Comparing budget flights with Nok Air and Air Asia

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Sometimes I’ve been guilty of falling in love with a product and/or service to the point where it blinds me from trying something else. When it comes to flying around select destinations in Asia, I’ve been a huge fan of Air Asia for years. Almost exclusively I’ve flown with Air Asia – on both long and short haul flights – whenever I haven’t taken more local forms of transportation such as trains or buses. As a traveller that seeks value over comfort, I’ve come to appreciate being able to take flights (when booked well in advance) that costs a mere fraction compared with major airlines. In certain cases, I’ve found flights with Air Asia that were far cheaper than taking either the bus or train!

Recently, I was forced to look at flights with another carrier when the route I was looking for, a flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Penang, Malaysia, was fully booked. With an impending Visa run just mere days away, I had yet to book a flight out of Thailand. I had heard about Nok Air, from several friends who had flown with them before; although, they had mentioned positive things about their experiences flying with Nok Air, I had yet to really consider them for my own personal connections.

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Scrambling last minute, I was initially disappointed when I noticed they also didn’t have any available flights from Chiang Mai to Penang. Randomly, I started thinking of destinations in the southern part of Thailand that were close to the Malaysian border; Hat Yai and Krabi immediately came to mind. When I discovered that a flight from Chiang Mai to Hat Yai, on a promo fare, would cost less than half of the price of a train ticket I immediately pounced. Not knowing what to expect, concerns about safety, service and reliability from this ‘new’ airline crept into my mind as time grew closer to my departure.

Now that I’m writing this post from Phuket, Thailand, having just completed my Visa run to Penang, Malaysia, I’ve only got overwhelming positive things to say about Nok Air. When compared to flights I’ve taken in the past with Air Asia, three things really stand out:


Free wifi in the airport? For those accustomed to flying out of the highest rated airports in the world, such as Changi International Airport in Sinagore or Incheon International Aiport in Korea, free wifi has been in play for years; however, for those in North America – or flying with budget airlines – waiting for delayed flights can be excruciatingly painful without a wifi connection. What I loved about Nok Air, is that they had free wifi for customers waiting to board their flights. To connect, it didn’t require any fancy password or login id; I just simply had to enter my boarding number and within seconds I was surfing online.


Another huge bonus was that I didn’t have to pay extra online (or at the check in counter) for luggage. Because our bag was under 15 kg it was free to have it checked. When booking flights with Air Asia, I always find it a bit misleading when I have the fare etched out in my mind and then suddenly the extras (such as luggage) tack on a significant amount more.

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Now the real kicker was having a surprise snack and beverage on board Nok Air! I’m used to having to purchase overpriced tiny portion meals from Air Asia; and in the rare case that I actually do decide I’m hungry enough to fork over money for something to eat, I end up paying more money out of pocket. Although the snack on Nok Air was merely nothing more than a couple of coconut pastries filled with raisins along with a water, I felt as though I was a valued customer.


Overall, I was so thoroughly impressed with the service of Nok Air, not to mention the silky smooth flights, that I’m going to consider them AHEAD of Air Asia on routes in and around Thailand and nearby borders. Although, I’ll likely price compare with Air Asia, and ultimately select the best value flight, if it is anywhere close to a tie I’m going with Nok Air hands down. I’ve found that it’s the little things, such as free wifi and a small snack, that can make the world of a difference when flying from point A to B. Moreover, I realize budget airlines often come with reduced service, or as they say in the industry ‘with no frills’; however, I think that there is a difference between being frugal (or value conscious) with your service versus being flat out stingy. I feel that Nok Air scores much higher in this area than Air Asia and it has consequently won me over as a customer.

Have you ever flown with Nok Air or Air Asia? What was your experience like?

How about your experiences flying with different airlines? Have you been as ridiculously stubborn and loyal as I’ve been in the past? What sort of things do you value when flying?

Let me know in the comments! :)


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan Wilson July 7, 2013 at 1:51 am

Do skyscanner include Nok? On internal flights I’ve had a few Nok but recently in the Southeast Asia region I’ve been on Tiger and SEAir flights. They tend to be cheaper than AirAsia for areas like Singapore and Philippines. In fact Airasia tend to **** right me off these days. Booked flights last night and they now try and push every ‘frill’ on you from the start. A whole lot of time wasted unchecking baggage, insurance, assigned seats etc… Surprised Nasi Lemak isn’t forced on you. Again Tiger and SEAir still leave from Suvarnabhumi. Free wifi everywhere and easier to locate than Don Mueang. While I would normally promote the local Thai Airasia and Nok…. they have become too complacent in the market.


