Taking advantage of the low cost airline revolution in the Philippines


Within this past decade we've witnessed a revolution when it comes to air travel in the Philippines. Spearheaded by Cebu Pacific's expansion and transformation to a low-cost carrier (LCC) model similar to AirAsia and Ryanair, we've seen more competition and more affordable fares to destinations within the Philippines and across the region. Air travel became accessible to more Pilipinos whom for years prior have been locked out due to the pricing and the monopoly that Philippine Airlines held until the 1990s. According to Airports Council International, Ninoy Aquino International Airport served just shy of 13 million passengers in 2003; fast forward to 2012 and that number has more than doubled to almost 32 million!

And just as the skies became more accessible for more Pilipinos, it also means we balikbayans are able to see more of what the Philippines and the rest of Asia has to offer while we’re back! Thanks to Cebu Pacific and other LCCs that have proliferated across Asia, I’ve been able to visit almost all ASEAN nations (Brunei and Laos being my holdouts) without destroying my George Costanza wallet. When timed correctly, I’ve been able to pay around $100 roundtrip for tickets to Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Sounds pretty neat considering at best I could get at home with that same hundred bucks is just a hop to Vegas! And I've seen folks bagged cheaper ones! With the eventual ASEAN open skies and bilateral agreements with nations like Japan opening up more flights, the possibilities grow even further!

To make the most of what these LCCs have to offer, you really have to plan ahead: whenever Cebu Pacific has its legendary Piso fares, they’re usually for travel dates that are months in advance. And while the base fare may be just a Piso or two, additional costs such as a “web admin fee”, fuel surcharges, airport fees (for certain flights), and taxes aren’t incorporated but even then it still works out as a great deal.

fare breakdown

For example, Cebu Pacific's P1 is to Juan sale has special fares such as a 1 Piso base fare combined the taxes and fees as well as extras like a seat assignment and a twenty kilogram (forty four pounds) prepaid luggage allowance ends up being about fifty US dollars. Not bad! However be warned: making changes to itineraries may end up being more expensive than the fare you originally paid for; the key is to have generous amounts of flexibility if you want to make this worthwhile!

As for the fare sales themselves, it can be a challenge trying to catch them considering the time difference between here and the Philippines. You can sign up for the mailing lists that airlines may offer which will alert you of any upcoming sales. Alternatively, liking the Facebook pages of these LCCs should help in keeping your eyes peeled for any upcoming sales while you get your social networking fix (as well as exposing yourself to Cebu Pacific's corny puns...I still have "You say Dubai, I say hello" still stuck in my head.)

Patience is also a virtue as the websites of these airlines might load at a snail's pace due to the influx of bargain hunters taking advantage of these sales. And speaking of websites, note that LCCs don't typically list their fares in major travel engines such as Orbitz or Expedia so you'll have to lurk between each airline's own pages to do more price shopping.

I'm sure a part of you is asking: how do these airlines profit from these fares? In essence, they don't. Revenue management at LCCs set aside only a certain amount of seats that are available for promo fares while balancing the inventory for the more expensive but widely available "year-round fares." However throwing in the possibility of ancillary fees (seat assignment, checked bags, insurance, etc.), the aforementioned change fee, the occasional no-show traveler, etc. the airline closes in on the break-even gap on those seats dedicated for promo fares.

There's so much to see both within the Philippines and in neighboring countries. The next time you make that long-haul trek to visit family, do take time to see what else the region has to offer! Thankfully the rise of these LCCs have made it even more possible!

Photo Credit: Cebu Pacific

Get Inspired at NextDayBetter NYC - May 3rd


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On May 3rd, NextDayBetter is kicking off their global speaker series for 2014 in New York City. The series is themed “Defining Breakthroughs: Unlocking Human and Community Potential” and will feature inspiring speakers who will share how to make real, visible change for communities in the Philippines and beyond.

“The global Filipino Diaspora is a hub and inspiration for world-changing ideas that pushes humanity forward,” says CEO and Co-Founder Ryan Letada.

“This global speaker and action series is designed to celebrate and amplify the impact of these ideas."

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Featured change makers include:

This event is not only going to satiate your hunger for change, but will feature great food and drinks as well. Living up to its claim for creative innovation, NextDayBetter will even showcase a Tech Demo in which hackers will present smart technologies focused on disaster response and resiliency rebuilding.

Seats are limited so register now here.

If you can’t make it to NYC and/or are thirsting for more inspiration, don’t you fret because NextDayBetter will also be hitting up Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, and London during the upcoming months. To learn more about NextDayBetter and the speaker series, you can visit their website.


