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Travel Hack: A better way to find cheaper (cheapest) flights

Different travellers have their own “travel hack” on how to get the cheapest travel deal.

For some, it means booking on a Tuesday (Don’t ask me why but there appears to be some rumour that that the cheapest deals are on Tuesdays). For others, it might mean arranging your holidays such that your flights are scheduled on less popular weekday slots or odd hour slots. Then you have package deals on Expedia where bundling gets you a better value than you would have had booking separately. Why not also include the price guarantees offered on travel sites?    

Is there a simpler way? Something like a “An Idiot’s Guide to Travel Hacking”?

Have a look at Matrix Airfare Search.

This search engine is amazing as it offers what appears to be an independent search of  available flights (Note: the engine appears unable to identify budget airlines). “Independent” here is reflected by the fact that the engine is not managed by a travel agency. The operator neither sells any tickets nor earns any commission from your purchases. The site will show the relevant airlines and you can either book your tickets directly with the airline online or through an agent. If booking via an agent, Matrix will provide you the relevant booking codes.

Use the site as either a confirmation of your other price research or as a preliminary search to get a sense of the price for a particular leg.

Make sure to search both “Cheapest Available” and “Business Class or higher” options when using the search feature. Sometimes you may find good bargains where flying business will cost you just a few hundred dollars more. For example, for my upcoming trip to Delhi from Singapore. A direct return flight via Jet Airways would have cost me S$400. Flying business class via Malaysia Airlines with a stop in KL would just require a top up of another S$400. Definitely worth the bit more for a better flight experience.

There are also better examples like this where the options on Expedia although cheaper is just slightly cheaper than if you had flown business:

Expedia: Singapore to Kaohsiung, Taiwan (Assuming you are unable or unwilling to fly Scoot):

Vietnam Airlines Economy S$830.50

11 February 2018 (SG – KHH)

1.25pm – 9.55pm

13 February 2018 (KHH- SG)

7.30am – 7.25pm

 

Cathay Pacific Economy S$1,387.60

11 February 2018 (SG – KHH)

6.50am – 2.10pm

13 February 2018 (KHH-SG)

9.25pm – 11.55am

 

Matrix: Singapore to Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Vietnam Airlines Mixed S$1,125

11 February 2018 (SG – KHH) (Economy)

1.25pm – 9.55pm

13 February 2018 (KHH- SG) (Business, Part)

7.30am – 7.25pm

 

Vietnam Airlines Mixed S$1,624

11 February 2018 (SG – KHH) (Business, Part)

1.25pm – 9.55pm

13 February 2018 (KHH- SG) (Business)

7.30am – 7.25pm

This opens up a lot of options for you.

For example, instead of flying economy on Cathay and paying S$1,387, you have the option of flying the cheaper Vietnam flight at S$1,125 to experience Business Class for one part of your journey or topping up slightly for the S$1,624 flight for a more complete Business Class experience.

While using Matrix doesn’t guarantee that you will find cheaper tickets, it opens up more options to choose from. I hope you will find it useful and will incorporate it into your holiday planning.

Remember to like and follow for more travel hacks and tips!

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Review: New York Hotel, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Review: New York Hotel, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

During my recent stay in Johor Bahru, I decided to break away from my usual hangout at KSL City Mall and instead stay at New York Hotel which is just slightly off from KSL City Mall.

Booking with New York Hotel

I made my booking on Expedia. While I normally use my DBS Altitude Card for the purposes of earning 6 miles to a dollar, I realised that booking through a DBS affiliated link does not allow me to cash out my existing points in the form of a cash rebate. I have accumulated almost 40 dollars worth of cash rebate and I decided to encash it. After encashing the rebate, the hotel cost me around SGD20+ before tax.

