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Friday, May 6, 2011

Check out 10 money-saving tips for a vacation


Getting ready for the holiday | Destinations for your dream holiday Travel cover: Risk-proof your holiday |5 tips to cope with unwarrented situations How to book the best holiday deal on the internet Bristling with possibilities, summer vacation rings in salvation for many a kid. There's ice-cream and swimming, friends and games, but mostly it's the Annual Trip to Anywhere that ratchets up their fun quotient. It's a salivating prospect even for work-worn parents, but tedious planning can smother the perkiest of thoughts. It's also not easy to sneak out vacation funds when you are being hammered by inflation and harried by high fares. And then there are a zillion puny, pesky questions: where do we go this time? 

Kashmir or Kuala Lumpur, the basic hills or cycling tours? How do we book the flight and hotels? Through an online travel agency (OTA) or directly through the airline/hotel? How much will the phone calls cost abroad? Should we carry cash or cards? And what if we lose our passports? If these posers have driven you to dithering between staying at home and submitting to wanderlust, stop. 

Pick up this issue of ET Wealth, and by the time you are through with it, you would have made up your mind. You'll go. For the simple reason that we'll tell you how to pack the most savings while travelling, the cheapest ways to book your trip, where you can go and how to cover yourself against unseemly exigencies. We start with the 10 Hows: Best ways to save on a vacation. 

1 How to book the cheapest flights 

Early vs last-minute booking: Should you be the proverbial early bird or wait till the last week to book your flight? Though many a business traveller will extol on the virtues of last-minute booking, and Air-India is brandishing a dishy bait—up to 15% off for tickets booked between five days and last hour before departure on some domestic routes from 1 May—most industry experts vouch for advance booking. "You should always book up to 30 days prior to departure because the prices keep rising as you approach the date," says Dhruv Shringi, CEO, Yatra.com. He's right. So, while a Delhi-Mumbai GoAir flight will cost you Rs 5,628 for 25 April, the same will cost you Rs 3,733 if you book it for 21 May. 

OTA vs airline website: Aggregator sites usually work out the cheapest compared with an airline website or a tour operator if you are planning a foreign jaunt involving a single or multiple flights. However, this difference is marginal for domestic flights (see table). Besides, the OTA will offer a cash-back facility in case of a cancellation, which airlines usually don't. So opt for the aggregator if you plan a trip to Singapore, but you can go directly to the airline if you're travelling to Srinagar. 

Combo deal vs individual flight: The combination flight-cum-hotel deals or holiday packages (multiple destinations and flights) offered by OTAs or tour agents are much cheaper than individual flight bookings, be it for domestic or foreign tours. "For instance, the return flight ticket from Delhi to Leh would be for Rs 16,000-20,000, but a combined package for 7 nights is for Rs 23,000, which includes accommodation, sightseeing, meals and tour guide," says Deep Kalra, CEO, Makemytrip.com. Definitely recommended. 

Early morning vs mid-day: "A late morning or an afternoon flight is usually less expensive than an early morning or a late night one," says Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings. For instance, a GoAir flight on 25 April will cost you Rs 5,628 if you choose to pick a 1.50 pm flight, while it will shoot up to Rs 7,908 for a 6.35 am slot. This is because most people prefer to save the day for work or leisure instead of travelling. 

Co-branded cards/loyalty programmes: Travel rewards are the crunchy carrots offered by several co-branded credit cards. Don't cringe to use them. You not only earn discounts if you book through a particular airline, but can use up the flier miles crammed up on your cards for upgrades, baggage allowance and other travel benefits. For instance, the ICICI Bank-Kingfisher Airline co-branded card offers 5 reward points for `100 spent on booking through Kingfisher, accident insurance and concierge services. 

Opt for train/bus: If you really want to stack up a good saving and don't face a time crunch, don't travel by air. For domestic travel, overnight trains or buses can be the best option as they save the day for sightseeing and are much cheaper. 

/photo.cms?msid=80647472 Ways to reduce your staying costs 

OTA vs hotel: "If you're booking a flight, go to an OTA, but for hotel bookings, just call up the hotel," says Archana Khosla, a Gurgaon-based housewife and a frequent traveller. "They often have holiday packages or other discounts, which the site seldom mentions," she adds. She's right. Unless you are opting for a combo (flight+hotel) deal, calling up the hotel is the best way to round up good rebates or special offers. In fact, if you have booked in advance, you can check up a couple of days before reaching and ask for any last-minute specials or room upgrades. If you're travelling with kids, go for hotels that allow free stays for them. 

