Food, drinks and movies

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
Qantas $994 $0 $0 $14 $80 $1,088 Brisbane 35 mins
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.


Mobile phones

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 mobile_phonethen 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.


Rental Cars

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?

Our rent-a-dent. 400,000 km on the clock and still looking good.

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.


Travel Insurance

How often have we heard tales of intrepid travellers getting injured, or broken_leghaving 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.amex_gold_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.

14 thoughts on “Tales from The Frugal Traveller – Part 1”

  1. Great tip on the rental car, that’s big savings!

    Also, let me reiterate your point on travel insurance, very important. I’ve unfortunately had to utilize it when my family had all our bags stolen in Europe. The insurance paid for replacements of everything! It happens so best be prepared!

    1. Hey GS. I’ve done a lot of travel and have never had cause to make a claim but that doesn’t mean I don’t insure on future trips. Who knows, maybe my luck is running out.

      There seems to be a trend in the media here to publish hard luck stories of people who end up with huge medical bills when they get injured overseas and then set up one of those online donation sites to bail them out.

      I reiterate, if you can’t afford basic insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Simple.

      As you say GS, it does happen.

  2. We’re heading to Japan in July for vacation. It’s our big trip of the year. I keep booking and rebooking the hotels and have saved more and more money. The airplane tickets were killer though – $2K a piece. I paid for one with miles, but had to suck up the price for two of them.

    1. Hey there Mr FS and thanks for reading my blog. I hop you enjoy it.

      You’re going to love Japan. I haven’t been yet but it’s looking like that trip will be next year.

      My in-laws were over there a month ago and absolutely love it. They used the rail system to get around and then took a tour so that all arrangements were taken care of.

      I’m more of a self-travel type and love planning my own itinerary but everyone to their own.

      If you’re looking for blog suggestions maybe do a frugal traveller blog about your trip when you get back. I’ll be keen to hear how you keep costs down while still having fun.

      Ouch on the air tickets. I assume that you’re taking the whole family. Even more reason to research getting the best deals as it quickly adds up when you start multiplying the number of travellers – Martin

  3. Great advice. Thanks.

    It’s pretty amazing how the “budget” airlines don’t save quite so much once you get through all the add ons. Can’t wait until they do start charging for the bathroom.


  4. Hey there FS and thanks for your comment. It stuns me how people still get sucked in by the initial price they see without comparing. We could have saved a few bucks travelling on the budget airline but added an additional 4 hours train travel to our trip. And quite frankly, a lot of those cheapy airlines don’t get good reviews for their service. They would have to offer seriously low fares for me to use them.

    1. Hi Francesca and thanks for your comment. I didn’t really make that clear did I. We flew with Qantas in the end. Convenient airport (35 mins vs 2.5 hours), reliable and friendly full service airline and frequent flyer points as well. And not much more expensive that the cheapest budget airline either.

      No, I’ve never paid for airline food either. Seems they only offer pies, sandwiches and pot noodles. Last time I flew budget which was a while ago, I took a Subway foot-long with me. My neighbouring passenger was so jealous. He said that’s what he was going to do next time.

      Maybe in time, we’ll see an entire plane load of passengers tucking into their Maccas, KFC and Subbies instead of suffering pot noodles eh.

    1. Yeah, I’ve never had any issues with Qantas. Even on the odd occasion I’ve turned up late for check-in they’ve always got me on the plane. None of this “I’m sorry sir, your flight is now closed. Please buy another ticket” BS.

      We did use wifi wherever possible and all of our Airbnb places had wifi. Sometimes you just need the flexibility of having mobile data and local calling. The 2Degrees pack had more than enough for our stay, and wasn’t expensive.

  5. I just can’t handle budget airlines anymore. Augh!

    Data etc is getting cheaper here but it still costs a bomb.
    Auckland put up a good effort with free wifi around the city during Rugby World Cup but since then ….

    1. I’m with you on that. I don’t understand why low cost has to equal poor customer experience. Ok, I understand that I’m not going to get any extras like meals and drinks but why is the whole experience from buying a ticket on their awful websites to check-in and every other part of the trip so depressing? It’s almost as though they treat you like a second-class citizen because you’re travelling budget.

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