Sunday, February 1, 2015

United Airlines Seeks Expansion in Philippines

American carrier United Airlines is interested in expanding its operations in the Philippines as it explores new destinations and routes beyond its existing routes from Manila to Guam and Koror. The airline is currently contemplating growing its four percent market share in the Philippines by launching new routes to San Francisco and Honolulu.

united airlines philippines
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
United Airlines currently operates thirteen weekly flights from Manila to Guam and Koror, using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. United inherited the route, when it merged with Continental Airlines, which previously operated the route under Continental Micronesia.

According to United Airlines Country Manager for the Philippines, Maria Concepcion Perdon, the Philippines is an important market for the US based carrier. "Right now we have a four-percent market share and we hope to grow it," said Perdon. "The Philippines is a very important market for United that is why we have been here for 30 years."

Perdon noted that United Airlines currently enjoys a load factor of 80 percent for its Philippine operations. "The Manila-Guam route has been profitable for us," said Perdon. "There are many Filipinos living in Guam." With United Airlines' success in the Philippines over the last three decades, the airline sees an opportunity for expansion.

United Airlines is presently considering launching its own flights between Honolulu and Manila, to capture the market share, previously held by Hawaiian Airlines, that stopped serving Manila in 2013. If United was to launch a route to Honolulu, it would compete directly with Philippine Airlines, which currently operates the only direct flight between Manila and Honolulu. 

When it cancelled the route, Hawaiian Airlines cited the lower cost-base of Philippine Airlines, which put them at a competitive disadvantage, unable to match the low fares offered by Philippine carriers to make the route viable. United Airlines may face a similar challenge, when the market becomes even more price-competitive as Cebu Pacific prepares to launch its own flights to Honolulu later this year. The entry of Cebu Pacific could pose a serious challenge as United seeks to gain market share on the route.

Meanwhile, United Airlines is exploring other US destinations that could prove to be profitable routes for the carrier from the Philippines. It may even consider serving other Philippine destinations such as Cebu. According to Jake Cefolia, United Airlines' Vice President for Sales in Atlantic and Pacific, the airline is currently exploring non-stop service to Manila from destinations such as San Francisco. 

"The Manila-San Francisco route is always on the drawing board," said Cefolia. He added that United is carefully studying opportunities to ensure that it only enters markets, where it has a presence below the gross domestic product growth in order to avoid overcapacity. "We intend to keep the capacity growth between the level of GDP growth in the markets that we serve because we want to keep from a situation wherein there is more supply than demand."

Philippine Airlines has long been the sole carrier operating non-stop routes between the Philippines and the United States. With the largest population of overseas Filipinos, the United States is a highly lucrative and profitable market for Philippine Airlines, which has been uncontested on its Los Angeles and San Francisco routes for the past several years. "There is a tremendous amount of demand," said Cefolia. "Sometimes it seems insatiable demand in Manila. It is the highest volume market between Asia and the US. However, it is also an incredibly price sensitive market."

The price sensitivity of the Philippine market is likely one reason that US carriers have avoided the Philippines, preferring to enter routes with higher yields and stronger demand for premium services such as Business Class. But with the rapidly expanding economy, growing middle class, and rising popularity as a tourist destination, the Philippines is becoming a highly attractive market. 

"The Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, remain a critical asset for our airline," said Perdon. "We operate ideal Pacific gateways in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the two largest local markets on the west coast, and offer our customers an unmatched level of service to Asia Pacific."

United Airlines is currently in the process of a re-fleeting program that will see the carrier accept delivery of more than thirty brand-new Boeing aircraft including the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Although the airline has not confirmed what aircraft it may deploy on any new routes to the Philippines, the Boeing 787 may be a possibility. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Air Asia Restores Manila to Davao Route

AirAsia Philippines has announced that it will be restoring its Manila to Davao route at the end of March. The budget carrier plans to offer three daily flights between the two cities, which will complement AirAsia's existing two daily flights between Cebu and Davao.

air asia davao
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
Flights will begin on March 27, operated by AirAsia's fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft. The addition of AirAsia to the Manila-Davao route is welcome news for travellers as AirAsia becomes the third carrier to operate the route, adding yet another competitor which will help to ensure that airfares remain affordable. 

AirAsia will be offering introductory all-in promotional fares for as low as P799 each way. According to Joy Cañeba, CEO of AirAsia Philippines, the new flights will help to further develop Davao as a major tourist destination. 

