2016 Rathmines Catalina Festival Car Show Gallery

Lessons in Low-Cost-Carriers – Jetstar Edition

Maybe this should be titled “How Jetstar keeps costing me money” because really despite having travelled with a few Low-Cost-Carriers there’s one that has never ceased to let me down.

The premise of a Low-Cost-Carrier (LCC) is pretty simple, as passengers we pay a low price to get ourselves from Point-A to Point-B.  We may elect (at our expense) to add options to make that experience more comfortable, or bring bags or even eat.  We still expect the plane to arrive and depart as scheduled, and we still expect to be treated as a customer.

Jetstar Routes

So why am I so down on Jetstar?

In short way back in 2007 Jetstar left us sitting at Proserpine Airport for about 5 hours waiting for a plane to arrive.  No-one on the ground could tell us where the plane was, nor could their call centre.  In fact when it arrive the surly cabin crew were, err, surly, then plane was suffering mechanical problems and ultimately limped to Brisbane some 6 hours late.

Little wonder that it took 8 years before I was willing to risk Jetstar again.

So for our upcoming Japan trip we grabbed a “Pay one-way only” deal with Jetstar, that meant for the princely sum of $1055 Kitty & I were booked from Sydney to Narita return.  On the face of it a great deal, sure there’s already nearly $200 of payment fees and seat selection in there but we’re on the (flying) bus!

While we quibble over meal choices (at about $24 each) and baggage (about $80 per 20kg each way) there’s something else afoot.

See we don’t live in Sydney.  So getting from Canberra to Sydney for us means a choice between flying, driving, bus or train.  I ended up finding some cheap Virgin Australia flights to suit, there’s another $366 on the running tally.

Now on the other end we decided we wanted to start in Osaka and then travel up to Tokyo over our ~11 days.  Bam now we’re on a Peach Aviation “Happy Peach Plus” deal for $164 (one-way).

That all sounds great doesn’t it?

Then I get the first e-mail from Jetstar advising a schedule change.  Sure’s it’s only a 5 minute wiggle on one leg.  No problems!

When a few weeks later another reschedule turned up, going for a few inconsequential minutes I figured “hey that’s what I get for booking 9 months out”.

But it got worse.


In mid-February I got the worse one yet.  This time the flight from Sydney was going to be delayed by (ultimately after all the minor shifts) almost an hour.  Yeah.  Suddenly there wasn’t time to change terminals for the Peach flight with any margin for error or delays.

To fix this Jetstar (thankfully) offered the option of an earlier flight which now routed via Melbourne leaving Sydney about 12 hours earlier – this negated the booked accomodation in Sydney but didn’t interfere with our Virgin flights.

It’s not over yet though.  Last week I got a notice at 11am with a schedule change, again only a 5 minute shuffle.  No problems.  Pity it was followed by another shuffle around 5 hours later!  Yep, two changes in one day!

So my Lesson?  Jetstar, Never. Ever. Again.

The Contradictions of TripAdvisor Forums

TripAdvisor Forums have their place in a travellers armoury, there’s a huge mix of participants from naive first time travellers to seasoned professionals.  However like every other forum sometimes you need to take the “advice” with a grain of salt.

 TripAdvisor is really all about making money

Are you a Sales Lead or a Member?

TripAdvisor LeadsTripAdvisor is really all about making money, you as a reader are nothing but a potential sales lead for the services advertised throughout the site.  Every time you search for hotel rooms and flights through the site the cookies being baked into your computer are adding to the sites income.

The staff of TripAdvisor are there to keep that well oiled cash machine running and not to ensure the participants in the Forums provide consistent accurate advice.

So with that in mind lets move onto the next contradiction.

Destination Experts

Every Forum has Moderators, people who can keep the peace and offer sage advice when needed.  In he case of TripAdvisor the two roles are separated, a Destination Expert typically has a high post-count and a high rate of “presence” on the Forums.  The moderation seems to be done by deleting posts after they’re reported and very little (if any) feedback is given to the poster.

In my dealings with these Destination Experts I’ve found a mix of genuinely nice people who have the time and energy to help out, and also those who always seem to grind out the say cut-n-paste solutions that perpetuate myths.

Owee over at Owee58.com wrote a great piece about his attempt to become a recognised Destination Expert.

The term Destination Expert is misleading and in most cases an out right lie. A Tripadvisor chosen volunteer is a more accurate term. Please keep this in mind when using their resource.

