When we first moved to the Philippines, my travel schedule was about as frequent as it is now, but more of my trips were over much longer distances: like transpacific, and so on. I frequently purchased “around the world” tickets, making perhaps ten or fifteen stops going in a continuous direction, or I would fly to Europe, the Middle East, or the States and use a single city as a “hub”, making many trips from a single point (I most often did this in Europe, using London or Amsterdam as my hub and doing all of my European business at once. Likewise using Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Bahrain in the Middle East).
Therefore, when I travelled, I usually flew on airlines that were part of one of the global alliances (SkyTeam, One World, Star), not only for miles, but also because if I had a change of planes anyway, I preferred to be on one of the major airlines, with Cathay Pacific, Asiana, ANA, and Singapore being my favorites. I never liked to fly PAL, due to a poor schedule, limited destinations outside Asia (many are code-share anyway) and problems with buying tickets on the Internet. Likewise, Cebu Pacific was always a “last ditch” option for me, particularly since, at that time, their overseas schedule was really limited and I had the same credit card issues with them.
Now, most of my travel is regional in nature, with only the occasional flight over 5 or 6 hours. Therefore, I am looking at nonstop flights as being the most important criterion to me when choosing a flight. If you live in the Philippines, that gives you, realistically, two options for the most nonstop travel: PAL or Cebu Pacific. Jetstar is greatly expanding their options in Manila, Tiger Airways too, and Air Asia is expanding at Clark very rapidly (Though, after a recent problem with them, they are on my no-fly list now. Unfortunately, due to some business in Borneo and Indonesia, I may need to take Air Asia again, since they are the one and only option to a few smaller cities in those places without doing crazy connections. I tend to avoid Indonesian airlines except Garuda. Small Indonesian carriers have a horrid safety reputation, and Garuda has really modernized its’ fleet recently.) I do like Jetstar, though, and will sometimes fly them (Their new Japan flights are fine). Though I live in Manila and fly out of NAIA, Cebu, Davao, and Clark are also getting more nonstop flights abroad every day, it seems. Since I live in Quezon City, Clark is, to me, still a hassle, since at most times of day, it is at least a two hour drive from where I live. In my mind, it would need to be a pretty big airfare difference in order to make the drive worth any savings, which in most cases would be consumed by fuel and tolls anyway. However, for many people living in Subic, Angeles, or even some of the more northern reaches of Manila, Clark could be an attractive option (Note that the busses from Clark into town stop at around 22:00… If you arrive late and miss the last bus, you can take a taxi or jeepney to Dau and get a bus there, or taxi all the way. It is a pretty hefty taxi fare, by Philippines standards, to Manila. Note that sitting at the airport when the taxi drivers know that your options are few greatly limits your negotiating power. That cheap fare doesn’t start to look so cheap after all that.)
PAL still does have problems on occasion with foreign credit cards, but Cebu Pacific seems to have fixed that issue: I haven’t had a credit card problem with them in a long time. Additionally, PAL has eliminated several cities from their service, and with their ongoing labor issues, I don’t like to rely on them. In fact, I can see a big decrease in the crowd and confusion at Terminal 2 recently, and I highly doubt that it is due to an increase in service satisfaction. Additionally, though fare is normally not a primary consideration for me with business travel, I have noticed that PAL is often either the most expensive option or nearly the most from Manila. If I’m headed to Singapore and PAL is $400 and SQ is $410, which one do you think I’ll choose? SQ every time.
So, I’ve been flying Cebu Pacific quite a bit recently. And, in the last 15 or so times on them, they have performed pretty decently and I have not had any problems.
Cebu Pacific has a reputation for horrible customer service, and much of that reputation is justified. However, I’ve seen vast improvements to their service recently. In talking with other frequent fliers, the consensus seems to be along the lines of “They are fine if you don’t have any problems, but getting problems resolved is about impossible”. This is how it is nowadays with most discount airlines everywhere: With the higher fare on the bigger airlines, you are paying for better service (In theory, at least). Cebu Pacific is no exception.
Some things I’ve noticed about Cebu Pacific:
- They now leave from Terminal 3 in Manila. This is a vast improvement over the other terminals. Terminal 3 is clean, relatively efficient, and a 1,000% improvement over Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. With Cebu Pacific you can now check in online… Something PAL has yet to implement. This is a BIG time saver at Terminal 3.
- They DO NOT collect the TIEZA tax when you buy online. Therefore, if you need to pay it, that is your first stop at the airport.
- Their nonstop route network abroad from Manila is now the largest in terms of number of destinations. They are the only nonstop, for instance, to Hanoi. Their long range plans to expand this network are impressive: Expect to see a bunch of new destinations from them in the near future if they remain profitable.
- They are NOT always the cheapest option. By the time you pay for baggage, etc., they may be more expensive than competitors.
- Their overseas schedule is largely an overnight or red eye schedule (Except to a few destinations like HKG, BKK, or SIN, which are always full, several flights per day).
- Their published schedules include about 30 minutes extra time than the flight takes. So, with their quick turnarounds, it often seems like you will be late, boarding about 5 minutes before departure… but you arrive close to on time.
- Their planes fly a bit slower than the other airlines, around 450 mph (as compared to around 500 mph with SQ, for instance). It’s a fuel-savings measure. This means that your flight may be a little longer than on other airlines (So MNL – SIN may take 3 ½ hours on Cebu Pacific instead of 3 hours on SQ). I believe this also gives the pilots a little more flexibility in keeping schedules if boarding is late.
- Evening flights on them seem to average one hour late departure and 15 minutes late arrival. Why? I think that since their planes are on the ground such a short amount of time, that small hiccups increase in impact throughout the day.
- Sometimes at Terminal 3, they do not use the jet bridge, making you go downstairs at the end of the jet bridge and boarding the plane from outside using movable stairs. I asked their staff about this (“why?” was the question… since it was pouring rain outside). I was told that this was a cost savings measure, since NAIA charges them $50 to use the bridge (This may or may not be the case… Who knows!). They may be ending this practice, though… The last couple of flights I took have boarded using the bridge.
- I personally pay the extra 200 pesos to choose my seat online. If I’m going to be sitting still for several hours, I like to be as comfortable as possible, and the charge is really small.
- From reading online, I get the impression that Cebu Pacific service is better on overseas flights than domestic flights. In my experience, the two are pretty much comparable (Though I only rarely fly domestic).
- Their fleet is pretty new, with most aircraft under 5 years old.
- They seem to be far more strict on the baggage weights than other carriers. I’ve found that within 1 kg, they ignore the difference, but anything over that, you will pay.
So, my recent experience has been pretty good with Cebu Pacific: Certainly better than as recently as two or three years ago. If they keep improving, they will continue to be serious competition in the Philippine market, which, like them or not, will force all airlines to keep their fares low.