Do you remember the very first thing you ever bought online? I feel like this was one of those defining moments you never forget, and it’s very fitting mine was a plane ticket in 2003.
I used to be in the travel industry, having worked for a large tour operator, and a major B2B travel website; lived and worked overseas; and now travel for business and leisure. Travel has always been a part of my life, so when making comparisons to the cost of things, my go-to is “I’d rather use the money to travel.” As some of you know 😉
I decided to write this post after recent IRL conversations prompted by a travel video I saw on a tech website. I also realised how often I’d been giving the same advice to folks over the years, so it may as well stay here permanently.
The best way to get a good deal is to sign up for the newsletters for your favourite airlines, or airlines you’d fly with. I say that because there are certain airlines I refuse to give my own money to (BA, Kulula, Delta) but sometimes I fly them on business trips because I don’t really have a choice. Everyone’s experience is different though, if you love BA and Kulula, that’s great, sign up for their newsletter and whoever else, so you get notifications when there is a sale.
INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES I’d recommend are Emirates (they have sales throughout the year); Turkish (they fly to the most destinations); Iberia (a very basic airline but one of the cheaper ways to fly directly to Europe); KLM/Air France (they have good prices when there’s a sale but let’s hope AF doesn’t strike as often); SAA (unpopular opinion: my special meals are always good, hostesses are friendly; AND they price match).
I booked my holidays to Brazil and Vietnam on SAA because they were the cheapest. I was stunned to see the prices on Emirates for Vietnam in December. But also, I prefer flying direct if possible. And Emirates is great if you want to visit the East because you’re flying in the direction to begin with. I feel like everyone’s first trip to NYC is usually with Emirates because it’s so cheap, but after going to the US via the Middle East a few times (on economy), I would rather pay a little more to fly directly to NYC. Imagine spending two weeks in the West Coast (LA/Vegas/SF) and then flying LA to NYC, NYC to Abu Dhabi, then to Jhb. After we did that routing, we decided it’s best to fly direct. Also, the Etihad website, at the time of booking, DID NOT SAY there was a stop in NYC, which pissed me off greatly.
LOCAL AIRLINES I prefer are Mango (cos I can use my Voyager Miles from SAA to book; AND you’re allowed name changes on the ticket – I’ve sold a flight I could no longer make; is there any other airline that allows you to do it yourself?); and Safair (if you only fly with hand luggage, their prices are well suited for this). SAA is too expensive on local routes unless you book in advance. I fly to Durban almost exclusively out of Lanseria and I got tired of 90% of my Kulula flights being delayed so I just don’t fly them anymore. I hate that BA don’t inform you of delays, you can sit at the boarding gate after you’re meant to take off and zero communication. They also have a bad reputation in the UK and don’t give meals anymore on UK to Europe flights. [Note, I don’t fly them after my personal bad experience, and everyone’s experience is different].
FREQUENT FLIER programs are super useful, and I cannot stress this enough on how you should sign up to them immediately. Even if you are flying an airline for the first time. Fortunately I fly Emirates often enough for business trips, and use them personally, so I’m currently on Gold. It gives me free WiFi on all flights, lounge access in Dubai even when I fly economy, plus I can take a guest with me. It’s the easiest way to climb a tier from all the airlines, I’ve noticed, and getting on Silver gives you lounge access. I always joke about my favourite thing about Dubai is that I can shower in the lounge, ha. SAA revamped the Voyager program to sh*t and it’s so difficult to earn as much, however, I fly them for business and still earn anyway, which comes in handy when I want to book emergency flights on Mango locally, i.e. I don’t pay in Rands. Otherwise, I try save my miles for upgrades if there’s availability. I am signed up for a lot of them. But always look at who else these programs partner with to earn more (like on Airbnb, or hotel chains).
THIRD PARTY sites like Cheapflights, Skycanner, Travelstart etc are risky to book with just in case something happens like a cancellation or you need to change your dates due to an emergency – you are stuck and cannot go directly through the airline and have to go via the site you booked. Imagine being on another time zone on a Sunday and you urgently need to make a change. You must now wait for these sites to operate in business hours before they get back to you; I’ve heard enough horror stories to know that my decision not to book with them is the right one. However, I have used my eBucks in the past to book on Emirates for a massively cheap flight to Barcelona (R3900). I think this, and Discovery for example, should be ok because the booking engine from the airline is embedded in the booking system, so it’s like booking direct. But double check.
Getting travel insurance is important to me because as a freelance individual going on business trips, I have to take care of myself, I don’t have a company to rely on. I was given a 2-year Schengen visa earlier this year so now when I fly to Europe, I buy insurance myself. The best place to do it online is TIC and if you book your own flights with an FNB Credit Card, they give you basic insurance for FREE (also with TIC). These are super useful, and if you want to upgrade your FNB insurance, you can.
Also remember, if you have individual insurance for your gadgets as part of your household insurance, just double check if it covers you when you travel, it is usually applicable for anywhere in the world. Someone also pointed out to me that Discovery also offers travel insurance, but I’ve not looked at it properly. And if you’re wondering why you need insurance, it covers you if your flight is delayed, luggage landing late, etc, aside from the obvious reasons.
