Life in fast-paced Singapore can be exhausting, but one of the benefits of living here is it’s easy to snag a weekend getaway.
But saving for it can be tricky, since it’s not exactly cheap to live here. The good news is that there are simple way to stretch your holiday budget without living on a shoostring and camping. Because we may be thrifty… but we still want to live that luxe life.
Let’s break it down. There are mainly three cost components when travelling: flights, accommodation and food. In all these areas, there’s “currency” you can earn that reduce your cash outlay, leaving you free to enjoy even the most spontaneous of getaways, whenever you choose.
To most of us, earning a small kickback of cash everytime we swipe a card is reward enough. But simpel cashback credit cards are not enough for you, the smart traveller.
What you want is a healthy amount of air miles in your account, which you can use to redeem free flights and accommodation. That’s 2 out of the 3 major costs of travel covered.
Start by switching to an air miles credit card, which gives you miles when you spend locally and overseas. You often get bonus miles if you use the card overseas, but if you have to buy groceries or petrol here in Singapore isn’t it nice to think you’re paying for your flight upgrade at the same time?
Next, double your points by making full use of promotions, for example if you book through Expedia or Agoda you can sometimes earn bonus miles — yes, that on top of your basic earn rate. Same thing with the MilesLife app; download and use it to get bonus miles on a bunch everyday lifestyle spending categories, such as dining, activities and events, and spa visits.
One more advantage of using an air miles card — you often get free travel insurance thrown in. Coverage varies widely among different air mile cards, so check before you apply.
Sometimes you can’t quite manage to cover flights and accommodation using air miles – and that’s when a good hotel loyalty programme can save money.
Most hotel loyalty programmes include benefits such as free room upgrades, welcome services and discounts on rooms. So if you often stay at a certain big chain, it’s a no-brainer to sign up for their loyalty progamme. It’s especially handy if the chain runs both luxury and economical hotels (like Starwood and Marriot). This makes it easy to mix and match where you stay.
For example, Hilton Honors gives you a bunch of benefits including free in-room wi-fi and at least 5% discount. Handily for business travellers based in Singapore, it now includes Hampton by Hilton hotel in mainland China. Or Marriot Rewards covers Westin, St. Regis, Sheraton, and the super-trendy W Hotels all over the world. Depending on what deal you take, you can save up to 20%. of your hotel and flight costs.
Other cards are more flexible in that they let you bank up a series of free nights, for any hotel you like, anywhere in the world. We’re talking about Hotels.com. This hotel search and reservations app has a refreshingly simple rewards programme: Book 10 nights through the app, and get 1 night free. The value of your free night is an average across all the 10 nights you’ve booked. And you can use the free nights at any eligible hotel.
This reward mechanism would just be so-so if it weren’t for the fantastic member’s prices you’ll unlock as you go along. Use this to your advantage by offering to book friends’ and family’s accommodation using your Hotels.com account, especially if you qualify for a promo price on the hotel they want.
Booking multiple rooms this way helps you quickly fill your minimum requirement of 10 nights. And, if you’re sharing rooms, you raise the value of your eventual free night.
Use those free nights to splurge on a stay at that boutique hotel you’ve been Insta-stalking.
You can take your plastic along when you travel, but many countries in Asia still use cash for day-to-day expenses. For example, if you want to shop or eat in Japan, you often need Yen. And try paying with a credit card at a night market in Thailand…
To avoid breathtaking overseas ATM fees, consider applying for a multi-currency account or MCA. You can then withdraw the currency you need when you get to your holiday destination. Some banks even waive the foreign exchange fees.
You can see how this can be useful: Get an MCA and regularly put aside a small amount in the currency of your top 3 holiday countries. This ensures you have a steady pool of funds you can use on your getaway. And because out of sight is out of mind, you’re less tempted to fritter away your holiday fund with late-night online shopping binges.
Foodies often work out where they want to eat and arrange their trip around the restaurants. But if money is tight, how do you find gourmet food at good value?
Michelin Guides Bib Gourmand restaurants are budget places with memorable meals.
Singapore has 50 Bib Gourmand eateries, and you can also find great places in other European and Asian countries. For example the Michelin-starred Fukamachi in Ginza district is one of the best tempura restaurants in Tokyo, yet prices average just S$50 per head at this sleek little place.
Tokyo also has some of the world’s best-value bars – a bottle of local beer or a glass of wine averages S$2 while cocktails are often around $4. Compare that to Singapore’s stratospheric bar prices and weep quietly into your beer.
by Chip Chen and Tara Barker, October 2018
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