The June holidays are around the corner. It is an ideal time to plan ahead to stretch the finite vacation dollar for flights, rooms and expenses on the road.
There are many tips for scoring travel deals, but just remember three overarching strategies, distilled from the insights of travel experts and meshed with my experiences as a travel writer: Just ask. Go the other direction. Do legwork.
Ms Debby Soo, Asia-Pacific vice-president for travel tool Kayak and a San Francisco-based frequent flier, said she simply asks for deals from airlines and hotels - and she gets bargains half the time.
1. UPGRADE AT THE AIRPORT
At the airline counter, ask how much it costs to buy an upgrade to business class or premium economy. Sometimes, the fare is significantly cheaper. Airplane seats are considered perishable items, so an airline may be prepared to sell an upgrade to gain a bit of profit and loyalty. The passenger ends up with a good, restful experience, especially on a long-haul journey, and will hopefully think about that airline for a future flight.
2. ALSO UPGRADE AT HOTELS
Same thing at hotels. Ask to upgrade to a desirable room, for instance, on a higher floor. Remember, it never hurts to ask nicely.
3. SKIP ONE NIGHT IN HOTEL
If a traveller is prepared to take a red-eye flight - or an overnight sleeper train, which I find comfortable - that saves one night in a hotel, and saves time too. On arrival at the hotel, ask if an early check-in is possible. Or e-mail your early check-in request before the trip, though the hotel may not have a full picture of room availability in advance.
4. EARLY-BIRD DISCOUNTS AND MORE
Look for early-bird discounts or last-minute deals. The travel industry has discounts galore - for seniors on cruises, honeymooners at resorts, singles on tours, friends booking flights in pairs, children holidaying with parents, leisure travellers booking into business hotels for the weekend, and more. I have seen free flights or ferries to islands. Look out for deals, too, when airlines launch new destinations.
5. DIGITAL DISRUPTORS
The sharing economy is prevalent in travel. Wander affordably by booking Airbnb rooms (www.airbnb.com.sg), riding in Uber taxis (www.uber.com) and exploring with local guides from Vayable (www.vayable.com).
6. BUDGET VERSIONS OF LUXE
A safari, Trans-Siberian train journey and Galapagos cruise all sound luxurious and expensive.
However, there are pocket-friendlier versions that are widely available online: Tenting instead of staying in a stylish safari lodge; planning one's own journey across Siberia or booking a less pricey cabin on a private train; and taking day trips instead of cruising in the Galapagos are ways to save while relishing an authentic experience.
7. EXPERIENCED TRAVEL AGENTS
Think travel agents are passe? A reliable travel agent or tour operator has the resources and connections to land good deals, whether it is a direct flight or a bespoke safari.
More importantly, a travel specialist is likely to have the wits and wherewithal to save the holidaymaker heartache when things go awry, for instance, when flights are booked wrongly or a traveller is stranded.
Seek recommendations from other travellers or look at testimonials to find a good agent.
8. DISTRESSED DESTINATIONS
Super-cautious Singaporeans tend to avoid afflicted countries. Last year, Paris endured terrorist attacks, Korean tourism was affected by the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak, currency trouble roiled Greece, Bangkok's Erawan Shrine was bombed, and Nepal and Mount Kinabalu were both struck by earthquakes.
The savvy traveller knows that when a destination is recovering, there are bargains. Locals are friendlier and attractions are less crowded as well.
But, of course, as when you travel to any destination, you should always be on the alert and take the usual urbanite's precautions.
9. GO LOCAL
Think like a local and seek the cafes they adore, supermarkets or markets they frequent, and activities that give the places a buzz. Consider apps or websites that suggest ways to experience cities like a local and save money along the way.
The Spotted by Locals app (www.spottedbylocals.com), for instance, has guides for 66 cities in Europe, North America and the Middle East. The EatWith app (www.eatwith.com) links food lovers to home chefs and pop-up dining events in 150 cities worldwide, including Tokyo, Lisbon and Cape Town. The Withlocals app (www.withlocals.com) lets travellers sign up for meals, activities and tours with locals in 11 Asian countries.
10. TRAVEL SITES
Travel sites such as Kayak (www.kayak.sg), Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.com.sg) and TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com.sg) have mined their prodigious data and refined their algorithms to help travellers find the best prices.
Kayak, for instance, reveals that the best time for Singaporeans to book the least costly flights to the most popular Asian destinations - such as Denpasar, Bali and Hong Kong - is two to three months in advance. Use these free tools to help in your research for travel deals.
11. FREE TOURS
Google websites such as Free City Tour (www.freecitytour.com) for complimentary walking tours led by enthusiastic locals or insiders. Travellers meet at a prearranged site and tip the guide.
12. AND MORE
It is worthwhile to remember these pieces of common wisdom: Try to focus your frequent-flier miles on a smaller set of airlines or alliances, and use credit cards linked to airlines to chalk up miles. Travel to places where currencies have dipped or stayed low against the Singapore dollar. The choices this year include Russia, South Africa, Japan, Australia and Malaysia.
ASK US A QUESTION
E-mail us at askST@sph.com.sg