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|17th November 2012, 10:51 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Tips on Flights, Accomodation, Luggage, Frequent Flyer Programs
I should put a disclaimer in here that I’ve been lucky enough to travel frequently. I travel under staff benefits, which means international flights are cheap, and business/first seats are readily available. It’s one of the very few perks in the aviation industry.
Okay so you want to go on holidays. You might want to go to London, Mongolia, Las Vegas, Rwanda, Bolivia. Hell you might want to just fly to Adelaide for the weekend (kidding!). Regardless of the destination, the basic procedure is still the same. You need flights, accommodation, transport, things to do, places to eat, something to carry your belongings in.
Seeing as most holidays involve flights, let’s start there. My favourite flight search engine is the Google’s ITA matrix. Others prefer Kayak, Expedia, Skyscanner, etc. Everyone has their own favourite. ITA matrix is found here:
Either you’re flying a ‘Round Trip’ (return trip), ‘One Way’ or ‘Multi City’. Pick the appropriate tab.
For departures and destinations – either use the city name, or learn the airport code. If you’re travelling a lot, you’ll rapidly learn airport codes. They are 3 letter codes unique to each airport. Melbourne (Tullamarine) is MEL, for example. London Heathrow is LHR, London Gatwick is LGW, and so on.
Matrix allows you also search ‘Nearby’ airports – where you can elect for it to search all airports within a certain radius. Alternatively – and this is my favourite – you can get matrix to search multiple airports. This part is key to flying cheaper.
I want to travel, from Melbourne, to London, for cheap. I’m flying economy and I’m willing to put up with an extra stop or two if it saves me some cash.
Departure – MEL | Destination – LHR This will provide you the most direct route, but limits your options to permutations that leave from Melbourne, and arrive in London Heathrow.
Departure – MEL, SYD (Sydney), ADL (Adelaide) (separate each airport by a comma) | Destination – LHR, LGW (London Gatwick), LCY (London City Airport), STD (London Standsted), CDG (Charles De Gaulle – Paris), AMS (Amsterdam)
As you can see, you’ve just opened up a wealth of other options. I’ve used these airports as examples, due to the ease of getting to London. Flights from Amsterdam/Paris to London are exceedingly cheap, due to the euro rail connection from London to Paris, which takes an hour from city centre to city centre.
Obviously we need to apply some rational thinking to this stage. If you want to go from Melbourne to London, and the cheapest economy flight is $2000. However, using the multiple city options returns flights that are $1800, but involves a detour to Sydney, or you arrive into Amsterdam. Clearly, in this example, it’s not worth detouring. However, under certain circumstances, flights can be dramatically cheaper – and to save say $800, it might be worth your while leaving from Sydney, instead of Melbourne.
Further, Matrix also allows you to display a calendars worth of lowest fares, which is exceedingly helpful if your dates are flexible. The more flexible you can be, the cheaper you can fly.
Another big draw card of using Matrix is the Advanced Routing Code option. This enables you to restrict the search to specific airlines, specific numbers of stops, specific stop locations, nonstop flights, and so on.
When the flights are displayed at the search stage, you can further refine your search, and rank tickets by travel time, cost, and so on.
Having just mastered ITA Matrix, you’ve found your flight, and you want to buy it through Matrix. You can’t. It’s not a booking engine, it’s only a search engine.
To book, use the Carrier, Flight Number, Date, Time and Class (A single letter. For economy, Y is the most flexible, but the most expensive) from Matrix to book on that airlines respective website. This will generally return the cheapest option, with the most flexibility – unlike booking through a Travel Agent. If you have an American Express card, it is worth checking American Express’ booking engine, as occasionally, the same ticket will be cheaper.
Flying Business or First:
This gets more interesting, and more flexible. If you’re flying business/first and you want the frequent flyer miles, then you’re going to have to buy directly through the airline. There doesn’t seem to be a way around that. American Express offer varying discounts for Platinum and Centurion customers when travelling in Business/First. 2-for-1’s and large discounts are possible. But if you’re flying business/first regularly for pleasure, then you probably already know this.
