Here at Wild Frontiers, we love the services that the Cranky Concierge provides – whether you want their assistance in booking your international flights from the get go or just monitoring your flights and providing on-call assistance if things go wrong en route – and since they are such experts on international travel, we asked their Chief Airline Dork/President Brett Snyder to provide a few tips on getting to Southeast Asia from the U.S. mainland.
If you're looking to fly as cheaply as you can so you can save your money to spend while you're on the ground, then the best option will quite often be one of the Chinese airlines - China Eastern, China Southern or Air China. Often you'll find fares for $1,000 per person or even less and that can help you to overlook some of the less appealing things about the experience. The ride in the back will be pretty much like on most airlines, but the food and service may be below what you'd hope to get. Also be wary that connections in China may not be set up ideally, so a long layover is possible. And China can be a tough place to connect in general. But if price matters most, then this is often the way to go.
If you're more interested in the easiest, most direct option, an airline like Singapore or Cathay Pacific can fit the bill. Singapore and Hong Kong airports are incredibly easy for connections, and they have frequent flights to a variety of spots around Southeast Asia. The service onboard is also generally very good.
There aren't always good connections into smaller cities in Southeast Asia from north Asian hubs, but if you're going somewhere where it's an option, flying through Tokyo or Seoul can be a great way to go. Both American and Japan Airlines along with United and ANA can connect you via Tokyo. Delta and Korean will connect you via Seoul.
If you're flying in premium economy, your options are much more limited. Fortunately, more airlines have started rolling out premium economy options, at least for the Transpacific flight, and the price can be somewhere in between coach and business.
Again if you're looking at price, China Southern can often have extremely cheap deals in premium economy. Take this if you need a little more space than coach with upgraded service, but don't expect much more.
American and United have brand new premium economy options which are getting great reviews, so connecting via Tokyo can provide a good opportunity to try those out. Delta has it as well, but its partner Korean does not, so you would likely be in coach beyond Seoul.
Cathay Pacific and Singapore have very good premium economy offerings. Singapore, in particular, has this as the lowest class available on its new nonstops from LA and some of its flights from San Francisco. If you're traveling alone, Singapore has a few single seat options at the back of premium economy on those airplanes, which can't be beat.
One of the earliest premium economy providers was EVA out of Taiwan. They and China Airlines can sometimes offer good options, depending upon your final destination.
If you're looking to fly up front in a flat bed, then the Chinese airlines can again be the cheapest option. China Southern and China Eastern both have excellent business class seats onboard. If that's all you care about, then this is worth considering. Service and food may not be up to levels you'll find elsewhere, so keep that in mind.
If you're traveling in pairs and don't want individual suites, then United and Korean are both great options. Not all flights have paired seats and they are slowly being replaced. But we can find options for you that will allow it. United's newest seats are a big step up in comfort, even if they don't allow you to sit right next to each other as easily.
Cathay Pacific and Singapore are always excellent options in the front cabin as well.
If you're looking for a true First Class experience, then Cathay Pacific, Singapore, ANA, Japan Airlines and Korean Airlines all still offer a true First Class product, above and beyond Business.
If you're traveling from the east coast, these are all options worth considering, but you also have the benefit of being able to connect via Turkey or the Gulf. Turkish, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar all have fantastic coach and business class offerings. It doesn't take much longer to go east than west from the east coast, so it's great to consider. While Emirates is rolling out premium economy soon, it's not there yet. So this won't be an option for those looking to take advantage of that.
By Brett Snyder, President & Chief Airline Dork for the Cranky Concierge