Category: Guides

Wat Xienthong

Impressions of Luang Prabang

28/1 – 11/2/2019

 

After tiring flight from Auckland via Singapore on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir (SQ’s regional subsidiary), I arrived in the small city of Luang Prabang. 

As soon as you arrive, you know it’s small. The airport terminal building is one of the smallest I have landed in.  I think a 737 or a 320 is the largest aircraft that could be accommodated.  Immigration formalities and baggage collection (combined) took place in an area the size of a medium-sized business class lounge. One pays a fixed price in US Dollars + a $1 service charge for their Lao visa.  As an American, I paid $35+$1. Canadians pay one of the highest fees at $42. Poor fellows.

 

I changed a crisp Benjamin for 857,000 kip, a rather good rate. With some pocket money, I went over to the taxi desk where you pay 50k for a fixed-price ride into town.  Not the cheapest I have taken, as it’s only 5km, but whatever.

 

As you might expect, I was surprised when the people sitting next to me on the Silkair flight in town were in the cab along with another lady. We joked that a 200,000 kip cab (US$23.35) is exceptionally profitable. Whatever. C’est la guerre.

 

In a short time, I was in front of my Chinese-owned guesthouse, in its own way a tiny constituent part of China’s global “belt and road” activities. It was interesting having to use my rudimentary Chinese skills to explain how I booked and paid (Airbnb).  Meeting the other (mostly) Chinese guests was a rare glimpse for me into the on-the-ground realities. The guests were here for the future China-Laos railroad.

 

My guesthouse was almost on the Mekong, so I went for a stroll along the river to stretch my legs.  Many small “restaurants” are directly on the water’s edge.  They are little more than a small patio with a dozen or so tables, a stall with coolers/fridges of drinks, and a small kitchen across the street handling food prep.  The views, particularly at sunset, are incredible.  “My” little one does well-priced beer and tasty local food – mostly simple curries, rice, noodles, barbecue, and dessert.

The temples in Luang Prabang aren’t exactly large. I found that I never spent more than 20-30 minutes in any one, and that includes going up and down Mt Phousi.  Nonetheless, they are pleasant oases from the tuk-tuks and commerce in the streets.  Some are free to enter, while others are 10-20,000 kip.  The National Museum (aka Royal Palace) was an interesting visit for me, though I chuckled at the royal car collection. Three cars were gifts of the US government (I suspect to curry favor with any non-communist in the region) – two Lincoln Continentals and a Ford Edsel. Good God…why? Shouldn’t a diplomatic gift showcase your nation’s craftsmanship and esteem for the recipient?   

Wat Xienthong
Wat Xienthong

I do want to add a note about the money changers.  Yesterday, I went to exchange kip to US dollars to get some small denominations ahead of my Siem Reap trip. I found a booth selling dollars for 8,600 kip, the best rate in town.  I presented her with 817,000 kip – $95.  She tries to give me $91. After her English skills dramatically collapse when presented with mathematical reality, she hands me back the 817,000 and shoos me away. It’s 3pm, I am not a stoned/drunk gap yah, and I am one of billions that carries a multifunctional calculator (phone) in my pocket.  Not. Going. To. Work.

 

Much more common is the scam when you are buying local currency, and they slip 20,000 kip notes in lieu of 50,000. Every one of those they can fraudulently tender is worth approximately US$4.

 

Café lovers rejoice. Luang Prabang is loaded with options to enjoy coffee as well as Lao/SE Asian or Western food. My two favorites, unoriginally, are Joma and Saffron. Joma is a Canadian owned micro-chain in SE Asia and serves up a pretty healthy menu if you need a break from more indulgent or oil-laden local fare.

 

Breakfast at Zurich Bread cafe

Overall, the charm of this town is its sleepiness. There’s not much here.  The bars are shut by 11 or 11:30 at night.  The attractions are fairly simple (Kuang si waterfall is the most time-consuming, where you’ll want a half-day at least). Come here to rest, rejuvenate, think, reflect, etc.  I should add that if you’re coming from Thailand, Laos will feel as if you’re paying more for less in terms of food, transport, and accommodation.  If you like to sleep in, find lodging on a side street.  Lao people start their day early, and the street noise would have woken me by 6:30 AM if I weren’t up already.  Late risers, consider yourself warned.

