Rajiv Renganathan – Opportunist Traveler since 2004

Travel deals hunter, Rewards (airmiles, hotelpoints) enthusiast, Love to help others travel well & wide.

Looking forward to the long weekend in May, I was exploring options to head out “somewhere” in the Philippines. After Puerto Princesa, Palawan in December with family and Boracay in February with friends, now was time for a solo outing.

The craving for white water rafting got better off others and it was Cagayan de Oro in the south. CDO, as it is called in short, is part of Mindanao, one of 3 island groups in the country.

Getting There: On the Friday morning, I reached the domestic terminal in Manila for the Cebu Pacific owned Tigerair flight. Cebu Pacific has since renamed Tigerair Philippines to CebGo. The flight was delayed by a few minutes but that didn’t bother me much, I just wanted to relax and go along with the flow. Cebu Pacific is popular for the onboard fun games, probably reflecting the spirit of Filipinos. It seems the Tigerair subsidiary doesn’t share the same culture. However, they did hand out a bag of free samples of some useful cosmetics such as face wash and sun screens.

Picturesque landings are a common affair in the Philippines with runaways close to the waters. Landing at the Laguindingan airport was no different. With only hand baggage, I was out in a jiffy to be welcomed to the cacophony of operators peddling the shuttle to Cagayan de Oro city, a 40km ride for 200 pesos. Private taxis are instantly available; expect to pay about 600 pesos.

Staying: Seda and Limketkai are locally owned luxury hotels. After I discovered Tune hotels had a property, I didn’t look further. Booking it through Kaligo gave the opportunity to earn a few miles. Unlike the Tune hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost terminal (now shifted to KLIA2) where air conditioning and towels had to be purchased separately, I was pleasantly surprised to have them all packaged in the price of 1500 PHP here.

Going Around: After a quick bite at Mang Inasal, I took a taxi to visit 2 places in the mountains. Mapawa Nature Park and Malasag Eco-Tourism Village. Malasag is visiting home to some of indigenous tribes who seem to have least influenced by the 400 years of colonial rule. They sell hand man crafts and perform tradition dance at 4:30pm. There is small aviary, not the best I have seen. I did manage to see the national bird, Philippine Eagle albeit in captivity. The cafe has some spectacular views of the city, the waters and the mountains in the other islands, reminding of the views of Bergen, Norway from Mt. Floyen

The next day began with yummy stack of pancakes at Circa 1850, independent restaurant yet sorta attached to Tune hotel. Bugsay rafting turned up a hour late to pick me and others from the hotel. I preferred with advance version, after all I can claim to be an experienced rafting junkie with runs at river Cauvery, Sita and the mighty Ganga ;-) I had to settle for the basic version to go with group. So here it was, my first Jeepney ride from the hotel to the starting point on the Cagayan de Oro river.

The 14 km rafting with about 13 rapids of maximum grade level of 4 guided by the pros was fun, leaving ample time for small talks and soaking in the views. Living in this country, you realize the role of volcanoes and see plenty of evidences dating back millions of years, not in museums but in the outdoors.

City of golden friendship is title given to CDO just as Bangalore is city of gardens which it is not anymore! I usually don’t believe in such tags but guess what! A couple from Zamboanga was on a road trip around the island. I met them at the hotel and we were together in the rafting group. They were really nice to invite me to join them post-rafting for a drive.

Philippines is the second largest exporter of Pineapples in the world. Del Monte has an entire civilization built around Pineapple farms with golf courses and an air strip for private planes. I did have an inclination to visit the place and the Dahilayan Adventure Park in the area. However, I had saved it for a future trip with the wife and little one or friends since a drive were the only viable option. Thanks to the warm Filipino couple, I had the opportunity to visit these places.

Dahilayan Adventure Park is an amazing fun place creativity done with tons of activities for all ages. I was amazed somebody made up such a business so far from the city in a not so prime island group of Mindanao. But then it seems to be working well, the place was bubbling with activity.

After a good night sleep and another nice breakfast, it was time to fly back to civilization.

Blame my phone crash, no pictures!!!


Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines form a political & economical association referred to as Association of South-East Asian Nations i.e ASEAN.

AirAsia ASEAN Pass

AirAsia has a launched pre-paid ASEAN pass for about Rs 10,000 ($160) valid for 30 days and 10 credits. The 60 days/20 credits version is Rs 18000 ($290). Taxes and add-ons such as check-in bags need to be paid when you book the actual flights.

A one-way flight between any 2 destinations in these countries will require either 1 or 3 credits. The way it works is you buy the pass & redeem the credits to book the flights

The details are well-laid out here.

From India, AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur from 6 cities (Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Trichy) and a return ticket should be anywhere between Rs 10,000-15000. If you are flexible with dates and patient to book way in advance, look out for the periodic sale for some sweet deals.


Adding up an additional Rs 5,000-10,000 for taxes/add-ons + Rs 5,000-10,000 for visas, one can fly around South-East Asia for just about Rs 30,000-45,000.

