

    I would NEVER fly Korean air again as they waste you time with that lay over in Seoul. And the last time I went there (1998?) There was a single restaurant in the whole airport and soup was $9. So what if the flight is $35 cheaper.

    For a while I had this crazy idea that I would attract disabled guys to live in the Philippines as there SSI went so much farther. They agreed to stay 4 months and I prepaid their ticket. I concentrated on mentally disabled people. You would be surprised to see how easy it is to find a woman to look after them… completely (Mike complained to me that he had not been laid in 8 years and found a filipina in just 1 week). I digress.. but one of these guys…

    I had a friend (manic depressive) who flew Korean, if you have been there you will know that there is no public address system in the airport (one for Ripley’s) but instead they use electric megaphones, so he is at the gate that is on his boarding pass waiting, this lady comes up and at a distance of 6 feet from him, shouts an announcement in what he thinks is a foreign language. In truth the announcement was in English saying that the gate had changed. He claims some people got up but not all, he just sat there waiting for the plane, which never arrived.

    At 9 PM he was instructed that it was impossible for him to shelter in the airport as it was now closed. They sent him outside, he had no money, He is disabled living on $450 a month, I bought his ticket. So he stood in an industrial doorway all night after it snowed 6″. He was wearing sandals and shorts. He arrived in Manila with frostbite on one of his little toes, the next day. Take my word for it, the doctor in Dipolog never saw a case of frostbite ever before.

    Never had a good flight with China Air, for the longest time they were the low cost leader, but every time (3) I was, some stewardess actually PUSHED me after my not responding to their DEMAND fast enough in one situation or the other. I understand this is status qua in China, but where I come from you just do not put your hands on people no matter how nervous you are. One of the 3 I was lying down across 4 seats that were empty, the stewardess had some problem with this but I have done it one virtually every other airline without problems.

    I flew a lot on EVA. Food is good. The transfer in Taiwan is efficient and without too much Check, recheck, check again… bull. Ticket prices are low. Baggage allowance is 70 and 70, I think the only one still there. Lots of free movies. I always volunteer to be bumped, and after they asked for volunteers I was set aside waiting in first class lounge, to be bumped one day, get $500, and a free hotel room, they said I had a seat after all in business class. Not sure how much more business class is, but it is a valuable perk.

    The most important thing to remember when going to the PI is that the flight over is the smallest problem you will encounter, and the airlines will treat you as a cog in some great machine, but Filipinos never will.

    1. I enjoyed reading your exploits of travel, some very funny. I have traveled around the world many times and you always have a story.

      I live In Minneapolis right now, and have to say air fare is not cheap to phillipines. Was going to go at Christmas to see my new girlfriend but not for $3000 or $4000 for cattle class. I am looking now at March and the costs now are about $1150 tax included. I found the cheapest rate is on line with I am moving there sometime late next year after I get rid of my house that feel below the mortgage amount. Seems to be a normal thing now. Take care and let me know if you fly beside another person who permanetly retires on the plane.

      Best Regards;
      Foster Seitz

      1. Go look for one of the Asian Travel Agencies they can often find promos that are far less. We once found a ticket for $427 when the going rate was $1,200. And a second time for $935 when the going rate was $1,600. Asian and Vietnamese Travel agencies are very friendly and at least some English is spoken. Give that a try see if you can’t do better.

Leave a Reply