For the budget traveler who wants a little luxury, an Asian vacation may be the ticket thanks to an emerging home rental market

Let’s say I decide four friends and I are going to Phuket, Thailand, for a week in early April. I just found a $498 round-trip fare on China Eastern from LAX, including all taxes and fees. Now all I have to do is find a reasonably priced place for...

For the budget traveler who wants a little luxury, an Asian vacation may be the ticket thanks to an emerging home rental market

Let’s say I decide four friends and I are going to Phuket, Thailand, for a week in early April. I just found a $498 round-trip fare on China Eastern from LAX, including all taxes and fees. Now all I have to do is find a reasonably priced place for us to stay. In a resort town.

Scarcer than hen’s teeth, as my grandmother used to say. But there may be a way to take the bite out of that bill. Thanks to airline competition, we’ve seen amazing fares to Asia as low-cost carriers keep nudging their higher-priced competition in the financial ribs.

That fare mentioned above was on China Eastern, tracked down Monday, for a longed-for but not yet realized trip to Thailand April 3-12. With airfare volatility, this fare may no longer be available by the time you read this.

Chinese carriers have added capacity, which puts continued downward pressure on fares, said Tom Spagnola,  a senior vice president of supplier relations for CheapOair.  And not only on fares to China, he said in an interview in late 2016, but also to Thailand and the Philippines.

Signs point to a “phenomenal year” for the budget-minded traveler. At least where airfare is concerned. Because even though I’m a budget traveler and my bank account tells me I need to rein it in, my back tells me it will hate me more than it already does if I sleep cheap.

For my proposed stay, I could try the Peninsula Bangkok — for twice as much as my ticket cost me, assuming my bunkie would split the cost with me and can stand my snoring.

I could go lower end of course. But although the top end is well represented and the hostel end is certainly present, the cupboard of the mid-level hotel is, if not bare, not exactly overflowing, said Srikanth Beldona, a professor at the University of Delaware who runs the school's hospitality business management program.

Maybe I’ll rent a place. And not just any place. I want a penthouse on the Chao Phraya River that cuts through Bangkok for $50 a night or so. To quote Vivian in the movie “Pretty Woman,” “I want the fairy tale.”

And I can have it if I cast my lot with HomeAway vacation home rentals. That mode of travel stay is nothing new in Europe and even in the U.S., but it is in Asia, which is beginning to embrace this way of stay while you play.

For many travelers, hotels may be a protective cocoon, especially if language is an issue. They promote an “I-am-on-vacation” mind-set, especially when you realize you don’t have to empty the trash or vacuum and you can have fresh towels and clean sheets daily if you want them (and if you don’t feel guilty about damaging the environment by demanding the luxury of new linens).

Hotels “are offering a completely different product — a full-service experience — and many travelers are looking for a break from being ‘at home,’’’ Dillip Rajakarier, chief executive of Minor Hotel Group, said in an email. Minor, founded in Thailand by William E. Heinecke, has numerous hotels in Asia, including the highly touted Anantara brand.

Rajakarier  applauds “different options in the market” because that means “there is something for everyone.”

A vacation rental does have much to recommend it, including privacy and flexibility, said Jeff Hurst, chief commercial officer for HomeAway, which is making headway in the Asia market.  

If you’re a group of friends traveling together, cooking together may be a better option than “being in a crowded restaurant where you may not be able to hear each other,” Hurst said. And for parents traveling with young children — Hurst has two — if the kids sack out for the night at 7:30, Hurst said, “what do you do for the next three hours?”

“If you have a house, and they’re in their own room, you have a bottle of wine or watch a movie. You’ve just got options.”

Technology helps address some of the needs that home-stayers might miss having if they’re not in a hotel, Hurst said. Food delivery apps, for instance, mean you aren’t tied to the kitchen.

Being part of a community also fulfills an increasing need among travelers for authenticity, a word used so often that it is becoming a cliché. But shopping where local residents shop, stopping and having coffee at the local bistro and generally interacting with the residents brings you closer to a culture.

That’s partly what has fueled the success of Airbnb, which told me in an email that it has 74,000 accommodations in China, 48,000 in Japan and 47,000 in Thailand (all kinds of spaces, not just whole houses).

These “sharing economy” accommodations are the antidote, its email said, to “mass-produced tourism.”

The market has room for growth. Cambodia, Airbnb said, so far has only 4,000 travel offerings in a country rich with travel opportunities that include Angkor Wat and an emerging vacation-adventure industry that features bike rides among temples and kayaking the Mekong River.

Such potential growth is partly what fuels Hurst’s enthusiasm about Asia. “It’s going to be the biggest travel region in the world,” he said.

For Southern California travelers, it’s an opportunity to experience a region that is quicker to get to than Europe, cheaper, in many cases, and offers insights into countries and cultures that haven’t yet been loved to death.

At this point, my trip to Asia is still a distant dream. But on HomeAway, I just saw the coolest-looking spot — OK, it’s a villa — on Chang Noi beach, about 200 miles from Bangkok, at $127 a night for a four-bedroom place.

If there are five of us, that’s less than $26 a night, and that is a budget traveler’s sweetest dream.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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