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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Domestic travel insurance: what is covered and what is not


I have been habitually purchasing insurance for domestic air travel with the expectation that I will be able to buy ticket for another flight on spot in case any flight gets cancelled and thereby, I hoped to prevent the entire trip getting jeopardised. I thank my stars that for all these years I never had to invoke my rights for an insurance claim, until my recent trip to Andaman in end January, 2015.

Traveling out of Delhi in peak winter season of end Dec to mid Jan, which unfortunately is also a peak tourist season, is always full of uncertainties due to fog. Both flight and train schedules go haywire as fog plays havoc across north India. To minimise possible impact of weather, I had planned my trip with return from Portblair on 17th Jan, 2015. I had booked tickets with MakeMyTrip who were offering travel insurance by Apollo Munich. It cost me around 169 per person per ticket. While travelling abroad, I had purchased insurance for a period covering my travel. But somehow domestic travel insurance is linked to a ticket, not for a period.

Apollo Munich domestic travel insurance certificate
In last few years, there has not been serious fog issue after 15th Jan. But when nature decides to play truant, you can only be mute spectator. Fog came late this year, and stayed late, well past 18th Jan, 2015. Waiting in the lounge for a whole day at Portblair airport, with bright sunshine all around, we realised that the world is so interconnected that fog in Delhi is sending flight schedule go haywire across India, even at places as remote as Portblair which probably have never seen fog. The day I landed at Portbalir, the temp was 23 or so, as against 6 degree of Delhi.

There are 3 daily flights between Portblair and Delhi via Kolkata. My ticket was with Jet Airways. Against all odds, the flights that were least expected to arrive that day, Spicejet and Go Air did landed, though quite late, and returned to Delhi or Kolkata. But the Jet Airways flight, which was the only full fare carrier, and which was most likely to arrive did not come that day leaving us all stranded at Portblair. We came to know that due to fog the flight took off quite late from Delhi as against scheduled departure of 0930 hrs. By the time it had arrived at Kolkata for stopover, it was too late for them to attempt a trip to Portblair, which is a military airport and hence night landing or take off are not allowed. The last hours by which a flight has to depart was 1630 hrs. This means the flight from Kolkata has to take off latest by 1400 hrs so that it can land by 1600 hrs and return by 1630 hrs. Apparently both the Kolkata – Portblair and Portblair-Kolkata-Delhi flight were reasonably full, and hence Jet Airways did not cancelled and dumped all passengers. Rather than refunding fares or attempting a risky trip and then getting struck at Portblair for the night, Jet Airways had arranged for an unscheduled flight next morning. The airport staff had written on ticket that due to fog delay at Delhi, flight is cancelled and passengers to report tomorrow at 7am. They had a discussion with CISF at stamped the tickets so that passengers are allowed in next day. Now came the issue of accommodation. Full fare airline is supposed to provide accommodation in case of flight cancellation and Jet Airways is one of the few remaining full fare airlines. But the shock came in the form of their declaration that accommodation is not provided in case of fog delay. We all had argued in vain. I thought that my travel insurance will come in handy for the first time. I decided to call their helpline from airport itself to find what is admissible.

Call centre line was not busy. Responding to the customer care executive’s greeting of how he might help me, I announced about my policy details and said that my flight is cancelled. The voice over responded that flight cancellation is not covered. Note this first catch - flight cancellation is not covered. Thus my very first reason for purchasing travel insurance went up in smoke. You will not be able to buy an emergency ticket in case your flight gets cancelled. So what next? I changed track, and told him that even though my flight is cancelled for the day, it is rescheduled for next day. Then the executive read out to me certain clauses of insurance I had not access to earlier. He told me that flight delay has to be more than 6 hrs, and reason for delay is either due to bad weather or technical fault with aircraft. Strike by staff not covered. I will have to obtain a travel certificate from the carrier mentioning total delay and cause of delay. Further, I was advised to retain all bills and vouchers of expenses. The maximum amount reimbursable is Rs.2000/- per person. As I have 3 tickets for the family, the potential claim amount of Rs.6000/- would be enough for one night’s additional stay in a decent hotel at Portblair. At that point we were more worried about daughter missing her unit test at school scheduled for next morning.

