Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cheap Flights Revisited: When to Book

There are a few eternal questions for travelers: Is the water safe to drink? Did I forget to pack something? Should I buy plane tickets now or risk waiting for cheaper fares?

The answers are: No (if you have to ask, then you'll probably feel better not drinking it), Of Course, and I Have No Idea. Luckily does after reviewing a few hundred million fares (poor interns), as reported by Yahoo! Finance.

The site found that purchasing tickets 49 days in advance was optimal for domestic flights, while 81 days was best for international flights. Of course these numbers comes with all sorts of caveats (like purchasing too far in advance may be pricier, and the optimal time may vary according to a variety of factors like booking for a holiday period.)

Naturally there's no definitive answer, but it's nice to have a rough guideline. The article also mentioned that booking on a Tuesday or Wednesday didn't necessarily translate to saving money, which contradicts advice offered elsewhere, as discussed in my previous post.

A good strategy seems to be figuring out what you think is a reasonable, or at least affordable, price, picking up the tickets for that amount or as close to it as possible, and then not comparing prices with your seat mates so you can avoid post-purchase envy and frustration. And don't forget to check in advance whether can save you money if the price of your flight drops after you've already bought tickets.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Eternal Quest for (Cheap) Flight

Airborne in Style with Cathay Pacific

Some of my friends have scored inexpensive tickets recently, so I had high hopes for Outside's recent tips for finding cheap flights. Unfortunately, the article turned out to be website-filler that was posted mainly to generate some traffic. There may have been a couple of less-than-shiny nuggets of information worth gleaning, like airline Twitter feeds sometimes offer flash-fares deals (time for me to get a Twitter account?) or that it's often best to purchase tickets on Tuesday because that's when new fares are generally published, but everything else was relatively pedestrian (pun sort-of intended): who couldn't figure out that it may be beneficial to be flexible with travel dates or airports?

There was no mention of Yapta, which not only tracks flight prices but may also be able to provide a refund if the price drops after you purchase tickets. Nor was there anything about Kayak's recently instituted price forecasting feature.  And how about a reference to mileage earning credit cards? Nothing new there, but surely Outside's well-traveled staff must have reached some consensus on what the best cards are. (If you're looking for input on that, try this U.S. News & World Report article, whose high opinion of the Starwoods Preferred Amex card seems to be held by many, including me.)  

While I'm no expert on the topic of inexpensive flights, I have a couple of minor suggestions. One thing I've noticed is that on short-hop flights in smaller planes it may make sense *not* to check your bag in advance. On a few of my flights last year, I saw other flyers toting sizable carry-ons that had no hope of being wedged into the miniscule overhead storage bins. They were then asked to "gate-check" the bags, either at the gate or on the tarmac, before boarding the plane. It seemed like this was a pretty good way to avoid paying the ridiculous first bag fee if you're only bringing one bag: treat it like a carry-on even if you know it will end up as checked luggage. Not sure if it works consistently though - airlines can charge for overweight gate-check bags, as discussed in this article. But unless the airline charges more for a gate-checked bag, it makes sense to wait. At worst you'll just be in the position you would have originally been in (paying the ridiculous checked bag fee). Of course, if you anticipate gate-checking the bag, don't put anything irreplaceable in it.

Another short-flight small plane technique that I inadvertently stumbled upon was booking a seat right behind the emergency exit row. On several of my flights those seats turned out to be unoccupied, probably because the airline charged an extra fee for reserving these roomier seats. Consequently whoever was in the aisle seat right behind the exit row was moved into the row free-of-charge because someone needs to sit there in case of emergency. So whether I was in the aisle or window seat of the row behind, I ended up with extra room. Obviously I wouldn't count on this if you're desperate for a seat in the emergency row - if the flight is full, you're out of luck - but if you're indifferent to seat placement, try booking right behind that row and you might luck out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

3-D Travel?

Just a small part of the sunrise crowd at Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Ever wonder how countries would be able to preserve fragile national historic sites in the face of increasing tourism? 3-D technology may help protect such places while paradoxically making them more accessible, and perhaps even more interesting, to the masses. Read about China's fascinating efforts here. Speaking of technology granting access to antiquities, click on this link to visit the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library and examine these amazing treasures in incredible detail.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Smiles (part 2: Sangkhlaburi and points south)

Sam Roi Yod Beach, Prachuap Khiri Khan province
Here's some more friendly encounters in Thailand from this winter to add to my series of Thai smiles. After spending a little time in Sangkhlaburi with my students (I volunteer teach English) in beautiful Kanchanaburi province, I headed south of Bangkok to Prachuap Khiri Khan, another of my favorite provinces, where I spent a few amazingly relaxed days at Blue Beach Resort on the outskirts of Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park.
Hanging on the school bus

Students preparing dinner
Bus ride to school
Scooter gang
At my favorite coffee stand in Bangkok
Market outside the park

More coffee at the market

Sam Roi Yod Beach

Beachside entrepreneur 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter Smiles (part I: Sangkhlaburi)

Starting the day with a smile at Mo Chit bus terminal (Bangkok)

As a visitor, I have found people in Thailand incredibly welcoming, kind, and ready with a smile regardless of whether I was holding a camera at the time. Here's the latest entrants in my Land of 1000 Smiles series (more posts in the series here) from an all too short New Year's trip. These were all taken in Sangkhlaburi, a small town set on a beautiful reservoir near the Myanmar border in Kanchanaburi Province. The Mon Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in Thailand, connects the town to a sizable ethnic Mon community. It's a great place to watch the sunrise or just observe the flow of daily life as townspeople use the bridge (and boats) to go to work/school, and to socialize with friends and family.

Making new friends on the 7-hour bus ride
On the Mon Bridge
Staying warm on a 75 degree evening

Postcard vendors on the Mon Bridge
Going for a walk on the Mon Bridge

Selling offerings for monks on the Mon side of the bridge

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Saw It On The L: The Challenge

I don't have to roam far from home to witness the beautiful, the bizarre, or the just plain entertaining. Traveling around New York City on a regular basis provides me with ample exposure to all three, sometimes simultaneously. Occasionally, even the familiar takes an unexpected turn...

As I approached the L Train the other day, I saw some kids doing acrobatic routines in one of the cars. I got on the car behind theirs, hoping they would head that way. Sometimes I resent performers forcing themselves on captive audiences, but I was in the mood for some entertainment.

Sure enough, the troupe entered my car and launched into its routine. The kids quickly won over the riders with their moves and high spirits. It was fun, but nothing I hadn't seen before until a female passenger good-naturedly challenged one of them to do a handstand against the pole. He readily complied, but she claimed she could do better. When the kid and his buddy strongly expressed their doubt,  she confidently proclaimed, "Of course I can, I'm a stripper!"

The boys gaped bug-eyed as she got out of her seat and skillfully backed up her boast, capping off the unbilled cameo with a nice version of the worm. She smilingly tipped the kids as she left the train, though it wouldn't surprise me if they appreciated the encounter more than the money.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

Phu Noi beach (Thailand) at sunrise

Wishing everybody a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2013 full of interesting journeys!
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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.