Cheap Travel Tips: Champagne Travel on a Toast Budget

I have been liaising with a lovely reader who is interested in the inaugural Flowers, Frocks & Horticultural Fantasies Tours. (AKA The Grand Botanical Tour – link here; we're still workshopping the title.) She's been investigating flights. She's rather keen, bless her. I've been helping her with airlines – even though we've not even finalised the itinerary yet. (So it's a little like putting the wheelbarrow before the gardening spade. But that's never stopped this writer from dreaming and scheming and scheduling, nor should it stop anyone else. I'm all for a well-organised tour.)

This lovely reader has been investigating Business Class fares to London. She received a quote from Qantas for A$12,000. (US$12,000) Some seats were even $15,000. Premium Economy was $6,500. That is just CRAZY.

Qantas, what are you THINKING?

{Image of Andree Putman's slick steamer trunk for Poltrona Frau. Which possibly costs more than Qantas' fares.}

As this charming reader and I wept at the horrors of Business Class prices (I'd hate to think what First would cost), I thought I would do a post on affordable travel. I'm sure more of you would love some travel tips. Many of you may even have some of your own to contribute.

Someone has already recommended this gorgeous, newly restored place to me (above) – the St James Hotel in Paris, created on the site of the first ever hot-air balloon airfield in the city and decorated with witty hot air balloon motifs. It's the only chateau hotel in Paris but the interior has a carousel-style lightness and charm to it. It also has a website that opens up like a doll's house. Just beautiful. Just a pity the prices are chateau-ish as well. But at least the public areas are free. (Another tip: If you can't afford the rooms, go for breakfast or lunch instead.)

We travel to New York fairly regularly for work – last year I went three times – and rarely do we pay more than A$1300 for a return fare. (US$1300.) That's Melbourne/Sydney to New York. Non-stop. (Okay, an hour in LA.) For $1300. We often upgrade to Premium Economy seats too, for just $150. London can be just as cheap. One year I flew for $800 return. I know! I even got a seat for that price!

(For non-Australians, this is a good deal. Don't forget we're a 24-hour flight from London. For those who don't know where Australia is, we're down near Antarctica. A geography lesson will be forthcoming.)

This is how our family travels. The Frugalist's Way.

1. Subscribe to Travel Websites.
Then, when specials are advertised (notifications are sent by email), you can jump on them straight away. The best travel sites double as stylish online magazines, most of which post regular articles about new hotels and interesting destinations. And not just those they're affiliated with.

These are the ones I like.

Tablet Hotels
Until recently, Tablet offered great last-minute deals on many of the hotels they represented. I've booked top New York hotels for $200/n through the site. Suites, too. This seems to have slowed / stopped. But it's still a fantastic source for good deals. (Look up their specials page.) Not to mention inspiration, ideas or just travel porn. (Their articles are really witty.)  Oh – and their photos are so luscious, you'll want to book on sight. Tablet, you're such a tease!

Mr and Mrs Smith
Several years ago Mr and Mrs Smith jumped on the Hip Hotels bandwagon; a slicker-than-slick book-and-travel-website business model started by Herbert Ypma. Herbert seems to have fallen by the Avenue Foch somewhere. Mr and Mrs Smith, in contrast, are sprightlier than pilot taking a suck of the oxygen mask. It's sophisticated, informative, intelligent and full of pretty pix (what we want, really). I've not yet used it to book hotels but I've heard of people securing great deals. And the reviews are entertaining in themselves. This was the description for the Saint James – a place "to wear smoking jackets, chic Chanel monochromes and inky Christian Dior silks (monocle/cigarette holder optional). Packing tips: Flying goggles and headscarf – should the hot-air balloons in the grounds decide to head skywards, you’ve come prepared. Alternatively: leopard-print scarves or stilettos and sexy smalls for your grand boudoir". Gotta love an engaging tour guide.

Best Flights
An Australian-based online operator that always offers great deals. One year I flew to London for $800 return. At the moment, they have an outstanding Cathy Pacific offer: ALL flights to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Moscow, Paris and Rome, inclusive of taxes, for $1599. That's EVERY DAY from now until March 2013. Pack your bags people! Cathy Pacific is a nice airline, too.

2. Prepay where possible.
I love pre-paying. That way, you don't have the shock of the hotel bill at the end. You can just toss some spare notes down on reception for the mini-bar chocolate and waltz on outta there. But why I really love prepaid deals is because they're always cheaper. I go through In May this year, I paid for 2 nights at the beautiful Gramercy Park Hotel. In prepaying, the room was half price. I could have never afforded to stay there for the rack rate. New York, I miss you.

3. Fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. 
I've spoken about this trick before on The Library. Never fly on a Monday morning. It's when the business travellers fly, so they hike up the airfares. Or a Friday night. (When they all fly home again.) Tuesday is a dead day. Fly Tuesdays and you'll often get flights for 50% less.

4. If you're flexible with dates, book city hotels on weekends and country hotels during the week.
City people often leave cities on weekends for a break. Business travellers leave, too. Hotels want bookings on weekends, so they'll lower prices. If I'm going to Paris on a reaaaallly frugal budget, I'll stay in Versailles from Monday to Thursday and commute into Paris on the 30-minute express, then check into a Paris hotel on Friday for the weekend. Strange, I know. But my Versailles hotel is A$90/night or so. Where can you get that in Paris? Then on the weekend, my preferred Paris hotel - Trocadero Dokhan's - is staggeringly cheap. AND there's nobody staying there!

5. Don't be loyal to airlines. 
Do you think they're loyal to you? No. They're worse than a hooker on Sunset Boulevard. They'll swing wherever the business is, baby. So don't choose Qantas simply because it's meant to be a good airline. It's not as good as it was. AND it's expensive. Try other carriers – Cathy, United, Lufthansa. And be wary of some. Singapore is the Rolls Royce of airlines, and charges accordingly. It's not cheap. Virgin is like the Volvo of carriers, but still charges like Rolls Royce. (It's shrugging off its 'Cheap Airline Tag', so watch out prices.) Both Singapore and Virgin have their merits, of course – Singapore's First Class sleeper beds are like nothing on this earth, and Virgin's flight attendants are lovely looking – but don't book them just for their names. Or their pretty faces. Shop around.

More travel tips soon. Cheap travel tips for Business Class travellers too. Oh, I'm giving myself itchy feet just writing about it all!

No comments:

Post a Comment