Low-cost carriers in the Philippines make it possible for more Filipinos to explore different parts of the world without spending a fortune. They also attract more foreigners to visit the famous tourist destinations in the country.
Two of the Philippines’s biggest airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and Philippines AirAsia, take credit for that. They offer significantly cheaper flights than full-service airlines, with several trade-offs when it comes to cabin legroom and customer service.
Cebu Pacific, informally called Cebu Pac, started its operations in March 1996 and is now the largest air carrier in the Philippines in terms of the number of passengers carried. It’s also the first to offer low airfare in the country. The Filipino-owned airline is controlled by JG Summit Holdings of the Gokongwei family.
Philippines AirAsia, founded in March 2012, is a local subsidiary of AirAsia Group Berhad that owns 40% of the airline. Filipino investors own the company’s remaining 60% stake. According to AirAsia Group CEO and founder Tony Fernandes, the budget airline based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia entered the Philippines to help develop the market and create new jobs.
This Battle of the Brands edition compares these two leading budget airlines in the Philippines based on customer reviews shared online and available data from reputable institutions.
Between Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia, which is safer, more reliable, cheaper, and better to fly on? Keep reading to find out.
Table of Contents
- Flight Routes/Destinations
- Baggage Policy
- Seat Comfort
- Price/Value for Money
- Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia: Final Thoughts
Apart from the cost, the most important consideration for any traveler is the destination that an airline flies to. After all, what good is an airline’s discounted airfare if it doesn’t have any flight to where you’re going?
Currently, Cebu Pacific flies to 37 Philippine destinations and 73 international destinations in 23 countries in Asia, the U.S., the Middle East, and Australia.
Philippines AirAsia has flights to 11 destinations in the Philippines and 19 overseas destinations in 11 countries. While such numbers don’t seem to measure up against Cebu Pac’s, AirAsia offers flights to more international destinations via its subsidiaries in various parts of the world. All in all, customers can fly via AirAsia to 182 destinations in 25 countries in Asia, Oceania, and North America.
The better airline for you in terms of flight routes is the one that flies to your intended destination at your preferred schedule.
Safety is another crucial aspect when choosing the airline to fly with. Airlines in the Philippines—including Cebu Pacific and AirAsia—are generally safe. Incidents rarely happen, but when they do, they can cause so much hassle to passengers.
Both the two low-cost carriers got the highest 7-star safety rating from AirlineRatings.com, a leading airline safety and product rating review site.
Additionally, here’s how Cebu Pacific and AirAsia fare in terms of different airline safety metrics:
- International Air Transport Association Operation Safety Audit (IOSA) – Both airlines have passed the safety audit and are IOSA-certified.
- European Union (EU) allowed or banned – Cebu Pacific and AirAsia are not included in the EU Blacklist, which means there’s no safety concern raised against them.
- Fatality-free record – Both airlines have maintained zero record in terms of deaths due to airline accidents in the past 10 years (Cebu Pacific’s last recorded fatality happened more than 20 years ago when Flight 387 crashed in Mount Sumagaya in Misamis Oriental, killing 104 people on board).
- Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) endorsement – Cebu Pacific and AirAsia are allowed to fly to the United States because they meet international standards on aircraft operations and maintenance.
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) country audit – Each airline’s country of origin meets ICAO safety parameters. AirAsia scores 5/8, while Cebu Pacific gets 6/8.
For the longest time, reliability is not the strong suit of Cebu Pacific and AirAsia, which are both infamous for flight delays and cancellations. Don’t expect on-time departures and arrivals all the time when you fly with either of these budget airlines.
These issues continue to disappoint travelers, as they lead to wasted time, missed connecting flights or important commitments, as well as additional expenses for meals and hotel accommodations (which customers sometimes pay on their own).
To be fair, some flight delays are caused by either bad weather or air traffic congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which is beyond the airlines’ control and thus not their fault.
However, delayed and canceled flights are often a result of an airline’s operational issues, like technical difficulties and a shortage of planes and/or crews.
On-Time Performance: Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia
On-time performance (OTP) is the percentage of departures and arrivals of a flight that occur in under 15 minutes from the scheduled departure and arrival times. It’s a metric that measures how punctual an airline is. A high OTP means an airline had fewer flight delays in a particular period.
Data from the Official Aviation Guide (OAG), the biggest network of air travel data in the world, shows Philippines AirAsia having a slim lead over Cebu Pacific in terms of annual OTP. From June 2018 to May 2019, AirAsia had an OTP of 63.1%, while Cebu Pac had 56%. This means in every 10 Cebu Pacific or AirAsia flights, five to six of them departed and arrived on time, while four to five were late.
Both low-cost airlines in the Philippines have a low 1-star rating from the OAG.
Recently, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) noted some improvements on the OTP of Cebu Pacific. From less than 60% in June 2019, Cebu Pac’s OTP increased to 77% in the first week of the following month. This happened in just two weeks after the budget airline signed a Pledge of Commitment, along with other airlines in the country such as AirAsia and Philippine Airlines (PAL), to support efforts to decongest NAIA and improve passenger convenience.
AirAsia saw some recent improvements, too. Its average OTP was 63% in May, 69% in June, and 80% in July 2019.
Actual Customer Experiences on Flight Delays and Cancellations
Despite what the numbers say, a delayed flight is still a delay no matter when it happens and who experiences it.
Based on customer feedback posted online, AirAsia flight delays last for two to four hours, sometimes clocking in eight hours or more. Cebu Pacific customers experience delays for an hour or two, sometimes extending to four to six hours.
Customers of both airlines also complain about not being informed about the reasons for a particular delay.
