How to transfer at BKK (Bangkok Suvarnabhumi)
The hard part’s done – you’re finally off what might have been a very long plane ride to Thailand. Now it’s just a zippy flight of an hour or so to Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi or Chiang Mai.
How to transfer flights at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
Your vacation is so close you can touch it. While the flight transfer process at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) couldn’t be easier, the unknown can be daunting – especially when half your brain has disappeared with jet lag.
How to stay overnight at BKK
Overnight or 24-hour stays
Need an airport hotel for an overnight or an extended layover? Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is my tried-and-true recommendation for a Bangkok airport hotel. Room-by-room renovations are underway (the hallways are a bit shabby) but this is THE closest bed you will possibly find to the airport. It’s a little dated but, on a quick overnight layover, I stay here for its unrivalled convenience (truly two minutes door-to-door, with a free shuttle every 10 minutes). If you have a late-night arrival flight and a crack-of-dawn departure, don’t look anywhere else.
Tip: Got a strange itinerary? Your reservation is for 24 hours from the time of check-in, rather than a strict one-night stay with set times. Have daylight hours to kill? There’s an outdoor pool, a decent gym and a good breakfast spread.
Short stays and nap rooms
Comfortable in a small space? Whether you’d prefer the novel experience or want the (fractional) savings from the Novotel, there are two capsule hotels within Bangkok Suvarnabhumi itself: Avagard Capsule Hotel and Boxtel @ Suvarnabhumi Airport. Both are past immigration, in the basement. Rates are available for overnight stays or short naps; you also can book 3-, 4- and 7-hour stays.
- Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport: 8 hours (day use) and 24 hours
- Avagard Capsule Hotel: 3 hours, 7 hours and 15 hours (overnight)
- Boxtel @ Suvarnabhumi Airport: 4 hours
How to transfer flights at BKK
If you’re a Star Alliance member, you might consider domestic connections with Thai and/or regional subsidiary Thai Smile. Thai no longer flies to Koh Samui, but its domestic routes include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Surat Thani. If your route works, you could use Thai or Thai Smile for a domestic connection and enjoy an easy transfer with no need to claim your bags, exit the secure area and check in for your second flight.
If you’re flying Bangkok Airways, the BKK transfer is slightly more complicated (explained below). However, they’re the only domestic airline offering direct flights to Koh Samui. (They own the airport). In a baffling move for an airline that consistently wins World’s Best Regional Airline – Bangkok Airways has changed their baggage transfer policy for passengers travelling on (A) more than one airline on (B) more than one ticket.
For example: You’re flying from London Heathrow on Thai, then changing to Bangkok Airways in Bangkok to fly to Koh Samui. Say, like many travellers, you booked these tickets separately on the airlines’ own websites. Previously, you could check your bags at Heathrow and collect them in Samui – simply transferring in Bangkok. Not anymore.
Today – in a move that seems to punish the capable and independent-minded traveller (or perhaps Star Alliance competitors?) – you have to add a few annoying steps to achieve the above. Anyone with a separate Bangkok Airways ticket will have to (1) collect their bags in Bangkok and (2) check in for their second flight separately. This holds true for travel both to and from Koh Samui (or any domestic Bangkok Airways destination).
Why the policy change? In their words: To “enjoy carefree journey without anxieties”. Having tried the new reality, I’ll have to disagree. What used to be care-free will now, at busy times of the year, involve significant waits. So – what are your options? How to get around this new policy to enjoy the easy days of old?
(A) If you haven't booked your ticketsCheck that your second airline is listed on this list of eligible carriers for through-check baggage. Air Canada, Air New Zealand and United are three Star Alliance that are currently ineligible – I hope you share my frustration.
If your second airline IS eligible for through-check, you can book your Bangkok Airways flight under the same ticket and skip this nonsense entirely. To do this, have it issued through a travel agent or call your second airline’s ticket office and have them book your Bangkok Airways flight on the same ticket. Do some comparison shopping, though, as I've found this can be a more expensive option on the routes I fly. Remember the days when you could do things for yourself, on the internet? No longer! This option might actually involve a dot matrix printer.
(B) If your airline is ineligible and/or you have separate ticketsExpect that your bags will be checked to Bangkok only. You will have to collect them and re-check them for your onward flight. If your airline is listed as eligible (above) consider cancelling your Bangkok Airways ticket and getting a travel agent to rebook your existing reservation under the same ticket. (Once you've checked that there's available space on the flight).
No checked luggage? Yes – I tried the obvious. Even with no checked luggage and an onward boarding pass for your second flight ready in hand, you are still not allowed to transit in Bangkok. No matter what, you have to exit through baggage claim in Bangkok and proceed through departures upstairs. Don’t blame the messenger.
