Update 2016: AirAsia has changed the way you book their tickets online, so part of this review is not relevant anymore. In the new system, there are no more tricks to make you book unnecessary upgrades and add-ons.
I am surprised that Air Asia can still get the title of "World's Best Low Cost Airlines" in 2013 considering it is by far the worst company and the one company I always try to avoid when flying in Asia.
It seems like AirAsia is so good with its marketing and advertising that people are brainwashed into thinking that they are receiving a 5-star service when flying with them. I hear people excited about taking AirAsia, when the truth is that they will pay more for sitting in a super tiny seat without any food or service and probably departing late.
AirAsia is more expensive than any other low cost airlines in Asia while it does not give back any thing to its customers. Obviously, they do cut on their services and operating costs but the money saved with this rationalizing is not used to decrease flight ticket prices, it is just more profit for the company. I applaud with both hands at how smart it is.
I would accept the level zero of service provided by AirAsia if they were more cheap than anybody else. This would be my reward for accepting such a shame service. But it is the contrary that happens.
My problems start with their website. It is the trickiest and most dishonest booking website that I have ever come across with.
If you use flight comparators such as skyscanner, you may have had this problem of clicking on an AirAsia flight because it seemed to be the cheaper options, and in the end realizing that when you add the taxes, the fuel surcharge, the luggages, the seats, the meal, the check in fee, the payment fee, the priority seats, and the priority boarding, it ends up being more expensive than Singapore Airlines.
Avoiding to pay additional charges will require your full attention: For instance, if you don't want to have AirAsia Insurance, you have to refuse once, and then cancel your refusal. Tricky? Canceling your seats is so complicated as well that I booked them inadvertently at least 3 times... Same with the priority boarding that I forgot to un-tick...
Charging for additional fees is the specialty of AirAsia and its most lucrative business. They will find any possible way to make you pay additional fees. You want to add additional luggage weight to your booking at check in time? This will be charged beyond reasonable. You want a bottle of water on the plane? Take out your wallet. All other companies will give you something free even though they are cheaper: Lion Air for instance do not charge if you request a special seat and they allow 15 kilos of luggage for free. Sriwijaya will give you a free snack (very limited but still), Citilink lets you choose your seat for free, etc... Within the price range of AirAsia, you can actually often fly with regular companies where the service is beyond any comparisons.
With AirAsia, no only do you get nothing free, you also get less for what you pay for (unless you pay more).
When you arrive at the airport, you will notice that AirAsia is the only company that forces you to check in with a machine instead of a human. If you do not check in online, you will have to pay an additional fee. The company would probably reply that it helps keeping its costs low and its prices lower, but the prices aren't lower. They are higher. It is an additional constraint on passengers that is increasing AirAsia's margin while not benefiting to the customers. Maybe one day Executives at AirAsia will find a way to make passengers clean the plane by themselves...
Let's talk about space now: I am a rather tall guy so I'm sensitive to the space between seats in an airplane. All low-cost companies are usually uncomfortable, but AirAsia beats all records. If you are more than 180cm and you didn't buy priority seats with extra leg space, your flight with AirAsia is a torture. You have to fold or squeeze your leg so that you will miraculously fit in the tiny space. If you are more than 190cm, I do not believe you can fly in those seats. If you are more than 190cm and you ever managed to fit in an AirAsia seat, please give me your testimony below.
AirAsia usually flies from and to second class airports, not the main ones. This is true in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok. Those airports are low-cost with less comfort, less shops and restaurants, and more queuing and disorganization. If you have to connect to another flight, unless it is another AirAsia flight, you will lose precious time running from one part of a city to the other.
Air Asia is very very often late and it is not just a personal impression. Just have a look at flightstats.com. You will see that some routes like Denpasar-Jakarta are on time on average 29% of the time only... Try to get any kind of compensation or excuse from a delayed flight and you will understand what is the meaning of low-cost services...
At last, the flight attendant of AirAsia are obviously recruited on their generous looks and it makes for a pleasant flight if you are a male like me. In terms of skills and attitude, they are probably on average more snobbish and arrogant than with other low cost airlines. Comparing them with flights attendants from regular companies like Singapore Airlines is a blasphemy. In terms of skills, I am not so sure but you should probably wish that nothing goes wrong during the flight...
Personally I always avoid AirAsia because I consider that they are priced as regular airlines while offering the lowest standard of low cost service.
Be smart when you book a flight and check what is the real final price you pay and what kind of service are offered.
I would say book with AirAsia only if you can get a real promo and if you are flying without luggage, and without any need for extra services. You may also be sensitive to the safety issue as the record of the company doesn't show any deadly accident (but you may want to read this article though: Accident with AirAsia).