Rishi Pruthi and his wife Kiran had always drea-mt of holidaying in faraway New Zealand. Unfortunately, their Antipodean dreams had always been grounded by the steep cost of travelling to the country thats sometimes described as the lifeboat at the end of the world. But this year theyve finally pulled off the holiday of a lifetime, and theyre currently driving around New Zealands South Island, taking in sights like Mount Cook and Milford Sound. How did they do it?
The answer, quite simply, is the global recession, which is like a cloud with a silver lining. As free-spending travellers turn tightwads, airlines and travel agents are feeling the pinch. But travellers who still want to take to the high road or the skies are finding that there are great deals to be had out there if you hunt carefully.
Check out the deal that the Pruthis availed of. Their eight-day trip is costing them Rs 1.57 lakh or Rs 78,500 a head thanks to a smart offer from The Wanderers, a travel agency with offices in Mumbai and Calcutta. This includes airfare with taxes, accommodation in three-star hotels with breakfast, a self-drive rental car (but not fuel), car insurance and visa costs.
I wanted to do a self-drive holiday in New Zealand, but I never thought Id get there for two-three years. Now I cant believe Im actually there, says 26-year-old Rishi, whos a marketing professional.
This is a good time to travel as airlines are offering some attractive deals, says Asish Das, director, The Wanderers, though he throws in the warning that airfares are subject to availability.
The fact is that all types of deals are on offer from cheaper airfares to free nights at hotels to discounts on tour packages. Rajesh Gupta, vice-president, TUI India, a leading tour operator, estimates that travel costs are down by 10 per cent to 15 per cent over last year. The point is prices havent risen as they do normally, he says. And even if the discounts arent too high, they all add up if youre a family of four. And, dont forget that travellers are also being scared off travel by the swine flu outbreak you could look upon that as an opportunity to pick up better deals.
Youve got to shop around and carefully pore over the fine print, though. Remember, there are no free lunches so dont get taken in by one of the many misleading travel ads.
Lets take a look at some of the deals on offer, then.
The Far East And More
First things first: youve got yourself a smart travel deal if you can get a cheap airfare. This summer too, the best deals are coming in sectors where airlines are discounting. Here, the Far East comes out on top with carriers like Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways cutting fuel surcharges.
Kashmira Commissariat, head, Outbound division at Kuoni India believes that, Travellers are looking at the current situation as an opportunity to avail of the best deals as they understand that these may not be available in future.
Travel has definitely become much more economical today. South-East Asia is doing quite well as rates are down by almost 10 per cent to 30 per cent for hotels and airlines, adds Sa-tish Ramnani, director, sales, Vensimal World Travel Agents, a leading Calcutta-based travel agency.
For instance, Singapore Airlines is offering a Calcutta-Singapore return airfare for as little as Rs 16,000 (including taxes) now (although th-is is subject to availability) as compa-red to Rs 21,000 earlier.
Thai Airways too has a Mumbai-Bangkok return airfare for Rs 5,880 plus taxes of around Rs 7,500, which is valid till May 31.
Timing, as they say, is everything. So sometimes, a new entrant can stir up the market like Cathay Airways did when it launched a direct Delhi-Bangkok flight in March (for fares below Rs 10,000). Now, another new entrants creating a similar flutter in Calcutta: GMG Airlines of Bangladesh.
GMG has a three-night package to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for around Rs 25,000, including return airfares, three-star hotel stay with breakfast plus sightseeing, says Ramnani. This is valid till June. The flight is via Dhaka though, and theres a long layover. Also, remember most cheap flights are non-refundable.
Now, you can also stretch your holiday and rupee further by extending that trip and going by land from KL to Singapore for another three nights, points out Ramnani. That will cost around Rs 5,000 for travel and $300 or Rs 15,000 for a three-star hotel stay with breakfast and sightseeing in Singapore. According to Ramnani, a similar six-day trip to KL and Singapore would normally cost around Rs 55,000-Rs 60,000.
Hotels in the Far East are also discounting to counter the decline in tourist arrivals. Many Singapore hotels are offering a third night free with a two-night stay.
Vensimal has a three-night Calcutta-Singapore package for Rs 35,000-Rs 37,000, about Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 cheaper than before. This includes airfares plus taxes, hotel stay with breakfast, and a packed sightseeing itinerary.
Alternatively, there are competitive packages to Malaysia too. Cox & Kings Indias six-day Enchanting Malaysia package from Mumbai to KL, Penang and Langkawi costs Rs 20,053, including accommodation, airport transfers and sightseeing. But youve got to add around Rs 15,000 for the airfare.
