Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How to Get a Low Airline Fare

This September my son and I are going to the Singapore Grand Prix with a detour up to Malaysia and then a 2 day stop in Hong Kong and Macau. You would think a multi-destination trip to Asia would cost a fortune. I am here to tell you that is not the case. I'll explain the trip and then tell you how I did it.

Since this was a multi-destination trip I broke the trip into 2 pieces. The main piece was flying out of San Francisco to Singapore with the return flight stopping in Hong Kong for a few days. I was able to find a price for this piece at $680.40 per person. You heard me right, that's about the same price for a round trip ticket  to the east coast from San Francisco. For the second piece of the trip I needed a round trip ticket from Singapore to Penang, Malaysia. For that I found a fare of $55 per person on Tiger Air. Tiger Air flies a lot out of Singapore and the flight to Penang will be 1 hr and 30 min each way. So flying from San Francisco to Singapore with a stay of 4 days, flying from Singapore to Penang with another stay of 4 days, back to Singapore, Singapore to Hong Kong with a stay of 2 days and finally back home from Hong Kong to San Francisco all for the low fare of $745.40.

Now let me tell you how I did it.

When I first started looking the fare for just a round trip ticket from San Francisco to Singapore was between $1300 and $1400. I started early so I had time to shop around. I like to use sites like Kayak or Travelocity to do my initial searches. Also, if you have time you can set a fare watcher that will notify you when fares drop. Fares will vary depending on what day of the week you are searching so if fares drop and you don't catch it they may go back up. About a month before I booked the flight the fare dropped to about $900 on Singapore Airlines. That was my preferred airline and I almost booked the flight then but decided to wait a little longer. It was risky but I took the risk. As it got closer I started looking every day. My last search was on Kayak and I hit the $680.40 price. However, when I went to book the flight at $680.40 it transferred me to the Singapore Airlines site and the price jumped to about $1400. There was no way I would pay that so I captured the information and called Singapore Airlines directly. They informed me that the $680.40 was a travel agency deal and they could only book at $1400. Since I never give up I then tried Travelocity to see what I got. On Travelocity I got the same $680.40 and I was also able to book through Travelocity. What a relief, I got the price I wanted on the airline I wanted. After that it was easy to book the Tiger Air flight to Malaysia at a low price.

I have been doing this for years now so here are my best practices.

  • Plan early.
  • If you have multiple options for airports find the cheapest option. For me, I live in Sacramento but flying to Asia is a lot cheaper out of the San Francisco Bay area.
  • Start checking prices early.
  • Be flexible on dates. Leaving on a different day could save you a lot.
  • Set up a fare watcher if possible on the search site like Kayak or Travelocity.
  • If you see a great price grab it, don't wait. If not wait.
  • Check different search sites.
  •  Break up a multi-destination trip into segments of different round trips. For me I did 2, San Francisco to Singapore to Hong Kong to San Francisco and the other a round trip between Singapore and Malaysia. This turned out to be a cheaper option.
  • If you are a gambler take a chance that the price will drop further.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider and maybe a lot of time to commit. If you aren't comfortable trying to do this yourself use a travel agent. The airlines do not offer commissions on air only so the agent may add on a fee for their time. But, as you can see you can save a lot of money. I saved about $700 per person. The agent fee will be minimal compared to that. They know what they are doing and you could still save a lot. 

PS, I just did the same search and came up with these results (1 month before I leave).
  • The same flights on Singapore Air - $1443
  • Singapore Air later in the same day - $1216
  • EVA - $1099

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay California

This weekend we stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon bay, California. If you don't know where Half Moon Bay is it's  on the Northern California coast just south of San Francisco. From Sacramento it's about a 2.5 hour drive with normal traffic. From San Francisco it's well under an hour. Also, any time of year is beautiful along the coast but the weather is best in the Fall and Spring. If you are thinking of going, now would be a great time. The temperature was around 70 degrees and the beaches were packed with sun bathers and surfers.

When you think of the Ritz Carlton you think of a luxury resort. The Ritz Carlton doesn't disappoint. Down to the littlest of things they take very good care of you. Checking in you are offered a glass of wine, you are called by name in  the restaurants, and the service is impeccable.

Being a Ritz Carlton you would expect the best but this resort is also in a very beautiful location hugging the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean. Our room had an ocean view which I would highly recommend you spending the extra cost to have. Most of the pictures you will see came from our window.

For you golfers, there is a beautiful course around the resort and along the coast. There is also a spa and beauty shop. During the day and especially at night they have plenty of fire pits to enjoy sitting outside and keeping warm. They offer blankets also if you need one. They also offer marshmallows to roast in the pits. I saw a lot of children and adults roasting marshmallows at night. I also noticed that some rooms were dog friendly. If you want or need to bring your dog check with the booking agent.

There are plenty of options for eating. Both inside and outside. They have a champagne brunch on Sunday that I would recommend but make sure you get your reservation in advance as it fills up fast.

You may think the Ritz may be too pricey but looking at the prices of other resorts in the area it isn't that much more. I would recommend pampering yourself and staying there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Villa Caletas Hotel, Costa Rica

Think back and try to remember the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. Everyone has seen a beautiful sunset but can you remember the time and place? I just came back from a place where I can truly say I've seen my most beautiful sunset!

Villa Caletas is a resort in Costa Rica located on the central Pacific Coast just north of Jaco. I have stayed there twice already and have written about the hotel. This will be entirely about the sunset.