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I’m going to try using Tiger and SEAir. I’m not thrilled with Air Asia these days. Leaving from Suvarnabhumi is a big advantage IMO.


Talon July 7, 2013 at 3:44 am

I was wondering about Nok the last time we were in Thailand. The free WiFi is what caught my eye initially. Glad to know they seem like a good airline.


Samuel Jeffery July 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Hey Talon,

I was really pleasantly surprised! I honestly think if all things are equal (in terms of price) I’d go with Nok Air hands down.


Amber July 7, 2013 at 5:30 am

I want to fly them because of their livery – I would love to fly a duck plane. I was aware of the free wifi, as it popped up on my computer as an option while I was waiting for an Air Asia flight in Bangkok. I was not aware of luggage, which makes it a viable option. I will definitely research them more in the future. Thanks for this info!


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm

You’re welcome Amber! I’m going to try out more budget airlines in SE Asia. I think I’ve been missing out having almost flown exclusively with Air Asia over the years.


Helen July 7, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I agree with Amber, I’d fly with them just for the funky looking planes. And the pastries.

Will definitely look them up for next time I’m in Asia!


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Thanks Helen! I kept looking out the window thinking my former students in Korea would love this plane; it looks just like an angry bird.


Helen July 18, 2013 at 8:36 am

Ha ha, it so does!


Nicole July 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Well, it looks like the bird is the word.

We are fairly loyal to delta airlines. When we took the a budget airline on easy jet, we loved it. So inexpensive and expedient. Can’t beat that. :)


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Thanks Nicole! It’s great to save money on flights so that you can spend it on food/activities :)


Miruna July 8, 2013 at 4:19 am

Your posts are always interesting and useful, Sam, and I would like to thank you and Audrey for sharing with us your adventures and experiences. Regarding the question at the bottom of the article, the only think I value when I’m flying is my life.


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Miruna!

That’s a very important thing to value. I’ve avoided certain airlines because of their shady safety standards/records. It’s not worth saving a few dollars in certain situations.


robin July 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I admit, I am ridiculously loyal to Delta and their Skyteam, but only when flying to a large city. When it comes to hopping around Europe (as I’ve never flown around Asia), I go for whomever is cheapest and seems safest. I’ll definitely look into Nok Air when I’m finally making the leap in Asia.


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Robin!

Definitely check out Nok Air and possibly other budget carriers in SE Asia. I’ve been too loyal to Air Asia and I’m now exploring my options when flying in the region.


noel July 10, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I’ve never heard of Nok Air, those are great perks which AirAsia nickel and dimes you with each add-on service or upgrade (I hate that) will have to try it next time I’m in the area that services my needs.


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Indeed Noel, I’ve become a bit jaded with Air Asia. Over the years they’ve certainly found different ways to ding you with added expenses along the way.


Sista Voyage July 12, 2013 at 3:17 am

Sorry Sam, didn’t read the post because I was just amazed at how fly the planes looked. Get it? Fly??!!

*drops mic and walks off stage*


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Hahaha, that’s a good one 😉

All planes should be required to be as cute/slick as Nok Air.


Peris July 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm

the nok air’s bird livery that caught my attention when flying from Bangkok to Hatyai a few months back but at that time already booked AirAsia… i’m totally agreed that a few simple treatment can make us feel appreciated as a customer.. Will try Nok Air next time.good review ..


Samuel Jeffery July 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Thanks Peris,

Definitely give them a try! I’m now a fan :)


english courses chicago July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Design of Nok Air planes are so funny ! ^^


Samuel Jeffery July 18, 2013 at 12:42 am

It is rather clever 😉


english courses chicago July 18, 2013 at 8:51 am

Of course !


Julio Moreno July 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Great to know. I hadn’t even heard of this airline.
Have you thought of searching on wikipedia.
For example “Airlines in Malaysia,” and then checking in their websites directly? I’ve gotten great results that way with those airlines that have like 2-5 airplanes.
I am definitely going to write this one down.
BTW how much was it?


Peter Lee September 3, 2013 at 9:49 am

I have never heard of this air line. Moreover, the outlook is something different and cool. I am liking it.


Peter February 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Just flew Nok Air from Udon to Chiang Mai on one of their Saab 340’s. My Girlfriend couldn’t get over how cute she thought the planes blue livery was. Very impressed for a low cost airline. Staff were great, free wifi and snack and the plane even left 10 mins early…. Was rapt with the service and wouldn’t hesitate too fly them again.


Samuel Jeffery February 22, 2014 at 1:35 am

Great to hear about your experience Peter :) I would definitely fly with them again as well :)


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