Australia, in luxury and style, for less

Dining at cafes and booking your accommodation through Airbnb are two ways you can save money yet travel in style

Don't splurge on prime seats for the opera or a concert, even at the Sydney Opera House. Instead, go for last-minute inexpensive tickets available there. PHOTO: REUTERS

(THE NEW YORK TIMES) - No matter the time of year, with the December holidays being the exception, a luxury vacation to Australia on a limited budget is definitely doable, according to Mr John Cantrell, an Australia specialist with New York City travel company Indagare.

"Australia isn't exactly a bargain destination, but you can make your money go further if you know where to spend it there and where not to," Mr Cantrell said. He has a few other tips on how to enjoy a high-end getaway to Australia without breaking the bank.

Fly, don't drive

Car rentals in Australia can be expensive. Domestic flights, on the other hand, on Australian carriers such as Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair, are reasonably priced. Round-trip airfare between Sydney and Melbourne, for example, can cost as little as US$150 (S$202). Flying is also much more convenient. "You'll find several dozen flight options a day from multiple destinations around the country," Mr Cantrell said. Unless you specifically want the driving experience, opt for a flight.

Join the locals

Some agencies and operators that arrange trips to Australia try to sell tourists pricey experiences such as a private charter of a luxury catamaran to sail around Sydney Harbour, an excursion that can run US$1,000 or more. Most of these tours aren't worth the money, Mr Cantrell said.

Much of that same view from the expensive private catamaran, for example, can be enjoyed on the ferry that transports Sydney residents from Circular Quay to Manly Beach. Similarly, there's no need to splurge on prime seats for the opera or a concert, even at the Sydney Opera House. There are plenty of last-minute inexpensive tickets available there, or to operas and outdoor concerts all over the country.

Stretch your dining budget

When he's helping families with their Australia travel itineraries, Mr Cantrell has two suggestions to save on food costs. First, he encourages picnic lunches. Second, take advantage of the country's many lively cafes. They're a big part of the local culture and offer tasty and inexpensive meals, including local favourites.

Compare prices at upscale hotels

Five-star hotels in Australia have a wide range of pricing, even when they are in the same region. Near the Great Barrier Reef, for example, a stay at Heron Island Resort comes at a much lower price compared with other hotels nearby. Before you commit to any one hotel, Mr Cantrell said, be sure you're getting the most value for your money by comparing rates, especially if you can be flexible with your check-in and check-out dates.

Skip the hotel

Get the true flavour of Sydney and Melbourne by renting an apartment instead of booking a hotel room. "Sydney and Melbourne have many picturesque neighbourhoods, where apartment rentals can be inexpensive," Mr Cantrell said. Go through the options on sites such as Airbnb and Luxico. Similarly, an Australia travel specialist, such as Mr Cantrell, can also help you find rentals.

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