A Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for Korea

Recent Posts, Posted by Matt in ALL DESTINATIONS,Gyeongsang,Jeju,Seoul,Transportation, 8 Comments

A Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for Korea

Back in September of 2006, i booked a $19 (+tax) roundtrip ticket on Malaysia’s Air Asia. The prospect of being airborne for so little was intriguing. Sure, i was flying from Kuala Lumpur to the unlikely destination of Kota Bharu, but c’mon, $19? At the time, I was struck by how inexpensively one can fly in Southeast Asia… especially when originating out of KL or Bangkok. This just isn’t the case in pricey northeast Asia, where 2-hour trips between Seoul and Tokyo still can run $500+ this time of year.

Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for KoreaBut 2008 promises to fill Korea’s skies with a glut of new budget carriers. A total of 5 new airlines are launching this year, in addition to the two already in operation. Last month, the Busan-based Yeongnam Air launched its inaugural flight between Seoul’s Gimpo International (mostly domestic) and the lovely Jeju Island. By the end of the year, Yeongnam plans to service four domestic routes that concentrate on Korea’s southeastern region. In fact, bonafide Yeongnam region residents receive a 5-10% discount… which is kinda weird.

Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for Korea

A week before Yeongnam, Jin Air, the budget arm of Korea’s Tiffany-blue flagship carrier, Korean Air, made their own maiden voyage on a 189-seat Boeing 737-800. Jin is so easy breezy cool that their flight attendants, called “jinis” (yes, from the lamp) wear t-shirts and jeans and their check-in counter features a DJ. Although initial plans were to call the airline Air Korea, they switched to “Jin,” whose Chinese character can mean “true” or “genuine”, or, it can sound like how koreans pronounce “jeans”, which is appropriate since their staff wear them. Which came first, the outfits or the name? Regardless, what’s even better is their slogan: “fly, better fly – Jin Air.” Hmmm… Wait! Their logo looks like a butterfly… which sounds a lot like “better fly”. Clever! Coincidence? Starting late next year, Jin Air plans to fly to Japan as well as to China and Southeast Asian destinations.

Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for Korea

Hansung Airlines is Korea’s oldest budget carrier (inaugural flight in 2005). The Cheongju-based airline has offered the popular Seoul (Gimpo) to Jeju route at half the typical $200+ cost of the major airlines. although Hansung experienced early popularity, it suspended service briefly in 2005-06 to search for additional funding. Adding literal injuries to that insult was an accident in November 2006 that broke off their plane’s nose and caused six minor cuts and bruises.

If safety concerns have you second-guessing Hansung, please don’t. Who else’s Web site has a “cabin interview” feature that tells you your flight attendant’s hobbies and blood type? For example, now I know that Yea-ji Shon really likes balloons.

Low-Cost Airlines Bonanza for Korea

Not to be left out, Korea’s other major carrier, Asiana Airlines, will also launch a subsidiary airline this fall. Air Busan, as it will be called, is scheduled to start operations next month. Two other low-cost carriers are also planned before year’s end. In November, Eastar Jet is scheduled to start service, with Incheon-Tiger (co-owned by the city of Incheon and Singapore Airlines) to kick off in December, eventually hoping to serve Japan, China, Mongolia and the Russian far east. A few others, like Purple Jet, Daeyang Air, Pocheon Air, Kostar Airlines and Seoul Airlines have all been knocked about, although it’s unclear which (if any) will materialize.

Korean aviation restrictions require new carriers to have at least 2 years of domestic test-runs before going international. The new companies are eager to go abroad since that’s where the real profits lie. Jeju Air, which has operated since 2006, already qualifies and offers service to three Japanese cities (unfortunately, Tokyo isn’t one of them).

Let’s hope some of them start international flights before high oil prices push them under!.



11 June 2009 00:35

wai kam yeng

hi there,

am trying to fly from gimpo to jeju on june 25 till july 2 by korea budget air but unable to book air ticket as its in korean, can you help me?


11 June 2009 10:02

Matt Kelley


Thanks for your note. I don’t do travel booking, but here’s a link to Seoul travel agencies with English-speaking staff. If you have a specific question that I might be able to help with, let me know. Good luck!

Best, Matt

20 July 2009 18:32


Hi Matt,

I hope you can help to advise us on the tranportation. We are planning to go Jeju and from Jeju, we wants to go to Sokcho (Gangwon-do). Note that in Sokcho there is Yangyang Airport. But from the above airline info, it seem no airlines stopping at Yangyang airport.

Greatly appreciate if you can assist us in this matter.

Thank you.


20 July 2009 19:52

Matt Kelley

Hi Jana,

I’m sorry to say that the beautiful new Yangyang International Airport stopped commercial routes last year, due to lack of demand. Unfortunately, your best option is probably to take an express bus from Seoul. I hope you do make it to the Sokcho and Seoraksan area… it’s a beautiful region.

Good luck, Matt

7 September 2011 00:21


Hi Matt,

Is it true that some of the korean budget airlines need an korean ID or local credit card to book??

thank god i found ur site ..because i’m looking for local budget airlines..
what are the possibilities of booking their tickets for foreigners??
By travel agent.. local korean or my country’s local agent??

September 13 2011 09:16 am


Hi Catherine,
Yes, I've always relied on a Korean friend to navigate the sites' pesky Korean-specific verification and payment processes. Since Korea's major airlines (KAL and Asiana) both own and operate budget lines, I assume they have English-speaking personnel who can help you book with a credit card. KAL's budget carrier is Jin Air, while Asiana's is Air Busan. Jeju Air (independent) has been around the longest and seems to have the most consistently affordable fares, in my experience. Note that most travel search engines I've seen don't typically include Korean budget carriers in their results!

Good luck!

22 November 2013 23:34


Do you have any private tour can recommend for 10 peoples +++?

December 06 2013 04:00 am


Hi Winny,
Unfortunately, I don't have enough information about private tour companies to make any recommendations. Good luck!
Best, Matt

Posting your comment...

Leave A Comment