Owee’s experience highlights the distinctly profit driven motives, and the level of restriction TripAdvisor imposes upon those experts (which also discourages many reputable writers from participating under their “real” names)

What about Good Advice?

I spend a portion of my time on TripAdvisor kicking through the Bargain Travel forum and was surprised when someone posted a link to the great NomadicMatt12 Things Not to Do When You Travel” article.

The link got posted in a few threads and a number of Destination Experts chimed in saying it was the best advice ever.  Terrific, because the 12 tips are genuinely useful for all travellers.

The ones closest to my heart revolve around money, The “Don’t Exchange money at the airport” and “Use a fee free card”.  The advice is rock solid and backed up by posts throughout the forums.  Over in the Destination Forum for Malaysia we have a Destination Expert giving a good balanced view of costs while a few people are advocating everything from changing money back “at home” – to carrying large amounts of cash which then contradicts the “beware of bag snatchers” mantra!

Not once did an expert or TripAdvisor themselves suggest checking out the article, nor could many others post the link for fear or falling foul of the “posting links to blogs” rule.  That rule would make linking to NomadicMatt.com a breach as it’s a very commercial Blog no matter how much we value the content!

I’m not even going to talk about the Monkey post!  Well, ok, I will.  There was a post about Batu Caves, the writer had asked if the caves were worth it given they had a dislike of monkeys.  Fair question, I’m not a fan of them myself, and while some people tried to balance up the “value” of the attraction versus the population of monkeys others started talking about all the rabies travellers would get while being bitten.

Hardcore Monkey
“Biting the Bullet” – Monkey Style

Yes, monkeys can bite. No, monkeys don’t bite randomly

Once again there’s no consistency, and once again not even Destination Experts could agree!

Where does that leave us?

When you use TripAdvisor do so with an open mind.  Don’t let some views dissuade you from accessing what is still a marvellous resource, but always be aware of the pitfalls.

Opinionated Destination Experts, False Reviews and people willing to “work the system” to make a buck combined with he profit motive of the TripAdvisor company mean that like Professional Travel Bloggers you need to keep your wits about you.

Bargain Travel: Budgeting vs Bargains

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post.  In this post I take a quick look at how to snare bargain to let you travel within a budget.

Budget vs Bargain

I budget my travel, that is, I define how much things are expected to cost, then compare that to what the actual costs are. No different to household budgeting or basic accounting. It all starts with research.

Research helps you identify “bargains” and in turn knowing what’s a bargain and what’s the normal prices will help you build a “Budget”!

Say I get promo e-mails from 2-3 flight cost trackers/aggregators and they repeated (week on week etc) tell me that tickets to Asia are available from $500. I know it costs me around $250 more to get to one of the airports these tickets would depart from. So the total of $750 becomes my initial “budget” for flights.

I may do some research on Trivago or HotelsCombined to find what accommodation prices are like in my destination country. Generally I would say that I nominate a budget for this based on guesses and experience. So for Malaysia I know (with appropriate advance booking) I can stay in a comfortable room with ensuite for $50-$100/night right in the heart of KL. If I’m challenging myself I’ll set the budget low, it makes me work harder to find the deal.

Finally I get a quote on proper travel insurance so I know most of my pre-departure costs.

This goes into a spreadsheet (Google Docs is handy for this) and I’ll enter in the actual costs as I book things. If new costs comes up (like side-trips) I add them in.

F1 Trip 2015
Description Estimate Actual
Flights (CBR-KUL) Return $ 750.00 $626.11
Flights (KUL-JHB) Return $100.00 $56.00
Flights (KUL-PNG) Return $100.00 $44.00
F1 Ticket $250.00 $99.00
Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL $ 200.00 $123.98
Accommodation (**-** Mar) JB $200.00 $153.73
Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL $200.00 $275.20
Accommodation (**-** Apr) PN $200.00 $72.36
Travel Insurance $100.00 TBA
Totals $2100 $1450.38

As you can see it’s primitive. But it lets me add up things along the way. That’s how I know I’ve got my 14 days away covered for AUD1500.


When arriving at the destination there’s other things to pay for too. A transit card (if available), a local SIM card, any destination specific packages. For example I may buy a transit package to/from an event I’m attending. For stuff like the F1 (which I’m attending) there’s usually a deal available locally that is much cheaper than sourcing in advance.

Most of these things can be researched pretty well too. You can find information on Local SIMs through the destination forums on TripAdvisor, or Google.

