Here, in alphabetical order are the major ways to get from the US to the Philippines. Some of these airlines serve European destinations as well.
- Cathay Pacific
- Cebu Pacific
- China Airlines
- Continental Airlines
- EVA Air
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Pacific Pearl Airways
- Philippine Airlines
- SEAIR (South East Asian Airlines)
- Singapore Airlines
- Tiger Airways
I’ve used most of these airlines myself, and have some definitive information on others. If you don’t see an airline listed, they probably don’t fly to the Philippines directly (use partners, often known as “code sharing”), or I haven’t sampled it enough to make a reliable comment. Here’s what I think the pros and cons are for each:
Cathay Pacific This is my second-favorite trans-Pacific airline. They are based in Hong Kong. They are often the low fare leader, or close to it. Their equipment is among the most modern (usually laptop power plugs and individual seat-back screens for each passenger, movies and games). They fly from New York direct to Hong Kong as well as other west-coast cities (and Vancouver, Canada). They are also one of the few airlines who fly direct (from Hong Kong) into Cebu. Cabin service is of a high standard, food is great to so-so Chinese. Their hub, the new Chep Lap Kok airport is the best to transit through in the Pacific, and Hong Kong is a great place for a stop-over, coming or going.
Arrivals in the Philippines are normally at night making connections for onward domestic travel more difficult.
Cebu Pacific is my choice for Philippine domestic flights. They always have some sort of promo going on … sometimes as low as 1 peso fares … no joke. But even when you have to pay full fare, it’s reasonable … cheap by US standards. Their entire fleet has just been renewed and their cabin crews are pretty, attentive and polite. Unlike US airlines, they don’t play all those ridiculous 7 day, 14 day and 21 day “advance purchase” games … you can walk up to the ticket counter … or visit their web site … and get the same price if you’re flying same day or 30 days from now.
The reason I’ve made a place for them on this page is, Cebu Pacific is now a full-fledged international airline as well as domestic. As their map shows (by the way, you have to visit their website and try their route map) they now serve Hong Kong, Seoul, Pusan (both shopping destinations and hubs for Korean Air), Taipei, excellent place to connect with China Air or Evergreen, Hong Kong, great for connecting with Cathay Pacific or … well you get the idea.
Again, highly recommended from personal experience.
China Airlines This is a good carrier, based in Taipei, Taiwan (Republic of China), often the lowest price. They partner with United Airlines making connections from within the US through their major gateway cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York (Newark). Their equipment is relatively modern but don’t look for many creature comforts. The food is usually adequate, but nothing to write home about. Their cabin service is adequate, but often not pleasant. Their flight attendants seem to know they are flying the cheapest pax on the cheapest fares and you may expect to be accorded ‘steerage’ service and no more. Their hub, Chiang Kai Shek International in Taipei is not a very pleasant transfer point. On the plus side, China Air’s arrivals in Manila are in mid-morning, making follow-on travel practical and/or giving you an extra day of sightseeing. Use when price is primary, otherwise there are better choices.
Continental Airlines In nearly 6 years of intensive Philippine interest and travel I haven’t yet noticed a fellow American using Houston-based Continental to travel to Manila. Strange, because they and Northwest are the only two US-flag carriers who actual fly all the way. Continental does it different; their flights are mainly Houston to Guam (with a technical stop — refueling — in Hawaii) to Manila. Perhaps this is a disadvantage, although people who just can’t abide long flights might find the flight changes good for circulation. Continental’s cabin service and amenities are typical US airline … that is blah. About 1/3 of their long-haul fleet has amenities such as lap top power points and when you fly the longest over water flights you’ll find the oldest and most crotchety flight attendants … the most senior on the line and more than willing to let passengers know who follows orders from whom. On the plus side, both Hawaii and Guam offer excellent stop over possibilities and Continental’s arrivals into Manila are mid-evening, leaving some possibility of same day continuing domestic travel. Recommendation … if you are near Houston or you want to see Guam, give them a try, otherwise they are near last place in my book.