This is a great product from AirAsia leveraging its wide network in the region.

What are your thoughts? Share them on Facebook or Twitter

One of the travel highlights of 2014 is the surprise family vacation to The Leela, Kovalam. The experience surpassed all our expectations and even inspired a friend to plan along the same lines.

Now, the carpet is being laid out for 2015 with The Leela Luxury sale 2015

- The 5 city properties in Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai & Delhi are offering a 20% off on basic rooms (including breakfast) & 30% off on the higher end suites.
- The 3 resort properties in Udaipur, Kovalam, Goa are offering a free night on bookings of 3 to 7 nights. The free nights in Goa & Kovalam have been matched along with the season & off-season periods.


Details are available here. Bookings have to be made by 5th Jan 2015 using the promo code LEELA2015. The booking engine did not seem to work as expected when I tried.

Important to be aware that this offer comes with breakfast only. At the The Leela Kovalam & Goa, lunch & dinner buffets typically cost Rs 1300-1900 for adults and half of that for children. I am not aware of any worthy restaurants around them so you will depend on the restaurants inside the resorts. Alternatively, The Leela Moments (here & here) offer is all meals & airport transfer inclusive. If you are on the fence, our 2014 experience was booked under this at ~Rs 11k including taxes.

As always, don’t forget to call the hotel desk for more. You may discover something more or interesting as I have in the past.

For points aficionados, The Leela group is part of GHA, Global Hotel Alliance that can earn you loyalty points. The staff at Kovalam had no clue about this though!

Days in Norway: Yes, it exists!

Many years back I happened to visit the office of a travel agency. One of the posters caught my attention. It was a long shot composed of lush green mountains with a water-filled deep & narrow valley. A ship in the long spanse of still waters that looked tiny from the distance. The picture stayed with me forever. It was such a mystic, as if it could never exist in real.

Along the way, I somehow figured that was Norway. Yet I never explored online or looked up travel opportunities even after I had got travel savvy: hunting travel deals & doing vacations on a steal. Such was the feeling.

Earlier this year I happened to visit Sweden on a solo business travel. Just a month later, we were a feet above the ground when we figured an opportunity. Out came a 10 day itinerary covering a part of Scandinavia – Stockholm, of course Norway & Copenhagen. I had written about the itinerary & how we made it a few months back.

After a few days in Stockholm, we entered Norway by SJ, the Swedish national train operator. Without seat numbers, insufficient air ventilation & a coughing & sneezing co-passenger, it wasn’t the best few hours inside the black and rugged coach but lovely countryside outside.

Bottom line? Norway exists! More to follow…

Meanwhile, enjoy this funny take on Norway by stand-up comedian Daniel-Ryan Spaulding

Uber gets to learn from the market

Question: When did booking a taxi become an exciting affair?uber1
Answer: When Uber was launched

I and my family & friends are enjoying the plethora of discounts & free rides that Uber has been offering. The technology is disruptive i.e it can break existing economics of the transportation business. Much as been said and written about Uber so I am not repeating them.

What triggered this post, in the news that a women was alleged sexually assaulted by a Uber cab driver in Delhi last night. It is suspected the driver was not the same person registered with Uber. This incident, irrespective of the outcome, is going to bring up questions & debates on the Uber model. Arguments will fly in both ways. Uber will probably have to:

- Tighten the relationship with drivers
- Authenticate that the driver is “actually” the same person registered with them. Probably, a finger print reader attached to the app used by driver.
- Let users decide the minimum expected rating of drivers who are assigned
- Start phone-based customer service

In my experience, most of the drivers have been disciplined. In a couple of instances when I was not very happy & shared a feedback with Uber, I got back a canned response that did not instill confidence.

These are the learnings in the journey of an emerging business.

(If you want to try Uber, you can use this link that will get both us some free credits)

My tryst with Accor hotels

My tryst with Accor hotels began in the early 2009 in Paris with stays in Novotel & then switched to the preferred Suite Novotel. accorWhile Novotel is good for short stays of less than a week, Suite Novotel is cosy for long stays. Also, a couple of times in Ibis when I wanted to stay inside the awesomeness of Paris with the wife. Ibis Styles Jarva in Stockholm was colorful while Novotel Barcelona City was classy. Ibis Bencoolen Singapore was awesome value for money. More recently, the stay in the long aspired Accor’s luxury chain, Sofitel by the Manila bay in Philippines was a memorable experience.

Along the way, I moved up the status levels in Accor’s loyalty program called Le Club & accumulated a lot of points.

The stay in the contemporary Mercure Stoller in Zurich during our short vacation to Switzerland was a cool redemption. Lovely stay & champagne breakfast while making the vacation sweeter on the pockets.

It is a well-known fact among seasoned travelers that just staying & paying hotels like a goodie boy isn’t enough! Following and signing up for promotions makes the big difference between a decent balance & an awesome stash.

