There are several options for nonstop flights to the Philippines from North America and from Australia; from Europe, the only nonstop flights are from London with Philippine Airlines. Otherwise, reaching the Philippines from outside Asia usually involves a stopover in Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai. Most major airlines in the region have regular connecting flights to Manila, with a few also flying direct to Cebu.
High season for Philippines travel is November to April, though airfares vary relatively little through the year. This is because the low season for the Philippines (May–Oct) is the peak season in Europe and the US, so flights heading out of these regions to various hub airports are often full.
If the Philippines is only one stop on a longer journey, you might want to consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. In addition, some agents also offer Circle Pacific tickets, which cover Australia, New Zealand, the west coast of North America and destinations in the Pacific. You can include Manila and/or Cebu on some of the itineraries.
From the UK and Ireland
Philippine Airlines (PAL) currently operates nonstop flights between London and Manila three times a week, with the outward flight taking 14hr 30min, and the return 15hr 25min. The second fastest option is to route through Hong Kong, from where there are numerous onward flights daily to Manila and Cebu. From Ireland, the speediest option is to take a budget airline to London and change there. London–Manila nonstop costs around £800–900, and from around £550 with stops. From the Republic of Ireland, the best fares are around €600–700 via the UK and the Middle East.
From the US and Canada
Philippine Airlines operates nonstop flights to Manila from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver (and direct flights from Toronto with a stop in Vancouver), charging around US$1000–1500 for the round trip (around Can$2000 from Toronto). Delta Airlines flies direct from Detroit (an exhausting 18hr 35min via Narita, Japan) for around US$1900. However, you can save around twenty percent on these fares if you travel on another airline such as Korean Air via Seoul. Note that in most cases, the longer you stay in the Philippines the cheaper your flight will be.
From Los Angeles or San Francisco, the flying time to Manila is around eleven hours. From the east coast of North America, flying via the Pacific, the journey will take around twenty hours excluding any layover (allow at least 2hr extra) along the way. If you choose to fly from New York via Paris, say, expect the journey to take around 24 hours altogether.
From Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Philippine Airlines flies nonstop to Manila from Melbourne (8–9hr) three times a week, and from Sydney (8–9hr) four times a week; it also flies from Brisbane (9–10hr), via Darwin (4hr 30min). Return fares online can be as low as Aus$700. Qantas also flies Sydney to Manila nonstop four times a week, but fares are usually much higher (from Aus$1500 in high season). If you want to get to Cebu City, you can fly via Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, although it’s probably easiest simply to change in Manila.
From New Zealand there are no nonstop flights to the Philippines, so you’ll have to go via Australia or a Southeast Asian hub such as Singapore or Hong Kong. A typical fare is NZ$1500 Auckland–Manila via Hong Kong, the journey taking 15 to 20 hours.
From South Africa you’ll always make at least one stop en route to Manila, and often two. Depending on the length of the stop, the trip will take from 16 to 26 hours. Cathay Pacific is the fastest, with fares from around ZAR9000 return in high season from Johannesburg via Hong Kong.
From elsewhere in Asia
You can fly direct to the Philippines from almost every major city in Asia, with several budget airlines offering cheap fares. Many of these fly to Clark International Airport, 80km northwest of Manila, so make sure you factor in additional travel time if necessary. Numerous flights make the two-hour trip from Hong Kong to Manila, with rates as low as HK$1300 (US$170).
AirAsia Zest zips between Manila and Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Macau and Seoul. Cebu Pacific also offers cheap flights from Bangkok, Jakarta, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Seoul and Taipei to Manila, and several routes direct to Cebu City.
The Singapore–Manila route (3hr 30min) is very competitive, served by Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Jetstar Asia Airways, Tigerair and Cebu Pacific from S$120 (US$90).
Handy regional flights include a Silk Air service (3 weekly; 3hr 50min) linking Singapore with Davao (Mindanao), a Malaysia Airlines flight between Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) and Puerto Princesa (3 weekly; 1hr 30min) and a China Airlines flight between Taipei (Taiwan) and Laoag (northern Luzon). Kalibo International Airport, serving Boracay (see Arrival and departure), has nonstop flights to Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and Singapore.
Many unlicensed boats ply back and forth between the Malaysian state of Sabah and the southern Philippines, but these are considered unsafe for tourists. At the time of writing the primary licensed (and safer) ferry route linked Zamboanga City with Sandakan, Sabah (nonstop). Aleson Shipping ferries (062 991 2687, aleson-shipping.com) depart Zamboanga on Monday at 1.30pm and return on Tuesday (around P3100; 20–24hr), but always check the latest schedule in advance. Cheap bunk-bed accommodation is usually available on deck, as well as a limited number of cabins (from P3500).
There are no regular ferry services to northern Sulawesi (Indonesia) from the Philippines. Illegal, small boats often make the trip from General Santos; it’s far safer and faster to fly via Manila and Jakarta.
Agents and operators
Absolute Travel US 1800 736 8187, absoluteasia.com. Luxury tours to the Philippines that can be combined with other destinations in Southeast Asia. The fourteen-day Highlights of the Philippines tour includes Manila, Banaue, Sagada, Baguio, Bohol and Cebu City (US$5255, excluding international flights).
Allways Dive Expeditions Australia 1800 338 239 or 03 9885 8863, allwaysdive.com.au. All-inclusive dive packages to prime locations in the Philippines and Southeast Asia from Aus$720 for seven nights (not including flights). Destinations in the Philippines include Coron, Dumaguete, Malapascua, Moalboal, Donsol and Puerto Galera. Also liveaboards to Cebu, Dauin, Tubbataha and Apo reefs, Coron wrecks and Anilao (from Aus$2335).
Bamboo Trails Taiwan 886 7 7354945, bambootrails.com. Small travel company offering some unique group itineraries in the Philippines, including the “Sugar Trail” through Negros and Siquijor.
Dive Worldwide UK 0845 130 6980, diveworldwide.com. Specialist dive operator offering trips to a number of destinations in the Philippines, including Tubbataha Reef, Coron, Bohol, Dumaguete and Puerto Galera. A typical fourteen-day trip to Donsol to see the whale sharks including flights, domestic transfers and accommodation starts at £1955.
Grasshopper Adventures UK 020 8123 8144, US 818 921 7101; grasshopperadventures.com. Bicycle and guided tour specialists, with a variety of bike tours all over Asia and a seven-day guided tour of Bohol for US$1300.
North South Travel UK 01245 608291, northsouthtravel.co.uk. Friendly travel agency offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
Philippine Island Connections UK 020 7404 8877, www.pic-uk.com. Philippines specialist offering flights to the Philippines, plus hotel bookings, holiday packages and tours. They also offer domestic flight reservations, though it’s often cheaper to book once you’re in the Philippines.
STA Travel UK 0871 2300 040, US 1800 781 4040, Australia 13 47 82, New Zealand 0800 474 400, South Africa 0861 781 781; statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.
Trailfinders UK 0845 058 5858, Ireland 01 677 7888, Australia 1300 780 212; trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.