Buddhists collecting alms at daybreak

Addedum: After a booking issue with my guesthouse, I moved to the Luang Prabang River Lodge Boutique, a small and charming hotel run by a Lao couple. I could look out my window and see the Mekong or go downstairs and enjoy coffee while banging away at the keyboard.

Yangon @ the Chatrium

Rate: US$82++

07/12-11/12

Mr Y had recommended, based on his hotel stays prior to taking up permanent lodgings in Yangon, the Strand and the Chatrium, in that order. The Strand was pricing out at over US$300++ per night, whereas the Chatrium was offering a “solo traveler” package for merely $82++.  Without much hesitation, I booked 4 nights at the Chatrium.

I’ll take a moment to offer praise to the Chatrium for recognizing the needs (and throwing a discount) to the lone wanderer. This rate for lone wolves included breakfast, an early check-in, a late check-out, and minibar privileges for a few bucks per night less than the going room-only rate. 

Arrival at RGN airport was a breeze, and Mr Y ran me to the hotel after a quick lunch stop. [We met his co-workers for a bite at a small Japanese restaurant attached to the Super Hotel in Yangon. Both were oases of Japanese life in SE Asia.  Everything was set up perfectly by Japanese expatriate businessmen for their fellow Japanese. The food was the best Japanese I’ve had since leaving Tokyo, and the prices were exceptionally reasonable – US$7 for a salmon & ikura don.]

 While I had reserved the room on my AMEX via the Chatrium corporate website, I required a Visa or Mastercard to check-in. Not a problem, but a bit odd – I would have expected some fine print or a pop-up ahead of check-in saying that AMEX isn’t accepted at the Yangon property. 

My room was in good order, though the design was quite dated, which isn’t uncommon in Yangon, it seems.  The most obvious sign? The dearth/placement of power outlets.  The set-up of the room was very 2005 in that regard.

I decided to treat my host Y to dinner at my hotel, as they were doing a Japanese buffet.  We’re both Japanese food addicts, by the way. I was content enough, though like any Chinese foodie, he had a litany of critiques.  We enjoyed a bottle of divinely smooth sake, though it came at a price…

The next day, I woke up early to hit the gym, have breakfast, and swim. Running close to sea level after being at 2000m in Kunming felt a bit like being doped (I think) based on speed and stamina versus my “normal” in Kunming. The Chatrium’s gym is set up in an L shaped building separate from the main hotel. One side of the L is the hotel spa, the right angle is the pool bar, and the other side in the gym. Therefore, the room is long albeit rather narrow. I found the machinery to be somewhat dated Precor models, albeit in good condition. 

After a run and subsequent washing-up, I dressed and went down to breakfast.  The hotel offered a buffet of Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Western, and Burmese options ranging from grilled saba, to dim sum, to chicken curry, pad thai, omelets, and pastries, to name a few. Notably, barista coffee was included in the buffet. Overall, I was pleased. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the more substantial options like Pad Thai or (Indian and Burmese) curries, as I wanted to do some lap swimming later in the morning.

Before my swim, I took care of some client work for a few hours – just the remaining bits before everyone breaks for Christmas/New Year holidays.  The Chatrium’s internet connect was quite fast and stable. I never had any problems during my stay, even though Myanmar has an abysmal reputation in the WiFi speed department.

The Chatrium’s pool proved to be my favorite thing about the hotel.  It was also in an L shape and offered a solid 25m swim if one wanted to do laps. Olympic? No.  Better than the usual hole in the ground that passes for a hotel pool? Yes. I found it very relaxing to swim under the coconut palms and found myself doing 1.5-2.5 km swims, just for the hell of it.

Mr Y collected me around noon, just after I finished at the pool. We went out for dim sum (we’re also dim sum addicts).  He found a Cantonese restaurant that seemed promising. His verdict: excellent duck, passable char siu, mediocre har gow, excellent siu mai. I was rather turned off by a starchiness in the har gow (always a hallmark of mediocrity in dumplings).  I did enjoy the mango-sago-pomelo pudding!

