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I just helped a friend buy a return business class seat from Sydney to Paris, leaving in mid-September, returning almost a month later. It’s a one-stop flight via Seoul, connection times are pretty decent and the South Korea-based carrier Asiana gets a five-star rating on Skytrax.

The lie-flat business class seats aboard the Boeing B777-200ER, Airbus A350-900 and A380 aircraft that Asiana uses for most of its long-haul flights are in a 1-2-1 configuration and the airline’s onboard service, food and beverage and seat comfort all rate high. The price was just a smidgen over $7000, and that’s booking with the airline, not an online travel agency.

The cost of flights to Europe has gone crazy – but there are still some bargains around. While flights aboard Middle Eastern carriers are steeper than ever before, that’s not the case with most of the Asian airlines. The prices below are for return flights from Sydney to London, departing September 13 and returning on October 4, booked on each airline’s website.

There are quite a few surprises. Economy fares with Japan Airlines (JAL) and Asiana are more than $1000 cheaper than flying aboard Qatar, Emirates and Qantas, with Etihad just slightly cheaper than those three.

For premium economy flyers, Vietnam Airlines is a clear winner, less than half the price of a premium economy seat with Qantas and Singapore Airlines, and considerably cheaper than the same class on Emirates. Having recently flown with Vietnam Airlines from Sydney to Paris, it’s a leap up the comfort ladder from economy with above par service and food. For less than the price of an economy class seat aboard Qantas, Emirates or Qatar, and just slightly more than economy on Etihad, you’re getting a seat with generous legroom and recline.

South Korea’s Asiana flights similar planes with similar seats to its rivals, but with cheaper airfares.Credit: Getty Images

JAL premium economy is another prime choice, although both it and Vietnam Airlines involve a fairly long stopover on the return leg. Asiana doesn’t operate a premium economy service, nor does Qatar Airways, while Etihad has an “Economy Space” service – basically an economy seat with more legroom.

Except for Singapore Airlines, the Asian carriers offer competitive prices for business class flyers as well, with ticket prices at least $1000 less than Etihad, the cheapest of the Middle Eastern airlines. A business class seat aboard JAL will save you more than $3000 over the same seat aboard Emirates or Qantas, and $5000 less than flying with Qatar Airways.

Why are Asian airlines less expensive?

There’s not too much difference in the operating costs of the Middle Eastern airlines versus those of the Asia-based airlines. They pay the same for fuel and the aircraft types are identical, yet the price difference is substantial.

Flying to Europe via Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam with Vietjet could save you hundreds.Credit: iStock

In the traditional markets that fed the Middle Eastern airlines – Europe, South Asia, their own populations in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Australia – demand is high while capacity still lags. Those airlines can charge high prices without worrying about empty seats.

That’s not the case in East Asia. In January 2020 (before the pandemic hit), 1.38 million Japanese made overseas visits. In January 2023 that number was just 443,000. JAL and other Japanese carriers are offering competitive prices to fill their seats, and the same reasoning applies to Asiana and Vietnam Airlines.

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