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Airline Face-off: PAL vs. Cebu Pacific

Which of the country’s two leading airlines should you book with and why

By: Arrah Camillia Quistadio-Manticajon | June 28, 2016
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Being the major airlines in the country, both Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific dominate the skies in their bid to compete with each other. While the former is a long-standing figure in local aviation, the latter is a budget airline whose entry into the market has shaken up the industry.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of both airlines when compared side by side? ShoppersGuide examines PAL’s and Cebu Pacific’s attributes to determine the airline best fit for your travel needs.


which is better PAL or Cebu Pacific

Cebu Pacific and PAL are the two major players in commercial flights in the Philippines (Photo from Cebu Pacific Airlines website (left) and Philippine Airlines Facebook Page)

Philippine Airlines (PAL) is the flag carrier of the country. Founded in February 1941, PAL has been in existence for 75 years. Coincidentally, it also currently has 75 planes on its fleet.

PAL is owned by PAL Holdings, which is part of a group of companies owned by Lucio Tan. With its brand philosophy of “Heart of the Filipino,” it is the first and oldest commercial airline in Asia operating under its original name. PAL has serviced domestic routes since 1941, and international routes since 1946.

Compared to PAL’s long track record, Cebu Pacific is a relative newcomer to the market, having only been founded in March 1996. Owned by John Gokongwei, this low-cost carrier is now on its 20th year of service. Cebu Pacific prides itself in pioneering the “low fare, great value” strategy and was the first local airline to introduce web check-in, E-ticketing, and seat selection in the Philippines. To date, Cebu Pacific has 57 planes in its fleet.


Cebu Pacific gained popularity when it introduced the pisofare. They are able to offer low fares by removing fuel surcharges, which they have done for domestic flights as early as 2009, followed by international flights in 2011. However, both PAL and Cebu Pacific have removed fuel surcharges on all airline fares since January 2015, following a directive from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).

As PAL’s regular airfare for domestic flights are more expensive than Cebu Pacific’s, the latter’s Go Lite fare is a popular choice among most Filipinos. With no check-in baggage and hand-carry luggage limited to seven kilos, this is ideal for those who want to get on a quick getaway on a shoestring budget. PAL flights, on the other hand, include at least a 10-kilo baggage allowance.

As of this writing, all-in promo rates for Cebu Pacific domestic flights range from PhP599 to PhP1,166 for select Philippine destinations, while international flights start at PhP999. Round-trip domestic flights for PAL, on the other hand, can range from PhP3,000 toPhP9,000, while promo rates for international flights start at $851USD (PhP39,200).

Compared with Cebu Pacific, discounted airfare tickets from PAL come few and far between, and are mostly for international flights. But when they do slash prices, they offer huge discounts. Last March 11 to 15, for instance, PAL had their 75th anniversary seat sale, with all-in discounted fares for round-trip, economy-class international flights starting at $650 USD (PhP30,000).


In terms of service, Cebu Pacific and PAL service crew members are both generally friendly.

Both airlines have also had their fair share of cancelled or delayed flights due to bad weather, and traffic congestion on air and on the ground. Some instances include cancelled flights due to the APEC Summit last year and most recently, the power outage in NAIA last April 2. In both instances, PAL and Cebu Pacific had the rebooking and penalty charges waived. Both airlines offer refund in case of canceled flights due to typhoon. Both airlines also offer meal for delayed flights on the third hour.

Meals and Drinks

Fares include meals or snacks for PAL flights for both economy and business class seats, but passengers on the business class enjoy a more comprehensive menu with Western, Filipino and Japanese Kaiseki dishes, and a wider selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. However, these complimentary snacks or meal are available only for flights exceeding 45 minutes except for flights utilizing Q300 or Q400 turbo prop aircraft. No meals and other amenities in all turbo prop flights. Q300 or Q400 turbo prop aircrafts are typically used for domestic flights.

On Cebu Pacific flights, passengers have to buy their hot meals either from the airline service crew or when booking online. Meals normally range from PhP200 to PhP300 for Cebu Pacific flights.


