Are online travel deals all they’re cracked up to be?

Deborah Choo
Y! Travel Journal

“Go over everything carefully before purchasing a travel deal online” was the advice we got the moment people found out we were eyeing a package to Bangkok on a popular website. They didn’t have to tell us twice – treats like these are good for those on a shoestring budget, but there might be hidden costs. Yet we still decided to take the plunge and see where it would lead us.

Initial price

The S$168 we shelled out for the three-day, two-night trip included round-trip tickets, airport transfers, budget city hotel accommodations, daily morning breakfasts, and an optional half-day tour of selected temples. You only had two hotel choices, and it excluded taxes amounting to S$193.

One thing I learned all over again: It’s always best to book early. Because we did this less than a month away from the date we wanted to travel, it would have cost us an additional $98 per person to fly via one airline that offered more flight times. So we stuck to another airline in the end, which had only one flight that essentially cut our trip by one day.

You want budget, you get budget

Located on a quiet, narrow street, the hotel we chose was simple and bustling with travellers. It was small, though, and one scan from left to right would probably cover the massage parlour to the reception to the café.

Our room fit two single beds, and was small, cosy and neat enough. But then it had its fair share of problems: The safety box failed, the air-conditioning started up like an engine in the middle of the night and leaked, and a metal piece jutted out from one side of the bed. The breakfast was made up of supermarket sausages and bread with jam, placed beside an unrecognisable dish that we assumed was a mix between Chinese and Malay cuisine.

The amusing thing about it was that despite all the glitches, the place felt homey. The customer service was great, with a friendly male receptionist who really seemed to enjoy his work. “I tell you, yeah, the BTR station very near only,” he smiled.

Another staff member – who often stood outside the hotel entrance, greeting guests who returned after a long day and asking if everything went smoothly – was incredibly helpful too. When we needed directions and help to call a taxi, he walked us all the way to the road’s T-junction and personally flagged down one for us.

Location, location, location
Check if the hotel/s mentioned in the package is in a good area, which would be to your advantage. Ours was: It’s a 15- to 20-minute walk to Platinum Fashion Mall, and only a short 10-minute walk by the old railway tracks to get to the train station. It was a really fast and cheap way to travel.

Despite our short trip, we managed to cover a lot of places quite quickly. We hit Chinatown on the first night and enjoyed a 30-minute foot massage. On the second day, we visited one of the world’s largest weekend markets, Chatuchak, as well as Siam Paragon’s Ocean World, Madame Tussauds wax museum, MBK mall and a random flea market. The third day was solely reserved for Platinum Fashion Mall, a six-storey fashion mall with mostly women’s apparel. 

The result
Sure, the tour wasn’t perfect; but all in all we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would certainly try another online travel deal in the future. It is, after all, a great way to spend a budget holiday with your loved ones.

Our tips
Considering buying a travel deal online? Think about these:

Choose a package that includes plane tickets

Plane tickets for short trips take a chunk out of your travel expenses. To get the best deal, look for those which include different choices for flights.

Make sure you read the fine print   
Most deals have blacklisted dates, so check those. Also watch out for additional costs. Factor all of these in so you get a good idea of the total amount you’ll likely be spending. It’ll also tell you if it’s really worth it.

Coordinate with the travel agency before you buy
One problem people might face is that once they buy the coupon/s online, the travel agency tells them that the dates they wish to fly are not available. So ask the travel agency first and get a confirmation.

Free and easy, or group tour?
People have different preferences when it comes to touring, so make sure that the package suits your needs and what you are looking for.

Get travel insurance
For a three-day, two-night trip, the travel insurance quoted to us was only S$34 per person. It’s at least a safeguard against risk.

Research, plan and go!
For a place that you have never been to before, and on a limited time like what’s in these travel deals, always do your research so you can make full use of your time.