"Davao City is an important gateway to Mindanao," said Cañeba. "We are partnering with Local Government Units and various stakeholders in the region to develop products and services to further boost tourism and promote Davao as a major tourist destination to local and foreign visitors."

In addition to being one of the nation's centres of trade and commerce, Davao has a number of attractions to offer tourists from Mount Apo to the Island of Samal. Visitors can enjoy encounters with various wildlife including crocodiles and the Philippine Eagle.

AirAsia Philippines will join PAL Express, Cebu Pacific, and Tigerair Philippines on the Manila to Davao route. AirAsia has been voted the World's Best Low Cost Carrier for the past six consecutive years. AirAsia Group is represented in the Philippines by its two local affiliates, AirAsia Zest and AirAsia Philippines. The two carriers operate a combined fleet of fifteen aircraft to a number of local and international destinations. AirAsia is the largest low-cost carrier in Asia, serving more than ninety destinations across Asia, Australia, and India.

Would you like to visit Davao? Check out our Davao Hotel Promos

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Philippine Airlines Flight Review: Manila to Taipei (Round Trip)

Let me start my flight review with my visa application experience. It will be as brief as the process itself. In fact, it was the quickest ever (less than ten minutes) as well as the most convenient as I did it all while in my PJs.

Fortuitously, months before my trip to Taipei, I read on Cebu Pacific’s Smile magazine about Taiwan’s online visa application for those with current visas from countries like the US, Australia, Japan, among others. All we had to do was apply online and voila! Our visa is in our inbox! No more bank certificates, income tax return, etc. to prepare. Thank you, Taiwan!

Now, on to my flight review.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The signs may say, “closed,” but they were actually open to accept passengers checking in for the Manila-Taipei flight and the entire process including immigration and clearance at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 (NAIA 2) was quick.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
But it wouldn’t be an authentic NAIA experience if all the lines were short and quick. This was the line to the ONLY working women’s washroom, which has been the case for months now.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I killed time at the computer table some meters away and only went to our gate when it was time to board, but minutes passed and we were still waiting. And then there was this female ground crew member who seemed busier than the rest with her constant going back and forth. An irritated and impatient Filipina came up to her demanding why we had not boarded yet. I didn’t hear the answer but I overheard the Filipina later telling her Caucasian companion how they were looking for a---not the---pilot.

philippine airlines a320
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
A few minutes later, we started boarding. I guess they finally found a pilot…

philippine airlines a320
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
After a smooth take-off, the flight crew started working by making sure that we, economy mortals, could never bother the business class gods.

And as you can see, we had the endangered species called in-flight entertainment (IFE). As it was not a personal IFE, I did not bother as I was not interested in the programs that were shown. One of them was “The Mythbusters.”

philippine airlines a320
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 Out came the meals.

philippine airlines meal
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I asked for a glass of soda and I was given the entire can which made me happy as it helped leave a (literal) good taste in my mouth after consuming the blah food. I chose the chicken, by the way.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Anyway, the smooth flight more than compensated for the meal and soon, we were having an equally smooth landing at Taoyuan Airport.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

The money exchange counter came before immigration so I decided to change some dollars. Afterwards, I joined the queue at the immigration section. As many counters were opened, I was third in line. Almost all transactions in my line as well as the others were fast until it was my turn.

The immigration officer opened my passport to the personal information page and looked at me to see if I resembled the photo. Then he looked again at my passport photo and looked up to compare what he had seen on the photo with the face in front of him. I removed my glasses to help him with the identification but it didn’t seem to work as he flipped to the other pages of my passport that might carry my photo like some of my visas. Passengers from my neighboring counters were zooming past me as the officer was trying to make up his mind. I could feel my cheeks getting hot and red from embarrassment so I tried to look as much as I did on my passport to convince him I was no impostor. (It’s all the fault of the Department of Foreign Affairs for taking a crappy photo of me after three hours of waiting for my turn to have my photo taken and not giving me another take!) It was only then that the officer cleared me.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Because my immigration clearance took some time, my waiting time for my luggage was cut shorter.

Zaijian, Taiwan!