For my Singaporean readers, one awesome travel hack to use especially when you cannot benefit or are not benefitting from DBS’s or [Insert bank]’s affiliate links with Expedia or Agoda is to mix and match your benefits. So good example, in my case, is to match Shopback’s 10% cash rebate for hotel bookings with DBS’s base 3 miles to a dollar rate.

Okay that also came as a shocker for me. The amazingness of this travel hack just came to me as I wrote the above paragraph. For those lost, let me put it in simple layman terms. Using Shopback with DBS’s Altitude Card will get you approximately 8 miles to a dollar or the equivalent in cash instead of the promotional 6 miles to a dollar. The same may be said for DBS’s Woman’s Mastercard for an approximate 9 miles to a dollar.

Okay travel hack aside, please always remember to sign up for the Expedia+ programme (click here for more details) when using Expedia. This allows you to earn loyalty points that can be redeemed as a cash rebate.

Getting to and from New York Hotel

If you are crossing the Singapore border into Johor Bahru, you can either Grab/Uber your way to the hotel or take a cab. If taking a cab, you can consider buying a ticket from a taxi counter (MYR11) instead of risking being quoted a higher price from a flag down. I discussed taking taxis and buying a ticket in my earlier post here.

Getting around from New York Hotel is generally easy especially if you have Uber or Grab. Rides are cheap and cost around MYR3 to MYR8 when I was there.

Checking-in at New York Hotel

Checking in was easy. The hotel staff retrieved my expedia booking and I did not have to make any deposit for my night’s stay other than pay the newly implemented Malaysian tourist tax of MYR10.

The hotel looks a little bit worn out given its age. But all in all, the facilities are still great. The only complaint or negative point I had was with the lifts as they felt slow and/or inefficient.

Room at New York Hotel

My first impressions were that it was really spacious and brightly lit with natural light. Unlike newer hotels where real estate is expensive, I think older hotels have the luxury of having more room space. As can be seen from the photo below, I had not only a double bed to myself but also a writing table, a dressing table and also a sofa together with a coffee table. The room also looked clean and tidy as it should be:

photo6249108911407868061

View of room from the corridor leading to the door, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868059

View of room from the other end facing towards door, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868070

View from hotel room, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868067

Wardrobe, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

 

The bathroom is acceptable with basic complementary products. They could however have had a hand towel rack installed by the basin:

photo6249108911407868065

Spacious bathroom with bathtub, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868060

Toiletries, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

Wifi was sometimes patchy in the room as well. While not the best for watching youtube videos, it was good enough for the purposes of doing some quick research on tripadvisor or downloading mobile apps (yes, I forgotten to fix up both Uber and Grab after resetting my Sony phone recently).

TV channels were also limited. While the hotel had subscribed to Astroview Magazine, it did not translate to the hotel having cable tv (Astro, I think offers cable tv as well). So don’t expect to have a dedicated movie channel while you are there. If you are not fussy, you can always make do with the local tv channels and also Singapore channels that are available with their weekend blockbusters at night (I was grateful for that bit of entertainment).

While the room’s mini-fridge was empty, I didn’t find it to be a problem. There is a mini-mart at the ground floor for non-alcoholic beverages and there is also another mini-mart across the road that sells both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.

Sleep at New York Hotel

Overall, the environment was conducive for sleep. Not much disturbance from the neighbouring rooms. The bed although not the softest was acceptable and comfortable.

One great feature of the room is its peculiar design where the air-conditioning switch is located just beside the bed (it took me a minute before I actually found the switch when I just entered the room ><). So just before sleeping, you can tweak the air-conditioning higher or lower depending on your preference and also avoid having to walk to the door in the middle of the night just in case the temperature is not to your liking.

photo6249108911407868058

Bedside panel, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

Breakfast at New York Hotel

It depends on whether you are actually paying extra for the breakfast.