As for keeping passengers entertained in international flights, starting March 15, 2016, PAL has introduced amenities such as their inflight entertainment system called myPAL e-Suite, a streaming service called myPAL player, inflight internet called myPALWiFi, and inflight roaming service called myPAL Mobile. The inflight entertainment is free, passengers just need to install the MyPAL app on their devices which is also available for free download. However, inflight internet service, which PAL started offering almost three years ago, or July 2013, has a price plan of US$10 per hour and US$40 for full flight.

which is better PAL or Cebu Pacific

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific offers OnAir Internet service since 2014 but this is only for passengers aboard their Airbus A330 planes on international flights. Rates start at US$10 for a 50MB-internet access. They also have bring me and song games courtesy of the flight attendants as part of their inflight entertainment. Souvenir items are given as prizes.

Both airlines have magazines for those who prefer to read.


For domestic flights, Cebu Pacific flies to 34 local destinations while PAL services only 30 local destinations.

PAL covers five destinations which Cebu Pacific does not service, namely Basco, (Batanes) Calbayog, Catarman, Masbate, and Tablas (Romblon).

On the other hand, Cebu Pacific covers eight destinations which PAL does not service, namely Camiguin, Cauayan (Isabela), Clark, San Jose (Mindoro), Siargao, Tandag, Tawi-tawi, and Virac.

Cebu Pacific has been gaining headway in their list of international destinations. They currently service 50 international destinations. But unlike PAL, they have yet to offer flights to all Australian destinations except Sydney, Canada, Tokyo (Haneda), Dammam, Jeda, Abu Dhabi, London, and all US destinations except Guam.

For international flights, PAL covers 48 network routes overseas. When it comes to Asian destinations however, Cebu Pacific offers more variety than PAL. They offer flights to destinations not covered by PAL network routes, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, some parts of China, India, Suarabaya (Indonesia), Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, some parts of Thailand, and Hanoi (Vietnam).


which is better PAL or Cebu Pacific programs

Both Cebu Pacific and PAL have frequent flyer programs, but with slight differences on the terms of use for points earned. (Photo from GetGo (left) and Mabuhay Miles websites (right))

To foster consumer loyalty, both airlines have frequent-flyer programs. PAL has Mabuhay Miles while Cebu Pacific has GetGo.

The concept is generally the same for both companies. Passengers can earn points either through booking tickets with the airline or making transactions with their partners, which are usually credit card companies or hotels. Customers can then redeem their accumulated points and fly for free. Both companies provide customers with online accounts where they can track the points they have earned thus far.

But the similarities end there. Cebu Pacific charges a one-time fee of PhP150 for Getgo membership, while PAL’s Mabuhay Miles Classic Membership is free. In terms of convenience in redeeming points, Cebu Pacific has the upper hand. Getgo members just need to log on to their online account to redeem points, while PAL requires passengers to either go to PAL ticketing offices or to call PAL reservations. While processing of awards tickets and upgrades is free, PAL charges processing fees ranging from $30-$70USD for miles redeemed on or before nine days before flight departure.

Both PAL and Cebu Pacific points do not expire. Cebu Pacific, however, requires Getgo members to earn points on their card at least once a year. With PAL, miles do not expire for active members, which they define as those customers with valid Mabuhay Miles activities starting January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015.


There are a lot of third party reviews out there which give a ranking or score for the performance of both airlines. But ultimately, the final verdict on who soars high between PAL and Cebu Pacific is determined by passengers’ individual needs and preferences.

For passengers who want value for money and are not fussy about amenities, Cebu Pacific is a viable option for both domestic and international flights. But as with budget airlines, it comes with a fair warning that customers get what they pay for.

On the other hand, passengers looking for a full-service airline, especially for international flights, might want to consider PAL.

What’s your take on this airline face-off? Let us know in the comments below!
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About Arrah Camillia Quistadio-Manticajon
Arrah Camillia Quistadio-Manticajon is the current content supervisor for the Visayas region of ShoppersGuide Marketing, Inc. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree from UP Cebu. She has previously worked for a business process outsourcing company, a community newspaper, and a global technology company. When not writing, she putters about in the kitchen, baking or testing new recipes.
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Disclaimer: All articles in the Consumers Magazine of Yoorekka are for general information and entertainment purposes only. Although careful research has been made in writing them, Yoorekka does not make any warranty about the completeness and accuracy of all information presented in our articles. Our content is not intended to be used in place of legal, medical, or any professional advice.
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