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 A few days later, reality was calling me home.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The counters were still closed when I arrived so it gave me time to observe Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport which placed fourth in the list of best airports with 30-40M pax per year.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The food court had a lot of cuisine on offer but since it was still too early for me to have dinner, I decided to eat after I had checked in which was a big mistake. The only restaurants near our gate were serving pricey noodles so I just bought some mochi at a souvenir shop and stuffed myself hoping they will tide me over until meal time on the plane.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The Wi-Fi service actually worked and worked real fast.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 I sincerely suggest that this company change its acronym.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
This is so far the only thing that made the airport different from all the rest I have been to, world-class or not. If I didn’t think it would get me into trouble, I would love to see what’s behind the door.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 And then it was time to check myself in.  While waiting for my turn, an airport official conducted a survey with the group behind me asking the usual questions, “Why did you come to Taipei,” “When did you decide to come,” “What hotel did you stay in,” etc.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
On my way to my gate, I noticed this wooden toy exhibit.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
During my trip, I saw a lot of these wooden toys for sale but it was only until this exhibit did I realize the significance of wooden toys in Taiwanese culture.

Taiwan’s airport is not the only airport I have seen with exhibits inside. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the same at NAIA not only to beautify it, but to orient both locals and foreigners to our rich heritage? Not to mention, help kill time with its notorious hours-long delays?

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
And here’s another exhibit at our gate. 

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The cushioned seats were so comfortable that you’d almost never want to get up.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The temptation not to get up is stronger with these recliners!

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Seeing our aircraft being prepared was a good sign that our flight was going to fly as scheduled…

philippine airlines a320
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 …which was the case.

philippine airlines a320
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 Take-off was smooth and everything was uneventful…

philippine airlines meal
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
…and predictable. I predicted I was not going to like my meal and I was right. Once again, my soda saved the day, or should I say the evening. The dessert all the more cemented why I have no sweet tooth.

Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I also predicted that the baggage claim area would be crowded and mine would be one of the last to come out. Sadly, all my predictions came true.


Would you like to visit Taipei? Check out our Taipei Hotel Promos!

Monday, January 26, 2015

House Sharing: An Alternative to Hotels

If it isn't airfare, accommodation is the most costly part of a trip.  If you book a hotel, it can comprise up to 60% of your trip's budget.  Because of hotels, a one-week trip can easily go over $1,000 (£600), and that's just for one person.

Image source: Wikimedia

However, your accommodation bill can become more manageable if you consider alternatives.  The money you save can be spent on other things such as attractions, souvenirs or even another holiday.  Obviously you can stay in a hostel.  Though some people still miss their privacy and, a little bit of security.  

For those travellers who want a little bit of privacy, home share may be an good alternative.  A home share is a scheme where some people offer anywhere from a bed to a room to their entire house to travellers who need it.  It is a relatively informal arrangement as you are not dealing directly with a business, which is what hotels and hostels are.  For the most part, the motive of your hosts are not to make money for themselves, hence that is home shares can be more affordable.  

In addition to the lower costs, an added advantage of using home share services is that you get to interact with real locals more intimately.  And when we say intimately, we mean that you get to exchange stories with your hosts: they tell you a little bit about themselves and you tell them a little bit about yourself.  You may be making friends along the way.  And as you will most likely be dealing with locals, they will give you ideas on where else to go and what else to do to experience what the city means to them.  And it may not be the standard touristy things you normally read in guidebooks, though you can still ask them about this.  

As you will expect more intimate interaction with the hosts, it goes without saying that you do not treat them merely like hotel front desk or housekeeping staff.  Just accept whatever they offer you; after all this is their house and they make every effort to make their guests have a warm welcome.  When you are present at their home, it may be polite to join in whatever activities they invite you to.  Also, please do not treat the stuff you find like hotel decorations which can be replaced when broken; some items may hold sentimental value to your hosts.  In other words, remember the golden rule: treat their home like you would others to treat yours.  

The most popular home sharing site is Airbnb though other websites like HomeExchange also have other offers.  Just like with hotel booking services, you key in your preferred dates and the city you wish to visit.  You can narrow down your preferences to a preferred neighbourhood, price range, room type.

Image source: Wikimedia

That said, here are a few other points that you may need to consider if you decide to go through the home share route.  These are mostly based on my experience from Airbnb.  