If breakfast is free, go for it. The spread is decent but nothing spectacular. You have the usual mix of local breakfast food (eg. fried noodles / fried rice / stir fried vegetables) with some american breakfast food (pancakes and sausages). You also have the usual bread counter, egg counter and also a porridge section:

photo6249108911407868063

One of the buffet counters, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

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The other buffet counter, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868069

Bread section, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

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Porridge section, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868071

Noodle soup section, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

photo6249108911407868062

Fried vegetables, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

If you fancy a really local breakfast, why not toast yourself some bread and apply a generous coating of butter and kaya and also get yourself some soft boiled eggs with soy sauce and pepper?

photo6249108911407868066

My beautiful soft boiled eggs, New York Hotel, Johor Bahru

All in all, the food is decent but I have tasted better even in hotels with simpler buffet breakfasts (less variety but with awesome food).

If your room doesn’t come with breakfast, I would suggest you head out and go hunt down some true local breakfast. For those wanting some Bak Kut Teh (Pork Rib Soup), why not consider visiting Soon Soon Heng Bak Kut Teh (opposite KSL City Mall)? Although not the cheapest (according to Malaysian standards), it offers decent bak kut teh with a variety of additional ingredients not normally used for bak kut teh (eg. mushrooms / clams). Just be sure to be polite as the staff can be rude at times to overly demanding customers or customers hogging seats (There is a review on google critical of the shop after the staff allocated a family of four to a small table. While not the most ideal reaction, I can understand why the staff did just that – The family ordered a portion for a single person!)

Soon Soon Heng Bak Kut Teh

43, Jalan Serigala, Taman Abad, Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

If you don’t fancy having Bak Kut Teh for breakfast, why not try these Nasi Lemak stalls. While I have not tried any of them before, I noticed good reviews for them on google:

Pokok Cerry Nasi Lemak

Kampung Mahmoddiah, 80100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

Yummy Nasi Lemak House Johor Bahru

104, Jalan Dato Sulaiman, Johor Bahru, 80250 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

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Postscript – Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?

Postscript – Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?

Postscript

After publishing my article comparing Kaligo/Rocketmiles/Pointshound with Agoda/Expedia (Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?) , I received comments from a Dingwen and also a Tony on my content (see comments to that particular post) and such comments were suggestive of me unfairly siding with Agoda and/or Expedia:

I bet if Kaligo provided you an affiliate link, you would be promoting them instead 🙂, Dingwen

You conclude that Agoda and Expedia are the best options and then reveal that you are collecting affiliate commissions from only those two companies. Does that not discredit your post? , Tony

While I responded in the comments section why I believe my views regarding Kaligo (and other such sites) are correct, I decided to explore this topic further and expose how such sites (e.g. Kaligo ) create an impression that they are value adding with bonus miles thrown in whilst allegedly offering the same service and at the same price.

Use of vague representations – Kaligo

If you are an interested customer looking at Kaligo’s website and figuring out how Kaligo is able to offer such attractive packages without compromising on costs, you will eventually stumble on Kaligo’s explanation of how they do it:

About Kaligo.com

What is Kaligo.com?

Kaligo.com is the only way you’ll want to book a hotel online – ever! We offer the same large selection and great rates for hotels you get elsewhere on the web, plus you earn unbelievable miles and points that can get you amazing rewards, including free flights, upgrades and more!

Is there a catch? How can Kaligo.com offer such incredible miles and points?

Travel sites like Kaligo.com receive great commissions from hotels because we help sell rooms that would otherwise stay empty. While other sites use most of these commissions to pay for expensive advertising (e.g. through search engines, banners, etc), we return value to our customers in the form of miles and points instead, because they keep our customers happy and spending!

Making a Booking

Why does searching take longer than other travel sites?

Unlike other sites, we don’t source our hotels through just a single supplier. Instead, we bring you exceptional value by connecting in real-time to dozens of regional companies. The smaller ones can be a bit slower to respond, but they usually have the most spectacular deals. So it’s all worth it: for just a few seconds more, you’ll often see the most incredible offers popping up right at the end of a search.