SOTC India has a five-day Magnificent Malaysia (Malaysia Holiday Bazaar) package to Genting Highlands and KL for Rs 21,999 ex-Mumbai. With airport taxes and visa charges, this comes up to around Rs 31,000.
Or look at TUI Indias six-night Singapore and Bali package, which costs Rs 25,590 per person, ex-Delhi. This includes airfare, stay in three-star hotels with breakfast, and some sightseeing. But youve got to add Rs 13,700 for airport taxes and Rs 4,700 for visas.
You can head to the southern hemisphere at a budget thats nudging southwards too this summer. Apart from New Zealand, Australia has attractive deals as Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways have reduced fuel surcharges. Airfares from Calcutta to Australia are down by around Rs 10,000 to around Rs 40,000 today.
Thats not all. You can get more forex bang for your buck too, points out Ramnani. The Australian dollar, which had toughed up to Rs 40 is now around Rs 35, which makes Australia a better destination financially, he says.
Vensimal has a nine-night package to Sydney, Gold Coast and Cairns for around Rs 95,000-Rs 99,000, ex-Calcutta. This includes airfares, taxes, visas, four-star hotel accommodation and some sightseeing. According to Ramnani, a similar package cost Rs 1.1 lakh last year.
Cox & Kings India too has a similar nine-night Australian Highlights package from Mumbai to the Gold Coast, Cairns and Sydney for Rs 77,990 plus airport taxes of Rs 20,000 and visa fees of Rs 4,043. Thats around Rs 1.03 lakh.
Carriers are also discounting airfares to New Zealand. Rishi and Kirans trip through The Wanderers, for instance, is around Rs 40,000 cheaper (for two people) than last year, estimates Rishi. Thats largely because of a limited-period airfare offer from Singapore Airlines.
If youd like to vacation in an island in the sun, destinations like Mauritius too are 10 per cent to 15 per cent cheaper this summer.
TUI has a six-night-seven-day package from Delhi to Mauritius for Rs 31,990, which includes airfare, stay in three-star hotels with breakfast and dinner and sightseeing. Theres an additional Rs 14,700 in airport taxes.
Cox & Kings Indias five-day Mauritius Getaway from Mumbai costs Rs 19,522 plus Rs 31,000 for the airfare. This includes three-star hotel stay with breakfast and dinner, and sightseeing.
Most travel experts will advise you to look for destinations where airfares and visa costs are low to get a good deal. But you can also consider places that offer special concessions to Indians, like Bhutan, says The Wanderers Das.
The Wanderers four-day Bhutan Introductory offer for a group of four Indians, costs around Rs 10,000 per person including all meals and sightseeing (non-Indians would have to pay $600 for the same deal).
But youll have to add Rs 11,000 per person for flying both ways between Calcutta and Paro.
Now, if youve planned an expensive holiday to Europe, you can look for some discounts here too though theyre not too high.
Hotels in countries like Switzerland are giving value-adds like one night free if you stay for three days, which they never did before, says TUI Indias Gupta.
Cox & Kings seven-day Swiss Flexi Deal package costs Rs 56,990. This includes airfares, three-star hotel stay with breakfast, a five-day Swiss Flexi Pass and excursions to Mt Titlis and Schilthorn. Add another Rs 2,000 for airport taxes and Rs 6,500 for the visa.
Or take SOTCs 15-day Grand Tour of Europe covering eight countries. But be careful to check the details of this offer. SOTC has advertised it under its Exclusive Holiday Sale with a Special Offer: Take your wife and child free + get cash discount of Rs 30,000 per family on it.
Pore over the fine print, however, and the picture is different. This is how it works. The package costs Rs 101,990 plus 2,549 Euros for a couple as per its brochure. Thats Rs 2.67 lakh (at Rs 65 to a Euro) for two or Rs 1.33 lakh per head.
The travel agency is offering a discount of Rs 15,000 per person on this (Rs 30,000 for a family as advertised), which comes to Rs 2.37 lakh for two people (or Rs 1.18 lakh per person). But airport taxes of Rs 20,000 per person and visa costs of Rs 17,000 per person are extra. The actual package after the discount amounts to Rs 1.55 lakh per head.
Dont get taken in by the giant-sized headlines in the ads and do your own calculations while looking for discounts. Often, airport taxes and visa charges the big killers arent included. Also, sightseeing trips may be optional, so youve got to budget for those.
The recession in the travel industry, then, is throwing up some good deals but as always you need to read the fine print and do some careful calculations before you head for that summer break.