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Why Flights to Asia Are More Expensive Right Now

Scott Keyes

Scott Keyes

October 24, 2023

4 min read

We’ve talked repeatedly about how, after last year’s surge, airfare today is cheaper than it was pre-pandemic. That’s true for domestic flights. That’s true for Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s increasingly true for Europe.

But there’s one region where it’s not yet true: flights to Asia.

Here’s why, and why things may improve soon.

Flight volume to Asia is down 35%. 

Comparing 2023 with 2019, the number of transpacific flights is down 35%, according to Cirium. The single biggest driver of cheap flights is competition between airlines; a big drop in flight capacity like this almost always correlates with a big increase in fares.

Flight volume to China is really down. 

Per Cirium, flight volume between the US and China is down 93% from 2019. That’s a huge deal for flights anywhere in Asia because, pre-pandemic, Chinese airlines flooded the transpacific market with daily sub-$400 transpacific fares. Even if you didn’t fly those airlines, they helped drive down prices on Delta, Japan Airlines, etc.

Few budget airlines fly to Asia. 

One reason flights to Europe have gotten so much cheaper in the past decade is the proliferation of new transatlantic budget airlines like Norse, PLAY, and others. Their cheap fares force full-service airlines to slash prices in order to compete. But there are very few budget airlines flying between the US and Asia—currently just Japan’s Zipair.

What’s “cheap” is always changing. 

You’ll often hear me talk about how 200 passengers on a flight often paid 200 different prices to be there. There’s an average price, some who overpaid, and some who underpaid. (Going members always underpay.) Underpaying from LAX to Japan in the 2019 halcyon days meant $450 roundtrip; today, it’s more like $650. What’s “cheap” to Asia today is $150-200 more expensive than what was cheap pre-pandemic.

Here are a few examples of flights we’ve found for Going members recently: 

  • LA to Manila for $782 roundtrip 
  • San Francisco nonstop to Tokyo for $665 roundtrip 
  • NYC to Hanoi for $878 roundtrip 
  • Seattle to Bangkok for $766 roundtrip 

Good news for 2024 and beyond. 

Looking at the first 6 months of each year, here’s how flight volume between the US and Asia compared to 2019, per Cirium:

  • 2022: Down 60%
  • 2023: Down 40%
  • 2024: Down 17%

If you’re like me, praying for cheap Japan flights, it’s good to know that January–June 2024 capacity is just 5% lower than 2019.

These are all excellent indicators for those awaiting the return of cheap flights to Asia. (Bonus: everything here applies virtually the same for flights to Australia and Oceania.) While cheap transpacific fares won’t return overnight, the gradual addition of more capacity will slowly drive down fares and make 2024 Asia prices better than 2023.

Prices to Asia may not be as low as they were, but join Going and we'll notify you when prices on flights to Asia drop.

Scott Keyes

Scott Keyes

Founder & Chief Flight Expert

Scott has traveled to 46 countries (and 46 states!), living in California, to Oaxaca, to Oregon. He’s left-handed, drinks five cups of tea daily, and holds a vendetta against the “Happy Birthday” song. On a dare, he once ate 13 hot dogs (and a bowl of Dippin’ Dots) at the ballpark. He grew up in Ohio and founded Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) in a Denver coffee shop. Favorite airport: PDX.

Published October 24, 2023

Last updated December 19, 2023

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