Philippine Adventure: A Cebu Pacific Fly-Trip

Most of us have fond memories of the ever popular Philippine road-trip. But for those that are already bored of road trips, here's an adventure that will re-ignite your passion for travel: a Philippine Fly-Trip.

You're probably wondering, "What is a Fly-Trip?" It's basically a marathon of flying all over the Philippines to various destinations in one vacation period. Quite literally, it's island hopping with an airplane. Picture this: 13 Days, 6 Cities, and 7 Flights. It's a lot to accomplish in a short time frame and certainly not for the faint of heart.

cebu pacific manila
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
Our adventure started more than one and a half years ago when we came across a Cebu Pacific 1 Peso Promo. This was not like any other Cebu Pacific promo. Normally, we see these fares advertised regularly only to be disappointed after the fuel surcharge has been added in along with other taxes and fees. But this promotion waived all fuel-surcharges meaning that for each domestic flight in the Philippines, the final fare was just P259 all-in! Of course, that didn't include luggage or meals but we didn't need those anyway.

It was hard to plan more than a year in advance since we had no idea where we would be or what we would be doing at that time. But we both agreed that since the fare was so cheap, we could afford to lose that money in the event that we weren't able to do the trip. Thankfully, that was not the case and we set out on our Philippine Fly-Trip in November. We tried to stretch out the itinerary to see as much of the country as we could and we ended up with a trip that looked something like this:

Our trip began in Manila and took us to Legaspi, Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Davao, and Kalibo before eventually returning to Manila.

LEG 1: Manila to Legazpi

We began our trip at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. As we did not have any check-in luggage, we used the self-check in kiosks for Cebu Pacific which proved to be incredibly quick, reliable, and convenient. One thing that I enjoy about using the kiosks is that you have the ability to select your own seat. If you do this during the reservation process, Cebu Pacific will charge you extra. But doing it upon check-in costs absolutely nothing. We ended up being able to select the very front row on almost every single flight. Normally, Cebu Pacific would charge you P230 just to select those premium seats during the reservation process. The fact that we were able to select these seats with ease upon check-in for almost every flight suggests that few passengers ever pay extra to sit in those seats. So if you want to sit at the front for free, just arrive early at the airport and use the self check-in. I actually like the fact that Cebu Pacific will allow you to select any seat on the aircraft including premium and exit row seats upon check-in whereas other budget carriers will not allow you to select premium seats unless you have truly paid extra to sit there. But beware that if you are a hand-carry passenger on Cebu Pacific and suspect you may be over the weight limit, be on the look out for the Cebu Pacific agents standing just before the security lines at Terminal 3. They are trying to corral passengers to weigh their hand carry luggage to apply extra charges if the bag is overweight. 

cebu pacific legaspi
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
The flight to Legazpi was uneventful. The aircraft was parked at one of the remote parking stands at NAIA 3 and all of the passengers had to board a bus in order to get to the aircraft. Upon arriving at the aircraft and climbing the stairs, we were greeted by the traditionally cheerful Cebu Pacific crew who welcomed us on board. The flight to Legazpi is just 1 hour and 5 minutes from Manila as long as there are no delays. We arrived in Legazpi on time and snapped some photos upon arrival of the aircraft with the stunning Mount Mayon in the background. I can't think of a sight more breathtaking for an airplane enthusiast. As we did not have any luggage, we walked through the airport swiftly and boarded the shuttle to take us to our hotel. 

legaspi airport
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
Traveller's Tips: Check out the Ellis Ecotel for its convenient location at the Legazpi Embarcadero. Don't forget to try the Chili Ice Cream at 1st Colonial Grill or the Pili Nut inspired coffee creations at La Mia Tazza Cafe. 

LEG 2: Legazpi to Cebu

We only planned two nights in Legazpi but the weather proved to not be in our favour. On the day that we were scheduled to leave for Cebu, all flights were cancelled out of Legazpi airport as a dark cloud hovered over the city with constant heavy rain showers. After waiting for hours at the airport, it became apparent that no flights were ever going to get in or out so we ended up staying in another hotel for an extra night. It was a bit frustrating since we had already pre-paid for our hotel in Cebu but there's nobody to blame for that except Mother Nature. Had the new Bicol International Airport in Daraga already been constructed with the appropriate instrument landing infrastructure, such cancellations could have been avoided but that's life flying in the Philippines. We returned to the airport the next day to board our ATR turbo-prop aircraft to Cebu. The sun was shining so bright it was hard to even believe that a storm had passed through the previous day. The Legazpi airport has seen better days. Passengers are subjected to a manual search of baggage when entering the airport because the airport's x-ray machine is not operational. However, the security staff do provide the option of using the machine in the pre-departure area if you don't want a manual search since everything is so near to each other in this tiny airport. We paid the airport terminal fee of P75 and headed to the pre-departure area. What I love best about the Legazpi Airport is that the waiting area overlooks Mount Mayon.