My website of choice for hotels is booking.com because I am familiar with their layout and filters, the option to prebook hotels without payment going off, and free cancellation up to 24 hours. It’s handy for when you need visas and have to show confirmed bookings. And after you get your visa, if you change your mind on where to stay or find a better deal, it costs nothing to cancel and book elsewhere.
Hotels.com is also another site you can use, and you get one free night for every 10 nights you book with them. I’ve browsed the website many times, I personally don’t prefer their selection of hotels. At my age in life, I don’t mind paying a bit extra for a nicer hotel for a luxurious stay, especially if I’m gonna be walking all day. I did this in New York when I turned 30, and opted for a 4* hotel on the Upper West Side, and my body thanked me every night for the comfortable, uninterrupted sleep! I opt for cheaper accommodation when I’m going to an expensive city on business and extend it by 1-2 nights, where all I can afford is an 8m2 hotel room, LOL.
Airbnb is a great option too, I tend to use this for family holidays when there is a lot of us, it’s just easier having a kitchen, lounge, dining room, laundry etc; or if I’m staying in a city long enough that I’d need to do laundry or whatever. I always check both for hotels and Airbnb cos sometimes it’s cheaper/similarly priced. I only ever book the entire apartment/house with Airbnb.
> My Booking.com referral code gives you 10% off your next booking, EVEN if you’ve used the site before: https://www.booking.com/s/44_6/mailna08 (Disclaimer: I get only $15 for the referral but only 10 of you can use this offer by clicking on it).
> My Airbnb referral code gives you, at the time of writing this blog post, R600 off your booking for new sign ups only. If you already signed up, just get your spouse to sign up: https://www.airbnb.com/c/nakabor?currency=ZAR It works in around the world, in SA too, so ideal if you want to book a getaway! (Disclaimer: I get half of that back when you click my link and book).
Another thing you should do is sign up for hotel rewards programs. Especially if you travel for business cos sometimes you get put up in nice hotels. Rewards vary and you can get free WiFi, access to lounge areas with food, discounts on your next booking or free nights, etc. They all work differently. I like the Tsogo Sun ones, cos you get a discount above a sale rate too, when logged in. Who knows, you could even get a free upgrade for being loyal!
My favourite thing to do in a new city is go on the red sight-seeing bus tour; it’s cheap and covers the basics. If there’s a spot I want to explore further, I will go back in my own time because you can’t always get off the bus for each stop. I like to equally do touristy things when I travel, and find my own stuff. A little tip if you have limited time and want to go to certain stores and save money on taxis, just look on Google Maps before hand and see how close the places are you want to go to from the official tour stop, and go to it, and just wait for the bus to fetch you again. Look at the timetable at the stop to see the frequency of the bus so you know how much time you have to explore. I have done this before, but just had to keep my purchases with me on the bus for the rest of tour, which isn’t too bad if you don’t over do it.
I also love using Viator.com to book tours. It is owned by TripAdvisor and I trust their selection of tours and the tour operating companies. I found this unique Lisbon by Beetle tour when I was in Portugal for my birthday this year:
1. Look on Instagram to get a feel of places you want to visit to see if it’s worth the visit; especially where you have to pay an entry fee. I do this with galleries and museums. Cos sometimes you regret spending the money (for me it was the Guggenheim).
2. A lot of folks laugh at me for this, but when I’m at any restaurant, I look at the location tag on Instagram to see what the food looks like before I order something. Hey, I even have an Instagram account for my food pic, okay (it’s @nafisaeats if you wanna check it out!)
3. Booking.com works on US time zones (I think east coast), so local time, try search for deals in the afternoon, which would sometimes be different to what you saw in the morning.
4. Use Google Maps to mark where you will be staying and all the places you want to visit. It’s just easier, visually, to see how far each spot is and makes planning your day easier, and more cost effective. See all the things that are close by in the same afternoon, which you can probably walk between. Use offline maps!
5. I love using Google Maps to search for places nearby, wherever I am, for food or a touristy thing. Basically, Google Maps is your travel best friend. I read reviews, look at ratings etc to get an idea on the spot, if that’s where I want to go.
6. While I’m still raving about Google, get Google Translate, and download languages offline for the cities and places you plan to visit. I cannot stress how this helped me around the world. From having a conversation with locals, taxi drivers, or looking at cooking instructions. You can communicate by text, scribbles for certain languages, take a photo of a menu, or use audio to have a convo (I did it many times) and the other person just speaks back into the app to reply.
7. Follow your favourite airlines on social media to get sale notifications if you don’t want to sign up for their newsletter. I’m not big on following brands on SM cos all of them are spammy and RT compliments and reply to customers where we all can see it, like WHY? However, I have a separate Twitter account for this and don’t use my personal one for certain media outlets and retailers. I turn off RT for almost all of them.
READ: I also wrote a post on my top 5 tech travel hacks if you wanna check it out, it’s geared towards long haul flights: https://www.nafisa.co.za/top-5-tech-travel-hacks/
If you’re reading this and have stuff to share that works for you, please feel free to comment! 🙂
Thanks for reading till the end.