  • As much as possible, use the home sharing website's portal to communicate with your host.  Your host will be notified by email whenever they get a message from you.  This is also for your security because by coursing your messages through the portal, you can have evidence of what was agreed between both of you in case a dispute arises later.
  • Each host has something different to offer.  Please do not expect a single standard.  Some may offer towels, toiletries, others may not.  Some may have internet access, others may not.  Some may serve breakfast, others may not.  Read the advertisement to know what to expect.  If something is not clear in their advertisement and it matters to you to know whether they offer it, please send them a message.  
  • The likes of Airbnb charge a service fee on top of the rate the host charges you.  The exact rate will depend on a variety of local factors, but Airbnb's will usually be close to 15% of the rate the host charges you.  The host has no control over this service fee; however they may require an additional cleaning fee or deposit to be collected during the booking.  The service fee may not be refundable if you cancel your booking.
  • Just like hotels, some home sharers have stricter cancellation conditions than others.  Please make sure you are aware of the cancellation conditions before committing yourself to a transaction.
  • Unlike most hotel booking engines, most home share websites require payment via Visa or MasterCard immediately, even if the host has flexible cancellation conditions.  This has implications for the next few points.  
  • If you see a property you like, acceptance of your proposed booking is not automatic (unless indicated otherwise).  The host has a final say and can refuse proposed your booking for any reason.  
  • When you propose dates you wish to book, you will be asked for your credit/debit card details. While you are not technically being charged until a response is given, funds commensurate to the cost of the booking (including service charges) will be 'frozen', which means they are not available to you.  If the host ultimately refuses your booking, funds will be released back to your account but it may take time.  While you are advised to scout for as many hosts as possible, proposing a booking directly can temporarily run down your funds quickly.  
  • To overcome this risk of 'frozen' funds in your credit/debit card account, you are strongly advised to send an informal message to potential hosts using the portal and ask if they are available on your preferred dates.  This way you won't need to give your card details.  Once they say 'yes', you can either start a booking yourself to their property or they will open up a link that will allow you to proceed with the booking.  If you finalise the booking with one, all the other potential hosts who you are awaiting a response from (or vice versa) will be notified and your requests to book with them will be cancelled.  Use this opportunity to ask any other questions regarding the property, your potential stay, or anything else unclear about what they advertised.   
  • As house sharing is largely an informal enterprise, you may expose yourself to some risks.  As such, you are advised to do some research about the area you are staying in.  Is the neighbourhood known for crime, high risks of disasters relative to other nearby locales, etc?
  • Get to know who your host is.  Check to see if their identity has been verified by the house sharing website.  
  • Read the reviews posted by previous guests.  This will give you an expectation about how credible and reputable the host is and how well-looked after they are.  
At the end of your stay, you may be invited by the home share website to leave some feedback for your host.  While you are not expected to give your host a gift, providing them some encouraging words is always appreciated if they indeed made you feel at home.  At the same time, they may provide some feedback for you as a guest.  In an atmosphere like Airbnb, feedback of some hosts may be helpful when trying to woo other potential hosts to host you in the future. 

Remember, home share websites are not just venues for you to look for affordable places to stay in when while on tour, they are opportunities for you to meet locals, and be one with them.    

Air Asia Zest to Rebrand Under Air Asia Philippines

AirAsia Philippines is one step closer to consolidating ownership of AirAsia Zest after obtaining the approval of the Philippine Senate to acquire majority control of Zest Airways, which currently operates under the AirAsia Zest brand. Once the transaction is completed AirAsia Zest will rebrand and operate under AirAsia Philippines creating a single brand in the country for Southeast Asia's largest low-cost airline.
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
According to Joy Caneba, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Zest, the sale of Zest Airways to AirAsia Philippines was approved by the Senate Committee on Public Services last December. Earlier that year, the House Committee on Franchise also approved the purchase of controlling interest in the carrier. 

"Our lawyers are currently drafting all the required documents," said Caneba. The company will also require the approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Civil Aeronautics Board for transfer of ownership.

As Zest Air was originally created under a congressional franchise, Republic Act No. 9183 requires that any change in the carrier's ownership must be approved by Congress. Zest Airways is currently majority owned by Alfredo Yao. 

Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
When the transaction is complete, Yao will take 15 percent of AirAsia Philippines in addition to cash, while the existing owners of AirAsia Philippines, Antonio Cojuangco, Michael Romero, and Marianne Hontiveros, will each receive a 15 percent stake in the carrier. The remaining 40 percent will continue to be owned by parent company, AirAsia Berhad of Malaysia, led by Tony Fernandes. "We are now awaiting an approval from President Aquino," said Alfredo Yao, current owner of AirAsia Zest.

Meanwhile, Caneba added that once all of the necessary regulatory approvals are obtained, AirAsia Zest would be rebranded to AirAsia within the first six months of the year to create a single, recognizable brand across the entire Philippine market. "I don't see why we have to be distinct from the group," said Caneba. "I want to be part of AirAsia."

Tony Fernandes has long declared his vision of turning AirAsia into the leading brand across the Philippines, taking on established rivals, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, which currently dominate the market. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation believes that AirAsia would benefit from one single brand across the country.