cebu pacific atr 72
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
We boarded the turbo-prop aircraft to Cebu which departed on-time although one day late. The flying time to Cebu is just 1 hour and 5 minutes. I actually prefer flying on turbo-props when possible around the Philippines as you get some incredible views of the islands since the aircraft fly at lower altitudes. All of the passengers were delighted by the spectacular aerial views of Mount Mayon from the sky. The sun made the water sparkle as we flew over the islands on our way to Cebu. The airplane touched down in Cebu on-time and the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the extensive number of foreign military aircraft. This wasn't really a shock as we knew that relief operations were on-going in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. The airport was filled with countless foreign volunteers boarding flights with relief supplies. It was actually quite impressive how smooth everything operated at Cebu airport considering the massive relief operations that were happening in the background.

cebu airport typhoon haiyan
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PPSG
Traveller's Tips: Walk up to the departures area at the Cebu airport to find the cheaper metered taxis. Check out Alpha City Suites Hotel for European standards at affordable local rates. The free breakfast buffet is absolutely delicious and the hotel is located within a couple of kilometres from SM City and Ayala Centre. Taxi fares should not cost more than 80 pesos each way. Don't forget to try Cebu's famous lechon.

LEG 3: Cebu to Puerto Princesa

After making the most of our shortened stay in Cebu, we headed back to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport to board our Cebu Pacific flight to Puerto Princesa. I was looking forward to returning to the airport as I wanted to get some photographs of the foreign aircraft. We used the quick self-check in kiosk again and headed over to the terminal fee counter to pay the standard P200 charge. I actually like Cebu Airport because there is plenty of space for the passengers and there is a decent selection of shops and restaurants to pass the time. They also have television screens playing movies in the waiting areas. If you have a little bit of extra time to eat something or if you are looking for pasalubong, I highly recommend making a stop at Zubochon in the airport to sample their delicious lechon. This is indeed one of the best recipes in all of Cebu.

cebu airport
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PPSG
When it was time to board, we were put on a bus to head to a remote aircraft stand at the opposite end of the airport. I was delighted to see that it was right beside the parking area where all of the foreign military aircraft had been parked. The flight departed on time and the beautiful sunny day offered some magnificent aerial views. I was even able to get a decent photograph of the Cebu airport as we lifted off the runway. The flight time to Puerto Princesa was 1 hour and 10 minutes.  The flight crew seemed to be in particularly good spirits and had a fun time playing the traditional Cebu Pacific games with passengers. One thing I did notice travelling so frequently with Cebu Pacific in the same month is that they seem to ask the exact same list of questions on every flight during the in-flight games. This actually helped me to prepare and claim victory on one of my later flights. It's the first time I ever won a prize on any of my Cebu Pacific flights. The month of December was sponsored by Robinson's Land Corporation so all of the questions and prizes were related to that. We arrived in Puerto Princesa to a busy airport filled with shuttle drivers picking up hotel guests and hawkers trying to sell tours.

cebu pacific in-flight prize
"Cebu Pacific In-Flight Game Prize"
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
Traveller's Tips: Check out Go Hotels in Puerto Princesa for cheap and affordable accommodation. Promo rates start as little as P399 per night including free wireless internet, air-conditioning, and cable television. The hotel is located right beside Robinson's Place Palawan giving guests seamless access to shopping, dining, and movies. Puerto Princesa Bay Walk is a great place to dine or take a stroll in the evening. If you want to save money on island hopping, consider using a jeepney or tricycle to get to the port and then charter a boat rather than booking a tour from the hotels or tour agencies.

LEG 4: Puerto Princesa to Davao

When we originally booked our flights one and a half years ago, we were supposed to travel on a direct flight to Davao. But Cebu Pacific changed the flight schedule and we ended up having to fly back to Manila to connect to another flight to Davao. This consumed almost an entire day of travel. We paid the P100 terminal fee in Puerto Princesa and headed to the overcrowded waiting area. I don't mind paying the terminal fees but it does frustrate me when it seems that most passengers are paying for inadequate or substandard facilities and Puerto Princesa Airport was no exception. Our flight departed Puerto Princesa on time and we arrived once again at Terminal 3 in Manila.

puerto princesa airport
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
In spite of the fact that we already had boarding passes for our flight to Davao, the mediocre connection system at NAIA forced us to walk through the arrivals area with all of the other passengers and head upstairs back to the departures area where we needed to go through security all over again. It seemed odd as there were signs directing "transit" passengers but they basically led everyone in the same direction. When compared to other airports around the world, this process for connecting passengers is quite mediocre and inconvenient. Passengers should never have to exit and enter the secure area again especially if you aren't even changing terminals. We should have just been able to walk from gate to gate like at other airports. It's no surprise why the airport is consistently voted the world's worst. We eventually arrived at the boarding gate and boarded the evening flight to Davao after a three to four hour layover. Our flight arrived on time at the Davao International Airport where we were greeted by some of the friendliest people in the Philippines.

cebu pacific manila
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PPSG
Traveller's Tips: There are many free activities to enjoy in Davao including People's Park and Davao City Baywalk. If you want a real adventure, try river-tubing on the Davao River. The North Zen Hotel is a clean and affordable place to stay just a tricycle ride from Gaisano Mall of Davao. Check out the EuroBuffet on the ground floor of the mall for an incredibly cheap P69.95 bread, egg and salad buffet. It's the cheapest all-you-can-eat in the entire country!