How do I know that I’m getting a good rate?

Rest assured with Kaligo’s price comparison engine! Other sites have “best rate guarantees” that make you file hassle-full claims to report rates found elsewhere. Kaligo.com does the work for you! We compare rates real-time against the most popular travel sites each time you search, so we can actually show you when you’re getting the cheapest rate.

You will see vague references suggesting that Kaligo’s prices being “great rates” and having “exceptional value“. Such prices are apparently the result of some special price comparison engine that connects “in real-time to dozens of regional companies” and compares “rates real-time against the most popular travel sites each time you search“. This ends of with a vague commitment that Kaligo “can actually show you when you’re getting the cheapest rate“.

If you are sharp enough (or maybe I am reading too much into the way Kaligo drafted its FAQ), it does not appear that Kaligo is guaranteeing that its prices are the cheapest or that it will match or beat a lower price found elsewhere. Kaligo is just saying that its price comparison engine will tell you when you are getting the cheapest rate and if its silent, then the rates offered are not the cheapest. And this sounds about right as I have not yet seen any such notification despite me fiddling with Kaligo these last few days.

If my analysis in my other post is not persuasive enough, I just did a random search for a hotel in Singapore on Kaligo. The only filter I had on was “Best Deals”. The first hit was “Hotel Royal”. I then searched Expedia for the same hotel. The superior rooms were sold out on Expedia leaving the next cheapest room being the Deluxe room.

These are the results:

Kaligo - Hotel Royal

Kaligo: Deluxe Twin or Double costs USD 193 (approximately SGD261) for just the room with no free cancellation

Expedia - Hotel Royal

Expedia: Deluxe Twin or Double costs SGD221 inclusive of breakfast with no free cancellation

The price difference between Kaligo and Expedia is SGD40 a night + the free breakfast thrown in by Expedia.

If you do the math, you will soon realise that for the same price you are paying you can get a room upgrade if you had gone with Expedia instead. For example, Kaligo is charging USD164 for a Superior Twin/Double. For that price, you could have gotten a Deluxe Twin/Double with Expedia (SGD221 = USD164)!

Based on my random search, it appears that Kaligo’s “best deal” is more of a puff (i.e. An opinion or judgment that is not made as a representation of fact – Puffing. (n.d.) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). Retrieved August 26 2017 from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Puffing). So my advice to all readers is to be aware of this when booking with Kaligo.

No price guarantees – Rocketmiles and Pointshound

Unlike Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound do not appear to hold themselves out as offering the cheapest rates to their customers.

Rocketmiles makes it clear in its FAQ that it does not guarantee the rates offered are the best. It, however, states that the rates are “competitive”:

Do you have a “best rate guarantee”?

Rocketmiles does not have a “best rate guarantee”, though offers competitive rates combined with large loyalty program rewards with every hotel booking.

Pointshound is slightly problematic. My research indicated that they may have offered at some point in time a low price guarantee. Some older sites summarised the requirements as set out below:

  • The hotel room you booked must be marked as “Price Match Guarantee”
  • You must find the lower room rate whilst the hotel can still be cancelled (this varies based on each hotels cancellation policy)
  • Lower price must be for the same hotel, dates, length of stay and room type
  • The site you’re comparing to must be directed towards consumers and operate in the same locale (e.g a website targeting businesses will not count, a website focused on the Ireland market will not count)

However, googling “Pointshound price guarantee” will lead you to a page that does not exist (retrieved on 27 August 2017). Pointshound may have stopped offering such price guarantees and this appears to be supported by a review of their terms and conditions (who actually reads such boring stuff anyway):