We then went on what my old neighbor in Auckland would call a “tiki tour” around Yangon.  He apologized for the paucity of attractions, but I found it quite interesting.  I find the process of economic development fascinating, so a newly-opened country starting from (close to) zero is a dream come true.  An oddball’s dream, but still a dream.

He showed me the new development north of the lake close to my hotel. A large and shiny Wyndham hotel had just opened. Perhaps I should book there next time?  Downtown Yangon was run down.  Were it restored, it would be a jewel of Asia.  A great many buildings date back to the colonial period and would be stunning were they not blackened and crumbling. The Strand hotel is an example of what the city would look like with some TLC and scrubbing. 

Afterwards we ended up at his favorite bar in downtown. I couldn’t believe the prices – a liter of Glenfiddich 12 cost US$37 at the bar. A spirit-lover would descend into a dissolute alcoholic within weeks. I tried some Burmese food this afternoon and a few days later, and I wasn’t too impressed by it. This was a surprise, as I love Thai and Indian food (two significant culinary influences in Burmese cuisine).

Having rambled on a bit, I want to compress some tl;dr findings:

Do go to the Schwedagon Pagoda complex. It’s great, and tourists are rare. Compared with “templing” in the rest of SE Asia, it’s very unusual to have the opportunity to visit an “active” religious site where worshippers and clergy are the overwhelming majority of those onsite. Compare this with a Thai temple where I am at pains to recall seeing a Thai Buddhist adhere.

Do eat great food. Many cuisines (particularly Thai, Japanese, and Indian) are well-represented in Yangon. The izakayas and sushi spots are amazing value for money.  I’d highly recommend the mini-chain “Ren” (three locations) or the Japanese restaurant at the Super Hotel.

Consider staying outside of downtown. If you aren’t used to very low levels of development (central Bangkok or KL, this is not), the roughness could be very off-putting at first.  A cab ride is US$2-4 on Grab.  On the other hand, Yangon is extremely safe. Violent crime against tourists is virtually unheard of.

Impressions of Ubud: The Tourist

I wanted to cover this particular locale in two parts, as I find it would otherwise have turned into an article of unsuitable length. I’ll start with a tourist’s impression, as that would most accurately describe my first week in Ubud. I hope to have the remote worker’s perspective up in short order thereafter.

 

Going exchange rates: US$ 1 = 14,400; £1 = 18,500; AU$1 = 10,500; €1 = 16,500; NZ$1 = 9,500

 

Arrival

 

The arrivals process at the airport is markedly improved versus my first visit 5 years ago. While I have heard that slowdowns can still occur, it’s been the experience of most of my contacts here that they are processed quite quickly.

When going to Ubud, it’s advised to arrange transport prior to arrival.  A fair rate to Ubud is approx. 250-300k, though drivers have been known to ask from 350-500k if you are negotiating at the airport. For those wishing to use a meter taxi, Blue Bird is the go-to in Bali.

Accommodation

Ubud sports a variety of hostels, guesthouses, homestays, private rental, and hotel options for budgets ranging from “shoestring” ($5) to “sybaritic.”

 

I opted for “Dewaput Guest House” – viewable here on AirBNB. I paid circa US$345 for the month for the equivalent of a 3-star hotel room: air conditioning, clean bathroom, desk, a balcony, tea & coffee, and breakfast (fruit + main item) each morning.

The owner, Dewa Put, has a small building within his compound with two such rooms overlooking his Balinese home compound.  It’s beautiful, with a large music pavilion, Dewa’s art studio, multiple homes, two temples, and a traditional kitchen. I learned that Dewa’s mother vastly prefers using the traditional kitchen for cooking, as she finds it healthier to exercise herself building the fire, keeping it clean, and cooking the day’s rice rather than just using, for example, the electric rice cooker Dewa bought for her. I found this anecdote rather relatable.

I fell in love with my accommodations. Dewa is a musician and painter, so it’s ben quite common to take my breakfast while he plays or teaches a student.  It’s the best excuse I’ve had in years in drag out breakfast and linger over cups of tea. Now I can see why many fall in love with Bali. 

