There's still time to book that end-of-year holiday

 Last minute travel packages are still available to Belitung, an island in Indonesia billed as the next Bali.
Last minute travel packages are still available to Belitung, an island in Indonesia billed as the next Bali.PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL

SINGAPORE - Last week, primary school teacher Katherine Yeo had hoped to book a trip to Osaka and Kyoto in Japan for her family during the upcoming school holidays.

But when she went to Dynasty Travel, Ms Yeo found out that the flights alone would have cost about $2,500 a person. In comparison, flights to Osaka during the off-peak season cost about $800 to $1,000.

"We kind of knew beforehand that we would not be able to get a good price for our trip," says Ms Yeo, who is in her 50s.

Eventually, she settled on an eight-day package to Taiwan instead, which cost just over $2,000 per person including flights, accommodation and some meals. A similar package during off-peak season would cost about $1,500 per head.

Ms Yeo will be travelling in mid-December with her husband, 21-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

As one would expect, the school holidays are a peak travel season for families with children and the travel industry knows it - dishing out markups on flights, hotels and tours.

For those who have not booked their school holiday vacations, flights and tour packages are still available - albeit with higher prices, limited seats and odd timings such as late arrival and early departure.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications for Dynasty Travel, estimates that airfares are at least 30 to 40 per cent more expensive than during low or normal season .

For instance, flights to London or Sydney can cost up to $2,400 and $1,500 respectively - about $500 to $1,000 more than during the off-peak season.

 
 
 

However, not all travel agencies have the same markups, with online travel agency Klook keeping their prices constant year-round. The company sells tickets for travel activities including transport, food and attractions.

Mr Soong Chuan Sheng, general manager of Klook Southeast Asia, says: "Travelling as a family during the school holidays doesn't need to be expensive. Klook's prices remain the same all throughout the year."

To avoid not only paying a premium but also the stress of booking late, travel agencies recommend booking vacations about six to nine months in advance.

Ms Jane Chang, head of marketing communications for Chan Brothers Travel, says: "Prudent travellers understand that if they wish to secure a preferred departure date at the best possible rate, the modus operandi is to fix their travel plans and schedule their bookings early."

Not everyone, however, can manage that. Ms Chang estimates that about 15 per cent of travellers book package tours less than a month from their departure date.

That proportion increases when it comes to free and easy travel. Ms Robyn Lee, market growth lead from Skyscanner Singapore, says 44 per cent of flights in November and December 2017 were booked less than a month before the trip.

Ms Yeo, for instance, was unable to book the family vacation any earlier as she was waiting for her 14-year-old daughter to confirm rehearsal dates for her co-curricular activity, theatre.

Despite the higher prices, those who are only able to travel during the school holidays are willing to fork out the extra cash.

Ms Jerlynn Chiang, 27, paid a total of $322 for a flight to Bangkok on Jetstar Asia, and a return ticket on Scoot. She will be travelling with her brother-in-law and his girlfriend in mid-December.

Ms Chiang, who is married, booked her flight in late October. She says the same flight would have cost $139 if she had booked it a week earlier and did not procrastinate.

Still, the primary school teacher did not mind paying extra as she just wanted to get out of Singapore for a holiday. Her husband, an analyst, will not be joining her on the trip as he does not have any more annual leave.

As for Ms Yeo, paying a premium is worth it for the time spent with her family.

She says: "The children are getting older and soon it won't be so convenient for them to go on holiday with us. My son is going to university next year, so now is the right time for us to travel together before everyone starts going off of their own."

If you have not booked your year-end holiday, here are some destinations that will not cost an arm and a leg.

Be flexible with dates and timings 

If you are flexible with dates and timings, there are still promotional fares available.

Singapore Airlines has fares as low as $186 to Phuket, $241 to Bangkok and $385 to Bandung. For more information, bookings and terms and conditions, go to bit.ly/1TliFhO

Budget carrier Scoot flies to long-haul destinations such as Berlin for about $1,000 and Athens for about $900, inclusive of meals and luggage.

Look at less-popular destinations

Chan Brothers has last-minute deals, such as a five-day Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho tour in Vietnam from $678.

Can Tho is a bustling city known for its floating markets, rice-paper-making village and cacao farm.

Alternatively, head to Belitung, Indonesia, an island off the coast of Palembang with unspoilt beaches billed as the next Bali.

A four-day package starts at $559. Prices include flights and accommodation.

Travel nearby

Nearby destinations tend to have frequent and varied travel options and will cost a smaller quantum even at peak rates.

Take a road trip to Melaka or Kuala Lumpur, either by bus or self-drive. Round-trip coach fares to Melaka or Kuala Lumpur cost about $50 to $60. Tickets can be booked online via Easybook (www.easybook.com), which lets you select from multiple bus companies.

A round-trip ferry to Bintan from Sindo Ferry (www.sindoferry.com.sg) costs $51 for adults and $41 for children, with prices staying the same all year round.

Free-and-easy travellers can book activities such as mangrove kayaking and all-terrain vehicle rides from Klook (www.klook.com). Prices range from $10 to $79 depending on the activities included.

•Prices are correct as of Nov 9 and applicable for travel this month and next, subject to availability.