Budget/bed & breakfast hotels/government tourist accommodation: An easy way to save a spiffy packet is to opt for budget hotel chains, in India or abroad. While sites like Travelguru.com throw up a lot of budget options in India, Bedandbreakfast.com will give you deals across the world. You can also select from popular budget chains in India like Ginger Hotels or Lemon Tree Hotels, which offer all amenities at discounted rates. So, a 2-night, 3-day summer package currently offered by Ginger Hotels across their 24 locations starts from Rs 3,499 (till 30 September), while that from Lemon Tree is Rs 12,999. 

Mhow-based Kirat and Nirbhay have a unique way to select their hotels. "As we mostly travel by road, we go through the hotels that fit into our budget and opt for the one we like. Since we use it only to dump our luggage and spend most time on sightseeing, it works for us," says Kirat, who recently completed a road trip from Pune to Kanyakumari in `47,000, which included accommodation, food and sightseeing. They also go for government tourist resorts, which have all the basic amenities, but cost much less. 

Home swaps/apartment rentals: Though not popular in India, home swap is a viable option abroad, with sites like HomeExchange.com to help you. Renting an apartment instead of picking a hotel can not only save money on accommodation, but also on food and laundry, because these are equipped with kitchenettes and washing machines. 
/photo.cms?msid=80647533 Cut down on your meal bills 

Start by choosing hotels that offer free breakfast and dinners. For lunch, pick local, neighbourhood eateries, which will be cheaper than the hotel restaurant. If overseas, it will also offer you the chance to savour authentic street food. However, make sure you don't eat in tourist areas, where the prices will be higher. "And if you don't trust the hygiene, pick up cold cuts and readymade food from the supermarket and fill up your mini-bar. I never eat in fancy restaurants when I'm travelling abroad," says Kolkata-based Madhusree Sen, 43. 

A simple option is to pick up snacks or bread and cheese/jam from the local bakery and make your own meals in the hotel room. If you're travelling with kids, buy water and milk from the 24x7 eateries or supermarket and stock up the mini-bar because these are very expensive items. You can also carry ready-to-eat meals from home and heat them up by dipping them in hot water. Savvy travellers also carry their own water bottles, simply refilling them from time to time. 

/photo.cms?msid=8064770Save while sightseeing 

If you've opted for the bundled package from an aggregator site, you have nothing to worry; you would have got a discounted deal. "The reason to include it in the packages is not just to make it cost-effective, but also to cut out the hassle of figuring out sightseeing and then arranging for transportation separately," says Kalra of Makemytrip.com. Remember, however, that these packages don't usually include site/monument fees. 

If you have put together your own itinerary, it will take a bit of planning and research to skimp on sightseeing costs. To begin with, conduct an online research for tourist hotspots, amusement parks and other attractions. Most of these would have listed discounts or will offer coupons. By buying these, you not only cut costs, but also avoid long queues at the site. You can try for these discounts by tapping the hotel desk or tourist office in the city too. 

Another option is to buy multiple passes as most popular tourist destinations combine various attractions through these. So, if you are in Singapore, remember to buy a 1-day, 2-day or a 3-day city pass, which will entitle you to save up to Rs 1,796, Rs 1,688 or Rs 1,185, respectively. This will pile up savings and your time, but will offer the convenience of transfer from hotels and discounts on shopping. 

Finally, remember not to splurge on souvenirs, especially from tourist areas. They will not only be pricey, but mostly, you will not have enough space to display all of them at home. 
/photo.cms?msid=80647775 Combine mobility with frugality 

Commuting is another area you can safely scrounge on. To begin with, choose a hotel that is centrally located and close to various tourist hotspots. A sprightly walk doesn't just cut on the high cab costs but also allows you to explore the markets and area like nothing else. 

"A good recourse is public transport like metro and buses rather than taxis, which can be very expensive," says Vikas Bajaj, 41, joint managing director, Bajaj Motors Ltd, who not only travels frequently on business, but also indulges in family vacations. If, however, the tourist sites are not close to the metro or bus stops, taking a taxi for the day can be a cheaper option because you end up seeing much more. Within India, a taxi would certainly be a better pick compared with a bus, unless you choose a tourister. 

If you are keen to save on money, not your breath, then hiring bicycles or bikes can be a good option on a foreign jaunt. Investing in a good map and GPS system can also dip costs effectively because you can comb the area at your own will and visit the hotspots that you want to. 

/photo.cms?msid=80647816 How to chat in the cheapest way 

It's a dilemma that plagues virtually every foreign traveller—how should I communicate with people back home or with those in the visiting country? The easiest option seems to be to carry your existing mobile after activating international roaming. It would also be the most expensive way to call (see table). 