LEG 5: Davao to Kalibo

Like our flight to Davao, Cebu Pacific had also rescheduled our flight to Kalibo. Since the direct flight to Kalibo was no longer departing on the day that we were scheduled, we were given the choice of connecting in Manila on the same day or departing a day earlier. As we were headed to Boracay, we did not want to lose another day sitting in Manila airport so we opted to head to Kalibo the night before. We got to Davao airport and used the self check-in kiosk once again. We paid the P200 terminal fee and headed to the boarding area. Davao Airport is actually one of the nicer airports in the Philippines and I don't experience any remorse when paying the terminal fee as the airport is clean, modern, spacious, and well maintained relative to other airports in the country.

davao airport
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PPSG
Our flight departed Davao on a sunny day with what seemed like a light load of passengers. But we were just happy to be headed to Boracay. The flight was 1 hour and 20 minutes long. Arriving at Kalibo airport was a huge disappointment considering that it is supposed to be one of the country's main tourist gateways. The Kalibo airport made Puerto Princesa airport look like a palace. We decided to stay overnight in Kalibo before heading to Boracay and so we hopped on a tricycle into Kalibo's sleepy city centre.

cebu pacific interior
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PPSG
Traveller's Tips: Of the few places to stay in Kalibo, the RB Lodge offers an affordable and central location. You can save money heading to Boracay by boarding one of the many vans in the town of Kalibo headed to Caticlan for just P100. If you want affordable beach front accommodation in Boracay, La Carmela de Boracay is a good choice and the staff are just great. The hotel is often the cheapest available on the beach front.

LEG 6: Kalibo to Manila

This was the one flight that we could not get at our Cebu Pacific promo rate so we decided to fly with Air Asia Zest instead. We arrived at Kalibo airport on-time using one of the Boracay transfer services operated by Island Star Express and Southwest Tours. When using the transfer service, you need to leave Boracay about 4 hours before your flight. If I had to choose between the two services available, I would choose Southwest because their boats to Boracay are modern and air-conditioned but otherwise the service is the same. The check-in with AirAsia Zest in Kalibo was seamless. I noticed AirAsia is constructing a large lounge and office at the Kalibo airport although I'm still not sure what it's supposed to be used for. But it looks much better than the present state of the airport. The Kalibo Airport is an absolute disgrace. It looks cluttered, dated, and is completely overcrowded when several flights are departing. It's certainly not the impression the country wants to be giving to tourists as either a first or last impression. Thankfully, our flight departed on time and we were not forced to spend a minute longer there than we needed to.

air asia zest a320
Copyright Photo: D. Wilson/PPSG
The AirAsia Zest flight was nearly full. Some passengers had complained that the flight departed early as they had not received any notification from AirAsia Zest that the flight time had been changed a month earlier. The flight was uneventful and the crew were friendly and professional. There wasn't much difference between them and Cebu Pacific except for the games. I love the red AirAsia colours and uniforms. Our flight would have arrived on time at NAIA Terminal 4 had it not been for congestion at the airport which forced us to remain in the air circling over Manila in a holding pattern for nearly 20 minutes.

Traveller's Tips: Manila Terminal 4 may be older than the other airport terminals but its small size makes it incredibly quick and convenient to get in and out of in a hurry. As there is not far to walk, check-in and security screening can be completed in as little as 10 minutes if there aren't any long lines of passengers. The air conditioning is good and there is even a Seattle's Best Coffee.

Overall, we had an amazing Philippine Fly-Trip filled with many wonderful memories and experiences. However, it is important to note that staying in each city for such a short amount of time makes it difficult to enjoy the entire city fully. It's also incredibly tiring doing all of that travelling within such a short period of time. Although we got incredible deals on the flights, the hotels, airport fees, restaurants, and transportation can add up fast. I would not recommend this as a practical way to travel or as a holiday but the Fly-Trip was an experience in itself and one that we will never forget. We had all of the unique experiences that make flying in the Philippines one of a kind including weather delays, crowded airports, old terminals, congestion in Manila, and mediocre connections. There are indeed many things that are "more fun in the Philippines" but I'm still not convinced that flying is one of them. Nevertheless, I'm still excited for my next flight.

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