We reported at Portblair airport next morning and were happy to see Jet Airways staff arriving. We were relieved to be informed that aircraft had departed from Kolkata. The Jet aircraft indeed came from Kolkata in an unscheduled flight. But it was now informed that the aircraft would now ply between Portbalir and Kolkata. The Jet staff at Kolkata will arrange to send passengers to Delhi at the earliest available flight. The other option was to wait till evening for that day’s regular Delhi bound flight to arrive. The manager of Jet Airways team opined that there is no point staying stuck at Portblair. Fog was reported from Delhi on that day’s morning as well and flight had been delayed. Hence one cannot be sure of when flights from Delhi will arrive. Once you reach mainland, there will be various options for further transit. There was merit in his comment. So we boarded the flight and reached Kolkata at 1130 hrs. It was another ordeal at Kolkata as all flights were full. Finally we were handed boarding pass for a Kolkata-Delhi flight at 1830. Therefore my total delay had actually crossed more than 24 hrs.

Travel certificate by Jet Airways
After reaching Delhi, I had downloaded forms and couple of other documents from Apollo Munich’s website. The claim is to be preferred within one month.  I tediously filled up claim forms, separate forms for each one of us, claiming a total amount of Rs.6100/- as against admissibility of Rs.6000/- (@2000 per person). The travel certificate issued by Jet Airways, Portblair says that flight on 17th Jan was cancelled and passengers were rebooked on flight on 18th Jan. This along with my boarding passes covered my total delay clause. The ticket also had Jet Airways’ stamped statement that due to fog delay flight is cancelled. This covered weather delay clause. I did not want to send original bills along with my claim, and hence sent photocopies. I wanted to ensure that my claim is acknowledged first before I part with my original bills.

After about a month of preferring the claim, I had received a letter from Apollo Munich saying that they are in receipt of my claim and have provided me a claim id. They requested to submit all bills in originals within 15 days. Assured that my claim has not been put into dustbin, I sent all original bills through reputed courier so that receipt can be verified.

In another month’s time, I had received a confirmation from Apollo Munich saying that my claim had been settled for Rs.4660/- with reasons for rejecting balance amount. They did not pay cost incurred in additional to and from trip to airport. This amount was good enough as I had recovered 90% of cost I had incurred.

If you closely examine Domestic travel insurance policies, it is not difficult to understand that it actually is a medical insurance with some elements of travels fitted in. It is offered by airline or travel portal in association with an insurance company. Therefore insurance certificates are mailed to you separately after tickets are booked. For any claims, you have to deal directly with the insurance company, not the travel portal. The policy issued shows elements covered and the max amount payable against each of the clauses. But it does not say anything about situations under which you are eligible for claim. Therefore, you should visit the insurance company website for detailed clauses. Here are relevant clauses from the detailed document of my policy.

Detailed clauses-1

FIner points of detailed clauses
Going through the detailed clauses will make you understand what is covered and what is not. I would suggest to call their helpline to understand fine points. Always keep their helpline no ready. You do not know when you may need it. Insurance is meant to cover uncertainties. And, uncertainties arrive without calling. This was a good lesson in travel for me. For me it ended on a happy note. I hope that my sharing of this experience will help you stay informed to travel smart.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:30 AM | 0 comments

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Bursting the online shopping myth- Part-II


Continuing from my earlier posts, here I intend burst another myth on online shopping. The diaspora tends to believe that items are cheaper online. But is it really cheap?

Well, this may be true for those living in second or third tier cities. But certainly not for metros where there are stiff competition, it may not always be true. While online may be cheaper for items like mobile phones, but not for many marchandise. So onee should explore before making the purchase. I am sharing one of my recent experiences to burst this myth.

My wife was looking to purchase a pair of sports shoe for her gym outings. Therefore when had announced a hyped sale with a full page ad on the TOI, we decided to explore it. We shortlisted a Nike shoe with a MRP of 3596. It was on offer @30% discount for that day. Thus the price indicated after discount was 2517. When we added it to the cart and proceeded for payment, the surprise element popped up. VAT Extra. How much VAT? Rs.431/-. How it was calculated. @12% of MRP, not on the discounted price. So final price I need to pay after adding VAT was 2948. Thus effective discount got reduced to a mere 18%. As most of the shops in malls gives a 20% discount during sale season, we decided to try it out at a shop rather than buying online. In shop purchase resluts in lower post purchase disonances as you can try out various options on spot.

