Monday, November 11, 2013

Is flying Air Asia cheap?

If you are flying from Delhi or Mumbai, then it is not. Air Asia had stopped its flights from Delhi and Mumbai couple of years back citing high cost of operation. This means a traveler from any of these cities travelling to South East Asia first has to fly to Kolkata or Chennai to catch an Air Asia flight. It may not be cheap even from cities it is currently flying from. Just read on.

I had flown to Kualalumpur and then to Singapore from Delhi when Air Asia started its operation from Delhi in 2010. Flying Air Asia was indeed economical at that time. When one of the mailer for annual sale from Air Asia arrived in my inbox in Januray 2013, I decided to book tickets for Bangkok almost on impulse without any research. On sale, I got Kolkata – Bangkok return fare for 7400 rupees. This was done in January for travel in October. As my travelling date was approaching, I needed to book a connecting flight to Kolkata. When booked in August, this cost me another 8500 rupees. Only when I started to explore for tickets for Delhi – Kolkata, I found that Indigo offers the best option for DelhiBangkok with two daily flights. The Indigo Delhi – Bangkok –Delhi fare if booked around 3 months in advance is almost the same as that of the combined fare on domestic Delhi – Kolkata – Delhi (on Indigo) and international Kolkata – Bangkok – Kolkata (on Air Asia). With Air Asia I had booked tickets 10 months in advance whereas with Indigo I could have booked tickets only 3 months in advance to get the same combined fare I was paying. Further, my trip became longer by 4 hours as I had to break the journey at Kolkata between the flights. Only saving grace in this combo is that a LTC traveler can claim IT exemption benefit for the domestic sector upto Kolkata, which amounts to almost half the ticket cost. If you are traveling as a family, then this amount may be substantial. If you take one single international flight from Delhi, then you lose the IT exemption benefit for LTC.

This led me to check Kolkata – Bangkok sector fares from Kolkata. There also Indigo was matching Air Asia prices. Air Asia has been able to create the image of the cheapest airline. It actually is, in some of the countries in South East Asia. So beyond Bangkok or Kualalumpur, it still offers the cheapest choice. But you would require planning 10 – 12 months in advance to travel Air Asia. The much hyped sales by Air Asia are a misnomer where one has to wait keeping fingers crossed, praying and expecting to get you in the queue as soon as one of the sales opens. By the time you get into their website, all zero fare is gone. Before booking, I advise you to find what their normal fare is for current month. If the prices on offer are almost similar to current month fare, then skip the sale. You can save your money by getting some interest in your bank account and book only 2 or 3 months in advance.

Monday, November 04, 2013

How cheap is travelling in India

Just back from a wonderful week of holidays in the land of thousand elephants – Thailand. The immediate thought on return was that when are we going back again? My family had given a dictum to cut down on my wild trips to wilderness in India and chalk out plan for a trip to Koh Samui next year.

This second trip to South East Asia had also made me ponder- is travelling in India is really cheap. The answer is probably not. The kind of money we had spent on inland travel annually in India can give us a couple of international holidays every year. Two main reasons for travel in India becoming costlier are very high hotel tarrif and steep airfare. In recent years, the airfares in India have gone through the roof, yet most airlines are claiming losses. Let me present a comparison of travelling to two of the exotic destinations of India – Andamans and Lakshadweep. As I have been to both these places, I vouch for the unparallel natural beauty of these places offers. Both can give a run for money to any of the island destinations in terms of beauty. The ex-Delhi fare on date (Nov 1st wk 2013) for travel in January 2014 end to Port Blair is Rs.16000/-. Ex-Delhi return fair to Agatti, Lakshadweep for the same dates are Rs.20000+. Compare these to ex-Delhi return fare to Bangkok – Rs.17600/-. To add to the flair, all inclusive Thailand packages are available for around 22-25K from many leading travel portals.

Bhimtal near Nainital in Uttarakhand

The second factor contributing to high cost of travel in India is hotel tariff. Most hotels in India are self styled star rated. As there is no independent agency validating these rating, one is forced to consider experiences of fellow travelers on sites like trip advisor. Yet I was in shock to see my hotel at Portblair. If someone is giving a high rating for a hotel in trip advisor, then make sure to check his travel credentials. The possibility is that the enthusiastic rater might not have seen a better hotel or may be was on his maiden trip. Any decent hotel in India cost not less than 2000 without breakfast or meals. As my travels are generally to wilderness of various national parks of India, I am often forced to stay at one of luxury resorts that have mushroomed around these parks. A 2N/3D family trip to any of the national parks of India costs around 25K. The room rates of these resorts are generally mind boggling. Yet the facilities many of them offered are lower than the resort I had stayed at Phuket that cost me 3000 bucks for an ocean view room with breakfast. I had paid Rs.6500/- per night (with meals) for Lakshadweep resort way back in 2007. Most hotels in India do not have net presence. Thus the ones available on net are always costlier. I generally travel through our peer networks and use their contacts which have allowed me to get best value for money in India. But not every traveler is fortunate to have such networks.

Given the fact that you are willing to spend 30K per head, which destination will you choose – Bangkok or Andaman or Lakshadweep? I am sure you have found the answer. Even travelling to Singapore was not that costlier till rupee started its slide. The rupee had eroded by about 14 rupees against SGD since my visit in 2011. Yet a trip to Singapore is affordable to many. Only place that has become real costlier is Hong Kong beacuse of the ruppe slide. You can have two trips of Thailand at the price of one to Hong Kong or can do Singapore + Thailand at that price. So, are you packing your bags!