Friday, June 17, 2016

Making the Most when Paying for your Flights

Gone are the days when calling the airline or visiting a travel agency was your only option to book a flight. Now there are so many on-line sites offering myriads of flight options in a variety of prices to get you from point A to B.
Many of these sites also compare findings from other sites. This is a great way to compare prices and itineraries.

My current go to site is Skyscanner Canada.

Other favourites are:

Google Flights is good for researching flights, but often the options you find are unavailable when it comes time to book.

All of these web sites cover different airlines and have a variety of different combinations to get you there and home.....which is important because, like booking points, it gives you the option to choose a long layover. Please see my previous blog post to find out more about layovers.

In my last post, I discussed taking advantage of a long layover. If the layover is long enough, you can do a sample tour of a city.

My husband and younger son booked their flights to Cape Town and home from Nairobi, deliberately with a long layover in mind. They will stop for almost twenty hours in Abu Dhabi on the way to Africa and for the same amount of time in Dubai on the way home. Fortunately, I managed to get a long layover in Dubai on the way home for my eldest son and myself at the same time so the whole family can check out the city.

Don’t forget that when paying for your flights, as mentioned in my last post, you still want to keep track of extra fees and taxes.

So now is the time to flex those fingers, and get ready to flight shop.

Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any other tips or questions about this topic.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Booking Flights through Aeroplan Frequent Flyer Points

 When it came down to booking our flights for Africa, the first thing I did was check my frequent flyer points.

Frequent Flyer points are a beautiful thing. They usually (not always) save you money and they add options that I can’t always afford when paying outright for flights.

I’ve been saving my Airmiles for over a decade, so I checked there first. It was no surprise that despite having lots of points, I couldn’t get any flights to where I wanted to go. I will talk more about Airmiles in a future post.....probably on a day that I’m in the mood to rant.

The next place I looked was with Aeroplan. Because I use my Aeroplan points fairly frequently, I only had enough points to get two tickets to Cape Town, South Africa. If we wanted the whole family to be on the same flights, it gets really expensive to pay for the other tickets. We decided to travel in pairs, save some money and meet up in Cape Town. Since my eldest son, Graham and I have flexible schedules, we decided to take a bit more time and book using the points.

Points allowed Graham and me to take advantage of one stop-over option as well as having an open jaw itinerary. (An open jaw is when you fly into one place and out of another). Unfortunately, the Aeroplan web site does not have the capabilities to book an open jaw flight together with a stopover; you must use their call centre to book that type of itinerary...and there is a $30 per ticket fee to book through their call centre.

Graham and I decided we wanted to fly from Toronto and have a one week stop-over in Morocco before flying to Cape Town to meet my husband and younger son, Cameron. At the end of the trip we will fly back to Toronto from Nairobi. So we knew the dates and locations we wanted to fly to, so it was time to use our points.

I prepared before dialing Aeroplan’s call centre. 

It’s a good idea to study the flight options for your destination on the Aeroplan site. Their web site shows the same flight options that are available to the Aeroplan phone consultant. Decide ahead of time which flight options you want so that you are not rushed for a decision when on the phone with the Aeroplan consultant.

In my case, there were many possible airline combinations for the three main flight legs of our trip. I studied the details of all the options.

When looking at the options, the Aeroplan site shows you:
1. How many flight changes (layovers) there are.
2. How long each flight takes.
3. Which airports/city the layovers are in.
4. How long between flights.
5. The total number of hours of the layover.   
6. Total travel time from departure to final destination.

Most people look for the most direct route that takes the shortest time to their final destination. I often look for the longest total travel time because this usually means that you have a very long layover somewhere (hopefully somewhere exciting). If the layover is long enough, say 8-20 hours, you can leave the airport and tour the city.  Our family did this on two separate occasions; once in Barcelona and another time in Istanbul. It’s a great way to get a taste of the city.

If you plan to do this, check how long it takes to travel from the airport to the city centre and factor that along with the time it takes to depart the flight and a minimum of two hours to check in for your next flight. Decide if that gives you enough time to see what you want to see.

Graham and I will have an eight hour layover in Lisbon on our flight from Morocco to Cape Town. We will also have a fifteen hour layover in Dubai, on our way home from Nairobi. 

Plan the details of your layover ahead of time. Do the research so that you can maximize your touring time when you are actually there.

Booking on points is not free. You still have to pay for taxes, fees and surcharges. Sometimes you can pay for these by using extra points or you can pay by cash/credit card. These fees vary greatly depending on which airport you are arriving and departing from, what countries you are in and which airlines you are flying. Literally it can mean hundreds or even over a thousand dollars difference in flight itineraries. For example Air Canada has very high surcharges (including a fuel surcharge that hasn’t gone down with the price of gas), whereas Ethiopian Airlines has very low fees.