How to transfer to domestic at BKK
This is your BKK transfer process if you're flying with any airline that offers direct through-transfer from other airlines (like Thai Airways) or have achieved the small miracle of having two eligible flights on one Bangkok Airways ticket. Ready? Here’s the easy peasy, seven-step process to transfer from an international flight to a domestic flight at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Whether you’re flying Thai or Bangkok Airways (see above for complicated nonsense), the process is the same.
1. Arrival at BKK
Your l-o-n-g journey (whether flight or flights) to Thailand reaches a joyous conclusion the minute you touch down at BKK. Instantly, you get a sense of the steamy climate, soon replaced by near-freezing air-conditioning (learn what to wear). Everyone’s smiling at you – Welcome to Thailand.
2. A long walk
To transfer to a domestic flight, follow the yellow ‘transfer’ signs through the airport – they’re everywhere and very obvious. You’ll soon be weaving and wading through dozens of follow-the-flag tour groups… just keep walking! Very likely you have a long walk from your international flight’s gate to the transfer desk – perhaps as far as a kilometre’s walk. If your carry-on bag doesn’t have wheels, do your shoulders a big favour and grab a hand luggage cart – there are plenty available throughout the terminal. If you start to doubt the length or your walk or have any questions, there are English-speaking information booths at about one-minute intervals along the way. Or, take the time to check out various duty-free shops as you go.
3. Your boarding pass
Visit the transfer desk (if you need a boarding pass). If you flew to Thailand on an airline other than Thai or Bangkok Airways, you’ll very likely need to collect your next boarding pass at the relevant transfer desk. Following the yellow signs will lead you straight there, both airlines’ desks sit next to each other. Delightfully, unlike the fifth levels of hell at many U.S. airports, I’ve never seen a queue at these transfer desks – it’s like they’re there just waiting for you. They’ll want 3 things at the transfer desk:
- Your printed e-ticket (or equivalent itinerary)
- Your passport
- The luggage tag given to you at check-in when you started your journey (it’s small, square, sticky and has a bar code on it – probably stuck to the back of a previous boarding pass)
Now’s the time to request a window seat if you’d like to gawk at Thailand’s beaches along the way.
4. Airline check
Once you have your onward boarding pass, you’ll head through immigration to officially enter Thailand. This is right next to the transfer desk – no more walking.
(5. Arrival/departure cards)
Update: As of June 2022, arrival/departure cards are “temporarily suspended”.
Adjacent to some metal barriers is a small desk where you have a chance to fill in an arrival/departure card if you didn’t already (though you’ll have probably been given one on your previous flight). It asks for your hotel address in Thailand – no huge degree of specificity is required, ‘Banyan Tree, Koh Samui’, for example, is plenty.
6. Airline check
Before approaching the immigration counter, you’ll pass through an airline check – either a Thai or Bangkok Airways representative checks that you have 3 things ready in your hands:
- Your boarding pass
- Your passport – open to your ID page
- Your completed arrival/departure card
Next up, a friendly smile for the immigration official. Even at peak travel periods, I’ve never experienced more than a short wait here, it’s very slick. After a frenzy of rubber stamping your departure card will be stapled to your passport – to be removed when you leave Thailand.
8. Your gate (and free coffee!)
Emerging from security you’ll face straight down the B concourse. It’s nothing but gates down there – the interesting stuff is to the left. Turn left, towards A concourse, to find some great little shops and a nice selection of places to eat. There’s a Boots pharmacy if you need more sunscreen. If you’re flying Bangkok Airways you’ll almost certainly be heading for Concourse A. About halfway down the concourse is the Bangkok Airways Lounge – ideal to spend a few minutes with free WiFI and a very welcome cup of coffee.
Security is now just before the gates (something to remember before you buy a large coffee).
How long does this direct transfer take?
From start to finish, assuming a long but reasonably brisk walk from an arriving flight, the direct transfer process at BKK can take as little as half an hour from landing to pushing ‘Americano’ on the Bangkok Airways Lounge coffee machine. With an easily distracted group, full bladders, and lots of luggage or children to wrangle, assume a bit longer – perhaps 45 minutes to an hour. Note that, at the time of writing, Bangkok Airways recommended a minimum connection time (MCT) of ninety minutes.
Hopefully, this eases any first-time or nervous traveller concerns – making you all the more ready to enjoy a perfect holiday. Headed onwards to Koh Samui? Use The Koh Samui Guide to discover the island's very best.