Frequent flight cancellations are also a perennial issue among low-cost carriers in the Philippines. The longest and most notable series of cancellations happened in the last week of April to the first week of May 2019. During that time, Cebu Pacific had been canceling around 10 flights per day due to operational issues, much to the dismay of thousands of affected passengers.
Tips on avoiding flight delays:
- If arriving on time is very important to you (and you don’t mind paying extra), choose premium airlines instead, which have a better reputation for reliability than their low-cost counterparts.
- Do you live in the northern part of Metro Manila or Luzon? Book a flight from Clark International Airport instead of the congested NAIA. Both Cebu Pacific and AirAsia fly to and from Clark Airport.
Winner: None. Both airlines still need to minimize flight delays and cancellations.
The baggage policies of the budget airlines are worth comparing as well, as they can spell the difference between a smooth, hassle-free and an inconvenient, troublesome check-in experience and at the airport.
Free Baggage Allowance Policy
A disadvantage of flying with budget airlines is that passengers pay a fee for exceeding the free baggage allowance, which is far from generous.
The free baggage allowance is only 7 kilograms for both Cebu Pacific and AirAsia. But if you read the fine print carefully, there’s a slight difference between the two.
Cebu Pacific’s 7-kg limit refers to the carry-on baggage only. It allows an additional small bag (handbag, laptop bag, or any bag that can fit under the seat) inside the cabin.
AirAsia also allows two pieces of baggage inside the cabin: a carry-on suitcase and a small bag. But unlike Cebu Pac, AirAsia requires that both pieces of baggage weigh 7kg or less. Otherwise, you’ll have to check in your baggage and pay the corresponding fee.
Check-in Baggage Policy
The cost of purchasing a checked baggage allowance varies depending on the flight route. The farther the destination, the more expensive it is. To compare the baggage fees of Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia for your specific route, visit the Fees and Charges page of their respective website (Click here for Cebu Pac and here for AirAsia).
AirAsia provides more options for check-in baggage allowances: 15kg (domestic flights only), 20kg, 25kg, 30kg, and 40kg. Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific offers only three available check-in baggage allowances: 20kg, 32kg, and 40kg.
The differences may be small, but these can make a big difference when you buy checked baggage allowance for your luggage. If it weighs 25kg, you’ll have to purchase the pricier 32kg allowance of Cebu Pac.
Another compromise passengers of Cebu Pac and AirAsia have to deal with is the limited legroom in the cabin. While it isn’t a big deal for many passengers, the bigger and taller ones may find the cabin space too cramped and uncomfortable. You can’t even recline the seat without hitting the knees of the passenger behind you.
A workaround is to book a seat in the emergency exit row that has bigger legroom, but you’ll have to pay a seat selection fee to get that seat.
Price/Value for Money
Which Airline Has Cheaper Prices: Cebu Pacific or AirAsia?
It’s hard to make an outright apples-to-apples comparison between the two budget airlines, as their ticket prices are influenced by many factors such as the flight route, date, online booking fee, and any ongoing seat sale.
The only time you can make an accurate comparison of the prices is when you already have a destination and flight schedule in mind. But then again, it really depends on which airline happens to have a promo for your travel date and destination at the time of your booking.
Read more: 7 Secrets to Finding the Cheapest Flight
Watch Out For Hidden Fees When Booking Flights Online
An airline offering a cheaper fare for the same flight doesn’t mean it will cost you less in the end.
When comparing Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia airfare online, keep an eye out for hidden fees that add to the cost of a flight. For example, AirAsia charges a processing fee of PHP 400 for credit/debit card payments or PHP 200 for payments made through online banking or one of its over-the-counter payment partners. Cebu Pacific’s ticket prices are all-in, meaning it doesn’t charge a processing or online booking fee separately.
Both airlines also add a seat assignment by default when you book a flight on their website, automatically charging a seat selection fee. If you opt out of that, you’d notice that the total price is lower.
Ordering in-flight meals and having extra baggage also incur an additional cost. Take them into account when comparing the airfare costs of the two airlines.
Which Airline Has the Better Loyalty Program?
Frequent travelers who book flights with a certain airline can get more value for their money by taking advantage of that airline’s loyalty program.
Cebu Pacific has GetGo, while AirAsia has AirAsia BIG for its loyal customers. Both loyalty programs allow members to conveniently earn and redeem points they can use to get free or discounted flights.
Both airlines have their own branded credit cards that offers more rewards when used. AirAsia credit card offers priority check-in, boarding and Xpress baggage, as well as 8,000 big points for a minimum spend of Php 20,000. Cebu Pacific Getgo offers exclusive seat sales and other perks.
Check out this article for a detailed comparison review of the frequent flyer programs of Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia.
- Best Credit Cards to Earn AirAsia BIG Points
- Best Credit Cards for Cebu Pacific GetGo Points and PAL Mabuhay Miles
Cebu Pacific vs AirAsia: Final Thoughts
Flying with a budget carrier like Cebu Pacific or AirAsia has its pros and cons. The better airline for you will depend not just on the price. You must also consider other factors that matter to you the most. It could be safety or the ability to depart and arrive on time.
Of course, there are alternatives you can try, like Jetstar Asia, Scoot, and other lesser-known budget airlines with flights to and from the Philippines.
If low-cost airlines don’t appeal to you, perhaps full-service airlines like PAL suit your needs better as a traveler.
Venus is the Head of Editorial Content at Moneymax, with 15+ years of experience in digital marketing, corporate communications, PR, and journalism. She invests in stocks, mutual funds, VUL, and Pag-IBIG MP2. Outside of work, she’s crazy about cats and Korean dramas. Follow Venus on LinkedIn.