Item on sale with 20% discount on a hyped sale

Notice the extra VAT amount when you add the item to your cart

Out of curiosity, I decided to visit again next day. The hyped sale was over as it was only for a day. Hence the same pair of shoe was on 10% discount only that day. To check VAT applicability, I added it to the cart and proceeded for payment. To my surprise there was no extra VAT that day. This means that customers are taken for a ride in the name of sales. One is made to feel like getting an extra 20% discount in sale, whereas he was actually getting just 8% extra discount.

Same item when not on sale.

Notice no VAT extra on background. Coupon codes never applies on such items.

Now that there is a Nike factory outlet in one of the malls not very far from my home, we decided to visit the shop. This being the end of season sale period, everything was on flat 40% in the shop, including the model we had checked online. And to the top of it, there was no extra VAT. Therefore we got that pair of shoe for 2217 from the Nike outlet whereas the price on hyped sale was 2948. To make you all understand how we are being taken for ride by these online sale, I have decided to corroborate this with screenshots I had retained. Unfortunately I did not save screenshot of the sale circus with extra VAT. But the images below clearly shows that the offline purchase from outlet was cheaper by almost 22% than the online price. I however have retained images of a much lower scale sale @20% off, which also attracted extra VAT.

Same shoe purchased from Nike factory outlet

Bill showing actual price from shop which was much lower than online sale price, And no VAT extra.

It reminds me of the famous quote – You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. So next time you see another full page ad of an online sale, make sure to compare before you buy.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bursting the online shopping myth- Part-I


I am among those early users of online shopping. My first online merchandise purchase was made way back in 2002 at which later went onto become During this intervening eleven years, I had shopped with various portals across the globe. With a smart phone in every other hand, ever improving internet connectivity, coupled with vigorous advertising push, the online shopping phenomenon had taken India by storm between end of 2013 and 2014.

I had procured a wide range of products online. From microwave (2002), Digital camera (2003), handycam (2004), Books, Watches, camera accessories, mobiles, kitchen accessories, bags, voltage stabilizers, etc. The list goes on. Internationally I had used services of,,, etc.  ordering items from US, China and Hongkong. Fortunately all of them got delivered without any fuss at Delhi. On domestic front, I had availed the  services of,,, flipkart, snapdeal, amazon, infibeam, firstandsecond, myntra, yepme, jobong, printavenue, zoomin, and few other standalone single vendor sites which I do not recall now. Thus I had availed services across a wide gamut of e-commerce platform, from the one selling a single specialised product to those selling almost everything. Needless to say that I had come across an equally wide range of experiences to share. This article is the first of two articles I had penned to share my experiences.  

I was never worried about buying something online, until recently. An incident that had changed my opinion about online shopping. I would be wrong if I say there were no issues during the 2003-2010 period when I had mostly traded through bazee and eBay. In fact, online shopping was looked upon suspiciously by most because of cheap imitations sold online during those days. However, both bazee and, later eBay, had a very strict customer protection policy. At some point, a seller in ebay would automatically get banned for 3 negative customer feedback. The system had changed somehow, yet you see those pleading lines from seller requesting you to contact them directly before leaving a negative feedback. As a customer I was always allowed protection and all issues were resolved with prompt refund. I still vouch for eBay’s time bound issue resolution policy. On two occasions in last 6 months eBay had offered me refund with 150% of price I had paid within two days of lodging complaint– once for defective product and once for part of the order missing.  In these ten years, I also had come across fraud site like They have a perfectly working website even today with secured payment facility. However once you place an order, they neither delivers, not respond to your mails and more importantly not reachable over the phone mentioned in their website. Our laws are so lax that the site is still online and God knows how many have fallen victims. I was rescued by my credit card company from the booksorbit scam.

December 2013 saw something beyond the regular 10-20% discount online, offered often on selected items only. For 3 days, the most stupendous online sale ever happened in India, promoted by all major credit cards. The discount was on final cart value, not on specific items. I remember buying even wildcraft items on this sale at 20-30% discount. None of the sales that followed offered even 10% discount of wildcraft goods. Before this sale, Jobong used to deliver in less than 24hrs in Delhi. I kept receiving apologies for delivery delay for items purchased during the sale and it took 7-10 days for delivery of all items. Success of this event led to several such hyped sales like GOSF, Black Friday sales, etc. in the last 12 months. It also include the botched sale by Flipkart leading to issuing an official apology. But nothing had matched that sale of Dec 2013.

