DON’T BOOK HOTELS ONLINE
While online travel portals should be your first stop when it comes to research, don’t pay for your holiday till you get there. The hotel sector, facing a crisis because of the economic slowdown and hurt by the recent Mumbai attacks, has started announcing 20-25% cuts in tariffs, but you can bag a far better deal if you bargain face to face. Given the number of cancellations that the hotels are facing, wrangling a room upgrade, at the very least, should be a piece of cake.
If the idea of travelling without a confirmed room reservation bothers you, try making a phone or e-mail reservation. Most hotels agree to book a room in your name without asking for credit card details. The good news is that Yatra.com, a travel portal, has launched a service that allows you to book a hotel by paying just 10% of the cost. The rest is payable at the time of checking in, provided you like what you see.
SAVE ON CAR RENTAL
The most convenient places to rent a car in a new destination are the airport or your hotel’s travel desk. Unfortunately, these are also the most expensive options. So what is the best recourse? Abroad, there are a host of rental majors like Avis, Hertz, Alamo and Enterprise offering the convenience of online booking. Pick up the car at non-airport locales to save up to 15%. Enterprise also has an ongoing promotion of 50% off on weekend rentals in the US and Canada.
The biggest scam here is the insurance cover that the rental firms try to sell. If your car insurance covers both the vehicles you own as well as operate, you won’t need to shell out the $30-50 a day insurance fee that rental firms ask for. Just take your papers along. Back home, firms like Hertz and Avis are the most expensive options. Instead, rely on local players. If you are travelling to places close to your city, get a good rate by using the same car rental firm that your office uses. Alternatively, if you are going to a new place, book a flight/hotel/car rental package with travel portals to get the biggest discounts. Finally, as with airlines, the earlier you book with a rental firm, the better rate you are likely to get.
SCOUT FOR THE BEST EXCHANGE RATE
The key to saving on exchange rates is knowing where to find the most favourable ones. Of course, you can only spot a good deal if you research the current exchange rates before you leave home. More often than not, you can bag the best interbank rate if you buy foreign currency with either ATM cards or credit cards. This is typically 2-7% lower than the rates you’ll get by exchanging cash or travellers’ cheques. However, using your credit card for cash withdrawal at ATMs will incur additional fees, so debit cards are the best bet. When it comes to travellers’ cheques (available in nine global currencies), you generally get the best exchange rates at local banks and post offices. The places to avoid are the exchange bureaus at airports, railway stations, tourist hotspots and hotels.
The rule of thumb is that the more currency you exchange, the better rate you can swing. You should swipe your card for several days’ cash at one go to avoid paying transaction changes and currency conversion fees several times.
GET THE RIGHT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Leaving home without travel insurance is among the most foolhardy things one can do. While trying to save a few hundred rupees, you could end up spending thousands if you need medical care during the holiday. This does not mean that you should blindly pick any policy that your agent pushes. Travel insurance policies typically include varying degrees of cover for health, luggage, flight cancellation and delay, and personal liability. Your choice of policy should be determined by your destination and whether you are back-packing or travelling first class. If you fall in the latter category, you don’t really need baggage cover, and probably already own a credit card offering free travel insurance. Or, perhaps, your health insurance policy covers the cost of treatment incurred abroad. In such a case, you don’t need separate travel insurance. But should you need one for visa purposes, go for a plain vanilla option and save up to Rs 1,000 on the premium.
SAVE ON EATING OUT
Today, most hotels offer a complimentary breakfast, and it’s quite a spread by most standards. So the most obvious way to save on food bills is to partake of a heavy breakfast, which will ensure you are good till an early dinner. But if you, like most holiday-makers, wake up post-noon, this option is out. Instead, make the most of your lunch hours. In most of the destinations, especially in foreign locales, fine-dining restaurants tend to quote cheaper rates for lunch compared with dinner, even if they are serving the same fare. So take time to ask about ongoing promotions and buffets. Savvy travellers will tell you about salad-and-dessert combos that cost 50% less than a full buffet, but is as good as a heavy lunch. The local newspaper is a great place to start looking for such offers. Reserve your dinner time to sample local cuisine, the way locals do. Ask friendly shop-owners or your hotel manager about where they like to eat, and more often than not, you will be directed to no-frills restaurants offering better food at lower prices.
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