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Bulk bargain: Is it for you?

If you crave flexibility and convenience, prepaid flight coupons may be a manna from heaven for you.

Judging by most standards, R. Murlidharan is quite a jet-setter. The Hyderabadbased scientist spends a significant chunk of his life flying out to one city or the other. Then, just a year back, he discovered a great savings idea—he picked up some prepaid flight passes.

Flight coupon booklets, currently offered by major airlines like Indian, Jet and Kingfisher, work on one premise—they reward you for your foresight. As a senior Indian official explains, “If I’m able to get people to sign up for passes, I’ve locked them in as a consumer instead of losing out to the low cost carriers (LCCs) and, from a savings standpoint, perhaps I won’t have to spend as much on advertising anymore.” Then, costs will be lower since the airline won’t have creditcard transactions and booking fees on every ticket.

The biggest advantage for the customer is that a flight pass saves time and money—you buy several flights at the same time for a set price that’s cheaper than booking piecemeal and minus the hassles of trawling the Net for the cheapest deals. “With my Indian flight coupons, on a short notice, a Hyderabad-Delhi flight costs around Rs 6,000 but if I booked that economy seat through the airline’s website or a travel facilitator, I’d have to shell out Rs 12,710,” says Murlidharan.

In addition, since all coupons are in effect open tickets to any destination serviced by the airline, you will no longer have to worry about getting your itinerary down pat before booking your flights. Also, there are no penalties unless the booking is changed or cancelled within an hour of the flight’s departure. Even then, only a small fee is charged, between Rs 100 and Rs 250 depending on the airline. And what if you are expected at a meeting and your flight is inordinately delayed? Hakuna matata, or no worries, because most airlines have an understanding amongst themselves so you can endorse your coupon for a seat on another airline. Not surprisingly, the key market for such passes are business travellers, who tend to fly frequently and make last minute bookings.

Doing the Math

How it Works:
Suppose you need to regularly commute between Delhi and Hyderabad.With a King S aver booklet costing Rs 33,600, you get six coupons for one-way trips.Or you will be paying just Rs 5,600 per flight. Conversely, a regular economy seat will cost Rs 6,250.
But flight passes lose their advantage when it comes to short haul flights. Consider that a Delhi-Jaipur flight on Kingfisher Airlines alone works out to Rs 3,200—Rs 2,400 cheaper than your prepaid coupon. And a no-frills airline like Go Air costs just Rs 1,650.

However, air coupons aren’t without caveats. All of them have a validity period, usually six months or less, and this refers to actual travel and not just bookings. Hence it’s important to carefully evaluate exactly how much you will be travelling, and where, before picking up such booklets. Some sectors demand two coupons despite being a direct flight. Or you might end up spending anything from Rs 24,881 to Rs 36,200 for six coupons but actually use only only four tickets. Remember that there is no refund for partially used booklets. The price for carelessness is heavy too—lost booklets will neither be refunded nor replaced.

The devil, as they say, lies in the details. Some coupons are eligible for one-way travel, others for a return journey. The best way to know exactly what you are getting is to ask questions and carefully read the fine print. Would you have imagined, for instance, that most flight coupons are non-transferable? Also, while their USP is the cost factor, this advantage is limited to long-haul flights. “For short distances, coupons are more expensive than individual tickets in regular airlines too,” says Amal Purandare, head-India operations, arzoo.com, one of the online travel aggregators selling such airline passes.

Ultimately flight coupons promise unmatched convenience and flexibility. The icing on the cake? You may be eligible for special treatment. As Murlidharan says, “Sometimes the airline, on its own, upgrades me to the executive class.”

Uncommon places, the affordable way

The destination: Majuli,Assam, one of the world’s largest riverine islands.

Why go there: It’s an island of hope and despair but its inhabitants soldier on with a never-say-die attitude.They are the guardians of the ancient Sattriya culture that still thrives here. But the 800-sq-km island is fast losing ground to the Brahmaputra.Visit it before all is lost.

Don’t miss: The 20-odd Vaishnavite monasteries or satras that dot the island, or at least try and visit as many as you can. Accommodating 40 to 500 disciples each, these ancient buildings pulsate with dance, drama and kir tan. Interacting with these monk, clad in solely white, can open your mind to unheard tales and unseen sights.Also remember to try out the local beer.

The living quarters: Don’t come here if you are looking for a hedonistic experience.The only stay options are the readily available basic, but spotless, rooms at the satras or a dilapidated room at the Circuit House, which needs to be booked well in advance.

How to get there: Board a ferry from Neematighat, located in the sleepy town of Jorhat. Running twice a day, it is Majuli’s only link with the outside world.The journey takes around one-and-a-half hours.

Damage to the wallet: If you ask nicely enough, the monks may let you crash for free otherwise a two-day trip will cost you a token amount, under Rs 500.

Hot Deals

A pick of bargains for domestic tourists:

 Vikram Vintage Inn

 Cost : Rs 5,999
 Contact : 011-46515151

Enjoy Nainital with this two-night, three-day package for a couple inclusive of daily breakfast, dinner and all taxes. Free stay for one child below six years of age without an extra bed. Plus reimbursement for one ropeway ticket per person.The offer is valid till the end of the year.

 Tale of Two Cities

 Cost : Rs 48,656 a head
 Contact : 011-41513311
Enjoy a six-day trip to London and Paris with this holiday designed by TUI. The package includes airfare, three nights hotel stay each at London and Paris, daily breakfast, city tours, a super fast TGV Train transfer by Eurostar between London and Paris.