Traveling to Asia? Snatch Up AirAsia's Asean Pass

In January, my husband and I went on a 12-day whirlwind trip around Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand that seemed to have it all: great food, adventure, sightseeing, exploring various neighborhoods, and fun times with locals. (Oh, and lots of mosquito bites.) The one thing we were missing? The new Asean Pass from AirAsia, which lets you jet around Southeast Asia on a proverbial dime.

The savings we could have snagged are pretty significant: between the two of us, we spent $655 (plus 30,000 United MileagePlus miles) jetting around to the various places on our itinerary once we arrived in Asia. But for $160 USD each, we'd have received 10 credits on our Asean Pass — enabling us to visit way more than three cities. That's about half of the cost… and a lot more value! (See also: 6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards)

But just because we missed out doesn't mean that you have to.

Here's how it works.

140 Routes in 10 Countries

The Asean pass provides an all-in-one passport to travel more than 140 routes between 10 countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam). Depending on the number of credits purchased, pass-holders have between one month (10 credits) and two months (20 credits) to complete all travel. And according to finance blogger Stev Yong, who's done the math, the pass can save you anywhere between 35%-42%.

Certain Routes Are Worth More Credits

If maximum mileage is what you're looking for, you'll probably want to choose a bunch of one-credit routes like Bangkok → Phuket or Kuala Lumpur → Singapore. (Check out a full breakdown of how many credits each route costs.)

AirAsia also provides some cool ideas for suggested itineraries. For instance, the "Islands and Beaches" trail takes you to Bangkok, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Terengganu (in Malaysia), and Lombok (in Indonesia) for a total of 10 credits, while the "Epic Food Trail" itinerary includes Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Penang for just eight credits. (See all the itinerary possibilities.)

Credits Can Only Be Redeemed for Base Fare

The price of the pass doesn't include airport taxes, so that cost will be added onto each flight that you take. (Bright side: you won't have to pay any processing fees.) Also, AirAsia is similar to low-cost American airlines like Spirit and Allegiant in that add-ons like checked baggage, seat assignments, and in-flight meals aren't included. If you know you'll be toting a large backpack or can't function without an aisle seat, be sure to factor those costs in when deciding if the pass is right for you.

Each Route Can Be Redeemed Once and Not All Destinations Connect

The pass is entirely suited to leisure explorers rather than business commuters, since pass-holders can't fly the same route more than once.

Also, it's important to do due diligence ahead of time and make sure that the pass will suit your desired itinerary. Here's how AirAsia suggests devising a master plan: make a list with two columns — the first for must-visit cities, the second for lower-priority (but still desirable) destinations that you're open to visiting. Next, mark your first-column cities on a map and check to see if there are flights between them. If not, consider incorporating some of the second-column cities to make the connection.

Rezzies Must Be Made 14 Days in Advance

Though many long-term travelers like to fly by the seat of their pants, that won't work so well with the Asean Pass. Since the pass is only good for a maximum of two months and all reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance, it's advisable to book at least most of the itinerary ahead of time (especially since seat availability can be limited, particularly on popular destinations like Bali and Phuket). If need be, flights can be changed up to 48 hours ahead of time; however, a flight change fee will apply, as well as any difference in fare.

Also, keep in mind that you won't be able to check availability until you buy the pass — so there's a bit of a leap of faith involved (as well as the willingness to be flexible if your dream destination is a no-go). However, Danika Garlotta, who runs the blog No Destinations, says it's been totally worth it for her and her husband. Having purchased 10 credits, they are currently traveling through five countries and nine different cities with the Asean Pass.

"What I love most about the pass is that it offers such an array of cities and countries to visit," says Garlotta. "Some places we didn't consider before are now on our list, simply because the flight is feasible with the pass."

Have you traveled through Asia via an Asean Pass? What advice can you share?

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