Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Good Reason Not To Reserve Your Vacation Travel In Advance: Saving Money

Hong Kong

This is the most important piece of travel advice I can give: Do not reserve the entire trip in advance.

You will want to change itineraries once you're on the ground. The weather may throw you a spitball. Machines break. You might meet a new friend and want to stay within range of his bed. You might run out of steam and decide to stay in City #3 until it's time for the international flight home.

So, more than any other travel tidbit I can type: Please do not reserve all your transport and every night of lodging in advance.

Go ahead and do the research. Prepare a list of air routes and preferred hotels and recommended sights, if that's your style. Reserve the first two or three nights. But don't make deposits or pre-payments beyond that (unless it's for a centerpiece event, such as a safari).

A problem with pre-payment is that you can pay too much. Travel industry professionals know that some people, particularly Americans, are nervous control freaks who are willing to pay a premium to lock down everything in advance. So a hefty markup is charged, an anxiety tax.

Another problem with pre-payments is that they reduce spontaneity. Pre-payments, combined with the American tendency to overschedule, can result in vacations which consist of people running from pre-paid hotel to pre-paid event to pre-paid flight. This argument tends to be a loser, however, since control freaks don't value spontaneity; I'll focus on the "paying too much" angle.

Here's an example I encountered today of why on-the-fly purchases make economic sense:

The published fare for a one-way "soft sleeper" ticket on the overnight train from Hong Kong to Shanghai is US$106 (HK$825).

The MTR, the company operating the Hong Kong train system, is currently promoting the ticket at a discounted fare of US$95 (HK$743) (same link).

But I walked up to the counter today at Hung Hom Station and bought a ticket for tomorrow's train at a point-of-purchase, last-minute, let's-move-this-inventory price of US$59 (HK$457).

Meanwhile, people who booked ahead paid more. China Trip Advisor is displaying the ticket at US$125. China Train Tickets is asking US$210, and China Train Ticket (no s) wants US$220.

There's no reason to pay US$220 for a US$59 ticket.

Make fewer plans, have more fun, and spend less money.

Pictured: Chinese soft sleeper train compartment (cutie not included).

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Blogger moi said...

Maybe years in America have turned me into a bit of a control freak. But I think improvising is risky unless you have some familiarity with your destinations, and have some idea of the quality of travel information there (language and contacts can make all the difference). It would be foolish, for example, to not have hotel rooms booked in advance in a country like India, where there's a shortage of quality hotel rooms between October and March.

Even in the US, where I had no language issues, where you'd think information is readily available, and in a region where I'd previously lived for some years, nothing prepared me for the ordeal of taking an Amtrak train from anywhere other than the biggest cities.

4:20 AM  

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