The best way to get an indication of what the extra costs are is to go on the site and look at how much it costs if you booked each leg of the flight separately.  As I said, this just gives you an indication of the extra fees because more fees are added if you book a whole itinerary instead of booking each flight separately....Don’t ask me why. That is just the way it is.

If you have any questions, comments or advice on this topic, please drop me a line.

I will let you know about how we got a great price that includes a few layovers with my husband and younger son's paid flights in my next posting.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Choosing the Right Tour for Africa

After a five year hiatus to care for my parents in their final years and subsequently deal with the estate, I find myself back to writing my blog. The difficult times have highlighted the importance of appreciating the people I love and living life to its fullest.

With an impending empty nest adjustment looming this fall, my husband and I want to have an extended period of quality time with our sons. Africa seems like the perfect place to go for a seven week, once in a lifetime adventure.

We actually secured our tours before booking our flights.

We decided to start in Cape Town, South Africa for three days on our own before starting the tour with Nomad African Adventure Tours which travels through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and ends in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We’ll spend a few days exploring Victoria Falls on our own before flying to Nairobi. Our safari company, It Started in Africa, will pick us up from the airport and take us directly to Arusha,Tanzania where we begin our one week safari. Most of what we are doing in Africa is with tour companies.

Finding the right tour is not as easy as you may think. There are hundreds of them out there, all with different styles of travel and in a large range of prices. Our family decided on doing a fairly basic tour; camping in tents and bringing our own sleeping bags with Nomad Tours. The company provides the tents, mattresses on the ground and most meals. Washrooms are mostly shared.

We also searched through many Tanzanian safari companies before deciding on a private one week jeep safari with "It Started in Africa". They customized our tour with a mix of camping, hotels and lodges. They supply all the linens and tents.

One of the first places we look when searching for a tour company is on Trip Advisor. We check out the approval ratings and read all the comments from travelers. Since these comments come from real people and are often detailed, it gives a good idea of what you are buying into.

Next we choose our top companies and send them inquiries for detailed itineraries and request a quote. This also gives us an idea of what the tour companies consider "must see" sights are for the area.

Now that we have a better idea of what we want to see, we contact our three or four favourites, give them an outline of exactly what we want and have all of them quote with the same specifications. This allows us to compare apples with apples when the quotes come in.

I always make a point to speak to our top tour operator choices. There is a feeling that you can get from a voice that just can't be replaced by an email. I feel that how they answer the questions in person also gives a deeper reading into how I would be treated as a client.

If there is something that concerns me about what I hear, or the itinerary, now is the time to bring it up. They are more likely to offer you extras or bend the rules a bit, before they have your money. For example, Nomad Tours allows you to bring one duffel bag and one day pack and a sleeping bag. I had back surgery a few years ago, so I want to bring an extra self inflating sleeping mattress with me but with seven weeks of supplies in my duffel bag, it won’t fit. I brought this up with Nomad Tours before we booked and they agreed to let me bring it as well as my duffel bag for no extra charge.

Finally, we go back to trip advisor to check out the ratings for all the accommodations and sites that are suggested by the tour companies...even campgrounds are rated on trip advisor.

Our next step, was to book our flights. But that’s a topic for my next blog post.

If you have any questions, comments or tips, I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tips for A Solo Traveller in India

Travel is a great teacher that brings you a world of experiences, as it awakens the inner you, makes you enjoy, teaches you some hard lessons, introduces new horizons and makes you want more and more of it. Traveling on your own can be very interesting and if you were to travel India, you are sure to have one of the most memorable times of your life. Here are some tips to help you to have a great time as a solo traveller in India.

1. Advance Booking
Advance booking eliminates the risk of facing unwanted ‘surprises’. Booking in advance gives you plenty of options to choose from when compared to last minute booking. Travelling in India via rail is most economical & safe; one can make online railway bookings in advance at site. You can have your seating arrangements confirmed if you are not keen to do some monkey tricks while on public transportation.

2. Travel Light
Never carry too much baggage while on travel. If you plan to use public transport often to feel the real India, you may want to reduce your luggage. Take with you what is absolutely essential to make your travel safe and comfortable.

3. Never Travel In Night
The suggestion is not to say that India is not safe but it is best to practice this when you go to any foreign country. Broad daylight gives you a better opportunity to look around and be familiar with the area while it may get difficult if you get lost in the night. It may also be unsafe.

4. Say ‘No’ To Free Offers From Strangers
Never accept anything that is offered for free from strangers, particularly if it is a food item. This can lead to undesirable consequences and hence it is best to say ‘No’ rather than accepting as an act of politeness.

