Rajiv Renganathan – Opportunist Traveler since 2004

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

neemranaFancy staying in a century-old palace or fort hotel such as the Dadhikar Fort or Neemrana Fort-Palace?

Did I hear you say “Ofcourse yes but it would cost a bomb”

Surprise, surprise, it is not!

When AirAsia India introduced the launch sale in the Bangalore-Jaipur route, I researched for some interesting stay options around Jaipur. (You can check out the travel opportunity here, note that it is still valid and expires tonight)

I began with Neemrana hotels, well known for restoring ruins into heritage hotels and went on to other heritage properties. Accommodations begin from just Rs 3,000-6,000. Not a big price to experience the grandeur and history.

- 10th century Dadhikar Fort, starts Rs 4,000
- 14th century Hill Fort Kesroli, starts Rs 3,000
- 15th century Neemrana Fort-Palace, starts Rs 4,000
- 19th century Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, starts Rs 6,000

The emerging urban middle class desperate to escape the crowded cities is resulting in over-priced resorts such as Orange Country, Tamara starting Rs 18,000-Rs 21,000! Until this demand spreads to this heritage properities, make the most of it.

What are your thoughts? Share them on Facebook or Twitter or Bloglovin

neemrana
Origin: Bangalore

Destination: Jaipur

Travel: AirAsia India Bangalore-Jaipur @ ~Rs 4,000

Stay: In a palace/fort hotel in Alwar @ ~Rs 4,000

Miscellaneous: ~Rs 4,000-Rs 7,000

Window of opportunity: 2014, 25th Jul, 00:30 to 27th Jul, 00:00 (3 days)

How To:

1. Book air tickets online on AirAsia

2. Pick a palace/fort hotel & book
- 10th century Dadhikar Fort, starts Rs 4,000
- 14th century Hill Fort Kesroli, starts Rs 3,000
- 15th century Neemrana Fort-Palace, starts Rs 4,000

Notes:
- TripAdvisor rated 1,2,3 in order
- All 3 hotels are in Alwar, about 170kms from Jaipur.
- AirAsia sale is for travel from 5th Sep to 25th Oct, 2014

Useful Related Reading:
Avoiding early-mover’s curse in hotel bookings – How to catch the last-minute deals

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.

 

scandinaviamap Little did we dream of a Scandinavia trip this summer. One fine day, a tiny window of opportunity showed up. 3 weeks notice is all we had – tickets, plan, bookings & biggest bottleneck for any India traveler, VISA!

As crazy as it may seem, we decided to take it as far as it goes. To our surprise, visa happened in a jiffy – Thanks to the Swedish embassy for processing the visa in < 4 days! Redemption of miles for award tickets worked out on AirFrance & Emirates.

We quickly put together an itinerary:

Day Night Sweet deals!
Day 0 In the clouds Not in first class! AirFrance FlyingBlue miles
Day 1,2,3 Stockholm Radisson Blu Royal Park
Day 4,5 (Train to) Oslo Radisson Blu Plaza 2 for 1 nights & upgrade
Day 6 (Train, Hike to) Flam Room in a local resident’s house
Day 7 (Ferry,Bus,Train to) Bergen House of a local resident 50% off on Airbnb for AMEX cards
Day 8 Cruiseferry from Oslo to Copenhagen 2-bed cabin without windows! Low-cost Norwegian AS- Bergen to Oslo
Day 9,10 Copenhagen Radisson Blu Scandinavia 2 for 1 nights & upgrade
Day 0 In the clouds Again, not in first class :-) Emirates Skywards miles

Look forward to posts on the experiences, photos & the fun in the coming days.

We could have done much more but we had to be selective. The next time we will look at braving the winters or may be the non-summer months for the Aurora borealis/Northern lights, Sweden & Denmark countryside, a day or 2 in the Stockholm archipelago, catch up with Swedish friends & undoubtedly more of the Fjords in Norway.

I will be happy to help your plans. You can get in touch on Facebook or Twitter to begin

A trial attempt to visually representation the itinerary using TripLine. Wish the lines could indicate the mode of transport.

 

 

In the last few years much of my travel has been to France. The preferred airline quiet naturally started with AirFrance with its direct Paris flights. Along the way fares increased and Emirates emerged as the next option.

I also got the SCB Emirates Platinum credit card that earns Emirates miles on credit card spends at a rate of 4 miles for Rs 150. Not the most lucrative earn rate but it made sense to me for various seasons.

