Over this past 365 days, I’ve taken a grand total of 63 flights. These aren’t business trips either, but since I live in the Philippines, I’m always taking hops between the islands, or heading out to see friends in Thailand and Cambodia. No matter what the purpose, 63 flights are a damn lot of take-offs and landings, so it makes a big difference what airlines I fly with. Between endless delays, cancellations, seat size, luggage policies, layovers, and even safety all become the subtle concerns aside from just price when you schedule that many flights. And while the most popular airline in the Philippines is definitely Cebu Pacific, in this seasoned flyers opinion, Philippines Airlines is bar far the best.
And to understand the value and quality of Philippines Airlines, you need to know how Cebu Pacific operates. The good news is that it’s cheap (most flights around the country cost $30-$50 or so), and the routes and destinations are plentiful. But, there’s a serious downside to booking with them. In my estimation, their flights are delayed a good 60-75% of the time, and cancellations are not uncommon, either. Furthermore, you’ll run into long lines at many airports, disorganization at best and unscrupulous tactics at worst (they’ve completely screwed me over before by making me double-pay for baggage), and customer service (except the flight attendants, who are friendly and great) that’s completely deficient.
In contrast to the cheap but crap shoot experience you sign up for every time you book a Cebu Pacific flight, Philippine Air offers a more professional, organized, and steady ride. Operating under the moniker PAL, they were established in 1941 and now the oldest airline in Asia with their original name.
What’s fascinating about PAL is that, during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, it nearly went out of business, like many other airlines. But it stayed alive, and in 2012, an unlikely source bought a 49% stake in the company – the San Miguel Brewing Company. That firm has a monopoly on just about every alcoholic beverage and beer made in the nation, and I find it a little ironic that a beer label operates the country’s largest airline! Don’t drink and fly!
PAL now bases most of its operations out of Manila, as opposed to Cebu Pacific, which, understandably, runs the majority of routes from the southern city of Cebu. But PAL is no discount local airline.
For me, PAL from Manila to Dumaguete costs about $80 to $100 one way. Believe it or not, that’s a lot for a flight in the Philippines. But when you first start searching for flights, Cebu Pacific will always look cheaper. In fact, they don’t participate in most flight aggregator websites and do a wonderful job promoting their rock-bottom fares to the most popular destinations in the country. You can only book on their website, and when you go on and search for those flights, you’ll see a matrix of options and prices. But only one or two are at those low prices and the rest quickly escalate – and then you have to throw in BS seat and baggage fees, etc.
But with PAL, what you see is what you get. They have far more planes and more routes going to more places, and at reasonable – if not rock-bottom – prices that are fair for a consistent and serviceable flying experience.