AIR FARE TRICKS
Airline miles are a great way to offset flight expenses, said Wong, who prefers to fly business class on long-haul flights and uses his miles to upgrade his tickets.
“The miles required for premium economy class are 80 percent of business class, and the depth of comfort is very different,” Mr. Wong said.
For those whose jobs or commitments allow them the flexibility to travel on short notice, Wong said last-minute flight deals can help save miles.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) Spontaneous Escapes, for example, is a monthly promotion that offers mileage savings to select destinations within the airline’s network, he said.
“The idea is that you book it this month, fly next month and you can save up to 30 per cent of the normal number of required miles,” said Mr. Wong. “This is a direct way to be able to find a last-minute allotment space at a cheaper price than normal.”
In addition to the usual travel fairs and bank or credit card promotions, Mr. Wong said flight dollars can also be saved by using cash-back services.
Connecting flights are also generally cheaper than direct flights, Wong said, but cautioned that there must be a balance between price and travel time.
“(It’s cheaper to transit) through Kuala Lumpur while flying to Bangkok (from Singapore), but consider whether it’s worth spending the extra time transiting a short-haul flight. But for a long flight, this can help save a few hundred dollars,” he said.
Travel search services like Google Flights or Kayak make it easy to compare flights and fares, Mr. Wong added. The Explore feature in Google Flights also allows users to enter information such as dates, interests, and budget, before generating options to choose from.
“(Explore) shows you all the possible destinations you can go to for that time frame and budget. So if you’re not picky about where to go specifically, you just know ‘I have $500, I want to travel for a week during this period,’ this helps you get a bird’s-eye view of all the different possibilities,” he explained.
Mr. Wong also uses third-party platforms for activities, saving 15 to 20 percent on each booking during his trip to New Zealand this year.
However, Mr. Wong said that third-party booking agencies should be used with care, as any changes to the itinerary will be difficult to manage, with customer service, waiting times and conditions differing from direct bookings.
It also warned travelers not to use a third-party booking site if the region is experiencing volatility or disruption.
The cost of accommodation can be reduced through points or loyalty programs. Wong explained that some hotels sell points, which the public can buy and redeem for rooms without becoming a member.
Mr. Wong said he took advantage of this points system during his recent visit to California, USA, when hotel rates were “through the roof” due to an open tennis tournament. He bought points and ended up paying for his accommodation at a third of the market price.
“Around peak periods, while the cost of a hotel room is highly variable, the points range tends to fluctuate within a smaller band than for cash rates,” he explained. “Taking some time to learn about hotel loyalty programs can help with some savings.”
IMPORTANCE OF TRAVEL INSURANCE
Mr. Wong also highlighted the importance of travel insurance.
“I strongly believe that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford a trip,” he said, adding that insurance should be purchased before traveling abroad, regardless of COVID-19.
With the current travel chaos at airports, travel insurance is even more important in the event of flight cancellations or lost luggage, Wong said.
“Travel insurance will cover if your luggage is lost, delayed or mishandled; you want to make sure you have some coverage for your content. Your flight might be cancelled, you might need to book a hotel, you want to make sure you’re protected from limbs like these,” he said.
Mr. Wong shortlisted three areas of particular importance in coverage when choosing a travel insurance policy: major accidents resulting in death or disability, medical expenses, and travel inconvenience.
He also emphasized the need to read the fine print rather than directly looking for a policy with the highest coverage, as some terms and conditions can make claims difficult.
“He would also like to see things like definitions because, if your baggage is delayed, certain policies may pay after a four-hour delay. Certain policies can make you wait six hours (or more). So it’s not enough to look at the amount of coverage… you also need to look at qualitative factors,” he said.
Mr. Wong also said that no matter how well protected travelers are with insurance, they should always pack important items such as identification, medication and communication tools in their carry-on luggage.
Tracking devices like Apple AirTag are also great ways to keep track of luggage.
“It’s not a coincidence that AirTags are out of stock now because a lot of people are buying them, putting them in their luggage, because they do a much better job of finding bags than some airlines,” he said.