If awareness creation was the objective, then these hyped sales had achieved it. Diaspora now believes that things are available cheaper online. Everyone now seems to be doing online shopping. The delivery boys lugging a huge bag on back riding zipzap through city traffic are ubiquitous these days. Scammers saw this as opportunity to make some quick bucks. They setup shops on sites that do not have any customer protection policy. You can be held responsible for not dispatching an item, but it will be tough on customer to prove if a similar imitation is sent, or even a blank box.

Despite occasional smaller issues, my brush with online purchases had generally good. My first real issue came with snapdeal in 2014. I had ordered a camera lens – Tamron 90mm macro VC. The item has a MRP of 39K and was available at snapdeal for about 32K, which is close to its street price. For me the reason to buy online was payment by credit card with emi option. The item was delivered 7 days after I had ordered. To my horror the item sent was ‘similar’ but not the exact item I had ordered. The product delivered was Tamron 90mm macro non VC. Tamron has two different version of the leans – non VC and VC where VC stands for Vibration Correction, similar to IS – Image Stabilisation. These lenses have distinct product code and MRP of also differs.  The non VC version is priced about 10K lower at 29K. SO I was delivered a product which costs about 24K in market as against my payment of 32K. This is too big a ‘mistake’ someone dealing with photo goods to make. It was a well-planned fraud. Fortunately the bill. Which invariably was for the VC lens, also had serial no of product mentioned for warranty. The product label on cartoon where this serial no is printed clearly indicated the item code and item description as non VC version. Even the MRP sticker substantiated the ‘mistake’.  Without bothering  to break the seal, I called up snapdeal helpline. The lady on other side keep reiterating that I should not worry as the purchase is covered under ‘protection’ and promptly sent me a mail asking for photographs of items, bills, etc. Little did they realise that it was a high value item of 30K plus value at that time. Without wasting time I sent back images within couple of hours of receiving the mail. But that was it. I had received a system generated acknowledgement. I had gone through such experience once for a smaller value product. So I had kept proof of everything – my communication, their mail, system generated acknowledgment, snapdeal policy of dispute resolution, etc. There had been no response back from sanpdeal even after couple of days. I kept calling them at helpline and I kept getting information like your issue is being addressed, we have written to the seller who is to respond back, etc. Finally I lost my patience on 7th day and called my credit card company to lodge a complaint of fraud. They asked for evidences to be submitted with dispute lodging form. As I had everything ready with me, I did it promptly. But before submitting I wrote to snapdeal once again informing them about the action I am initiating with my bank and gave them 2 more days’ time to respond. Still snapdeal did not reply. Thus on the 10th day, I lodged a formal dispute with bank submitting all proof of communication. Bank was satisfied with my proof and reversed the charges on my card. I could breathe easy now. I got my money back.

2 days after that snapdeal awoke from its slumber. It was the 12th day since deliver and my reporting of incident. Some idiot from their Okhla office called me up and said that they had asked the seller about the dispute and he had confirmed that he sent the correct item. I lost my cool and gave him a piece of my mind. It was quite evident that they did not bother to look at the evidence submitted by in form of bill and images of packet, its item code, etc.  Customer bought an orange, the seller sends him a lemon; customer lodges complaint with evidence of lemon being delivered, they ask the seller again; he says he had sent an orange, and you as customer care relay it back to the customer! Then I told him that I had already got my money back. This is your item lying with me which you can get picked at your leisure. 3 days after that it was picked up as a 'reverse pick up'. The pickup slip said ‘defective item'. My ordeal had come to an end.

Few days after this incident I came across another photographer friend from Mumbai who had exactly the same issue, and with the same product. I asked him if he bought on snapdeal? He said yes. So we both were victims of a well-planned con, on the same portal and apparently by the same seller. Unfortunately, snapdeal never bothered to apologise to us, forget about taking some action against the seller. Little do they understand that these sellers are ruining their reputation.