Alternatively, you could pick an international SIM for your phone, which can be used across various countries. The charges will be much less compared with the roaming fee, but you will have to ensure that your phone network is compatible with that of the destination country. 

The calling card is an even cheaper and enticing option. A prepaid card, it allows you to call from any mobile, landline or payphone abroad by dialling a specified number. However, it usually offers outbound services, not incoming ones, which is a drawback over the international SIM card. There are also hidden fees and charges, which usually add to the total fare. 

You can also avail of the VoIP facility, which is very cheap, but requires a computer and the Internet and could face restrictions in some countries. 

Another cost-effective option is to pick the local SIM in the country you visit and pay the local rates. 
/photo.cms?msid=80647837 Skimp on cash transactions 

How do you plan to spend while travelling abroad? Through traveller's cheques, cash, credit/debit cards or travel cards? Not many people use the first option, the second is a must-carry, the third is an expensive option, and the last is a good choice. The best option? Carry a combination of cash and cards. In case of the former, exchange currency before you leave as you are more likely to find a better rate in India than abroad. 

As for the cards, do take the credit card, but use it sparingly because all transactions and ATM withdrawals will be charged. "There is a 3-4% mark-up on exchange rate on cross-currency conversions if you make transactions in the foreign currency using a rupee card," says Navtej Singh, head, direct payment services, HDFC Bank. Also, take major cards such as Visa, MasterCard or American Express because in case of theft, it is easier to contact and replace these cards because of their larger networks. 

It is also advisable to call up the credit card company before you leave the country to find about the usage fee, the services you can avail of and their global contact numbers. 

Due to the high charges of the credit cards, prepaid travel cards are the preferred modes for cash transactions. With almost all leading banks—Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Citibank, HDFC Bank, among others—offering such cards, picking one is easy. "A travel card is recommended over other options as it is easy to use, is secure, offers fixed exchange rates, and there is no forex conversion mark-up as in credit/ debit cards," says Sandeep Bhalla, business head, credit payment products, Citibank India. Besides, most cards are available in several major currencies, come with an insurance cover to protect against misuse, and have global toll-free helplines. 

/photo.cms?msid=80647958 Make the most of off-season discounts 

A great saving trick, and one employed by many tourists, is to travel off-season. Brimming over with juicy benefits, it's the ideal way to strike money off your vacation bill. You save on airline, hotel and tourist attraction costs and get better treatment to boot. And no, you don't suffer the vagaries of weather provided you time your trip at the end of the peak season or the beginning of off season. 

"If you plan a trip to Kerala in, say, June, you can save 40-50% on hotel bookings alone," says Kalra. Not to mention the preferred seat on a plane, a bigger, sea-facing room with more amenities at the hotel and, of course, cheaper souvenirs and shopping. 

/photo.cms?msid=80648049 Beware of travel scams 

For every desirable deal, there's a damning scam waiting to sponge your hard-earned money. So before you drool and lap up the dishy deal offered by the travel agent, check. If you've booked an economy class flight and he's offering you a business class in exchange closer to the departure date, suspicion would be in order. Delhi-based Bajinder Singh, 61, and Anita, 57, should know. 

For an April trip from Delhi to Los Angeles, they booked their economy class tickets four months ago through a well-known travel operator. The return tickets cost about Rs 50,000 per person and they merely got a receipt from the agent. About two weeks before the due date, they checked with him, only to have him push business class tickets at them. Sceptical, they cross-checked and realised that the wily operator had cancelled their tickets, selling them for almost Rs 1 lakh per person, and was banking on a last-minute cancellation to issue them fresh tickets. They managed to force him into giving legitimate tickets and safely travelled to America a week ago. 

Beware of rates that seem too good to be true. If the fare is Rs 2,000 for a Singapore flight, check for hidden fees and charges. If the operator insists on advance payment without giving you a written contract, be sure there's a trap. Also, take copies of receipts, itinerary and the company's cancellation and refund policies. 

/photo.cms?msid=806480910 Gain more through research 

There are three basic ways to cut on travel spending: research, research, research. It's a penny-pinching tactic that holds up all the nine points mentioned above. In the Internet you have an accessory that can help you crunch your vacation bill, if only you inject labour into your research. Check for the best deals on airlines, hotels, off-season cuts, sightseeing rebates, cheapest calling cards or travel cards. Call up companies. Talk to agents. Haggle for heavier discounts. 

Originally posted HERE

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