Photo Credit:

Balikbayan Box Musings: Experiences with the cardboard companion over the years

You know when you're heading to the Philippines when... I’m one week away from another visit to the Philippines and am finishing up routine preparations. These frequent jaunts over the past few years have helped me connect with the nation of our heritage. I've developed the typical travel habits of the returning overseas Pilipino, in particular that cardboard companion that is synonymous with someone returning to the Philippines. Yes, I’m focusing at that quintessential box filled with pasalubong for relatives. That same box that is filled with bittersweet emotions, including those stemming from: the nights my mom spends packing them up with corned beef, my sweat-drenched navigation between terminals in Manila with these boxes in tow, and the appreciation that I’ve seen from the faces of family who welcome and help me lug them into our jeepney.

I’m sure this rings true with many fellow Fil-Ams. I’ve grown up playing with those boxes as they slowly filled up. I’d feel like an adult whenever I was able to do things, like write our home address on the sides, push the luggage cart that carried them, or help dad lift them out of the baggage carousel. I considered it a crowning achievement when I traveled solo from Japan to the Philippines during my senior year of high school and brought my very first balikbayan box filled with goods from a Japanese 100 Yen shop, much to the amusement of my relatives.

Over the years, a question arose as I became the more efficient traveler that George Clooney fittingly described in Up in the Air: "why bother bringing the box?" As the trips came and went, I became more irritated at having to drag that box around. It was big, heavy, cumbersome, and ruined the traveling "rhythm" that I had mastered during other international trips.

It's always a blast to see your box opened up at the baggage claim in Manila and end up finding nothing stolen... but with a TSA luggage inspection slip added into it.

“Why should I bother to bring Spam and hand-me-downs when I could probably buy them when I arrive? I mean, I’d be helping the local economy more by doing so!” was the mentality that I acquired after several trips. I challenged others on the rationale of having to bring those boxes, the bane of existence for baggage screeners, ground handlers, and bystanders caught up in a bottleneck created by a queue of balikbayan box-laden passengers waiting to check-in.

“It’s not a trip to the Philippines without one!” was a common response I’d encounter.

But then I'd remember the past, when our family trips to the Philippines weren’t as frequent. Twenty years ago, my mom wanted to fill each box with as much as she could. Unlike today where she visits once or twice a year, she wanted to have the box stocked with goods that she herself enjoyed and wanted to share with her siblings. Looking back, it hit me: the balikbayan box brought the sort of connection that otherwise couldn’t be felt by sending a remittance via Western Union. It’s almost like that “physical gift vs. gift card” argument that I’d always hear whenever the holiday season would come. I would see it whenever I would shop alongside excited OFWs at a Carrefour in Dubai, who would stock up on stuff that weren't available or of the same quality in the Philippines, but nonetheless, they were things to that they wanted to share with loved ones at home.

More trips would pass and I would obtain frequent flyer benefits that were certainly worthy of a box-touting passenger. For a while, I did not tell my mom the fact that I could check in a maximum of three bags at 70 pounds each for free AND that these parcels were among the first out in the baggage claim! Alas, I spilled the beans, much to her delight. While I was glad to have lightened the load by ejecting the need to drag the box, a part of me felt like I could try to do something constructive with those benefits.

Through such reflection, my opinion on the balikbayan box has shifted. I started to look into various charitable causes in the Philippines and wanted to utilize the box and my baggage allowance for good. I asked my frequent flying buddies to donate their hotel toiletries so I could deliver them to a non-profit in Quezon City that takes care of underage victims of physical and sexual abuse. I had a friend from a sports store donate some soccer balls to a Gawad Kalinga soccer program. And — my most favorite of them all — I have spent countless hours digging around swap meets, used bookstores, and supply store sales for children’s books and discounted school supplies; I donate these items to several schools and literacy programs in the Philippines all of whom have expressed appreciation for the much-needed material.

It’s been two decades since the kindergarten version of me etched our home address in a balikbayan box. In this upcoming trip, we’re going to dedicate a library in honor of my late brother. And of course that library needs books, of which I’m bringing a bunch of them with me inside the latest of the many balikbayan boxes we’ve transported over the years. A part of me still feels a bit weird in bringing Spam (my mom still manages to sneak a can or two in). At the end of the day, however, I’m still going back to the Philippines with a symbol that remains as the centerpiece of the returning overseas Pilipino. For this, I am very honored to have balikbayan boxes as travel companions. 

Loading up with the treasures I've found in book sales. There should be a can of Vienna sausage under there somewhere...