I had an eye on the soon-to-be expiring Emirates Skywards miles. Emirates has a strict mile expiry policy – No amount of frequent activity will extend miles expiry beyond 3 years.

I looked up for award tickets in both the airlines 3 weeks before travel. This defied 2 basic rules of award tickets – Be Flexible & Book Early. Availability wasn’t an issue but the miles were insufficient for return tickets. On second thought, I caught to the idea of booking one-way reward tickets and this did the trick. hurray! :)

This is the deal:

Bangalore-Stockholm AirFrance FlyingBlue 60,000 miles + ~Rs 9000 (Premium Economy)
Copenhagen-Bangalore Emirates Skywards 72,000 miles + ~Rs 2000 (Economy)

It is typical of many to estimate the rupee value per mile redemption. I prefer to not measure on those terms when the entire vacation would not have been possible without these miles. The value is much more than the monetary calculation.

In conclusion:
- Never miss out on collecting miles. They never seem big enough at first & nobody knows the future!
- Keep a watch on miles expiry policies and dates. AwardWallet can help.
- Credit card spends are a great way to augment miles earned from flying.

Questions? Post them on Facebook or Twitter

I wanted to surprise my better half with an awesome travel experience. It had to be short, luxurious & relaxing. In summers, coastal India is considered off-season. Hence an ideal time to experience those aspirational resorts at reasonable rates. These go at some insane prices at other times of the year. The Leela, Kovalam turned out to be the chosen one on this occasion.

Air tickets booked on Indigo and a short conversation with the resort to request a private pickup from Trivandrum airport rather than a shared one as listed in the offer. The effectiveness of a phone conversation worked again & they instantly obliged.

Just when everything was set and about 12 hours before the flight from Bangalore, parenthood got better of us and we decided take our daughter! To save us from the guilt of buying the highest priced last minute air ticket, we used the accumulated miles in the Citibank Premier Miles credit card. At the standard rate of Rs 0.50 per mile, it was a nominal value but who cares for such a priceless excitement :)

The next morning, it was MegaCabs to reach the airport followed by an on time 9E377. The Leela representative stationed at the airport led us to a waiting sedan that zipped us to the beautiful resort in 30 minutes.

The all-inclusive package had an add-on rate for children. I had obviously not selected that when I booked. Here comes a cracker: Not only did the nice guy who managed our check-in decided not to charge the add-on but also upgraded to a sea view room! I later learnt all the garden view rooms were under renovation. This is second time lucky for such an upgrade after the last in Berjaya, Langkawi.

The resort is set on the top of hill that leaps into the Arabian ocean. The views from the balcony were superb. Beach is easily accessible with excellent bath facilities. The oriental restaurant by the beach was a memorable experience. All the staff are extremely courteous. Happy hours at the bar until 7pm. Just wish it were until an hour later. Well-serviced adult and kids pool. Play room for kids with plenty of stuff to keep them engaged. Buffet at the regular restaurant was just ok and mundane. The Kerala cuisine, fruits and deserts were nice. Rooms were serviced twice in a day and unlimited bottles of water on request.

The weather turned out to be perfectly fine- pleasant, just-enough sun and short night showers.

In conclusion:
- There is nothing called peak or off-peak season. Look at weather forecast/past averages and decide based on what suits you and the companions
- Off-season could turn out to be the opportunity season
- Miles on credit card spends are more valuable than random points in return for shopping vouchers & other random gifts

Questions? Post them here.

 

The Leela, Kovalam The Leela, Kovalam The Leela, Kovalam The Leela, Kovalam

Relax, You can save on hotel bookings

Book early, save more. 90/60/30 day advance booking rates. Most of us are familiar with such offers to sweeten our hotel and resort bookings.

Strange are the ways of dynamic pricing + occupancy rate targets + unknown factors, one could be a victim of early-mover’s curse i.e a well-planned booking made in advance turns expensive against a last-minute deal. These could be flash sale or pay for 2, stay 3 night type deals.

A couple of years back, we booked a vacation to Langkawi, Malaysia 9 months in advance when AirAsia launched its India service with a now-unseen zero base fare sale. (Rs 12,000 for 3, Bangalore – Kuala Lumpur – Langkawi return!). About 6 months before the vacation, we short listed some exotic beach resorts. Unwilling to commit, I called the resort instead of booking on the website that almost always involves advance payment. To our pleasant surprise, we were booked without any advance or even credit card details for security.

