18th May 2016 –
Ms MM and I have just returned from our 2 week trip to New Zealand. Actually, when we booked, it was a one-week trip but since then, I’ve stopped working so extended it by a week because I can.
And hence, our first lesson on frugal travel.
Choosing your flights
Years ago, when you wanted to change your flights, you would call the friendly staff at the Customer Service Centre and most airlines would say “no problem. Let me do that for you, and by the way, there’s no additional charge for that. Have great trip”
Well those days are long gone, believe me. So to change our flights, bearing in mind that I did this online so didn’t take up any valuable time of their call centre staff, and it’s not like they had to reissue our tickets as these are all electronic, this cost us $100 each!!
So lesson one, unless you’re flying on a fully flexible ticket, which is generally a lot more expensive anyway, make sure you plan and book your trip accurately the first time. Any changes are going to cost you, big time.
Now lesson two, and this one will not apply to everyone as this situation, I think, is unusual but certainly not unique. Here in Brisbane, we have a large, international airport serviced by all of the full-service, tier 1 airlines that service this region. I will refer to this as Airport A.
An hour or so down the motorway, we have Gold Coast International Airport which has a number of budget airlines flying to many of the same destinations as the airlines from Brisbane Airport. This is Airport B.
So before booking, a lot of cost-comparison and analysis took place. And here’s what I discovered.
Unless you live near to Airport B, and are planning a quick getaway or long weekend, or you can travel light, and don’t mind sharing an aircraft with a bunch of budget-conscious families who often consist of having many over-excited children and over-stressed parents, Airport B is the one for you.
If you want to leave from Airport A (as is our preference), travelling there on the very handy, but very expensive Airtrain, you can fly with a full service airline with all of the little extras, like food, drink, movies, that make modern air travel slightly more bearable, and it doesn’t have to cost you a whole heap more.
Here’s why. Budget airlines will provide a seat for you at a very reasonable cost. They will then ream you for checked baggage, drinks, food, choosing your seat, paying by, heaven forbid, credit card, arriving at checkout 1 minute late, breathing etc etc etc. There was even talk of one overseas budget airline planning to charge passengers to use the bathrooms. Yeah, that’ll work!!
So here’s my cost analysis of return fares, Brisbane to Auckland, for two, as a comparison.
|Airline||Fare (return)||Checked baggage||Food/drink||Booking fee||Travel to/from airport||Total cost||Airport||Travel time to/from airport|
|Jetstar||$598||$114||$60||$34||$52||$858||Gold Coast||2.5 hours|
|Air Asia||$602||$240||$0||$40||$52||$934||Gold Coast||2.5 hours|
|Virgin||$1,335||$0||$60||$20||$52||$1,467||Gold Coast||2.5 hours|
- Food and drink prices are approximate assuming we would actually consume the rubbish served on budget airlines.
- Checked baggage charges are for 20kg although Qantas have a 30kg allowance.
- Travel to/from the airport assumes using public transport as this is very convenient where we live.
- Travel time is to/from the airport each way.
- All prices are Australian dollars.
So, lesson two. Shop around, don’t be fooled by ‘cheap’ fares, read the fine print, do a proper cost-comparison, and don’t be afraid to pay a little more for the convenience and comfort of a full-service airline when the price is close, especially on longer haul flights.
And lesson three, if you must travel on a budget airline, do what I have done and take your food with you. I usually stop somewhere on the way to the airport and pick up sandwiches or similar for the flight, or make your own.
I’ve never had a hassle getting food through security or eating it on a plane.
Not only will it be considerably cheaper and better quality, but seeing the jealous looks on the faces of your fellow passengers…Priceless.
One of the more common ways travellers overseas get financially reamed is mobile phone roaming charges.
Back in the old days, a quick phone call home on arrival to say the plane hadn’t crashed was sufficient for most people. And then sharing your holiday snaps at a family slide show on your return was also quite normal. These days, staying in touch with home and being able to instantly post your selfie shots in front of some famous landmark has become essential.
So, as soon as the plane wheels hit the tarmac, on goes the phone and cha’ching, the roaming charges start being applied.
How many times have we heard of someone getting their first bill after arriving home and finding that all of those texts, calls home to check on the cat, sharing photos of all your special dinners, and social media posts have cost more than the trip?
So here’s what you do if you can’t be without your cellular crutch. Do some research on local pre-paid mobile phone providers, before you leave. Choose one that provides a simple to understand prepay package with sufficient call minutes and data for your trip, and buy one of these the moment you arrive.
Most airports have kiosks that sell these prepay SIM card packs, and install this immediately. Remember, don’t switch your phone on until you have inserted the new SIM or you will incur roaming costs immediately when your phone starts downloading all that mail you’ve missed while airborne.
Next, text or email all of your ‘must-have’ contacts with your new local number so that you’re in contact. Now you can make local calls at local prices and if calling home over the mobile network is still expensive, use an app such as Skype to call home for free or next to nothing.
