I BRING YOU SIX YEARS of experience working in the travel industry, in both the consumer and corporate realms, along with over 12 years trotting all over the globe.
Here are my top 21 very useful tips for all avid travellers – some of which travel agents would rather keep from you!
Do feel free to add any of your own in the comments below.
1 SATURDAY NIGHT
Try to take a flight that incorporates a Saturday night stay i.e. flying out on Saturday and arriving on Sunday. It can make a CONSIDERABLE difference to the fare.
Not all travel agencies will admit to this, but if you cancel a non-refundable flight, you are often entitled to get all or some of the taxes back.
Cancel the flight BEFORE the departure date and contact the airline or the travel agent you booked with.
3 ON THE UP
Fares tend to go up considerably after 9 December for flights over Christmas and the New Year, so try to get your flight booked well in advance of this date.
But note: fares are usually loaded around ten months in advance, so you won’t be able to book any sooner than this.
4 GOOD THINGS COME IN PACKAGES
Most reputable travel agencies will have access to special package priced fares, or IT (Inclusive Tour) fares.
These are usually cheaper than regular fares, as long as you book either a hotel, car hire or tour with your flight (dependent on the fare rules).
If you don’t need anything else other than the flight, a cheap ground arrangement can be found and booked for you to take advantage of the lower fare.
Ask your agent if this is available for the flight or route you wish to take.
5 THE ELEVENTH HOUR
Last minute deals are not as prevalent as they once used to be, so it’s worth booking as far in advance as possible to get the best price for your holiday.
6 FOR A CHANGE
Even if you have booked a ticket that enables you to change the time or date, bear in mind that if the fare goes up at the time of changing, you will also need to pay the fare difference in addition to the change fees.
7 FAKE IT
If you are travelling one-way, it can be CONSIDERABLY cheaper if you book a ‘fake’ return.
All you would need to do is discard the return portion of the journey. Ask your travel agent or airline to check when the cheapest return date will be.
However, bear in mind that this does NOT work in reverse – never miss the outbound flight, as the airline will presume you are not travelling and will then cancel your return.
8 UNDER THE WEATHER
It’s often assumed that certain destinations shouldn’t be visited during particular months due to extreme weather conditions, such as monsoon or hurricane season.
Sometimes, it’s absolutely fine to visit these places towards the end or at the very beginning of the extreme weather months.
For example, June – September is typically monsoon season in Thailand. But having visited Thailand during September myself, I experienced very short periods of rain followed by longer periods of beautiful sunshine.
Also, flights and accommodation tend to be cheaper during these months and the destination is less crowded.
For popular tourist spots that you wish to visit, check that they will be open during your dates.
9 LOST IN TRANSLATION
Even if you stay in a grand five-star property in an exotic location, do not expect all of the staff to be fluent in English.
Local people are often employed in such establishments who have learnt the basics of the language. Be patient – you are a visitor to their country!
It may be worth learning a few important words or phrases beforehand. For example, if you are a strict vegetarian, learn how to ask for vegetarian meals.
Learning to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will help you get along with the locals!
10 PAY YOUR RESPECTS
Always check the customs and traditions of a particular country.
For example, if you are a woman travelling to the Middle East, you will be expected to wear respectable clothing.
Dubai doesn’t even tolerate holding hands or any displays of affection between a man and a woman in many of their establishments, such as shopping malls.
Also, any visits to religious places such as temples and mosques require you to be covered. Even if these regulations appear unreasonable to you, have some respect for the culture you are stepping into and avoid causing any offense.
11 PAY THE PRICE
Although it’s great to find a dirt cheap fare online, bear in mind that when the inevitable happens (e.g. the ash cloud or strikes), it’s worth booking with a reputable agent or website to ensure that you get protected.
Sometimes paying a little more gives you invaluable peace of mind. Ryan Air was unwilling to protect many of their passengers who were stranded abroad as a result of the ash cloud incident. British Airways, however, were extremely attentive and helpful.
12 FAR OUT
If you are flying with Ryan Air or another low-cost airline, double check the airport you are arriving into. It is common for such airlines to fly into airports that are on the outskirts of the city you are visiting.
13 CHECK IT
Always check-in online before departure if you are travelling with Ryan-Air! Otherwise they charge extra once you arrive at the airport. They also impose strict regulations on the weight of hand or checked-in baggage, so make sure your bags are within the limits.
14 STEP DOWN
Airlines often overbook their flights. If you are downgraded on your flight, i.e. asked to fly in Economy when you have paid for Business class, make sure you hang onto your boarding pass. This is your proof of the downgrade and will enable you to be refunded the fare difference.
15 DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
It’s not always possible to get upgraded to business class (or even first class!) on a flight, but who wouldn’t love to be directed to the left when boarding the aircraft?
Generally speaking, upgrades are given to those who have dressed the part, so dress smart! Ask how full the flight is and if it’s too busy, then you may have to stick with economy.
If you’re on your honeymoon or other special celebration, make it known to your travel agent or the airline and you may get an extra special treat!
If you’re desperate for some extra space to stretch your legs but are stuck in cattle class, ask for emergency exit seats at the time of booking, if the airline permits booking seats in advance.
16 TAKE COVER
Always, always, ALWAYS take out travel insurance and especially if you are travelling to the United States.
The cost of medical assistance can be EXTORTIONATE, especially in America. The cost of a hospital bed can be as much as 10,000 USD PER DAY – NO EXAGGERATION!!!
17 COMING TO AMERICA
All airlines travelling to, transiting or flying across the States require advanced passenger information, including passport details and the full address of where you will be staying for the first night in the States.
This is in addition to the ESTA, which replaced the visa waiver programme, and which needs to be completed at least 72 hours before travel.
18 STAMP OF APPROVAL
Always check visa requirements! For example, British passport holders need a visa in advance for China, India and Russia and need to apply for an ESTA if travelling to the States (see above).
Russia also requires an invitation. For travel to Australia, a visa is required but is relatively cheap and easy to obtain.
Check requirements with CIBT, who can also often apply for the visa on your behalf for a fee.
19 ON TRACK
There are a number of websites, and even an iPhone app, that allow you to track a flight and check if it’s delayed or has landed – perfect if you’re doing an airport run.
The Flight Wise website integrates with Google Earth, giving 3D imagery.
20 COPY RIGHT
Make sure you always keep a copy of your passport with you – just a copy of the page with your photo and personal details is enough. You can scan it, create a folder in your e-mail inbox and store it there. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy or two at home or with family or friends.
If the worst happens and you lose your passport, presenting the copy will help you to be identified and assisted by your country of origin.
21 SAFETY FIRST
The British, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website is a good place to check if you are unsure about the safety of a country you are considering to visit.
– Monica Sarkar
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