Don’t expect people on the forums to tell you everything, just ask about providers and experiences with providers. Then check out their website, can you recharge online using an international credit card? What data packs are available? etc etc. Know roughly what to ask for when you arrive at the Kiosk at the airport to buy the thing. Know roughly what it should cost.

So further down my spreadsheet I have a section for these costs.

Then there food and living expenses – I don’t budget these but there’s no reason you can’t. I expect to have around $100/day in costs – some days more some days less, it’s a holiday after all 🙂

Bargain Travel: The “Hopper” App

“Hopper” – A Quick Review

Over the past few days a few of the news aggregator apps I use have been bombarding me with short blogs about how awesome “Hopper” is. I thought I’d download it and have a look at how well it performs against my own “database” of flight price trends to destinations I’m interested in.

What is “Hopper”?

If you haven’t read about it here’s a potted summary.
“Hopper” uses a background database of flight prices to offer you a four-colour scale of flight prices to your choice of destination. It will help you identify “cheap” days to fly and give you a comparison of other days where flights may be lower. It ultimately will let you select flights and then divert you to a booking site so you can buy those tickets. It’s a free app, and that’s how Hopper makes money, referral to flight bookings, so while Hopper may be neutral they’ll only be showing flights being sold by their Affiliate program.

Does it work?

I’m not convinced that the database they have is incredibly well populated outside of the major US routes. For Asian trips it was able to find and link-up flights OK but the “intelligence” on best days to buy and long-term seasonal trends they promote just wasn’t there. I think once more people start using the App it will drive up the quality of the statistical information. In short it works, but it doesn’t work better than having a few basic searches and notifications set up in “Skyscanner” or or any other App/Website as you still need to have an idea on where and when you want to travel. What “Hopper” told me in 5 minutes I could match on Skyscanners website in 5 minutes.

What does this mean for a Bargain Traveller?

The App could help you quickly narrow into a bargain ticket for a “new” destination that you’re not familiar with researching. It also could easily exclude the “best” combination of flights and deals by having a preference for point to point flights booked on a single ticket, not multi-ticket, multi-hop options that to me really match the name “Hopper”. At the end of the day the App is a vehicle to bind into the Travelocity/Expedia and probably other Flight Sales Affiliate programs so your pricing and route options will be based on those players and how they’re willing to book tickets.
The App is also USD based and as such EVERY booking defaults to USD. This makes comparison easy, but you have to remember currency conversion takes place at every level. Once you leave the App to book a flight the providers website or App can change the currency to match your local currency, and in at least one of the samples it also hiked up the offered ticket price considerably more than the USD:AUD conversion.

In Summary?

If you need to take trips at very short notice and don’t get enough time to adequately research flight pricing cycles then this App _may_ help you find cheaper days to fly. It’s still biased by the need the need of the App developers to generate flow-through sales through their Affiliate providers and may not give 100% coverage of route/flight options.
It’s no substitute for doing your own detailed research over a few weeks using other resources and breaking down your route options to explore multi-ticket or multi-hop scenarios.
In almost every case I was able to utilise other search tools to get a better deal for the flights suggested (once currency conversion took place). This is because the Affiliate program the “Hopper” guys use is not consistently the “cheapest” of the many hundreds of options. (I used the DoHop aggregator as my base reference for this test http://my.reservationdestination.com/flights/ – noting that it’s not always the cheapest either).

As I’ve said there’s no substitute for research of your own, and “Hopper” can form part of it.

Bargain Travel: Cash is King

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post.  Here I talk about the merits of using local cash-less solutions for public transport.

Cash is King!

Except when it’s not. As I’ve outlined previously I don’t like carrying heaps of cash, I hate coins even more. So those machines that convert coins and notes into train or bus tickets, well I really really dislike those.

Public transport is a conundrum of  you can save heaps by using the local rail and bus services, compared to taxis or Uber.  If, like me, you’re always converting notes into coins which then stay in a pile in the hotel until it gets way to out-of-control and then I’m forced into counting out tiny coins at the Starbucks when I’ve not had enough caffeine to count effectively and well it just gets out-of-hand. I once left all my loose change in a hotel room upon checking out just because it was too much effort to deal with. I was even more surprised when I got a call from the hotel telling me I’d left a considerable amount of cash in the room. The coins had exceeded a decent two handful and counted out exceeded one nights (cheap) accommodation. So yes I hate coins.