This problem is unique to snapdeal. Few weeks later, one of my friends shared a youtube video in facebook. He had ordered a pendirve from Flipkart. When he opened the box, there was nothing inside. When he called up, Flipkart did not agree to his version. But as he wanted the item and it being a low value product, he ordered again. Ditto same time. Empty inside. Flipkart disagreed again. So he setup a trap. He ordered it a third time. This time on COD. When the delivery boy came, he paid the money as you have to do for COD orders, and recorded a video of opening the box in front of the delivery boy. Your guess is right. It was empty again. And this time he had proof. I had no follow-up of how Flipkart finally settled it. Another image I saw on a social networking site is someone receiving a bar of soap instead of a mobile. But that was a still image, hence veracity cannot be established.

But the bottom line is that fraud is happening across several platform which allow independent sellers to set up online shops. This has seriously dented customer confidence. I have stayed away from snapdeal since the incident. There had been sporadic incidences of local traders in second tier cities holding protests over proliferation of online commerce. Such protest with vested interest is not going to rollback e-commerce. Whether you like it or not, e-commerce is going to stay here for the convenience, choice and savings it offers. It is like the supermarkets that has become part of our life because they sells almost everything below MRP. What is going to hold back e-commerce’s further progress is the failure to stem the rot within. Once bitten twice shy.  And with social network fuelling, a duped customer will spread his message to thousand others. I do not agree with the point of view of banishing online commerce so that customer’s continue to buy items on bloated MRP at a local shop, that is part of a longer than required supply chain, that add to the cost to the customer. However, the idea of a legislation is welcomed. Besides regulating the business, this should seek also protect customers from these frauds. Not only that customer gets back his money instantly, but also the portal should get penalised. In turn they will pass on the penalty to the seller which will eventually discourage them. Right now, the fraud sellers are having a free run without any fear of crackdown. Most sites do not require a seller to register with a PAN or TAN no, which will establish their identities with a verifiable address. Are they carrying out checks on sellers? Did they forget the incidence where eBay India chief landed in jail for someone selling porn though his portal?

If any of these e-commerce portal comes up with such a system where they can claim that all their sellers are verified, and they offer a time bound dispute resolution process, and also provide feedback to the buyer in case of a proven fraud, then everyone will be happy to pay a premium for their services. As such a utopic situation is unlikely and a legislation is a distant shoot, a customer should trade cautiously as you do not know when you will slip and found yourself staring at an abyss. You will cry for help, expecting succour from the portal to pull you out of the mess, but it may never come. Till that time, safe online shopping in India is likely to remain limited to only cloths and shoes, and may be books. Till that time, think twice before ordering anything above couple of thousands rupees.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Delhi to Bharatpur via Yamuna Expressway


I have been using NH2 via Faridabad to Mathura for going to Bharatpur over the years. NH2 is too overcowded now and is a painful experience to travel by this route. Now that a second option of Yamuna Expressway had come up, I decided to explore this route on this year’s first trip to Bharatpur. Therefore I am sharing this route guide from Delhi to Bharatpur via the Taj / Yamuna Expressway.

The first toll gate on expressway is at Jawar. You can pay toll upto Mathura at this gate itself. Total toll upto Mathura as on Feb, 2015 was Rs.230/-. Shortly after crossing the Mathura toll booth, you will get the exit for Vrindavan. Do not exit by this. About a couple of km ahead is the Exit no. 8 for Mathura. Exit here and you will be on SH33. One end goes to Hathras and the other to Mathura. Turn left for Mathura. Road sign exists. Follow the road. After some time you will get a railway line on your right along the road. Keep moving straight till you reach a crowded junction with a police point /barricade. This is a market. Do not turn left. Left goes to Gokul. Keep moving straight till you cross the Yamuna via a narrow bridge. Barricade was apparently for preventing heavy vehicles from getting onto the narrow bridge.
Sarus crane pair is mating display at Bharatpur

After crossing the bridge, you will reach a T point. Turn left. You will drive through a narrow road in a market. En-route you will get a near 90 degree bend. Follow the road till you reach another T junction. Turn left here. This is Agra road. Drive till Yodha circle. I found a good overhead road sign just before the circle. There is a big bust of a soldier at the centre of the rounabout. This is Mathura cantt area. Take the near U turn around the circle. After about five hundred meters, when the cantonment campus ends, turn left at the first lane. You will get to see a school as you turn on right hand side. There exists only a small sign here. Straight goes into Mathura city.