Disclaimer

POINTSHOUND AND THE SERVICES OFFERED THEREON ARE PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTY, REPRESENTATION, CONDITION OR GUARANTEE OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES, REPRESENTATIONS, CONDITIONS OR GUARANTEES OF QUALITY, MERCHANTABILITY, MERCHANTABLE QUALITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR NON-INFRINGEMENT, ALL OF WHICH ARE DISCLAIMED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.
Rocketmiles and/or Pointshound therefore appear to be more forthcoming with their customers than Kaligo regarding the rates offered on their sites.
I hope this puts to rest the Kaligo (or insert equivalent name) versus Agoda and/or Expedia discussion. While the former offers attractive miles to their customers, these miles are often charged at a premium with higher daily room rates. These customers may actually be better off going with the cheaper options on Agoda and/or Expedia and either use those savings to help pay for the holiday OR use those savings to purchase miles at a cheaper price.
If you appreciate my work, please follow this blog for more posts (link is below) and share this post with your others friends and help them save some cash. Cheers!
If you would like to book with Agoda or Expedia, please consider booking through the links I have on this page. It will not cost you any dollar extra to book through my links but I will earn a small commission which will help cover the costs of running this blog.

Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?

Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?

I touched on frequent flyer miles or air miles in my article: Frequent Flyer Miles – What are they? For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of frequent flyer miles, they are part of a reward program offered by airlines to their customer base to encourage customer loyalty to a brand. You can read more about them in my other article.

I was fiddling with Kaligo recently when planning for my next holiday in Japan and I wondered whether sites like Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound are ever worth it compared to sites like Agoda or Expedia.

Kaligo Rocket Points.png

Sites like Kaligo offer miles for you booking your hotels with them and it may appear to a general consumer that you are killing two birds in one go if you book through such sites. You not only get your booking done but also earn miles in the process. But it is often not that straightforward as Kaligo’s prices are way higher than the cheaper fares found on Agoda and Expedia. So to put the matter to rest, I decided to conduct my own “scientific” test to prove which site or sites are better.

My “scientific” method:

(a) I will search for 3 hotels with different price ranges on all five sites (Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound, Agoda and Expedia) and will pick the cheapest room available (While the ideal situation would involve a comparison of similar room types and the same deals, the sites have different names for the rooms making comparison difficult)
(b) I will base the prices on the USD (as Pointshound doesn’t have a SGD option).
(c) The frequent flyer program I will be testing will be Cathay’s Asia miles as it is a common program for Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound.
(d) I will value a mile at 1.5 US cents.
(e) I will ignore any frequent flyer rewards available in Agoda or Expedia so as to avoid making the analysis overly complex. Naturally, such frequent flyer rewards may skew the results in favour of Agoda or Expedia (however, the likelihood is low given the already low prices expected which would mean little or no extra rewards)
(f) I will also ignore credit card accelerators for both programs and also miles earned through general credit card spend which will affect the overall analysis (but we will discuss this towards the end of this article)

I searched for a room in Tokyo for 2 persons and I found the following three hotels: Tokyo Grand Hotel, Hotel Niwa Tokyo and Park Hyatt Tokyo.

My search results can be summarized using the table below (For Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound, you will see their daily rate and the bonus miles offered by them: Eg. Kaligo offers Grand Hotel at US$101 + 600 miles):

Kaligo

US$

Rocketmiles

US$

Pointshound

US$

Agoda

US$

Expedia

US$

Grand Hotel 101 600 miles 115 500 miles 101 500

miles

64 65
Niwa 137 600 miles 164 500 miles 137 300

miles

117 111
Park Hyatt 573 2600 miles 550 2000 miles 548 1800

miles

543 450

While the miles being offered by Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound look attractive, you have to bear in mind that you are paying a premium compared to the prices you would have paid under Agoda or Expedia. The cost savings for Agoda and Expedia can be attributed a miles equivalent value (i.e. price difference/0.015) :

Kaligo Rocketmiles Pointshound Agoda Expedia
Grand Hotel 600 500 500 2466 2400
Niwa 600 500 300 1333 1733
Park Hyatt 2600 2000 1800 333 6533

As can be seen, while sites like Kaligo offer bonus miles for your bookings, the premium you pay would in most cases make it not worth you going an extra mile to book with them. They may, however, be odd cases where the pricing is such that sites like Kaligo offer a better deal (See Park Hyatt Tokyo where the cost savings for Agoda appear to be too low). However, even in such a case, you would have been better off booking with Expedia instead.