- I managed the highest platinum status from a promo and not from the “loyalty”!
- One promo “earn 3x the points” in June 2012 added 20% to the overall collection
- Accor has no hotels in Norway & Denmark while the thought was to burn the Accor points in the Scandinavia trip. The negative surprise didn’t mean staying in hostels! A status match from Accor Platinum to Club Carlson Gold Elite did wonders

Origin: Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Tiruchirappallisingapore

Destination: Singapore

Travel: “Fly to Singapore for Free” by Tiger Airways

Stay: Not big deals on the table. For now, Avoiding early-mover’s curse in hotel bookings & wait to catch the last-minute deals. Subscribe for updates on hotel opportunities as they emerge

Window of opportunity:
Bangalore, Hyderabad Kochi: Available now
Chennai, Tiruchirappalli: Hopefully soon

How To:
Book air tickets online on TigerAirways


- On booking a return ticket, the onward journey is free but airport taxes to be paid
- Travel from 16-Sep-2014 to 5-Dec-2014 and 26-Jan-2015 to 25-Mar-2015
- As per the official announcement the offer is only for HDFC credit, debit & prepaid card & prices starting Rs 7,499. I don’t find those fares yet & the available prices do not seem restricted to HDFC cards!

- Lots of variations from the official announcements! If you are queries, drop in a line on Facebook or Twitter & we can not only figure it out but make the most of it ;)

Additional Reading:

10 Best Free Things To Do in Singapore by Shivya Nath

tigercok tigerhyd tigerblr

What is this: Based on ongoing or upcoming travel deals, I design & share a “travel opportunity”, an exciting travel experience that doesn’t pinch the wallet. The intent is to seed a travel idea in your minds & give you a little headstart. You will have to make your own bookings. If this indeed helps, I will be happy to hear to a word of thanks on Facebook or Twitter. Questions are welcome too.

What is this not:This is NOT a package tour. This is NOT a sponsored post. I am NOT a travel agent or tour operator.

Myth #1: Flying is the only way to earn miles

While this is how it all started, flying is just one of the many ways to earn miles. Credit card spends are the most lucrative ways to earn miles today. Picture this: Among the 72,000 Emirates miles that went into redeeming the Copenhagen-Bangalore award ticket, only half of them came from flying. The other half from the SCB Emirates credit card spends.

Airlines have a whole host of partners. Spends with these partners are another avenue to earn miles. New avenues have emerged such as miles for hotel bookings that I wrote a few months back.

Myth #2: It is not worth to pay fees for a credit card

For some reason, we have come to believe that it is criminal to pay for a credit card. A credit card is a product and just as any other product, paying for it means better benefits. Simple number crunching indicates the benefits far outstrip the cost. Picture this: The Citibank Premier Miles credit card costs Rs 3000 and comes with 10,000 welcome miles that translates to a minimum value of Rs 5000. Additionally, the card comes with lucrative benefits. Until 31st August, an ongoing promo for new applications offers an additional 10,000 miles that instantly enhances the value. For details, read through Ajay Awtaney’s detailed review of the card and subsequent posts.

Myth #3: I need to fly the same airline all the time

A big NO. Airlines compete but they are partners too. That means, you can fly Airline A and ask them to credit the miles to a partner Airline B. This way you can accumulate miles in a few baskets instead of spreading too thin.

To end, here is a little fun graffiti I made of a notification that came across:


Yes! I find Bangalore to Manila return fare for Rs 1145. It is a “mistake fare” showing up on online travel agent via.com that I discovered through skyscanner. If somebody manages to book this, no guarantee if it will be honoured.


Origin: Bangalore

Destination: Goa

Travel: AirAsia & Go Air @ ~Rs 4,000, JetAirways @ ~Rs 4,600

Stay: Soak in the luxury of Park Hyatt in South Goa @ ~Rs 4000 (Also, Grand Hyatt in North Goa)

Miscellaneous: ~Rs 5,000-Rs 8,000

Window of opportunity: 2014, 1st Aug to 15th Aug

How To:

1. Book air tickets online on AirAsia or JetAirways

2. Search for dates at hyatt.com and look for “Monsoon Flash Sale” rate is the listing

- Flat 50% off on all 19 Hyatt properities in India (from 1st Aug to 15th Aug)
- Ongoing sale by AirAsia, JetAirways

Useful Related Reading:
Vacation surprise for the family to The Leela in Kovalam, Kerala
- Getting to & back the Bangalore airport

What is this: Based on ongoing or upcoming travel deals, I design & share a “travel opportunity”, an exciting travel experience that doesn’t pinch the wallet. The intent is to seed a travel idea in your minds & give you a little headstart. You will have to make your own bookings. If this indeed helps, I will be happy to hear to a word of thanks on Facebook or Twitter. Questions are welcome too.

What is this not:This is NOT a package. This is NOT a sponsored post. I am NOT a travel agent or tour operator.


My Flightdiary.net profile