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 …
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:
Stay At The Sunlight Guest Hotel
Coron Island Hopping on a private boat
Try Coron’s Best Pizza At Trattoria Altrove
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.
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 the 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 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 …
Pin “Cebu Pacific 5J40 SYD-MNL” for later!
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.
Ami Bhat says
I see some pluses and minuses in the option. I like the whole budget option bit but the rush on the counters and the hard seats for me, were a tad bit negative. I suppose that is what you get at that price. A good review of the pros and cons.
Vicky and Buddy says
I’ve never flown with Cebu, but glad to hear you’d fly with them again. I find that I’m willing to endure some hardships if it means finding cheaper flights. In the US, I’ve flown with Spirit a a lot because of their cheap prices.
I see why they said 3 hours. You just never know. Those were some good prices. Seems like stalking the site for a great fare for weeks worked out well. Paying for a Coke stinks.
Skye Class says
I unforutnately always go the budget route myself, unless there’s some crazy deal or glitch. Having said that, I don’t even mind the long queues as much, as it gives me time to read an ebook or work on social media. As to the food, I can totally agree those photos look a bit unreal. Still, unless my conversions are off, that sounds like quite an expensive flight. I’m really going have to have to save up before I make it down to Australia.
Such a great airline review! I never flew Cebu Pacific but it does seems like a good deal. I wouldn’t even care as much about this queues but 9 hours on uncomfortable sits might be tough. I also don’t care as much about inflight entertainment. I flew ones 8 hours to Hawaii with American Airline ones and they also didn’t have it! Thats why I learn now to always have some movies on my iPad 🙂 The food looks great, but yeah it probably is not as great as it looks like 🙂
A very nice and comprehensive post on Cebu flight. I have flown Cebu a couple of times . As far as you keep your expectation in check and read the fine print, it is fine. 🙂 I actually got a front row seat once and the legroom was like a metre or so and that was really nice.
Nice to know the extra distance the customer service went and gave you a discount. Normally they did not have to. Kudos to them.
Would I fly Cebu again. A resounding yes 🙂 🙂
This is a great read! I particularly love the section where you detail how much surcharges are added to an airline ticket. Often when I read articles they bypass those fees, which makes the trip price they’re advertising unrealistic and untrue. I definitely would’ve jumped on a deal like that too — what’s a steal!
Marcus and Mel says
Very cheap but not sure if we would be happy with the chaos at the start. Still don’t know how it still takes so long despite all the online information collected. Also agree that it is annoying how many people, who must be frequent flyers or returning passengers can’t sort out their paperwork out or bags at security. We do a lot of budget flights around Europe (under 2 hours) although not sure about a 9 hour one.
Sandy N Vyjay says
Considering that flight tickets account for a sizable portion of the travel budget it is prudent not to splurge and travel economy on budget airlines wherever possible. The Cebu Pacific airline looks to be a good economical flight. Of course a hard seat can be a source of discomfort especially on a long-haul flight, but then one needs to weigh the costs and benefits.
Sherrie Fabrizi Allbritten says
Definitely not my type of flight. . Thanks for all the tips and insight. Hoping your vacation was a good one!
Nice review of your travel process! I havnt been to Sydney yet, but looks interesting! Nice to know about the flights and the airlines. Good tips!
Dann Castillo says
I use budget airlines all the time and. although I have never flown with Cebu, it sounds like it offers good value for its price. hate queues, but I have seen those in better airlines as well, so I guess we just have to cope. I flew with WowAir last December and although I didn’t have any entretainment or food for more than six hours, I did enjoy their leg room and good service. Thanks for all the tips!
I agree when it comes to flying comfortably or flying frequently, flying frequently wins most of the times. Cebu Pacific sounds like a nice option when it comes to cheaper airlines. Thanks for sharing the detailed information about the experience it offers.
Carol Colborn says
Yes, I have and, like you, I would choose price over temporary comfort, unless the flight is too long and the direct flight from Sydney to Manila is not bad. But I love your comment that the Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and Manila is the gateway to many stunning destinations. I am Filipino and thank you immensely,
Amrita Sen says
I really enjoyed reading your post as it reminded me of my experience at the low-cost airline AirAsia. Though the pricing was not as complicated as the Cebu Airlines, the customer service and in-flight entertainment were quite like that. Infact, the flight was late and there was no announcement of it!
I’ve never heard of the airline before! My friend is heading to Cebu today so I’ll let her know. Great deal!!
Kavita Favelle says
Really impressed with their customer service on bringing the price down for you when you booked the wrong segments, that’s a nice touch for them to do that when they didn’t have to and I like that you rewarded it by booking additional flights via their domestic service. Shame their check in was so slow though, I find that hugely frustrating as I get back ache from standing around for a long while, although I can see it may have been their passengers at fault not the check in staff! I do hate when check in staff don’t bother to police at the boarding gate their own requests for passengers to board by row numbers, that annoys the hell out of me. Little details like this matter! The seats sound like they have fair pitch but are super hard and uncomfortable. I think when cost is the key factor, it’s probably worth it but I think I’d find these various issues super frustrating and prefer to pay a bit more!
