When Paying Cash Makes Sense: Deciding Between AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines

by Enoch

I am in the process of putting together an extended trip that will take me from Europe to South Asia, Middle East, and back to the US. I’ve pretty much finalized all of my flights, except for one. Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur. 

For the most part, I am using miles and points for the trip; this is the one connection that I couldn’t really build into the rest of my itinerary. Only two airlines offer a direct flight between Phuket (HKT) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL): AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines. This is only a 1.5-hour flight, which is almost comical because I had no problem deciding between routing options on trans-atlantic and trans-pacific flights. Yet for some reasons, I am struggling to decide between these two. I thoroughly recognize how much of a “non-problem” this really is, in the grand scheme of things, but it makes for an interesting exercise…on a super small scale.


I’ve flown and reviewed AirAsia before, and I actually found them to be pretty nice in many regards. I had a “Premium Flex” package that included seat selection, priority boarding, and a free meal. However, I am not sure the package is worth it for this flight, since I will be paying 150% more just for those perks.

AirAsia "Premium Flex" Package

AirAsia “Premium Flex” Package

With just the bare fare and the cost of checked luggage, the total with AirAsia comes to ~$50.62, and AirAsia further charges ~$2.50 for using a credit card at checkout.

AirAsia Total Fare

AirAsia Total Fare

AirAsia actually has its own Loyalty Program, called AirAsia BIG. With their earning rates of 1 point per ~US$0.50, I will earn at most 100 BIG points from this one flight. That is basically negligible, considering I don’t live in the region, and the shortest flight requires 4,500 BIG points.

AirAsia BIG Program Redemption

AirAsia BIG Program Redemption

Regarding the experience itself, I was really happy with AirAsia, and don’t really have a problem flying with them again. Of course, they are still a low-cost carrier, and I worry whether they would be as accommodating with irregular operations.

AirAsia HOT Seats

AirAsia HOT Seats

Malaysia Airlines

To my surprise, Malaysia Airlines actually offers a pretty competitive fare on the route.

Malaysia Airlines Fare

They charge extra for seat selection, but with a base price of ~$59.53, I already get a free meal and 30 kg of checked baggage (up to 2 bags).

I looked into whether I should use miles for the flight, and British Airways actually imposes fuel surcharges that are higher than I could book the ticket myself. For example, I could redeem 4,500 Avios and pay $68 for an Economy seat on the same exact flight.

British Airways fuel surcharge

A seat in Business Class costs about double that. Of course I would enjoy the comfort of Business Class, and miles and points enable me to do so cheaply, at least compared to cash fares. But after all, miles and points aren’t exactly free, and I am not sure this is the best way to use 9,000 Avios.

british airways business class redemption

So what about just paying cash for Malaysia? They are a part of OneWorld, and since I’m Executive Platinum with American Airlines, I’d get perks like lounge access and priority boarding. I also imagine that with any irregular operations, with my status I would probably be in better hands with Malaysia.

But in Phuket, Malaysia Airlines actually use a lounge that is also accessible with Priority Pass, which I have with 3 of my credit cards. Furthermore, the Malaysia Airlines flight books into “O” fare class, so I won’t actually earn any miles with American anyway.

american airlines earning malaysia airlines

No miles to be earned with American on this Malaysia Flight

There is also the safety history of Malaysia Airlines, but frankly that doesn’t bother me. Some might even argue that the incidents weren’t the airline’s fault, and regardless I would consider them perfectly safe to fly.

Is the meal on the flight, priority check-in/boarding, and potentially better IRROPs handling worth the extra $7?


Ultimately, this is only a $7 decision, and in the grand scheme of things, I will probably be fine going with either. Heck, US airlines charge that much for a crappy sandwich onboard. But I think it’s precisely because they are so close that I’m having trouble deciding. If anything, I am leaning towards Malaysia Airlines only because I have never flown with them, and I could check another airline off my list.

Any options I’m not seeing?

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WR September 14, 2016 - 8:20 am

You could credit the miles to Malaysia Airlines at a 25% rate. Not sure that is even worth $7 though. I guess I would go with whichever flight time is more convenient.

Tiara September 14, 2016 - 8:31 am

The $7.00 price different is so marginal. And based on the arrival time, I’d choose Malaysia Airlines which gets you into the KUL at reasonable time (7:30 PM) compare to Air Asia (11:05 PM).

Rob September 14, 2016 - 9:56 am

It’s too bad that QR cancelled their flight between HKT and KUL. It was fun to be on a 330 with about 10 passengers!

Rick September 14, 2016 - 10:28 am

Be wary of AirAsia. I had perfectly fine experiences with them until they cancelled our last flight. Even though they offered us a refund, it took over a year of scores of emails and tweets before they finally issued the refund. And of course we had to scramble to find a replacement flight.

And this is not unusual. Do a Google search. Or check their Facebook page, where scores of livid people seethe over the same treatment. I noticed that many are people living in Australia.

AirAsia is fine… until they’re not.

I would take the Malaysia Airlines flight if it were me.

Inglis September 14, 2016 - 7:30 pm

I agree go with Malaysia Airlines because of better arrival time. Don’t expect a drink, stupid new rule says no alcohol on flights less than 3 hrs.


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