If you don’t want to drop big dollars on business/first, and you’re willing to be flexible, and patient, and play the game, it’s very possible to fly business/first for the same price as economy.
Many companies offer ‘cheap business or first tickets’. These companies buy frequent flyer miles in bulk, and then redeem them for tickets, which they then sell on to you. When I’ve looked into it, a business class seat from MEL-LHR is about $4000.
This approach however means that you don’t earn frequent flyer miles, as you are travelling on what the airlines refer to as an “Award” ticket. This is a ticket that doesn’t generate as much revenue for the airline – if at all – as you’ve paid for the ticket on frequent flyer miles, or you’ve bought a seat in economy, and are using your frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business.
The way I see it, if you’re going to be paying a company to buy frequent flyer miles and then book you a seat, well you’re paying for someone to do some legwork for you that you could do yourself and drop that price to something lower, like $2000.
Rather than provide an exceedingly detailed explanation, you are better off googling “Buying Airline Miles”, and then looking at Award Redemption tables. But in short the process is straightforward:
- Buy Airline Miles from a program of your choosing
- Redeem Airline Miles for an award ticket (subject to availability, and hence you need to be flexible with dates, and transit airports)
For reference, taking this approach makes a First Class ticket from Melbourne to London, or Melbourne to New York, $2500. Not bad when an economy ticket is $2000!
However, this approach takes time, research and flexibility. It’s generally not possible to buy all the miles you need in one hit. You will likely end up flying on a partner of your favourite airline, not necessarily your favourite airline (but this is a moot point – first class is first class, and the level of service is consistent big name carriers), and to get to New York, you might have to go via Bangkok, then Tokyo. But that’s not to say you can’t stop over along the way for a day or two, visit the stop-over city, before you get to your destination!
Travelling under an Award Seat is an entire discussion thread in itself, so I will leave it at that for the guide. I thought it was fair to alert other members to what’s possible if you are willing to play the game, and if there is interest, I can work on this further.
Trip Advisor provides a wealth of information, however this information must be seen for what it is. Reviews from travellers, from different backgrounds, all who have their own interpretations and biases. Their opinion of ‘5 star’ may be different to yours. For example, I was in Nepal a few years ago – we stayed in Chitwan National Park, at a lodge that sheltered elephants. Chitwan is a beautiful tiny jungle, almost self-contained ecosystem, away from civilization, nestled in the Himalayas. The air was fresh, you awoke to the sound of elephants, the food was excellent, the cabins had showers, electricity, large beds, ice cold beer that is hands down the best beer I’ve ever tasted, brewed in Nepal – Everest Beer. The staff were exceedingly helpful and friendly. On the first morning, at breakfast, the owner asked how we were enjoying our stay. While we were talking about how perfect everything is, an voice interrupted with “well the beds were very uncomfortable, your mattresses just aren’t soft enough, the hot water wasn’t instant, and I was kept up by all the noise of elephants walking around all night!”. So again, it’s all down to perceptions, so just so long as you keep that in mind, Trip Advisor can be exceedingly useful!
I prefer to book accommodation through Expedia or HotelClub. The latter is generally the same price as Expedia, but I get both frequent flyer miles, and hotel club cashback on future stays.
Things to Do/Places to Eat:
Again, trip advisor. Wonderful resource.
In western Europe, many big cities have free walking tours. I cannot recommend these enough. A few hours of guided tours, in which you can just leave whenever you want, with a tour guide who, from each time I’ve used the free walking tours is a history student doing their PhD on the history of that city.
As a result of travelling frequently, I’m of the opinion that luggage should last. It should have a comprehensive warranty, it should be sturdy enough, it should also be light – as you want to maximise your use of the weight limit – but also it needs to be actually movable. If you can’t carry it yourself, it’s too large.
