As much as I loved our fabulous experience flying first class on Emirates A380, I simply can’t afford to splurge on luxury air travel every time we fly. For our first trip to the Philippines, we chose Cebu Pacific because they offered a really cheap flight from Sydney to Manila and money talks. Sure the Cebu Pacific baggage allowance was minimal, the Cebu Pacific inflight entertainment was non-existent and I had to wrangle with an initially unhelpful Cebu Pacific customer service agent but did the savings outweigh the compromises? Read on to find out exactly what it’s like on flight 5J40 …
Let’s Get Social!
Booking A Cheap Flight From Sydney to Manila
I employed all my ingenious tricks for scoring a bargain flight to secure our cheap flight from Sydney to Manila. I stalked Cebu Pacific’s website for a few weeks waiting for the fare to hit rock bottom before I pounced. When the base fare dropped to just AUD$158.69 outbound and $96.63 inbound I made a mental note to book that night when I had more time. Cebu Pacific flight 5J40 only has economy class so the only decision required was between “fly only”, “fly + bag” or “fly + bag + meal”. I decided on ‘fly only’. I had a manic day and when I finally got a chance to get back online it was 2am. I booked as fast as I could and headed straight to bed. I eventually paid a total of AUD$857.98 for two return tickets. So how does a base fare of AUD$255.32 each turn into AUD$857.98? Here’s how:-
$189.00 (outbound flight passenger 1 – error should have been $158.69) + $189.00 (outbound flight passenger 2 – error should have been $158.69) + $96.63 (inbound flight passenger 1) + $96.63 (inbound flight passenger 2) + $110.00 (AUS passenger movement charge) + $141.48 (AUS passenger movement charge) + $26.30 (passenger service charge) + $3.16 (VAT) + $48.00 (Admin fee) + $135.00 (Baggage) = $1035.20 – $177.22 (refund – see below) = $857.98
Complicated? Yes! Still a bargain? Absolutely!
Cebu Pacific Customer Service
When I checked the confirmation email the next day I was horrified to find I paid AUD$1,035.20. Panic set in as I wondered what I booked in my sleep deprived state. A quick glance at our itinerary revealed I had the destination and dates right but I had booked the wrong fare for our outbound journey. Given the flights were non-flexible, I didn’t hold out much hope of my rookie mistake being rectified but I decided to plead my case to Cebu Pacific customer service anyway. After a bit of push back (OK a lot of push back), I’m delighted to say they saw things my way and processed a refund of $177.22 bringing down my total to a much more reasonable $857.98. This simple gesture of assistance from Cebu Pacific customer service created an amazing first impression. I was so impressed with them going the extra mile to correct my mistake that I also chose to book one of our internal flights from Coron to Manila on their partner airline Cebgo.
READ MORE ON CORON:
Cost of Cebu Pacific Baggage
So you might have noticed in my breakdown above that our Cebu Pacific baggage charge was a whopping $135. We added on 20kgs of luggage outbound ($55) and 32kgs inbound ($80). The other option would have been to book the “fly + bag” fare which increases the cost of the base fare by AUD$55 per person each way and allows each passenger 20kgs of checked luggage. We didn’t need that much and our way saved AUD$85. There are also Cebu Pacific baggage options for 15kgs ($40 each way) and 40kgs ($110 each way). The ‘fly only’ option does come with 7 kilos of carry on and these backpacks for women are perfect to avoid Cebu Pacific baggage charge altogether. Our AirSWIFT Airlines flight from Cebu to El Nido was a lot more reasonable $5 in extra baggage fees.
At The Airport
We arrived at Sydney International Airport almost 3 hours before our allotted take off time as requested. Most airlines ask you be at the airport 2 hours early for international flights so I was surprised when Cebu Pacific asked for 3 but I went with the flow. It seems everybody else did as well because the check in queue was outrageous. I don’t think I have even seen a queue quite that long. Despite having 7 counters open, it snaked through a seemingly never-ending series of twists and turns and continued way past the designated roped area. It didn’t help that we had several large groups on our flight who insisted on crowding the same counter effectively tying up each server for 30 minutes at a time. I refused to pay extra to select our seats so they were assigned on check in when we finally reached the counter 1½ hours later. We asked if the flight was full and when it wasn’t we requested an aisle and a window seat on the A330 3x3x3 configuration leaving an empty seat us between us hoping that it would remain empty so we would have a little extra room. We were done in 30 seconds. It never ceases to amaze me how long it takes some people to check in. How is it that they get all the way to the front and still don’t have their shit sorted? Are they oblivious to the fact that they are slowing everybody else down? Please don’t be that person. After claiming our tax refund, buying our duty-free and grabbing a quick meal at Maccas we cooled out heels at the gate for ages as our flight was delayed. The memo about the delay must have been lost in translation because the vast majority of passengers decided to join the boarding queue anyway. And then stood there for well over an hour before the first boarding call came through for the back rows. Of course the people who had been in the queue for over an hour were not actually seated in the back rows. Bedlum ensued as the people who were tried to get through and those who weren’t refused to move. Cebu Pacific customer service personnel did little to help the situation and instead of refusing to board them, they happily scanned their boarding passes and waved them through. We just let the madness settle down and boarded at our leisure i.e. almost last.