Great to hear that the airlines were willing to refund the fare, which reflects great customer service on their end. I’ll consider flying with them when I’m heading over to the Philippines, thanks for sharing!
Ooh I’d actually never heard of Cebu Pacific before and I’m usually a bit reticent to book with lesser-known carriers for some reason. I don’t really know why… but that rate is cheap as chips and I hardly use the in-flight entertainment consoles anyway so that’s not really a deal breaker. If the leg room is as comparable to other carriers as you say, I think it’s a winner!
Cebu Pacific looks like a good choice for a cheap flight! We are in the middle of planning a trip to Philippines so will look into this airline! I love how they even have rainbow bagels!!
Those queues sound crazy! I can’t believe the lines were even worse on the way home. It sounded bad enough the way there. Like you, I always prefer to just “let the madness settle down” and be one of the last ones to board. I can sit relaxed in the waiting area without unnecessarily standing in line for an hour (!), thank you! 🙂 I also hate it when you think you’ve got a great flight deal, and they add all those fees on top. Oh, well!
nice! so glad you actually contacted customer service representative and managed to get the better price. thank you for sjharing your experience
Megan Jerrard says
Still a bargain on the flights – I’m super impressed (and honestly a little amazed) that they refunded the difference in fare for you. Definitely customer service points there! The struggle is definitely real though between weighing up comfort vs a cheap ticket, because I do believe you often get what you pay for. I’ve started to come more around to the mindset that I would prefer to pay more than have to, in this case, deal with uncomfortable seats, but definitely a great choice for those who want the savings. Thanks for the honest review 🙂
Allison Smith says
Me too Megan but there was indeed push back. I’m a bit like a dog with a bone when it comes to these things and as soon as I escalated the matter to someone with authority to make the call they were very helpful. I’ve had a similar issue with Jetstar and once you push through the first layer (who always say no lol) I find you get a much better response. Yes the hard seats were not great but you get what you pay for!
Courtney from Antipodean Adventurer says
Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I loved reading all about it. I’ve always, always had to turn up 3 hours early for an international flight though – I’d be interested in knowing what international flights only require two hours!
Allison Smith says
Interesting Courtney. This is the first I have noticed that asked for 3 hours, maybe I just not paying attention lol. Never had a problem (yet!) turning up 2 hours early. Let’s hope I don’t get caught out lol
What a nice review of Cebu. It’s nice to hear that customer service did get things taken care of. That’s always a plus. Otherwise, it sounds like the typical budget flight. No frills, just a straightforward flight that’s makes it affordable to travel. I will add them to our list of budget flyers to use.
I have heard of Cebu pacific before because my friends are flying with them all the time for intern flights in the Philippines. I have not tried the Cebu Pacific yet but now after reading your post I am quite suprised of how cheap the flight tickets really are! From now on I have to start looking flights with them! And great tip about choosing the seats with a spare seat in the middle!
Allison Smith says
It’s not always this cheap Dada. You definitely need to be on the look out for a sale and swoop when the price is right! Good luck!
Medha Verma says
I have come across your post at the best time possible because I will be flying Cebu Pacific from Dubai to Manila (9 hours direct flight) next week! I also bought the ticket because it was REALLY cheap andI have kept my expectations really low. I am not expecting any entertainment in the flight, I am actually amused by the little quiz they have on board that you mention. I am actually disappointed to know that their seats are very uncomfortable, it is going to be one long and tough flight I can see. Thanks for this review, it puts things in perspective and I know now, exactly what to expect!
Allison Smith says
I survived Medha so I am sure you will too. I would still fly Cebu Pacific again to save those $$$$’s lol
I’m so jealous you paid so cheaply for such a long flight!! I’ve seen photos of Cebu and it looks incredible. If I ever go, I may just check the Cebu Pacific for Sydney too! I’m not a fan of plane food, though your spam nori roll sounds kind of interesting! Beats Ryanair anyday!
Allison Smith says
I haven’t flown on Ryanair but have heard lots of horrible things. These are the perils of travelling in budget airlines!
Iuliana Marchian says
I haven’t traveled to that part of the world yet but I am definitely planning a trip to SEA next year in winter (I am not staying another winter, with snow !, here in Romania). I have heard much about Cebu Pacific but never had the chance to fly with it. From what I read in your post though, it’s pretty similar with other low cost companies. Don’t expect that Ryanair or Wizz Air offer more comfortable seats. And the first time I had to make the online check-in I couldn’t help of thinking “Damn it, if I don’t know how to make it, I’ll miss my flight and pay extra for the airport check-in.”
Ah, the things we’ll experience so we don’t have to sell our kidney! I’ve never flown with Cebu before, and I can’t say that I’m all that excited to experience them. 9 hours with a measly 3-question game? I’ll take a nap over that any time.
Allison Smith says
Lol Rachelle. Sleep is your friend on Cebu Pacific but for the savings I would do it again!
I really appreciate how thorough this post us, you’ve held our hand through what I find to be the most stressful bit of travelling, booking the bloody flights!
Love it Cebu gave you a refund! Goid work!
Allison Smith says
I know right Kelly! Stalking fares waiting for a bargain is all consuming lol. I do like the alerts some sites offer though as it makes it a little easier!