Want cheap flights to Mongolia? Read this...
Those with more money than time typically choose to take cheap flights to Mongolia rather than take the Trans-Siberian train. Almost all international flights land in Ulan Bator (aiport code: ULN), at windy Chinngis Khan International Airport.
Visitors can connect to domestic flights (which all lead out from Ulan Bator) or head into the city and begin their holiday overland.
Make sure you read my advice on arriving at the airport
Mongolia isn't (yet) enough of a tourist or business destination to warrant cheap or direct flights from Europe or America. That time will surely come, but for now long-distance international flights connect in the hub cities of Beijing, Seoul, and Moscow.
The cheapest way to get to Mongolia is to buy a flight to Beijing (which has the cheapest deals to Mongolia) and arrange a trans-siberian train or flight to Ulan Bator from there.
First Step: Book a cheap flight to a hub city -preferably Beijing
Get a flight online from your home city to Beijing, Seoul or Moscow. You will probably need a visa for Russia or China, but these cities are good places to explore and to enjoy some luxuries after a trip to the Mongolian countryside, and both have cheap flights to Mongolia.
Online air ticketing websites offer the best deals to the hub cities. I've tried many of the online ticketing websites, but have now settled on Vayama.com. Their searches are easy to use and when I run the exact same search on a number of flights I find Vayama always come out cheaper than Orbitz, Expedia, etc., mostly by $50 or so, but sometimes by hundreds of dollars. Vayama seem to be a bit more like a real travel agent, they have a help desk which I've found really helpful in changing flights and getting refunds in the past. My wife and I use Vayama on all our international flights now.
Second Step: Book a cheap flight from the hub city to Ulan Bator.
Ulan Bator now shows up on sites like Vayama, but it's worth getting a quote from a travel agent in one of the hub cities in case there are any cheap flights to Mongolia or special deals that the international websites don't have access to. On my last trip to Mongolia, i was amazed to get a return flight from Beijing to UB for $400US, when online they were around $900.
I have used Ocean Travel in Beijing over a number of years in booking cheap trans-siberian train tickets and flights to Mongolia. Roy and the team are always helpful, honest and easy to deal with, including helping with any itinerary changes I've requested after making payment.
Use the form below to request a quote from Ocean Travel for flights or train tickets from Beijing to Mongolia (you may as well get quotes for both so you can compare prices). If your dates are flexible, then ask what days are cheapest. (If anybody has used a good travel agent in Moscow or Seoul and would recommend them to other travelers, please contact me and let me know.)
Other Information on flights to Mongolia
Direct flights to Mongolia from other cities
Beijing most commonly has the better deals, as there seems to be more traffic from there, but good deals can also come through the other two cities.. Prices from these hub cities on to Ulan Bator are pretty similar, around US$600-800 during high season. Consider if any of these hub cities interest you, if so, you might as well plan a stop-over when you book your ticket.
MIAT Mongolian Airlines offers direct flights to Mongolia from Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, and Berlin to Ulan Bator. This offers convenience for travelers coming from Germany and Japan who are seeking a non-stop flight, but the budget-conscious will find other airlines still offer cheaper flights from Japan and Germany which connect in the aforementioned hub cities.
For those traveling in the Chinese areas of Inner Mongolia or stunning Xinjiang autonomous region, Aero Mongolia offers short-haul international, cheap flights to Mongolia from Hoh Hot and Urumqi (their respective capitals). These flights will help overcome the difficulties in crossing overland from these provinces, and they are about US$200 less than a flight from Beijing.
The airline also offers flights to Mongolia from Irkutsk on Lake Baikal in Russia, but you might as well jump on the Trans-Siberian unless you're in a real hurry, it is a lot cheaper. Same deal for Ulan Ude across the Russian border: you can either take the train, or buy a more expensive flight from EZnis airways.
Direct flights to Kazakhstan seem to come and go from year to year, depending on demand and whether the airlines have been shut down by the safety authorities. Aero Mongolia has offered a domestic flight from Olgii, capital of Altai aimag in the west of Mongolia, across to the Kazakh city of Oskemen. Oskemen now has a customs facility, so it's possible to disembark there, or take a flight on to the capital, Astana. In flying between these two countries, finding up to date information and booking tickets at either end is something of a challenge; your best bet is to use a reliable tour company within those countries. An alarming number of Kazakh airlines are blacklisted by the European Union, so you might wish to peruse the list before choosing to fly on one (there are no Mongolian airlines blacklisted as at March, 2011).
Many international airlines offer flights to the hub cities of Beijing, Moscow, and Seoul from your home countries. But only the following offer flights to Mongolia from overseas:
- MIAT Mongolia Airlines is still running from the Soviet era. It was previously known as Air Mongol and Mongolian Air. On the negative side, they've done away with their old Antonovs and Tupolevs in favour of more modern Airbuses and Boeings, so there's less romance to it all. On the plus side, you're far less likely to crash into a mountain than you were 15 years ago: they have a clear safety record in the last 10 years -a vast improvement on previous times.