On Board 5J40
Our seats in row 41 were a looooong way back and we played the fun game of waiting for everyone in front of us to stow their overhead luggage before we could pass. This would have been avoided if we could have boarded when our row was actually called (see above). We finally took to the skies about 1½ hours past our scheduled departure time. The cabin itself was basic and the vinyl clad seats were a hideous combination of navy blue and forest green but we were pleasantly surprised to note that they were not as cramped as we were expecting. Right after we booked The Hubs heard a rumour that Cebu Pacific’s A330 was the most cramped cabin in the sky and at 6ft he was dreading the flight. Don’t get me wrong, leg room was tight but I didn’t notice a discernible difference from the other budget airlines I have flown like Jetstar or Vietjet. The Gods were smiling on us and our gamble of booking seats apart paid off as the seat between us remained unoccupied. Woohoo! I know our fares were cheap, but it was just a little weird to see advertising attached to every tray table. I guess it all adds up and I’m all for innovative ways to bring the cost of my ticket down. The tray tables were compact but they did have the slide feature that I always appreciate. There is no USB so make sure your devices are fully charged. The seats are rock hard and don’t have any headrests let alone adjustable ones. The recline is marginal and hardly worth the effort, but the beauty of having an empty seat between us was that with the our seats reclined and the middle seat upright we could wedge a travel pillow against it an attempt to get comfy. As you would expect on a budget airline, there are no creature comforts such as complimentary blankets, pillows and amenity kits but you can purchase them onboard. Unlike every other flight I have taken in the last twenty years, Cebu Pacific does not mandate switching your mobile to flight mode. They do request that you switch it to silent and refrain from making voice calls after the doors are closed. Sadly I didn’t realise this until two hours into the flight while we were over the middle of Australia where I got no data anyway. I was really curious to see how long it would have held out after take off.
Cebu Pacific Inflight Entertainment
Cebu Pacific inflight entertainment is non-existent. Nada. Zip. Bubkis. Not even if you pay extra. They do have an inflight magazine and a strange concept they call ‘fun games’. This is a quick quiz of just three questions were they give away Cebu Pacific merchandise to the winners. By the time we figured out what was going on it was all over and despite the fact the questions were in English, we struggled to understand through the garbled PA system. The Hubs packed a couple of mags and I had a trashy novel to keep me company for the next nine hours. If you have a window seat you can admire the view but sleep is usually the best option to relieve the boredom.
Eat & Drink
We never book food when it is not included and tend to grab a meal both before and after we land but the menu in the seat back looked rather tempting as I flicked through. My picks would have been the Chicken Alfredo Pasta, the Beef Chelo Kebab or the Hazelnut Banana Croissant. All these meals are only available for pre-order (between $4 – $9) so make sure you book ahead. I bet they don’t come out looking quite as good as they do it the pictures though lol. For those that are not so organised, your choices are limited to a handful of snacks, the most promising of which was the Ham and Cheese Croissant. The Unicorn bagel did look intriguing and would no doubt be a hit with younger flyers if they could get past the cream cheese filling. The cup of noodles was very popular and I’m guessing the price (100php) was the reason. Surprisingly (not!) I didn’t hear a single order for the Spam Nori. A delightful dish of a soft bun stuffed with Spam and seaweed topped with crushed seaweed flakes. The drink menu was good value with soft drinks at 60php, beer at 150php and wine at 250php. The drink cart is cash only but you can pay in Australian Dollars (notes only). We paid $6 for our coke and a beer and they struggled to break a $20. Be Warned: The drinks are not served cold. Ice works for a coke, but not so much for a beer.
Arrival in Manila
After landing, 5J40 had a long taxi to the gate and I’m thrilled to say we had an aerobridge given it was raining. Manila immigration was painless and they had plenty of counters open, even for us ‘foreign’ passport holders. Baggage collection took a little longer. It seems to be the norm in the Philippines for each passenger to grab four trolleys and stand right on top of the belt blocking access for everyone behind. Customs is simple when you have nothing to declare and we sailed through the green line. ATM’s are plentiful in the arrivals hall and we also grabbed a Smart Travel SIM while we were there which was just 600php for two weeks of unlimited data. We had a little trouble finding our driver given the late arrival of our flight but a quick call to our hotel Fairmont Makati sorted it out. Luckily we had the SIM card! Apparently we should have met him at the hotel desk. Who knew! If you don’t have the luxury of a driver try Uber, it’s simple from NAIA.
Cebu Pacific Economy Class Manila to Sydney
And then there was going home … I thought the queue at Sydney was bad … I clearly hadn’t lived. In Manila there was a queue to join a queue. Seriously. We arrived 2½ hours early and we were a bit tipsy after enjoying happy hour at Rafffles Makati during our 10 hour layover in Manila after our Cebgo flight from Coron earlier in the day. We grabbed Maccas (level 3 food hall) between check in and customs given we were starving and had no pre-booked food. There was no one manning the ‘foreign passport’ queue so we headed to the ‘ASEAN’ queue and were not rebuked. It was a night flight and we also scored an empty seat between us using the same tactic as we did on our first flight. As soon as the seat belt sign was off we crashed for seven hours straight. A few cocktails will do that to you!
The Final Word
The worst part of flying Cebu Pacific was the queues and the rock hard seats. The best part was of course the price. So would I fly them again? Hell yeah if I found another cheap flight from Sydney to Manila. The usual base price is around $250 each way and that is way too rich for my blood. The struggle is real to choose between flying more comfortably or more often and more often usually wins. The Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and Manila is the gateway to many stunning destinations. All our internal flights were good value with the exception of our Air Swift flight from Cebu to El Nido so exploring won’t break the bank. Cebu Pacific have opened up the Philippines to thousands of Aussies at a price they can afford.
Have you flown with Cebu Pacific? What did you think? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Until next time …
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Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. I paid for my flights on Cebu Pacific in full and as always, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links which will earn me a few cents to contribute to the running of this site if you make a qualifying purchase at no extra cost to you.