Now follow the road and keep moving straight. Avoid a road named as Yodha Marg en-route that veers off the main road towards left. Stick to the main road. You will get another narrow market area of about half km. Continue through the market. You will get a railway crossing. This road is a single road with decent traffic. It will finally connect the NH2. At the very point it connects NH2 there is an opening to cross over to the other side. Cross the NH2 and drive towards Delhi by going onto the flyover. The road to Bharatpur (SH33) starts exactly at the middle of the flyover on this side. If you come from Delhi via NH-2, then also you need to cross this flyover and take a U turn at this point.

From there on Bharatpur is 34km. This is a single carriage way road and is in fair condition. You will have to manoeuvre many terrible spread breakers on this road. Therefore do not dive very fast. Closer to Bharatpur, when you enter Rajasthan, the road it is in good condition. Almost on reaching Bharatpur, you will find a road sign telling you to go straight to Bharatpur and turn right to Jaipur. Avoid going straight as the road is temporarily closed due to construction of a flyover near railway station. Hence turn right. After about a KM or so you will get a junction with an indicator to turn left for Bharatpur. Avoid this left turn as this again goes to the closed road at station. Instead go straight till you reach a T point and you see Vijay Hospital on other side of T point. Turn left at this point onto the flyover. After crossing the flyover, you will cross the railway line through an underpass. About 50mtr from the underpass, there is a left turn for entering city. Take this left turn to get into the city. As you come out of the underpass, there is road sign indicating to go straight for Bharatpur and Keoladeo Ghana. But all locals whom we had asked for direction advised us to turn left as the road ahead is not in good shape.
After turning left, continue straight till you reach a T point. Turn right. If you have been to Bharatpur earlier, then you will be familiar from this point onwards. Else, check my old post for a road map through Bharatpur to the Bird Sanctuary. You need to find your way to Bijli Ghar circle. Turn left there to reach Saras Chowk on the Agra-Jaipur Highway. Park is about 500 mtr from this point. All the hotels and guest houses are here.
Rudy shelduck

For staying RTDC Saras is a decent option @1200 for non-AC room. Rooms are OK, but service and food is very poor. However they have a huge parking lot and we found that gates were locked after 10:30pm. Birder’s Inn is the costliest @4200 with BF and Dinner. But it is the best property at Bharatpur. Sunbird in next campus is also decent, but prices were at par with Birder’s Inn. Therefore given choice to splurge, I would choose Birder’s Inn. There are couple of Guest Houses on the road where RTDC Saras is located. One can look to explore them as well. If you are there on weekdays, you should bargain hard for good discount. Tariff of RTDC Saras is a guide for bargaining. As a photographer, my favourite den is Iora Guset House. But this place always stays booked. This is photographer’s den from all over India. Staying here you not only get to interact with fellow photographers. But also get to know what is happening in the park and where it is happening.  

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Timeshare Holidays : Sterling vs Club Mahindra


I was always opposed to the idea of timeshare as this does not suit my style of travelling. I am a traveller rather than a tourist. However, a couple of years back, an intelligent Club Mahindra salesman managed to convince me to buy a timeshare. Returning home that night, I did a detailed research on Club Mahindra. I made lot of startling discovery and promptly invoked the free look in clause. Thanks to few fellow netizen’s posts, I managed to get my initial deposit back without any hassles. This bolstered my aversion for timeshare. It may surprise many that despite having researched so much about timeshare in India, writing a blog post here few years back on this topic which attracted a lively discussions and comments including those of Club Mahindra team, I finally took the timeshare bait this year again with Sterling Holidays. The concept still has flaws. But after spending this year’s quota at Corbett and Mussorie, I felt that my decision to invest with Sterling has not been bad.

So what made me took the bait this time. One of my senior colleagues had a Sterling membership which he wanted to sell. Another wanted to buy it. But the seller backed out at last moment, apparently at the advice of his children. This was a 99 year old membership that is valid upto 2094. The prospective buyer saw the potential benefits of buying a resale unit. So he started exploring the market and found some offer on olx and quickr. He finally managed a resale unit from someone in South. He got a bang deal for 1 BR Premium season for 1 lakh. Another colleague then jumped into it and got a fair deal for his budget – 1 Studio Offseason for 65K. Then another one. I had followed the discussions over lunch. Gradually I started developing interested as well. With my experience of Club Mahindra, I had gone through all pros and cons. I found it to be a win-win situation for both the seller and buyer.