Fly to Tokyo, Osaka, Berlin, Seoul, Moscow, and Beijing, but tend to be a bit more expensive than other foreign airlines.
- Aero Mongolia was formed in 2001, and runs Fokker planes. Their operations have been suspended a couple of times by the Mongolian aviation body in recent years because of failing safety checks. Not ideal, but hey, suffering an air accident could well be preferable to reaching these destinations by public transport: Fly to Hoh Hot, Urumqi, Irkutsk, plus a number of domestic routes.
- EZnis are a new Mongolian airline, formed in 2006. They fly Saab 340B's and are quite competitive with Aero Mongolia. They have a more slick marketing department and might even offer a decent online booking system one of these days. EZnis fly a number of domestic Mongolian routes but currently only operate regular international flights to Ulan Ude, Russia, and Hailar, Chinese Inner Mongolia. They have plans to open other routes to China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
- Air China flies direct to Ulan Bator from Beijing. They have a reputation for being delayed when departing from Ulan Bator, though many say this is due to the gale force winds common at UB, and Air China follow more stringent safety standards than the local airlines-who are happy to risk it. They are part of the Star Alliance, so you can earn Frequent Flyer points if you've signed up to the FFP at another alliance airline (United, Lufthansa, SAS, Air Canada, Air NZ, etc.).
- Korean Air flies direct from Seoul, but not every day. Korean Air have a number of connections to Europe and the States. They're a member of the Skyteam alliance, so you earn points with KLM, Continental, Air France, Alitalia, etc.
- AeroFlot, the Russian airline, offers flights to Mongolia from Moscow. Aeroflot is one of the world's biggest airlines, and is currently undergoing a fleet modernization. Apart from a slight mishap in the Ural region in 2008 (a 737 went down; all souls lost) Aeroflot has a pretty clear safety record since the Soviet days. Aeroflot has connecting flights from Moscow to most major European cities. They sometimes have some really cheap deals to Ulan Bator from Europe, so they're worth checking out.
Should I use a travel agent, or buy online?
A good, knowledgable travel agent can be very helpful in structuring a complex international fare. Unfortunately, the average travel agent spends most of their time booking trips to Disney Land, doesn't know what Ulan Bator is, and adds zero value above an online ticketing site. Of the bigger commercial travel agents, there usually seems to be only one 'guru' in every store, who all the other staff constantly refer to; it's luck of the draw if you actually get this person serving you. A good travel agent will think you through a big trip, giving you an understanding of fare rules, hub cities, and the economics of different airline sectors. If you know a travel agent who's particularly knowledgable, or find one that specializes in Asian travel, then by all means you should try them -they could help save you a heap of time and money. Travel agents can also offer flexible tickets, which allow your destinations and dates to change without such large financial penalties as online fares. If you're heading overseas for a long time and think your plans and flight dates might change, you should consider paying a few dollars more to get a flexible fare ticket from a travel agent. I once headed off on a year and a half trip and was so grateful I went through a good travel agent (thanks, Troy!), he changed my tickets about 10 different times, and saved me money by understanding industry oddities such as Cairo being considered a 'European' fare for round-the-world tickets.
In summary, a knowledgable travel agent is useful when you want to build a complex itinerary (including round-the-world ticket deals), or if you are not 100% sure on your flying dates or potential destinations. In these cases, they can add a lot of value. It's worth trying one or two for a quote; you'll quickly figure out if your travel agent knows what they're doing; either way, avoid paying a booking deposit on your first sitting, many agents will push for one, but stand firm, and go away and have a think about it before you commit.
Online ticket websites are usually cheaper, but you can really be penalized if you need to make any changes in dates or destinations. They obviously don't offer much domain knowledge they can give you, but hopefully my website provides the essentials. Book online if you have a relatively straighforward itinerary and your dates are certain. Websites usually go on price alone and don't consider other factors. Make sure you're clear on the number and duration of stopovers, particularly overnight layovers -which can cost you hundreds for taxis and hotels-, and you compare the total times to destination. For many, a 5-hour stopover may not be worth a hundred dollar saving.
Importantly, think about your luggage: websites might offer you the cheapest fare via two different airlines, but if they're not codeshare flights (i.e. same letters on flight number) then you'll have to allocate enough stopover time (AT LEAST 2.5 hours, preferably 3) to clear customs, get your bags, check them back in with the other airline, and pass back through customs/ immigration. This can be a royal pain in the ass, particularly if you're flying into a place like Moscow or Beijing, where you'll need to ensure you have (i.e. pay for) the appropriate visa before you can clear through customs. [NB: Shanghai offers visa-free lay-overs for many nationalities, Beijing doesn't]. Of course, if you have carry-on luggage only, you won't have to clear customs and immigration to change airlines, but otherwise you should think carefully if an airline change is worth the saving. Also have a good look at what time you're arriving at your destination. 3am is not ideal. Not all travel agents consider these things, either, so no matter how you buy your tickets, check the details carefully.
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