Asian Getaways Just Got Cheaper

Airlines slash fares and throw in hotel bargains

Right before a holiday weekend in early October, John Bicknell, a Hong Kong policeman, decided at the last minute to go out of town with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. Nothing too exotic, please, just a bit of pampering. The travel agent came up with a $1,790 package to Bangkok for three that included business-class airfare, four nights at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel, daily buffet, and a half-day tour. The usual price just for three economy-class tickets: $1,550.

If you've been dreaming about a getaway to Bangkok or Penang, now may be the time to go for it. Asia's ailing airlines are offering prices--often with hotel packages--that are hard to beat. You get the best bargains through local travel agents. Restrictions such as length of stay apply, and costs vary by city, but price slashing is happening all over the region.

Thai Airways International offers some of the best deals. It has a two-for-one rate in business and economy class from Hong Kong to such cities as Bangkok, Phuket, Seoul, or Taipei. Fares range from $490 to $620 for economy seats. Malaysian Airline System also targets couples. Airfare from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur or Penang, including a four-night stay with breakfast at a three-star hotel, is $380 a person, if two go. For $408, travelers can upgrade to a ritzier hotel, such as the beachside Shangri-La Gold Sands in Penang. The usual round-trip airfare for one is $450.

BALI LOW. Cathay Pacific is also active in the promotion wars with its Best Values discount to six Asian cities that are about 10% to 15% cheaper than the airline's regular travel packages. Round-trip airfare from Hong Kong to Bali is $480, including three nights at the three-star Raddin Sanur Hotel, or $640 at the elegant Sheraton Laguna Nusa Dua. Most packages include breakfast, travel insurance with medical, personal, and lost-luggage coverage, and transportation to the hotel.

Deals abound for flights from Asia to the U.S. Malaysian Airlines is offering up to a 45% discount to travelers in Taiwan. And ads in Taipei by Canadian Airlines plug flights to New York or Boston for $667, through Jan. 31.

Tokyo travel agents are also offering round-trip, economy tickets on Northwest or United Airlines from Tokyo to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore for $282 to $350. The Tokyo-based discount agent HIS offers three-night packages to Hong Kong, including accommodations at economy-class hotels, for $342 and a two-nighter in Seoul for $237.

If you don't need a hotel, you can still find fare bargains. Korean Air, which has seen a 57% drop in traffic to Southeast Asian destinations, has cut prices from Seoul to Hong Kong and Bangkok by 30%. Other bargains are available on British Airways, which has a $179 round-trip fare from Taipei to Hong Kong, down from $267. If you're going from Hong Kong to Taipei on a one-week trip, it's even better: just $98 round-trip vs. the usual $348. Emirates Airlines is offering a round-trip flight from Hong Kong to Manila for $168 instead of the typical $365.

SUITE DEAL. Singapore Airlines has cut prices less aggressively than others. But even Singapore isn't immune. One package, from Tokyo, includes round-trip airfare and three nights at an economy-class hotel, for just $442.

The carrier also is encouraging regional and transcontinental travelers to use its routes by offering a stopover in Singapore for $32, which includes one night's hotel stay and discounted meals and tours. Not bad, so long as you've got dollars to spend.

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