Pro-tip: A rule of thumb here is that it is generally not worth your while to go with such sites. Stick with Agoda or Expedia if you want to keep it simple without having to go through the different sites and calculating each purchase separately.

For my Singaporean readers, things get somewhat complicated because of credit card accelerators which offer typically 10 miles to a Singapore dollar for Kaligo. While such an accelerator will significantly increase the overall mileage you get from making a booking with Kaligo, there are also similar accelerators for Agoda and/or Expedia (although at a lower miles to dollar ratio). So while the 10 miles offer looks more attractive than the figures shown above, you should also do a similar analysis taking into account the 6x miles accelerator for Agoda and/or Expedia.

Based on my experience, it would likely be cheaper to go the Agoda or Expedia route if your credit card offers promotions for both these sites as well as Kaligo’s 10 miles to a dollar promotion. Only when the promotion is confined to Kaligo and not other online travel websites, you may have to do a little bit more math to see which is worthwhile.

Since I am on this topic, I realised I may have left out an awesome trick that a traveller should know before booking that should have been covered in my previous article. Many credit cards require you to visit a partner website (like Agoda or Expedia) through affiliated links. Examples include:

UOB: http://www.agoda.com/prvimiles ; http://www.expedia.com.sg/prvimiles
DBS: http://www.expedia.com.sg/dbsaltitude

This requirement forces you to book through those links so as to qualify for the bonus miles or the accelerators offered.

There are however some instances where there is no need to book through affiliated links. For example, say you are a DBS Altitude cardholder and you have 10 dollars worth of points in Agoda about to expire. You are faced with a dilemma. If you book with Expedia, you won’t get to cash out you Agoda points. If you book with Agoda, it appears you only benefit from the 3 miles to a dollar offer by DBS (and not the 6 miles to a dollar you would have earned using Expedia).

The trick is checking the Agoda requirement for your card. You will see that there is no need to book via a affiliated link. This opens up the possibility of booking via a third party provider that offers certain promotions for booking through their link. For my Singaporean friends, check out Cashback that offers you a cash rebate for booking through them.

Cashback is now offering a 6% rebate.

So if you do the math, if a room costs SGD100 a night, you will stand to get 270 miles from using the DBS Altitude card + 5.4 dollars worth of rebate in cash (i.e. equivalent to approximately 270 miles) + redeem the 10 dollars credit that is about to expire (i.e. equivalent to approximately 500 miles). This brings you close to 1040 miles (or 11 miles per dollar).

Even if there are no credits worth redeeming off Agoda, you will stand to get 300 miles from using the DBS Altitude card + 6 dollars worth of rebate in cash (i.e. equivalent to approximately 300 miles). This brings you close to 600 miles (or 6 miles per dollar).

This trick can be used to get around certain offers that target only certain service providers OR in some cases allow you to stack bonuses. One stacking that appears possible at the time of writing would be to stack DBS’ Woman’s Card (4 miles to a dollar) (up to 2000 dollars) with the rebates being offered under Cashback (6% for Expedia / Agoda). So you may get up to 7 miles to a dollar instead of 6 miles had you booked using DBS Altitude.

If you found my post helpful, please click on the link down below to subscribe and please share with your friends.

If you would like to book with Agoda or Expedia, please consider booking through the links I have on this page. It will not cost you any dollar extra to book through my links but I will earn a small commission which will help cover the costs of running this blog.

I did a follow up article to this post in view of Dingwen’s and Tony’s comments. This follow up article can be found here: Postscript – Are Kaligo, Rocketmiles and Pointshound ever worth it?

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