To me the hotel was built just for the sunset. It is high on top of a mountain right on the coast. The hotel has incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. In the bar area they built an amphitheater and every evening starting about 4:30 pm people will start to show up just to view the sunset. If you get there early you can get a table on top or if all tables are taken you can sit in the amphitheater. Another option is to have dinner there. You will get a table, a great dinner and still have the same view as in the bar area. The Villa Caletas even has their own music they play just for the sunset. The entire experience is awe inspiring.

The best thing is nature. Every time you go you will experience something new. It could be from different cloud patterns, Macaws and Toucans flying about and in the trees, or bringing someone new to experience it for the first time.

Villa Caletas information

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Jaco Tranopy

I have done the Tranopy in Jaco three times now and it never gets old. For those of you that don't know what the Tranopy is, it is a play on words. In Costa Rica, zip-lines are called Canopy Tours. This particular one uses a tram to get to the top of the mountain. The combination of tram and canopy gives you tranopy.

The Tranopy is about a fifteen minute drive from the center of Jaco on the central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. What I like about this tour is the attention they give to safety. There are two cables on every line and at least two guides with every group. One guide will get you connected and the other is at the other end to help brake you. You don't have to worry about braking yourself. Everyone goes through a safety class before you go up the mountain.

The Tranopy Tour consists of ten zip-lines. After a relaxing ride on the tram up the rain forest mountain you ride each of the ten zip-lines down to the bottom. They start out fairly short and easy and in the middle there are a couple that are as long as three football fields. The ride down also has incredible views of Jaco and the Pacific Ocean. Along the way you will be able to notice a difference in climate. The bottom being dry and warmer and all of a sudden, like going through a door, you get hit with a cooler wetter feel with waterfalls view-able from the tram.

Give it about 2.5 hours for the entire tour. At the bottom they also have a reptile zoo that they will take you to. There you can see some of the wildlife from the area. Before and after they have a nice covered area to relax, get something to eat or drink. We had a nice cold beer that sure felt good.

Cost is about $75. For more information here is their site.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Jose's Crocodile River Tour

Did you know that there are wild crocodiles in Costa Rica? One place to view them is as you are driving south along the coast to Jaco make a stop at the bridge crossing the Tarcoles River. There you will see 18 foot or longer crocodiles resting along the bank of the river.

To really experience the crocodiles you need to go on a crocodile river tour. There are a few that leave from Tarcoles. Some are larger pontoon boats and some like Jose's are smaller boats. The smaller boats mean you can get closer to the action.

Jose grew up in the area and is more than familiar with the river and the crocodiles. It looks to be a small operation with Jose and his partner on the two tours I have done. What I like about Jose is his personality, sense of humor, and his experience. The smaller boat, not too small, gets right up to the crocodiles. His partner will even get out of the boat to hand feed the crocodiles. It is a terrific experience to see. The tour takes about 2 hours and the boat ride is very relaxing. Not only does Jose take you to the crocodiles but also follows the river to the Pacific Ocean and then takes you into some mangrove areas to see other life such as brightly colored crabs.

Jose has a website and takes reservations. I would suggest giving him a call when you are in the area and make a reservation. His tours leave about every 2 hours.

Here is a link to a video we took.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica

About one hour south of Jaco is a national park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio. I had never been there before so we rented a car and made the trip down to check it out. Once you get to Quepos there will be signs directing you to the park. There is plenty of parking outside the park and from the parking lot you will need to walk to the ticket center. Don't let that walk discourage you. The walk to the entrance of the park is pretty dirty but once you get to the park that will all change.

Once at the ticket center you have options. You can buy a ticket to enter the park and guide yourself but I would recommend getting a guide for an additional fee. The reason for the guide is that without the guide and their telescope you will miss a lot of wildlife that the normal eye won't be able to see. The guide would actually stop us and say there is something in front of us and asking if we could find it. Most of the time it was right in front of us and we couldn't see it. Also, with the telescope , we got a close-up view and could even take a picture through the telescope.

The park has many hiking trails and the highlight is at the end of the trail where you are dropped off at two beautiful white sand beaches. There we stayed and took a swim in the ocean. The water is warm and not overly salty. The swim felt really good after the long hike. At the beach there are showers to wash the salt water off before you start walking back.

In the park you are going to see a lot of wildlife. Some that we saw were White Faced Monkeys, Sloths, Frogs, Bats and Birds. I got some good pictures of a White Faced Monkey we came across just a foot away.

View through telescope

The park does have an entrance fee but on some Wednesdays the park is free to everyone. Check out their site for prices, directions and free days.

Their site is Manuel Antonio Park  .

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Mariposa Hotel, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

We took a drive one hour south of Jaco on the Pacific Coast to tour Manuel Antonio Park. I'll talk about the park in the next post. After walking the park we went to the Mariposa Hotel to relax, watch the sunset and have dinner.

In Spanish Mariposa means butterfly and that is the symbol of the hotel. The hotel sits on top of a mountain high above the coast with incredible views of the Manuel Antonio beach and the sunset every night. I haven't stayed there but I do plan to stay there on a future trip. What I like to do is either have lunch or dinner and drinks while taking in the view. The hotel has two infinity pools facing the ocean. There is a smaller swim-up pool by the bar and a larger pool below.

The service is great and we ended up having the same waiter at the bar and then for dinner. He made sure we had a table with a perfect view of the sunset. For food, there had many options. In the bar I had Ceviche which has to be the freshest and tastiest I have ever had. For dinner I had the surf and turf which was a rib-eye and grilled shrimp combo.

I can't comment on the rooms since I haven't stayed there but if you get an ocean facing room you won't be disappointed. I checked the room rates and they are very reasonable and breakfast is included.

For more information visit their site Mariposa Hotel .