5. Plan Ahead
Planning goes a long way in making your travel a success. Check with the hotel administration about the important places to visit and the best way to reach the place. If you are not on a tight budget, you may use the hotel’s cab service so that you can sit back and enjoy your tour. If you want to go on your own, it is best to plan your trip the day before and know your way to the destinations.

6. Be Informed
Once you decide on the places to visit, such as the attractions in cities like Delhi or Agra, be informed about the timings, the rate, if any, to gain entry. Learn more about the place so that you will know what to look for while you are there. If you intend to use a guide to help you, know in advance how much you will be expected to pay for their services.

7. Shop Wisely
While shopping make an informed choice by learning in advance the specialty of the place and if there is something unique that is worth the buy. Some places excel in manufacturing certain items and identifying it will not only get you a unique product but for a reasonable price as well. Never buy from the first shop that you visit. Look around and visit more shops till you find the right bargain. India is a country of bargains. Inquiring in the local area about shops that sell genuine products will make you happy with your purchase.

8. Washrooms
Never take for granted that a washroom in India in tourist destinations will have all that you may require. Once you are out of your hotel, have toilet papers in your carry bag, just in case. Most of the washrooms may not have locker facility and hence you may have to either carry your bag with you, which may sound scary if you have a big luggage with you. You may also leave it with the caretaker and give him an additional tip.

9. It Is Time To Learn
It is always better to learn the local language, at least some important words and sentences so that you know how to communicate. It will also help you to understand when people around you use them while communicating with you.

10. Stay Connected
Traveling brings you closer to the people of a different land. When you are in India, mix with the people here so that you will never feel alone. Moreover, you can learn a lot about India and its culture when you mingle with the people as you will find them friendly, open to conversation and willing to help. However, make sure you have the right person to strike a friendly chat.
India is a challenging country, yet lovely. However, always be ready for surprises!

Author Bio
Rohit is an architect by profession. He is passionate about traveling and his experiences as a traveler has helped him gain a wealth of experience. His blog talks a lot about important tourist attractions in India and he loves communicating everything that is associated with travel.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonderful and Affordable Egypt

People told us we were crazy to go to Egypt at this time. They were wrong. Despite the fact that Egypt has been in the news lately; first with the Arab Spring and now with some protests about depictions of the Profet Mohammed, it is important to remember that these problems have not involved the major tourist areas of Giza, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea. Even in Cairo the few demonstrations that occurred since the Arab Spring have been in Tahir Square, a location that can easily be avoided if necessary.
Barring new developments, which are easily monitored on national trip advisory web sites and on current individual travel blogs, I wouldn’t hesitate to return with the assistance of a tour company.

Egypt is a lively, colourful place where modern day technology mixes with traditional ways. Where else does one see cars, trucks and motorcycles sharing a four lane highway with tuktuks, (small three wheeled taxis), donkey carts and camels? I enjoyed people/traffic watching as much as I enjoyed Egypt’s rich historical and cultural sites.

We always felt safe and comfortable on our recent two week visit in August. As a matter of fact, this was one of our most enjoyable trips. The best part was that we received amazing value on the Egypt portion of the trip with Memphis Tours. This was my first experience with this company and I have only good things to say about them.
I have no affiliation with any tour company but I strongly believe that when visiting a country that is so different than your own, it’s a good idea to go with a tour company that knows the ins and outs as well as the language. In our case, this was vital because our eldest son has life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

My husband and I went to Trip Advisor and looked up the top three recommended customized tour operators in Egypt. We sent all three companies a list of everything we wanted to see in our two weeks. Memphis Tours had the best price and we were impressed with the patient, thorough and professional way that Yosri (the tour coordinator), answered our questions, dealt with my son’s dietary challenges and was flexible with our tour plans.

In Egypt, Memphis Tours consistently surpassed all our expectations for service, accommodations, meals and sight-seeing.

On arrival, Hussein Zakaria, our Cairo guest relations representative, met and expertly navigated our family of four through the airport to our waiting van and on to the gorgeous Oberoi Mena House Hotel and Resort. We loved staying in this hotel located at the base of the Giza pyramids. It was wonderful to go onto our private balcony and watch the sun rise over these amazing structures.

Throughout the trip, on most days Memphis Tours organized a private tour guide and driver for our family.
In Cairo, Maha Mahmoud El Halwagy was our English speaking tour guide. We loved her candor, humour and knowledge. She was a joy to work with, (and a great photographer).

We were surprised to even have our own body guard when we went to the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, Coptic Cairo and the Market. Although I didn’t think we needed a guard, our tour company took no chances.