EVA Air Like China Air, EVA is based in Taipei. They frequently have very competitive prices. Their food, cabin amenities and service are mid-class. Adequate, not great. Their hub, Chang Kai Shek, Taipei is my least favorite transit point. Eva has something no other airline has, a fourth class better than coach and not as expensive as business. This EVA “Extra’” or “Deluxe” class is about $100 more than coach fares and has been well reported by all who have used it. EVA’s amenities and service are typical Asian airlines, normally well above US standards. Another plus is they arrive in Manila mid-morning, gaining you that extra day on your trip. These guys are high on my list.
Japan Airlines Based in Tokyo, this is one of the world’s best airlines. I admit to being a Japanophile, having lived in Japan a number of years. JAL will seldom be the low-price leader, but you can find bargain fares. Others may not find JAL as much to their liking, but if you know anything about Japanese culture and customer service, these guys are great. They fly only from West coast cities, mainly Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their hub is New Tokyo International (Narita) and the airport can be very crowded …although like everything else in Japan, it works like clockwork once you know the ropes. JAL’s arrivals into Manila are late in the evening, making it difficult to get anywhere else in the Philippines without an overnight stay. However, with all disadvantages noted they are still my number one choice. YMMV.
Jetstar is a discount airline operating out of Manila’s “second” airport, DMIA, the former Clark AB in Pampanga, Luzon. Part of the Qantas family of airlines, JetStar serves Singapore directly from DMIA and onward from Singapore Macau (Hong Kong’s “second” airport … 30 minutes by hydrofoil from Central, Hong Kong) as well as dozens of cities in Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, Japan and others.
Most fares aren’t quite as cheap as $36 USD but they are very economical indeed … typical round-trip from Manila-Singapore-Manila is about $168 USD, all in.
The aircraft are new, the crews are well-trained, the company is backed by one of the oldest and safest in the business, Queensland And Northern Territories Air Service (we know them today as QANTAS).
Many people reading this are those who have to leave the Philippines every year to renew tourist visas, this is certainly a great choice … hotels and entertainment in Singapore are many and varied … and for my Australian and New Zealand readers, another route to the Philippines.
Korean Air Based in Seoul this is the airline I have the least experience with. I don’t care for them based on safety concerns and the general relationships I have had with Korean customer service. That aside, they are the national airline of Korea and are often at the lowest price point. They also fly from a number of east coast and central US cities and offer both morning and evening arrivals in Manila. Not my favorite, but might become yours.
Northwest Based in Minneapolis, Northwest is one of the US’s prime Asian carriers. Primarily they fly to the Philippines from their two major state-side hubs, Minneapolis and Detroit, changing planes in Japan at Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. They also have many connections from west coast cities through Tokyo. I like traveling through Japan but many won’t. Great stopover possibilities. Northwest is in company with Continental as the only US-flag carrier who actually flies to the Philippines. Their equipment is tired. Amenities lag behind most Asian carriers. Their cabin attendants mostly resemble your ex-mother-in-law when she’s had a bad night. As with Continental they are all on their last segment of flights before retirement and are disinclined to give much extra effort. Northwest used to be a good source for cheap flights, but now they have adopted a policy that guarantees flights booked through their sites are the lowest Northwest fare you can find. This means that in a week when you can find $800 or $900 fares on other carriers through ticket discounters, you will find the cheapest equivalent on Northwest in the $1400/$1500 range. They fly only into Manila and all their flights arrive in late evening, killing domestic travel. They do have a partnership with Cebu Pacific, my favorite Philippine domestic airline so one can sometimes make good connects to a few Philippine locations with transport from the International terminal to the Domestic terminal. Never my first choice, but worth a look if you can get a good fare or if you have a lot of Northwest World Perks miles.
Pacific Pearl Airways is the newest airline in the country, based in Subic Bay Free Port in Zambales. They are the first passenger airline to operate in Subic. Starting last December 19 regular flights from Subic to Boracay (via Kalibo), Davao, Cebu and Manila were initiated. One can fly direct from Subic to Davao using the B737-200 Advance aircraft. for reservations call or text: Manila: 02.879.3375, Globe: 0916.383.1545, Subic: 047.252.8312, Smart: 0918.524.0608. I haven’t yet flown these guys so this is for information only, but I certainly welcome competition and it is great that someone is now serving Subic (the former US Navy base). The airport there is well equipped and Subic is close to some great beach resort areas that are nowhere near as crowded as the better known places down south, like Boracay. My friend Bob will no doubt be happy to see yet another airline offering direct service to Davao as well.