I continued to keep a tab on the other properties. We realized the sweet spot we had put our self in, when Berjaya opened a pay for 2 stay 4 nights deal a month before our dates. Again I attempted booking on the phone and that helped to add free breakfast. We got luckier with an upgrade to a sea-view room during check-in by the same guy who took the phone booking. In effect, we paid about 24k for 4 nights for a breakfast inclusive sea-view room!

In conclusion:
- Book early but keep options open.
- Find ways to book without advance or with free cancellations. For an upcoming Scandinavia trip, booking.com is working well
- Technology is changing the way we live, yet a phone call can make a difference

Do you have any inputs?

Questions? Post them here.

New avenues to earn frequent flyer miles (and even bitcoins) have emerged with PointsHound & RocketMiles. Both the services are just like the other hotel booking engines with the added benefit of earning miles for the booking. This is in addition to the usual point earnings from the hotel for the stay.

RocketMiles has been consistently running many promotions for first bookings. The most recent is the bonus of 3000 miles. Adding up the 1000 signup miles & 1000 miles for the booking itself, this is a nifty 5000 miles earning opportunity. The offer is open until 2nd May 2014 5th June 2014 and accessible here. I just booked a hotel under these offers.

rocketmiles

A few days back, I booked a night at a hotel with PointsHound that earned 1400 miles (1000 signup miles + 400 for the booking). The miles

These are in addition to the points earned in the hotel program. However, be sure to compare the hotel prices with other booking engines and hotel website. RocketMiles’ listings tend to be more expensive in many cases.

If earning miles is not your forte you can earn some cool cash back offers (upto 10% at times).

UPDATE: RocketMiles only credited 4000 miles to my frequent flyer program. On enquiry, they informed that I can benefit from only 1 signup bonus which was 3000 bonus miles in this case.

Questions? Post them here.

The Bangalore airport (officially called Kempegowda International Airport, named after the founder of Bangalore) opened in 2005 and located about 40kms from the city centre. It is the only commercial airport of Bangalore. The old city airport is only used for testing & defense purposes (probably also for private planes. When I own one, I will confirm that :)

Reaching the airport by road is the only option. The plan of running an airport-express style train seems practically shelved.

For an airport that handles over 12 million passengers, plenty of operators and aggregators offer transfer services. Following are those with differentiating offers:

1. Airport Buses

Started with much fanfare (online bookings, seat selection, many routes), the service has been normalized based on passenger response. As of now, 9 routes are operational and details of routes, fares & timings are available here.

Fares range from Rs 150 to 270

Pros:

  • Most economical option for groups of 2/3
  • Air-conditioned Volvo buses
  • Designated space for baggage storage (may not exist in some routes)

Cons:

  • No advance booking
  • No way to track the buses
  • No official mobile apps (Many apps by private developers but the risk of outdated information)

2. TaxiForSure

Started in the end of 2011, TaxiForSure has been a much-talked about startup. TaxiForSure is an aggregator i.e. they partner with traditional taxi operators. This has been my preferred option in recent times primarily for the quality of service & fixed fare structure.

To airport: Fare start from Rs 650 for 35kms OR Rs 750 flat fare
From airport: Fare start from Rs 450 for 35kms OR Rs 650 flat fare

Pros:

  • Advancing booking through phone (080 60601010), web and mobile app
  • Good quality cars and well-mannered drivers (in my experience)
  • Receipts by email

Cons:

  • Cannot flag down at airport for return since not designated as official airport taxi by airport
  • Requires coordination with driver & walking up to the airport parking lot

Signup for TaxiForSure using this link for some not-so-valuable vouchers worth Rs 650 (Easemytrip: Rs.400/- on return flight | Rs.200/- on oneway, Zovi.com: Rs.200 off, Freecharge.in: Rs.50 talktime)

3. Uber

Travel in style & powered by modern technology. As much as I love Uber & use it extensively, it an unviable option for airport transfers for 2 reasons – Risk of no cabs being available just-in-time & flat fare of Rs 2000

Flat fare of Rs 2000

Pros:

  • Luxurious AC cars (Toyota Corolla, Innova)
  • Directly billed to credit card
  • Receipts by email

Cons:

  • No advance booking
  • Exorbitantly priced at Rs 2000
  • No phone or web support (Book only through the mobile app)

Signup for Uber using this link for start up credit for Rs 300. Additionally, use the promo code LiveFromALounge (Courtesy) for 2 free rides up to Rs 500 before 20th April, 2014.

