Sitting on a Indian passport has more cons than pros that you need to ‘hack’ your way to travel to some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. In the last four years, I’ve tried, failed and succeeded in working my way through the challenges of travelling on a budget – something that has taught us a few interesting travel hacks. Here, I give to you ten travel hacks that I swear by, that will take you a step closer to the places you’ve always wanted to be, without burning a hole in your wallet or a need to hire a travel consultant.
- Research & Predict Flight Trends
More often than not, the biggest chunk of your travel expense is your flight ticket. Luckily, we’ve managed to get some jaw-dropping deals on out flights, but none of it came purely out of luck. It took a significant amount of research miles ahead of time. The prices of a flight vary by two factors – Starting point & ‘Timing’. By predicting when the flight prices are bound to dip, you can save a fortune.
For example, we were planning to travel to Japan this Summer. Around eight months ago, last August, we started looking for flights and understood that flight rates are between 36000 – 40000 INR. To understand if the prices are likely to drop, we tried mock travel dates of December and February. This made us realize that 5-6 months before your travel date, Cathay Pacific prices drop from 41000 to 29000 INR for a short period. We then waited it out till it was 5 months to our actual departure date and voila, the prices had dropped to INR 29000.
- Play Around With Your Boarding Point
While you may be living in Bangalore, Mumbai, or Delhi, when researching for your flights, look at India as an ‘overall’ boarding point. Each airline has a hub within each country. For example, Air France’s hubs are Bangalore/ Mumbai, Aeroflot’s is in Delhi, AirAsia is in Chennai and so on. The airlines have to pay relatively smaller taxes in its hub airports, dropping the flight prices as well.
For example, flying to Eastern Europe is significantly cheaper from Delhi due to connections via Aeroflot (Russian Airline). We got flights to Athens for as low as INR 30,000 (~$450) in 2015 from Delhi. From any other destination in India, that would have been in excess of $550.
- Use Comparison Websites Effectively
There are many websites out in the market that compares the flight prices across various websites on the internet and finds you the website that is offering it at the cheapest prices. Some of the common ones that we use are Kayak, Skyscanner, and Momondo. All of these websites also let you set up price alerts. If you’re intending to go anywhere next Summer, go ahead and request a price alert for the destination you’re looking to fly to. It will send you an update everytime prices climb/ fall.
- Fly Into A Nearby Cheaper Destination
If you’re planning to fly a long way out to the less popular destinations, chances are that a flight that directly (with necessary airline stopovers) goes to the destination are not exactly at cut-throat prices. However, there might be a popular hub close by from where you can either take a domestic continental airline or connect via train/ road.
For example, if you’re planning to go to Laos, you’ll notice that flights from India into Laos are much higher than to most of its neighbouring destinations like Thailand. Here’s what we would do – we would fly into Bangkok via Air Asia and then take the night train to Laos, especially because Thailand offers Visa on Arrival for INR 2000. You not only get to spend a day extra elsewhere but might save a few bucks as well.
- Sign up for Newsletters
We recently traveled to Bangkok and Koh Samui for a week. The trip was completely impromptu that came up as a result of the AirAsia newsletter. We received a notification of a huge sale, checked the prices randomly, and found that the round trip from Kochi – Bangkok was an unbelievable INR 6000. We didn’t think twice and booked it straight away. Ever since we’ve been subscribing to newsletters of most of the airlines around the world. There’s no other way to know when a sale is happening. It is a lot of spam in your inbox but that’s a trivial trade-off for the flight deals you’re likely to secure.
- Get Yourself A Miles-based Credit/ Debit Card (Boss of Travel Hacks)
We couldn’t stress enough on the importance of having a JPMiles/ Air India Frequent Flyer Miles Credit Card. A lot of you might have a JPMiles account but probably not a card that converts all your spends on the ground into Miles. We’d go as far as to say this is one of those travel hacks that we mandate. We’ve so far traveled multiple times within India for free and have accumulated enough miles to fly all the way to New York for free. Some of the top cards in the market are:
CitiBank PremierMiles Credit Card; Joining bonus of even 10000 Miles!
HDFC Bank AllMiles Credit Card; Even a TripAdvisor review earns you 50 miles
HDFC Bank JetPrivilege Debit Card; The only debit card that offers JPMiles in return!
The above cards are just some of the suggestions. Based on your needs, figure out the best available travel card for you -check if you can convert points to miles, look for access to Airport lounges and expense to points conversion. Banks keep changing their features and it’s best to check the details as and when you buy the card. Having multiple cards for varying purposes is a good idea too!
- Travel Off Season!
One of the most common misconceptions is that prices are high in the ‘Summer’. While it is generally true, it is important to note that Summers significantly varies from place to place. If you fly to Japan during the cherry blossom in April, the prices will be high while it would be significantly lower during Winter. On the other hand, New Zealand summers end in March leaving April/ May to be cheaper to travel. It is understandable if you do not want to travel at a time that off season has extreme weathers. But, between peak and off season, every destination has a ‘shoulder season’. Some research on Google should tell you the best destinations to travel each month of the year. Since the ‘time’ is not often on your hands, the destination always is.
- Figure Alternatives For Internal Travel
Let’s say you’ve done all of the above and got down to your destination, your work is still half done. While at the destination, the two most likely expenses are food and transport. But, almost every place on the planet has a backpacker trail that will likely save you the huge costs.
In Europe, BlaBlaCar is an effective way to travel. It lets you enjoy the beautiful nature en route one place to another while splitting your travel costs with your fellow travellers. A country like Japan which can kill you with its high-speed rail travel is much cheaper if you take the night buses (provided you’ve the time and freedom). New Zealand is best explored on the car but you’re likely to spend as much as 2000$ on the rentals – but they have specific backpacker buses like InterCity and Naked Bus that lets you hop on and off between big cities.
- Carry a Forex Card
A Forex card converts your stashed INR into the country’s local currency and pegs the INR at the same conversion price as the day you loaded the money. For example, we bought a Forex card while traveling to Greece – the exchange rate for the Euro on the day we exchanged was as low as INR 72 and while we were in Greece, it went all the way to INR 81 which didn’t affect us as our INR had already converted to Euros at the original price. Not to mention the extra transaction charges you’ll save on the Forex Card.
- Hotels & Resorts Are So Passé
Chances are most of you have already caught on to the AirBnB wave and are using it extensively to book your stays. When you can stay in an incredible house with local hosts at a much cheaper price than a boxed room in a hotel that is no different anywhere in the globe, there’s little to choose. But, there’s more to it than it meets the eye. AirBnBs get booked out as early as 6 months in advance because there are travelers like us stealing the craziest stays before you even get the chance to see it. Unlike hotels, there is mostly only one room available. On Booking.com, you can book homestays/ B&Bs/ hotels/ resorts, without having to pay in advance and free cancellation later. If you use it enough to become a “Genius” account holder, you are likely to get occasional discounts of as much as 70%. We’ve recently started using trivago as well to compare prices across the web, just like Kayak does for flights. Also, places like hotels.com give you 1 free night for every 10 nights you book. On a long 3 weeks trip, that’s already 2 nights free.
The truth is, just like in life, if you’re determined about your goal – money is not one of the most defining factors, time and effort is. A bit of research, a lot of planning and some of these travel hacks are all you need to cut the cost of your next trip by as much as 300-400$. Think about it, that might just be the cost of flights to some other destination.