Pilipino Connection


One day on a family trip to an apple orchard in Pennsylvania, my mom saw an Asian lady, who she assumed was a Pilipina. After exchanging a few words in English, my mom switched to Tagalog. She immediately flushed with embarrassment when she realized that the woman she thought she had a connection with was Cambodian instead. The conversation dwindled down with some awkward small talk before my mom caught up with the rest of the family, who was giggling at her understandable fumble. I am my mother’s daughter, and I repeat the same mistakes. My college, like my hometown, has very small minority population, so when I see someone who resembles a Pilipino, I go through all the emotions—shock, happiness, anxiety, etc. My Pilipino radar is usually spot-on, making the likelihood of the birth of a new friendship even higher. Even if we come from different spectrums of life, we still have our Pilipino background as common ground.

Just being under the impression that there’s a Pilipino nearby -- even for just a few seconds and even if the person doesn’t turn out to be Pilipino -- makes me feel at home. The Pilipino community is unlike any other. The knowing look that one gives to a stranger who is possibly Pilipino is one that we take with pride. Even if the assumption is wrong, in those moments prior to complete embarrassment on my mom’s part, she felt connected to a complete stranger.

It is not limited to just Pilipinos. At my university, most of my friends are Asian American. There’s nary an Asian that I do not know, but it’s not because I am exclusive. I feel like it’s easier to bond with them because there’s already a commonality among our cultures. Being a minority is something that makes you stand out, and seeing that little spot of color in a minority-less community makes you feel a little more grounded.

I am currently studying abroad in Taiwan, and when I see a foreigner, Pilipino or not, I automatically try to maintain eye contact with them in the hopes that they will see me and understand. One day, at Raohe Night Market, I saw a fried Oreos booth. As I passed by, I said something in English to one of my friends, and as I looked up, I locked eyes with the American running the booth. He looked at me, and I swear in that second, we were connected. All that was exchanged between us was a "hey." But we had this unspoken understanding that actually said, “I know what you’re going through.”

In that apple orchard in Pennsylvania, I think my mom craved some familiarity in those moments before she found out the woman she struck up conversation with was actually Cambodian. It is exhilarating when you find someone who you can relate with, even the smallest connection. It feels like home. Like my mom and the American gentleman running the fried Oreos booth, I’m craving a piece of home.

Photo Credit: Taiwanease

Little Manila, Taipei, Taiwan


I was on the MRT in Taipei on my way to a rock concert when I overheard a few words in Tagalog. Since I’ve arrived in Taiwan, I’ve been swathed in Chinese conversation. Being a long way from home, the familiar accents piqued my homesickness. I slowly worked up the courage to approach these three Pilipino women and as soon as I greeted them, the women started beaming. They introduced themselves, and after a bit of small talk, I asked them: “Do you miss the Philippines?” One of the women bit her lip, looked up at the ceiling on the train and murmured a quiet yes before she quickly changed the topic.

“Do you go to church?” she asked me.

Normally, it would seem a bit brash to hear such a question from a stranger, but it was one of the most Pilipino things I had heard in awhile! I nodded vehemently and said that I would try to go to the one in Little Manila. The women smiled and gave me directions. Soon I was at my stop, so I told the women that I’d see them at church as I scurried out of the MRT.

My first excursion to Little Manila was my first time traveling around Taipei alone. Within an hour, I was overwhelmed by the rain; my phone’s GPS was going haywire. As I was just about to give up, I saw a sign that was unmistakably Pilipino, and in that moment, I swear my heart dropped.

Little Manila is true to its name. With four stores and a church scattered on the corner of two streets, Little Manila was under- and overwhelming at the same time. Having been away from anything remotely Pilipino, I was craving some comfort food. I inched into an empty restaurant and spotted an elderly woman pop out from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. As I ordered tocino and rice, I kept staring at her with teary eyes, wondering if she was real. She noticed my obvious homesickness and smiled. She chatted with me as I ate, and we discussed our respective homes, our families, the Philippines, etc.

As I was leaving, she told me to come back on Sunday.

“I’m now your lola,” she said, and I beamed back at her, trying not to look like an idiot.

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up seeing those Pilipinas from the MRT when I went to church, but I hope to cross paths with them again soon. According to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, there are over 90,000 Pilipinos working in Taiwan; they are the third largest minority group in Taiwan. Most Pilipinos, like the ones I met on the MRT, work in factories. With so many overseas Pilipino workers in Taiwan, you would think there would be a larger Little Manila. The impression that I received from the neighborhood was that the Pilipino residents were trying to make do with what they had. The women in the MRT and the lola in the restaurant both spoke about the Philippines with great nostalgia, a little sigh of longing in their voice.

Perhaps the women feel the same as me. As tiny as Little Manila was, it’s big enough to fit the small, homesick hole in my heart.