The best way to get around if only for the convenience factor of unfamiliar coins, getting off at the wrong stop or not knowing what the wrong stop is ends up being using some kind of Touch’n’Go wavy card type system. In Hong Kong its an Octopus Card, In Malaysia a MyPass card will work throughout Kuala Lumper, in Sweden there’s something else. My point is they exist and there’s always a tourist friendly version available.

The Malaysian “MyPass” comes with a few discount vouchers, and a SIM Card for a local telco. I whacked 100RM on mine when I got it at the airport and touch’n’go’d my way around for 10 days last trip, Monorail from the central railway station, train to another suburb, train to an attraction, no worries. No pesky coins, no “oops wrong token moments”. In Hong Kong I’ve used my Octopus card to buy coffee, train trips, hotdogs and well just about anything, I love Hong Kong if only because coins are optional!

I met up with fellow Aussies last trip, parents of a friend of mine actually, they’re cash travellers, they bring over Aussie $$, exchange for local $$ and don’t use cards. Yeah, in a simple day of sightseeing I spent about no time counting money, queuing for the ticket machine or wandering if I had enough cash to enjoy a beer with lunch. Yeah if you can swing it, get on the cash-free transit option.

Sometimes the bargain isn’t in the price it’s in the time saving, or not breaking notes before you want to buy something more than an 3RM bus-ride. We all know a broken note is as good as gone!

Bargain Travel: The Money Problem

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post

Here I’ll try to explain my approach to Bargain travel at the destination. It’s not my strong point and I’d say I’m still finding my mojo with it.

The Money Problem:

Reality is once I step off the plane in Malaysia (or any other destination) my Australian dollars are worthless except at currency exchanges, and airports have some of the worst exchange rates because you’re stuck needing a local currency and a bathroom and a coffee and usual a good nights sleep.

My money Tips:

Know and understand your exchange rate for your destination country. Use an app on your smartphone, understand the cycles of exchange rates, know what your should get, roughly, on any currency exchange. If you don’t arm yourself with this knowledge you will lose money.

If you are going to exchange your normal currency into the local currency of your destination don’t do it at the airport. Utilise the experience of hundreds of Tripadvisor members and ask about currency exchange in the appropriate destination forum. At the Airport only exchange enough more for some food, a taxi or transport ticket to your hotel and not much else. It’s pretty much a certainty the exchange rate will be worst at the airport, and worse still at the arrivals area.

My preference is to carry as little Aussie cash as possible and upon arrival head for the nearest group of ATMs. I use a Citibank Plus VISA Debit card (not a credit card) specifically because it has no international currency fees, NONE, no fee for using it, no percentage fee on the amount withdrawn or spent, and it’s spending my money not borrowing money. At this first ATM I’ll withdraw enough cash for a day or so, in Malaysia this may be 500RM, it’s enough to by some food, get a local SIM card set up, pay for a taxi to the city, handle incidentals the following morning and yet not so much that I’m walking around the airport half asleep dropping a fortune everywhere. Thanks to the Citibank Plus VISA debit card I pay basically spot on the market rate shown on www.xe.com/ucc

I’m making a big deal of the fee-free international transactions and cash advances because these fees add together really really fast.

Imagine using a card where there was a 3% surcharge on the currency exchange, and perhaps a AUD5.00 on every foreign cash withdrawal (excluding any local ATM fee). It adds up. If you’re on a long trip or spending bigger amounts you could be giving your bank hundreds!

Lets face it, the less cash you carry, the less you’ll lose if you’re the victim of crime OR just get careless and lose your wallet.

Local ATM fees can suck, but not all banks charge the same fee. My Citibank Plus VISA Debit card attracted a fee in some ATMs, when I was told of the fee I’d cancel the transaction and try another banks ATM. Turns out if I avoided ATMs from one bank only I was completely fee free! So yes it can look silly but don’t just accept fees as a fait accompli. Test out the competition.

The more you rush, the more you spend

I’m also a big fan of avoiding cash altogether. It’s amazing how easy it is to buy Starbucks when you want one and don’t have to run around trying to exchange another lump of Aussie $$ in Ringgits and probably pay less in the process! In short if you can use your fee-free card for “every day” transactions do it. Your bank statements will become another part of your travel memorabilia!

For me my happy medium of cash withdrawals is around AUD200 chunks. Seems to be enough money to get by anywhere for a day or two without overstuffing your wallet. Naturally if you’re anticipating needing to pay for long taxi trips or theme park food pack a bit more….