With the June holidays just around the corner, it’s an ideal time to plan ahead so the finite vacation dollar can be stretched for flights, rooms and expenses on the road.
1. Upgrade at the airport
At the airline counter, ask how much it costs to buy an upgrade to business class or premium economy. Sometimes, the fare is significantly cheaper.
Airplane seats are perishable items, so an airline may be prepared to sell an upgrade to gain a bit of profit and loyalty. The passenger ends up with a good, restful experience especially on a long-haul journey, and will hopefully think about that airline for a future flight.
2. Also upgrade at hotels
Same thing at hotels. Ask to upgrade to a desirable room, for instance, on a higher floor. Remember, it never hurts to ask, nicely.
3. Skip one night at the hotel
If you’re prepared to take a red-eye flight – or an overnight sleeper train, which contrary to popular belief, isn’t all that uncomfortable – that saves one night in a hotel, and saves time too.
On arrival at the hotel, ask if an early check-in is possible. Or e-mail your early check-in request before the trip, though the hotel may not have a full picture of room availability in advance.
4. Look for early bird discounts or last-minute deals
The travel industry has created discounts galore – for seniors on cruises, honeymooners at resorts, singles on tours, friends booking flights in pairs, children holidaying with parents, leisure travellers booking into business hotels for the weekend, and more. Look for deals too when airlines launch new destinations.
5. Go digital
6. Opt for budget versions of luxe
A safari, Trans-Siberian train journey or Galapagos cruise all sound luxurious and expensive.
However, there are pocket-friendlier versions that are widely available online: Tenting instead of staying in a stylish safari lodge; planning one’s own journey across Siberia or booking a less pricey cabin on a private train; and taking day-trips instead of cruising in the Galapagos are ways to save while relishing an authentic experience.
7. Book through experienced travel agents
Think travel agents are passe? A reliable travel agent or tour operator has the resources and connections to land good deals, whether it is a direct flight or a bespoke safari.
More importantly, a travel specialist is likely to have the wits and wherewithal to save the vacationer heartache when things go awry, for instance, when flights are mis-booked or a traveller is stranded.
8. Don’t avoid distressed destinations
The cautious move would be to avoid afflicted countries – think the recent terror attacks in Paris and Bangkok or the Mers outbreak in South Korea. But the savvy traveller knows that when a destination is recovering, there are bargains. Locals are friendlier and attractions are less crowded as well.
But of course, when you travel to any destination, you should always be on the alert and take the usual urbanite’s precautions.
9. Go local
Think like a local and seek the cafes they adore, supermarkets or markets they frequent, and activities that give them a buzz. Consider apps or websites that suggest how to experience cities like a local and save a penny along the way.
The Spotted by Locals app, for instance, has guides for 66 cities in Europe, North America and the Middle East. The EatWith app links food-lovers to home chefs and pop-up dining events in 150 cities worldwide including Tokyo, Lisbon and Cape Town. The Withlocals app lets travellers sign up for meals, activities and tours with locals in 11 Asian countries.
10. Use travel sites
11. Join free tours
Google websites such as Free City Tour for complimentary walking tours led by enthusiastic locals or insiders. Travellers meet at a pre-arranged site and tip the guide.
12. Put all your eggs in one basket
Try to focus your frequent flyer miles on a smaller set of airlines or alliances, and use credit cards linked to airlines to chalk up miles.
13. Take advantage of exchange rates
Travel to places where currencies have dipped or stayed low against the Singapore dollar. The choices this year include Russia, South Africa, Japan, Australia and Malaysia.
By Lee Siew Hwa, The Straits Times, 6 May 2016