4. MegaCabs, KSTDC, MeruCabs

These are the officially designated as airport taxis by the airport hence the easiest to hop on when returning from airport. For this one reason, I still use them to return from the airport. I have used Meru to reach the airport in the past. Service was satisfactory but moved to TaxiForSure since Meru is expensive and offer no added advantage.

Fares start at Rs 19.50/km (night fare 10% extra i.e Rs 21.45/km!)

Pros:

  • Easiest to access from airport
  • Electronic meters

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Inconsistent experience (At times, dust & bad odour, explicitly need to ask driver to put on air conditioning)
  • Odd-priced bills, hence issue of change (Trivial but very frustrating after a long flight & at late nights)

Click here for details of website & contact numbers of the individual providers

PROMO: MegaCabs is running an interesting offer. Rs 700 flat fare to airport in a sedan. This is compared to the usual fare of Rs 830 by TaxiForSure. I have been using this. When this expired, I will go back to TaxiForSure

5. Kickstart Cabs

Launched in late 2013, a unique service for the disabled. The fleet of cars are designed for smooth entry/exit & trained drivers to escort passenger with mobility constraints. Further details of the modifications are described here. Vidhya Ramasubban, director of KickStart Cabs is glad to discuss specifics. Contact: +91 8105600445

Flat fares range from Rs 730 to Rs 830

Do you see any interesting & unique services for commutes to & from the airport missing from the above list? Post them on Facebook or Twitter

 

It is a funny world out there. Besides earning loyalty program points for staying in hotels, it is also possible to earn airline miles, bitcoins or a cash back for just booking a hotel. Here’s how…

Both are like any other hotel booking services, just that additionally you can earn miles in one of the listed airline frequent flyer programs. PointsHound seems to have larger list of hotels. For instance, PointsHound shows a long list for Bangalore while RocketMiles shows just 3. PointsHound even lists hotels in tier 2 cities like Mysore. If you are a geek and not a miles junkie then choose to earn bitcoins with PointsHound. JetAirways JPMiles is also an available option in PointsHound

Use these referral links to signup for some extra credits-

PointsHound: Additional 250 miles (+ possibly another 1000 more) on your first hotel booking. For bookings made by April 1, 2014, grab an extra 1000 miles under the spring promo

RocketMiles: Additional 1000 miles referral bonus on the first hotel booking

This is simple and straightforward. Search your preferred hotel chain (or any of the listed retailers) & click through from Quidco/TopCashBack. Your booking is tracked and cash back is credited a few weeks after the stay. You can request a transfer to your Paypal account. Be sure to check both of them and select the one that has a higher cash back. I have used both of them & they works equally well.

In all the above, stay in the hotel is mandatory. If not, we all could be like the smart guy who enjoyed the first class lounge of China Eastern airlines for an year by booking & re-booking a first class ticket without flying once!

UPDATE- 2nd Apr 2014: 
RocketMiles has added Qatar Airways to the list of airline programs.

As an introductory offer, first time bookings will earn a bonus of 5,000 miles in the Qatar Airways Priviledge Club program. To be booked by 31st May 2014 and stay completed by 31st Dec 2014. Sign up with RocketMiles using this link for an additional 1000 miles.

Questions? Post them here.

On 28th August 2013, the Sensex closed below 18000 and the Nifty at 5285. Headlines in popular media went something like this:

- Sensex recovers after morning crash, ends 28 points higher, The Hindu

– Sensex drops over 500 points, Nifty slips below 5,150, The Economic Times

As always, when markets are down, most of media & analysts were painting red.

Keeping away from emotional reactions and staying put to the choosen model of investing, I was glad to buying that month. I wrote a few words of wisdom from legendary investors as a reminder and to an extent a confidence booster to stick with my plan. With years of practice it still takes some (ok, lots of!) guts to go against the flow.

Today is 24th March 2014. 6 months & 26 days later, the headlines are:

- Sensex up 300 pts to end at life high of 22055, Moneycontrol

- Sensex ends at record closing high of 22,055.48, The Hindu

missedopportunity

This is not another reminder to buy or sell! It is a reminder to

  • Do not react to that day, that moment. A day is 24 hours but over a period it is just a dot!
  • Do not be swayed by emotions
  • Do not take advice on TV seriously

 

My Flightdiary.net profile