For a relatively small country, Thailand has a really good array of options for domestic air travel. Passengers can choose from three no-frills budget carriers, one "boutique" airline and the country's flag carrier. This means that for most routes there are lots of flights and prices are very affordable (the one exception is flights to Samui, which are still expensive relative to the miles covered).
Which airline should you pick when you're booking flights in Thailand? Here's an overview of what you can expect from each of the airlines.
Thai Airways is Thailand's flag ship carrier. It's partly government owned and is headquarted in Bangkok. Thai airways is also the country's international airline so it has quite an extensive support infrastructure in place. The airline is considered a four star airline, and even on short hop flights, passengers get snacks and some type of in-flight entertainment.
Thai Airways has lost a lot of market share to low-cost carriers over the past decade, and because of that they are now pricing their domestic flights very competitively. Another benefit of flying Thai is that the airline is a member of Star Alliance.
Bangkok Airways calls itself "Asia's boutique airline," and though that phrase tends to confuse people, what it means is that Bangkok Airways is a small airline with limited flights, offering a higher level of service than the competition, often at a higher price.
One of the best perks about flying Bangkok Airways is the fact that they have their own lounges in many of Thailand's airports. Passengers can enjoy snacks and drinks and peace and quiet before boarding their flights.
In addition to tons of regional international flights, Air Asia offers flights from Bangkok to 10 different domestic destinations, including Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. In 2010, Air Asia was ranked the world's best budget carrier by Skytrax thanks to the airlines cheap prices, great service and comprehensive routes.
Though flying Air Asia is definitely a pleasant experience, it's still a budget airline, so you'll pay extra if you want to check bags, pick your seat, or have a meal. The airline allows you to reschedule flights before departure for a fee, but is unforgiving if you miss a flight.
If an airline could win awards for cuteness, Nok Air would be a contender for top spot. The budget airline, a joint venture with Thai Airways, has embraced a bird theme ("nok" means bird in Thai) and so all of the airplanes are painted like colorful birds, flight attendants wear yellow bird outfits and they sell lots of cute bird-themed items on their flights.
Aside from the cuteness factor, Nok has multiple daily flights from Bangkok to the country's most popular tourist destinations. Maybe it's the goofy bird outfits, or just Thai hospitality, but staff and crew always seem to be super nice on Nok Air. And although it's definitely a budget carrier, you can pick most seats for free and, for a little extra, buy upgraded (larger) seats. Nok Air also allows customers to pay for flights in an innovative way -- you can book your flight on the phone and then pay for it at a local ATM (with the reservation code the agent will give you).
Yet another no-frills budget carrier is Orient Thai, which also operates under the name One Two Go. Orient Thai has daily flights from Bangkok to Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai and a handful of other destinations in Thailand. Many of the flights originate in Bangkok's old airport, Don Muang, instead of the new international airport.
Orient Thai is a budget airline but offers passengers a few extra perks, including free snacks, free seat selection and 20 kilos of checked baggage.