If you still need to receive calls from your home number, you’re probably going to wear some cost here. I tried Roamer, an app that allows you to divert your home number to a local number and calls are routed over the internet to your phone. Although Roamer works in many countries, Australia is not one of them as it contravenes some Telco regulation here, or that’s what they told me. If you know of some service that can do this from Oz numbers, please do let us know.
Otherwise, you either carry a spare phone with your Oz SIM card and pay the cost of receiving inbound calls, or leave it behind and get someone to set a divert to your local number once that’s established. Neither is ideal but that’s the cost of convenience sometimes isn’t it.
I use 2Degrees Mobile in NZ. For NZ$19 a month it gives me excellent coverage, 100 talk minutes to any NZ or Australian number, unlimited txt, again to NZ or Oz, and 500MB of data. Besides this, your credit lasts 12 whole months so you can use it again on your next visit or give it to someone else who’s lucky enough to go there.
Just remember, if you get a auto-renewing prepay plan, make sure you cancel it before leaving the country. Set a reminder on your phone to cancel it when you’re at the airport.
There’s nothing quite like the freedom a rental car will give you when travelling. Sure, in a lot of places, either self-driving will be more expensive than the local taxis, or the local driving conditions will be so unfamiliar or potentially deadly that driving is not a viable option. But in most western countries it will allow a lot of convenience and flexibility.
So how do we rent a car and remain a frugal traveller at the same time?
Go to Google, type in the name of the city you are going to, type in the words ‘budget rental cars’, and low and behold, a bunch of cheapy rental car companies will be at your service.
Now I do understand that if you rent from one of the ‘Big 4’ you will have a fully safety checked, spotlessly clean, late model car waiting for you at the terminal when you arrive. But you pay for this privilege. Sample prices for a medium size car, pick up at Auckland Airport, from the said ‘Big 4’ are upwards of $50 per day for a compact vehicle.
I rented a completely safety checked 2000 model Nissan Sunny, with 400,000km on the clock, from a nearby budget rental company for 17-bucks a day, with pickup and drop off at the airport. Over two weeks, that’s a saving of at least $460 compared to the Big 4.
Now most civilised countries will have very strict safety requirements for all rental vehicles that even the cheapy places must comply with. If this is a concern for you, check out what those requirements are beforehand and ask the rental company to provide evidence of their vehicle meeting these requirements before you drive out.
In New Zealand, all rental vehicles must have a current Certificate of Fitness (CoF) sticker on the windscreen. If it’s not there or out of date, don’t drive this car.
In our two week trip, we drove our rather worn Nissan around 1,500km and besides the radio not working particularly well, we had no issues whatsoever.
How often have we heard tales of intrepid travellers getting injured, or having all of their luggage stolen, or being robbed, and they didn’t have any travel insurance? And why do we hear these tales? Because the media think that they are providing a great social service by reporting the unfortunate’s tale as they ask for donations to help get themselves back home, whaaa, whaaa!
Here’s another way to look at it. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
If you are injured or become sick overseas and require medical treatment or hospitalisation, the costs will often be huge, into the tens of thousands of dollars. If you require repatriation to your own country, $30,000 is not an unusual cost.
See what the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have to say about travel insurance.
Travel insurance is not usually expensive compared to the potential cost of not having it. Consider having medical and repatriation-only cover rather than full cover to reduce the cost. It may be an inconvenience to have your phone, wallet and passport stolen, but these can be replaced relatively easily.
If you chose to travel without at least medical insurance, I don’t want to read about your unfortunate mishap in the newspaper.
Credit card travel insurance
Now here’s something you may not know. Many credit card companies offer comprehensive travel insurance if you pay for a certain amount of your travel with their card.
I have an American Express Gold Card (I know, it sound expensive but it’s not) which gives me double points when I use it (think flight upgrades here) and free travel insurance for me and others travelling with me.
I didn’t even have to pay for my travel with the Amex. Just register my trip with them prior to leaving and I’ve got free comprehensive travel insurance. So yes, I do pay a little extra in annual card fees, but have already got that back in my travel insurance saving.
And here’s another thing related to car rental and insurance. Often, the budget car rental fee is cheap, but they ream you on the insurance. Our rent-a-dent had a $2,000 excess payment if we damaged it (although I doubt the whole car was worth that), or we could reduce that excess to $0 for an additional $19 a day.
Amex free travel insurance, please step forward. We are covered for rental car excess up to $2,500!! Although claiming this will cost us a $250 excess, this is quite manageable compared to $2,000 and we would have paid that anyway to get the reduction. So we’re $266 better off. Win-win-win.
Next time, we continue with Part 2 of the Frugal Traveller’s report covering our experiences using Airbnb accommodation and a chat with a couple of our hosts. What got them into hosting complete strangers in their homes? Has it been worth the effort? Is it a worthwhile side-hustle?
Catch you next time to find out more.