Four tree plantation models implemented in Lao PDR and a hypothetical model were compared in terms of the projected economic benefits and those realised by participating rural households, and households' attitudes to further plantation expansion. Models comprised two forms of land-sharing plantation concessions, and contract and independent tree growing. Benefits and costs over the plantation cycle were used to calculate net present values. Tree plantations contributed most to household livelihoods when companies engaged in a participatory land use planning process, where opportunities for household labour were greatest, and where plantation models allowed for intercropping by households. In contrast, where contracts were not honoured, crops cannot be grown jointly, or labour opportunities are limited, returns were not competitive with traditional swidden agriculture. Households were generally open to expansion of more beneficial models. These results suggest a set of principles for developing locally appropriate and beneficial tree plantation systems in Lao PDR.