The sellers are generally in the age group of 60-80 and have probably visited all of Sterling’s resorts several times over since 1994 or so. They have also seen the period when Sterling was in red and virtually closed down for couple years. A premium season studio with 99 years membership was sold around 59k in the 90’s when Sterling was launched. Therefore many of these old members see this revival of Sterling as an opportunity to get their investment back which at some point were assumed to have sunken. Any appreciation of investment will be a bonus.  If they can manage to sell it for anything above cost price, then they will recover their investment, well after enjoying their membership to the maximum.

The potential buyers also stand to gain from this deal. These are 99 years validity units as against a new unit with only 25 years validity. I am not sure of the latest prices, but a new Sterling studio unit for premium season will not cost less than 5 lakhs. Similarly an off-season or blue season unit cost you not less than 1.7 lakhs. That too for 25 years. All my colleagues, including me, had managed to find peak season studio unit on resale for around 1 lakh and off season studio for around 75K. This is definitely a win-win situation for both. Transfer of membership was smooth. Only issue was that we all that shell out the amount in one go.

One will be interested to know as to how Sterling compares with Club Mahindra? Well, Club Mahindra is the major player in this field, have a good brand equity and hence costlier in all respect. CM also has the largest number of resorts, 40 as in 2014, and most of them are reputed to be quality facilities. The total room inventory is about 2500. A purple season studio of CM will cost around 7 lakh and red season studio will cost around 5L. Sterling Holidays, based in Chennai, was more south oriented with most of its better facilities spread across South. It has 21 resorts with a room inventory of about 1500. It owns only two resorts in North at Mussorie and Manali. All other resorts in North are on lease. However, Thomas Cook had taken over Sterling it early this year. This piece of news brought smiles to all members. As expected, the involvement of Thomas Cook has already started showing. As per Sterling’s update, almost all resorts had undergone massive renovation this year. Two new locations have been added recently (Oct, 2014) at Sariska and Nainital. This has expanded the options at North with 6 locations – Mussorie, Corbett, Manali, Dharamsala, Sariska and Nainital. It is also claimed in their website that Sterling will be adding 15 more resorts in coming years. The annual maintenance fee of Sterling is also low. For a studio unit it is around 2600 rupees as against Club Mahindra’s 10K plus. There also is a third player in this field named Magic Holidays. For some unknown reason it has stayed low profile and hence not much is known about it.
I had stayed at Sterling’s Corbett facility in June this year. It is a leased facility. Rooms were upscale, but open space were at a premium. Renovation was going on at the site. The resort was closed down since then for maintenance. Nested on a hill facing the Ramganga river, located 12km further from the Dhanagiri gate on NH172 to Ranikhet, this will be a lovely place once renovations is completed. I was just back from Mussorie enjoying 3N/4D at Pine Hill Resort of Sterling during the long weekend of Dusserah. It is a sprawling campus with more than 70 rooms. This is a Sterling owned facility. Half the resort is under renovation. Already renovated rooms were upscale. We had enjoyed a relaxing holiday away from hustle bustle of crowd. One afternoon, we walked down to the Mall road only to be felt cramped for space. It was too crowded for comfort. We slowly walked back to the comfort of our resort. Timeshare is meant for relaxing holidays as against sightseeing holidays. I have grown enough grey hairs to deserve one week of relaxing break every year. On our return, we both felt that the investment in Sterling was worth. With validity till 2094, may be even after great grandchildren can use them.

Before closing, I must warn you of problems of timeshare in India. These companies are selling membership all though the year. Both Sterling and CM has a member base of over 1.5 lakh and is touted to be growing @15-20%. But their room inventory has not expanded that fast. This means that while members are increasing, room inventories are not. None of them clearly informs the ratio of total no of members to total no of rooms. One might get shocked at this reality. This means you need to book well in advance. I can afford to plan such breaks 3 months in advance, but can you. Further if you have a non-peak season unit, then your options to get rooms during peak holiday season is bleak. Keeping this in mind, you should look to buy premium / peak season units only. Finally it depends on your style of travelling. If you are a sightseeing holidayer, then you will not enjoy timeshare as most of these resorts are off the centre of action. So, are you ready for timeshare!

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