Philippine Airlines poor old PAL, based in Manila, can’t ever seem to get any respect. Filipinos often joke that the abbreviation, PAL, stand for Plane Always Late. But that’s not always the case. PAL is a competent airline, one who serves the Philippines domestically as well as internationally. They offer the only non-stop service between the US and the Philippines (although bear in mind that on westbound flights, against the prevailing wind, they will often make a technical stop (refueling only) in Hawaii). PAL’s amenities are so-so; the fleet tends to be old, although they are aggressively trying to modernize. They are also one of the few to serve Cebu. Although you must change at their dedicated terminal in Manila … but no hassle with luggage, taxis to other terminals and other sore points endured with other carriers. If you are traveling with your mahal or your asawa (hopefully they are the same person , you’re going to get plenty extra points by booking with PAL. I guess in numerical order, they would be my fourth choice.
SEAIR (South East Asian Airlines) is a local carrier I haven’t written about before. based in Cebu, they have been around a few years now and fly mainly 32 passenger turboprops to many of the Philippines smaller tourist destinations. Again a company I haven’t used, but they have a good reputation and I’m bringing them up here now because they are yet another airlines that is now serving Clark. I’m really happy to see all the activity there, Clark is going to be a very important hub as time goes on and it is so refreshing to see airlines taking the big step of not serving the over-crowded, tourist-hostile NAIA. Any day you can fly somewhere and bypass NAIA is a good day for flying to me.
Singapore Airlines I originally didn’t add Singapore Air into the mix here because they don’t fly in a very direct manner from the US to the Philippines. But they are a world leader in service,, are frequently very competitive on price and I also find I get lots of visitors from Australia. So I will add in more and more airlines as time goes by. Singapore is second to none in cabin service and of great interest to trans-Pacific passengers is the first airline to place the A-380 in service .. between Singapore and Sydney. Australian travelers can continue on to Manila via Singapore Air or fly to Singapore as a destination and use one of the several discount airlines from Singapore to Clark (Manila) Philippines.
Tiger Airways is a vibrant relative ‘new guy” on the airline scene. Based in Singapore and backed by world-renown Singapore Airlines, Tiger Airways serves a huge chuck of SEA and Australia. (Rant on: boy how I wish every airline would put a simple graphic like this on their website so people could see their area of service at a glance … Rant off).
The reason they get a write-up here is that they among several “young’ carriers who regularly serve DMIA (the former Clark AB), north of Manila, one of the up and coming places to fly into and out of the Philippines.
I did have Tiger’s website on my Blog roll but I have never written them up before … should have. One of my online friends in the Philippines, JD from Baguio used them to fly from Clark to Macau and return and had a very satisfactory “visa trip” experience.
Laurence, one of my Australian readers also reports their service from major Australian sites to Clark is satisfactory (thanks, Laurence)
OK, that’s most of what I know, anyone else is welcome to chime in.
Airport Fees and Taxes
At each domestic airport departure, expect to pay PhP 200 Airport Departure Tax
For International departures from NAIA (Manila) all pay a PhP 200 security Fee, a PhP 500 Airport departure fee and those not tax exempt will pay an additional travel tax of PhP 1620 for tourist class or PhP 2700 for business or first class., if their ticket was purchased outside the Philippines (tickets bought within the Philippines are already paid). These are the exceptions from the Travel Tax:
Travel Taxes/Fees out of the Philippines.
Exempted from payment of travel tax are: foreign
- Diplomatic representatives
- Employees of the United Nations and its agencies
- U.S. military personnel, including their dependents
- Other U.S.nationals with fares paid for by the U.S. government
- Filipino overseas contract workers
- International carrier crew
- Filipino permanent residents abroad
- Philippine foreign service personnel assigned abroad and their dependents
- Philippine government employees (excluding GOCC) on official travel
- Grantees of foreign government-funded trips
- Students with approved scholarships by appropriate government agency
- Infants (2 years and below)
- Personnel of Philippine offices of multinational companies not engaged in
business in the Philippines and their dependents
- Those authorized by the Philippine government
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