Flight Review: Nok Air, Phuket to Bangkok, Roundtrip
Flights Reviewed: DD 7507, DD 7506
Nok Air is a good example of how one airline can use branding to charge different prices to different people on the same route.
Nok Air is a low-cost carrier which flies between destinations in Thailand using a variation of the Southwest and Ryanair models. The airline has a fun, bubbly personality – check out the colors on the web site – but the emphasis is on cheap fares for point-to-point travel. Nok Air uses interchangeable 737s, charges for meals and extras, and prices a one-way ticket between Bangkok and Phuket at about 2,500 baht (US$80).
Thai Airways International is a whole ‘nother animal. On the one-hour Phuket-Bangkok route, THAI operates the big machines -- the 747s and 777s – and offers a stripped-down variant of its generally excellent service. A one-way trip can cost anywhere from 3,000 baht (US$100) to more than 6,000 (US$200). And that’s after a recent push by THAI to drop prices in and out of Phuket. In June (before the push), I was shocked to see that THAI fares on the route were sometimes triple the fares on low cost carriers and substantially more than "boutique" carrier Bangkok Airways.
Here’s the curveball: THAI is the principal owner of Nok.
So Nok is an example of using a different brand to cater to customers at a lower price point. THAI ultimately gets its hands on three sets of passengers. Moneyed and middle-class passengers fly the THAI brand to the southern island, while cheapskates fly Nok.
THAI can also leverage international connections to charge a higher fare. When you fly THAI or another major airline into Bangkok, the additional hop to Phuket costs a premium. It would be cheaper to fly into BKK and transfer to Nok or AirAsia, but no one’s going to do that. After a long flight from Europe or North America, you want an effortless connection. You don’t want to shuffle bleary-eyed through immigration, find your luggage, go through customs, find the airline counter, check in and head back through security.
Now we get to the point of this post: My two recent flights on Nok Air were pleasant and cheap.
The flight to Bangkok cost 2,550 baht (USD$80) purchased online three days ahead, and the return to Phuket cost 2,150 baht (US$68) purchased online the day before. Walk-up fares could be purchased at Phuket and Don Mueang airports for about 2,500 baht. At Phuket International Airport, in particular, local carriers like Firefly and One-Two-Three Go were publicizing their walk-up fares. Phuket airport has the feel of a train station; you can turn up, ask for a ticket and, if your first-choice destination is booked, pick another destination in Southeast Asia.
My complaint about Nok Air’s website is that you have to affirmatively opt out of various add-ons. The web page pre-selects the purchase of travel insurance, an extra baggage allowance and a meal, so you have to de-select these offerings.
At the airports, everything went smoothly, although Thailand, a loyal ally of the United States, is also fighting the War On Bottled Water. The boarding pass is printed on thin cash register paper. New age music plays in the aircraft while you find your seat. The uniforms of the female flight attendants – and they were all women – were yellow and tight (see photograph).
A free snack was distributed after takeoff. Flying north, it was an Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel stick filled with chocolate, and one of those see-through half-cups of water with the foil seal on top. Flying south, the same water was served with a different Auntie Anne’s pastry, this time an ear-shaped chicken pot pie with corn and carrots in the mix.