These requirements rule out the gigantic people-sized hard-cases. You could put multiple bodies in one of those. That’s great for carrying every single possession you own, but it’s not feasible if you actually have to carry it for any distance yourself.
Those same requirements also rule out cheap luggage. Why spend $100 on a piece of luggage that will fall apart after two trips, when $300 will get you luggage with an unconditional lifetime warranty?
I am a very big fan of Victorinox. Well designed, sturdy, light weight, unconditional lifetime warranty (they come to you to fix it if you can’t get it to them), live tracking system (tracks your luggage, so if it gets lost at the airport, they will deliver it to you, anywhere around the world, for free) and, for a premier brand – actually affordable.
I picked up a large check-in duffle bag (duffle is better for travel on eurorail trains, whereas normal luggage won’t fit in the overheads – also means you can easily carry it one handed for when there aren’t lifts, or through mud and snow) and a 20” ultralight carry on for $530. Is it more expensive than buying a $200 set of luggage from say Antler? Yes. But this is a singular expense. Now I never have to buy luggage again. For the rest of my life. That can’t be said about cheaper brands, who offer 12 month warranties.
Frequent Flyer Programs:
Aside from the obvious ‘rewarding loyalty’ of the frequent flyer programs, I will just mention that if your frequent flyer program is part of a global alliance (Oneworld, Star Alliance, Skyteam) – then just so long as you fly on carriers within that alliance, it is possible to credit your frequent flyer miles to your preferred airline. Flying miles accrued on Thai can be credited to a Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer program, for instance.
There are big advantages of attaining a ‘status’ with an airline. ‘silver’ frequent flyers generally get increased baggage allowances for free, and ‘gold’ generally provides lounge access in any alliance’s lounges, priority check in, fast track through customs, priority luggage (no waiting at the luggage carousel), priority boarding, and the possibilities of free upgrades when cabins are oversold.
Different airlines have different requirements to reach certain levels, and again for attaining them, so some serious research is required if you are going to be flying frequently in the future. If you fly once in a blue moon, frequent flyer programs probably aren't worth your time worrying about.
Questions, comments, general abuse?
~This post constitutes medical advice~
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|17th November 2012, 11:58 AM||#2|
Join Date: Aug 2007
Great post. Thanks for putting all the info together in one place.
I'm definitely going to look into buying airline miles a little more as I've always been hesitant in the past due to hearing mixed opinions on the matter. It's good to read something a little more positive. Thanks for the heads up about Matrix I'll check that out too.
|17th November 2012, 12:54 PM||#3|
Join Date: Nov 2002
Wow, what an awesome OP. Didn't know alot until now! Thanks
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|17th November 2012, 4:12 PM||#4|
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: somewhere in sydney
ITA matrix is so awesome. What used to take me 2-3 hr of searching and spreadsheets now takes mere minutes!
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|6th December 2012, 5:29 AM||#7|
Join Date: Jun 2001
Just to add when researching cities that I'm going to visit I always start with Wikitravel
I go to some pretty weird places for work and it usually has decent enough information on the town, hotels, places to eat (the most important) and things to do. Rarely does tripadvisor give me the information i want without a lot of searching through its multiple pages. Always worth a look for anybody wanting a rough guide to a place you will be surprised what it does have, especially in Africa, the more popular cities have enormous amounts of information as well. The only downer is it can be out of date for some things, such as restaurants that don't exist or have moves locations or just not up to date with newer places that have opened and not been added. So just need to be careful but otherwise it's a pretty good guide to pretty much most cities around the world.
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|18th March 2013, 1:11 PM||#8|
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Sydney, NSW
Just to add to the awesome list of tips above... check out troopr- essentially an app that allows you to organise group holidays to the coast/snow/overseas with your mates.
I've seen a preview of it - pretty neat way of picking the best dates between your group, split group expenses evenly, automatically share phone photos in a dropbox, sharing personal locations on a map etc.
The app preview is on at the moment at www.troopr.com
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