The charismatic Sayed Selim was our tour guide for Upper Egypt. He skilfully guided us through Abu Simbel, Aswan, the Temple of Philae, Komombo, Luxor, Karnak, the Valley of the Kings are more. Besides being knowledgeable, he was personable, a lot of fun and went out of his way to connect with all members of our family. He also partied with us on the cruise.
In Upper Egypt we stayed at the immaculate Movenpick Resort in Aswan and enjoyed a three day cruise on the luxurious Sonesta St. George cruise ship. The service on this ship went beyond our expectations. Not only was the staff fabulous but our suites were spacious, beautiful and comfortable. We even had a whirlpool tub with coloured lights in our washroom…and individually packaged natural loofah sponges.

Sayed always kept us well stocked with bottled water and saved the day when ironically, I suddenly had digestive issues (pharoah’s curse), during our tour of the Valley of the Kings... possibly brought on by eating salads or consuming ice cubes. This experience accentuated for me the importance of being with someone who knows where the clean bathrooms are when an occasion like that arises.

We next moved on to Hurghada where the capable Aziz Kotb was our guide. A true test of a tour company is how they react when a glitch arises. Aziz passed with flying colours. When our resort could only accommodate my son’s allergies for breakfast, Aziz went out of his way and quickly came up with a solution which worked for everyone. Realizing that our teenagers were missing their junky food, he ordered lunch to be delivered by cab from McDonald’s. The boys were ecstatic.

Our time in Egypt passed much too quickly and our family will always remember the wonderful sights, the hypnotic history and the wonderful, warm-hearted people.

Although we found Egypt to be safe to visit, tourism is still down as are the crowds and the prices. It is rare to receive the type of value for our money that we received by going to Egypt during the off season, (August and Ramadan) and travelling with Memphis Tours. If you ever dreamed of seeing this amazing destination, don’t wait. Jump at the deals that Egypt has to offer while they last.

For more details of our Egypt experience, check out our trip's daily posts on Travel Addict on a Budget.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Final Day of Amsterdam, Sunday, September 2, 2012

Final Day of Amsterdam, Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday morning and the streets were quiet. It was overcast but in the low 20’s as we walked over to Mike’s Bike Tours. Actually, great biking weather.

We decided to take a four hour bike tour into the Dutch countryside. The tour guides were quite funny. After making sure we could all ride and that we knew the rules, we were off.

We had to drive through the city first. Thank goodness that it was Sunday morning and very quiet.

We first stopped at a windmill before heading to a cheese farm that also makes wooden shoes. I bought a number of cheeses. They were so good.

The countryside was very flat and green. There were all kinds of sheep, horses, cows, geese and more. We drove past the Olympic stadium. We also drove through the city’s main park, Vondel Park. It was packed with people. Since living spaces are small here and not many gardens, people spend more time in public parks and squares. Apparently, after dark it is legal to have sex in the park…who’d have thought?

After the tour we walked around Amsterdam, ate and dropped the kids off at the apartment.

We poured ourselves a couple glasses of wine and sat out beside our canal, saying our goodbyes to Amsterdam.

My legs and hips feel like they should be in a body cast…am I really that out of shape?

Our flight to Canada leaves at 8:30am tomorrow.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday in Amsterdam, September 1, 2012

The sun was shining, it was warm. It seems everyone in Amsterdam was out on the streets, biking or soaking up some sun in a sidewalk café.

We spent the whole day walking around the city, along the canals and through the markets.

It seems that lots of markets pop up on Saturday morning in Amsterdam. If you close your eyes, you can practically tell where you are, be it flower market, fish market, or walking past a coffee shop.

We are trying to find out what the XXX means on Amsterdam souvenirs or flags. If any one knows, please email me.

The bicyclists were out in full force, many with there families. There all seemed to be a number of stag parties, hen parties or frosh week events going on since there were a number of crazy characters around.

Did I mention that parking spots for bikes can be difficult? This afternoon, an older couple tried to park their bikes in a busy area. You could see the man’s face fall when first his, then his wife’s bike, then bike after bike after bike went down. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap….. just like a long row of dominoes. Poor couple, as we continued to walk on they were trying to right each bike, one at a time.

People were partying down the canals as well. Often boats would pass with large groups of people singing or in strange costumes. At one point, a boat shaped like a beer barrel zoomed past.

In our neighbourhood, the streets were blocked off and there was a big food festival going on.

The boys were tired, so we dropped them off at the apartment, and my other half and I went out for a boat tour of the canals. It was quite funny when the tour leader said that the canals are made of one metre mud, one metre stolen bikes and the rest water.

We got thai food at the food festival and ate it while sitting beside the canal. The boys went out for pizza. The boys decided to still stay in so we walked around Amsterdam at night. It really comes alive at night.

What a fabulous city.

I am feeling a little bummed that tomorrow is our last day in Amsterdam. We head back home to Canada on Monday.