Both AirAsia Philippines and AirAsia Zest currently operate a combined fleet of eighteen aircraft from bases at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and Kalibo International Airport. Last November, Fernandes announced that he was prepared to invest $500 million in AirAsia Philippines over the next four years.

"We are committing another $500 million once we get the franchise approval," said Fernandes. "That's over a period of three to four years." AirAsia is poised to expand in the Philippines as market conditions improve and congressional hurdles are cleared.

Pacquiao Air Asia
Copyright Photo: Karlo Santos/PPSG
After consolidating the domestic network, Fernandes stated that he intends to double the AirAsia fleet in the Philippines, in preparation for launching new international flights to Japan and Korea. While the airline presently operates flights from Manila and Kalibo, AirAsia has already began the process of developing hubs in Cebu and Davao. In addition, Fernandes has made it no secret that he plans to return to Clark International Airport at some point in the future. 

"As soon as we get the franchise, we should be able to get 15 aircraft. Then I hope we can add about five aircraft a year," said Fernandes. "My aim is to grow Philippines AirAsia in the international market. We are adding more flights in Korea, eventually China, Japan, and Asean, bringing more people to the Philippines like we've done in Indonesia and Thailand."

References: Interaksyon

Air Asia Zest Lands Near Bottom of Airline Safety List

Australian website,, has ranked Philippine carrier AirAsia Zest near the bottom of its airline safety ratings index. The website publishes a list of carriers ranking them on a number of criteria related to aviation safety. Out of a maximum possible score of seven stars - representing the highest possible safety rating - AirAsia Zest scored a mere three, placing it near the bottom of the list.

Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
AirAsia Zest's sister carriers, AirAsia Malaysia and AirAsia Indonesia were also included on the list but the other AirAsia affiliates managed to earn a rating of four. The report comes following the recent crash of an Indonesia AirAsia flight, which crashed into the Java Sea on December 28 as it was heading to Singapore.

Surprisingly, Malaysia Airlines was not included on the lower end of the safety rating, scoring a five out of seven in spite of the two tragic accidents that it endured last year. Of the 449 airlines rated on the website, five carriers carry a rating of one star or less. Those airlines include two carriers from Nepal, SCAT Airlines of  Kazakhstan, Kam Air of Afghanistan, and Indonesian low-cost carrier, Lion Air. These carriers are considered some of the most dangerous airlines in the world and are banned from serving the United States and European Union. 

Launched in 2013, proudly declares itself as the only airline safety rating website in the world. The website is an initiative of Aerospace Technical Publications International and The West Australian Newspaper. According to the website, the safety rankings are based on audits from governing bodies of the aviation industry. It also factors in government audits and a carrier's fatality record.

Although the aviation industry traditionally enjoys an enviable safety record, last year ended as one of the worst years for aviation fatalities. Twenty-one fatal accidents were recorded in 2014, resulting in 986 fatalities. However, two of those were unprecedented accidents involving Malaysia Airlines aircraft, which represented 537 fatalities. While the number of fatalities recorded last year were above the ten-year average, the website insists that air travel continues to be the safest method of transportation.

A record 3.3 billion passengers are now carried on some 27 million flights annually. The unusually high 986 fatalities recorded in 2014 falls far short of the staggering 87 crashes that claimed the lives of 1,597 people fifty years ago, when the world's airlines flew only 141 million passengers annually. 

The website factors in crash data, government data, and statistics from the International Air Transport Association when generating the results for its seven star system. All airlines are measured on the following criteria:
  • Is the airline currently listed on the European Union Blacklist?
  • Has the airline been IATA Operational Safety Audit certified?
  • Is the airline endorsed by the US Federal Aviation Administration?
  • Has the airline maintained a fatality free record in the last ten years?
  • Are there any Russian built aircraft operating in the fleet?
  • Does the airline's country of origin meet all eight ICAO safety parameters?
  • Has the carrier's fleet ever been grounded by the home country's governing aviation safety agency due to safety concerns?
AirAsia Zest joins forty other carriers that earned three stars or less. The carrier's fleet was grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in August of 2013 due to safety related concerns. Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific scored four out of seven, while Philippine Airlines scored six out of seven.

Australian flag carrier, Qantas, was declared the safest airline in the world for its fatality free record in the jet era. Of the ten airlines listed as the safest airlines in the world, seven currently serve the Philippines: Qantas, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, EVA Air, and All Nippon Airways.