 

I asked Dewa about his grandfather’s family – those who built his home. The marble-walled family temple, gilt woodwork on the main temple, and magnificently wrought front-gate piqued my curiosity. “My grandfather was a king with many rice fields in the area.” Oh Adjusting the answer for Western concepts of royalty, I surmised that Grandad was a landed noble (Kshatriya caste) descended from a cadet branch of the Balinese royal family – Dewa Agung.

Coffee

Given what I am accustomed to in SE Asia, Ubud has an incredible array of high quality coffee shops that would seem cheap to a Westerner.  A latte/flat white can be had for 22-25k, less then US$2.  I’ve had local Balinese coffee or black tea for as little as 5,000 rupiah, under 40 US cents.

Some of my favorite cafes:

 

Anuman on Hanuman: This upper story café is easy to miss, but I love the coffee. The food is quite good and very reasonably priced for being on a main drag.  It’s a great place to park yourself and watch the town go by.

Ipong on Hanuman: More great coffee, solid wifi, and a small but tasty menu.  It’s my go-to if I am caffeine-starved and want a nice flat white.

Green Window @ Outpost:  Probably the best coffee of the three. It offers a mostly western food menu with both carnivore and vegetarian options.

Food

One is spoilt for choice in the eating department.  You have excellent local warungs where Ubud’s workers grab a bite after their shift, higher end restaurants, foreign food, and vegan & vegetarian options. 

Warung Wayan: Cheap, tasty local & western food.  Tasty rice pudding (babur injun) 20-30k for most mains

 

White Ginger: This place is my go-to for Balinese crispy duck. I first stumbled in after being put off by Bebek Bengil due to being able to accommodate tour groups (food factory mentality), accepting AMEX (signals “we overcharge”), and a particularly colorful review speculating that their duck had died of a wasting illness.  Mains 65-85k

Golden Monkey: Ubud’s one Chinese restaurant is surprisingly good. The Malaysian chef does wonderful things with dim sum and duck.  I’m bringing Dewa and his Mrs for their AYCE dim sum brunch on Sunday. I almost didn’t try the main restaurant after some disappointment at their “Express” location in Ubud food court.  Main dishes 70-120k

Siam Sally: One of the two big Thai options in town, I found myself in here circa once per week grabbing dessert.  Their mango sticky rice is a nice little treat, particularly after crispy duck.  Mains 70-120k; appetizers and dessert 50-60k

Sitara:  Their curries and naan breads are my favorites in Ubud. I particularly enjoyed the Dal Makhni, eggplant masala, and “black pepper rice.” Mains 65-110k

Sage: Delicious vegan food that combines (primarily) Balinese, Western, and Latin influences. Hats off to their creativity. Expect to pay circa 100k per person (main + drink).

Of Geese and Apples – Touring Phuket

 

One of the fixtures of my lodgings during my first 10 days in Phuket was Alex, a shaggy Russian from Novo Sibersk with an aversion to wearing shirts unless absolutely necessary.  As he is shredded like a the crucified Christ, I am not particularly bothered by this. Despite his limited English and my profoundly non-existent knowledge of Russian, we managed to communicate exceptionally well. The dividends paid were extraordinary

A blurry picture of this tale’s hero

Day 1

 

One day, he offered a beach trip. I am down.

 

“How are we getting there,” I ask? 

‘Scooter!

 

My eyes widen, as I don’t know how to do 2 wheels, Thai driving are what you’d expect for a society that widely believes in reincarnation, and “farang road kill” is a terribly trite way to die.

 

That’s OK, as I can ride as his passenger.  For some reason, I acquiesce to this.  I just can’t refuse shredded foreigners offering a ride. I figure that a Russian hippie semi-resident in Thailand absent bandages is probably capable of handing the roads.

 

I still downloaded my insurance docs onto my phone in case I ended up at a local hospital.

 

After a quick google search of how to be a decent passenger, I grabbed onto a helmet and tried to make my peace with mortality.  Off we went.

 

“This isn’t so bad.”

 

My curiosity got the better of me soon enough, and moving my head to look at everything we passed earned a gentle reproof “no move, only sit.”  I focused on the printed pineapples on the back of Alex’s shirt.

 

In abut 35 minutes on the scenic route, we ended up at Nai Harn beach, at the southern tip of Phuket island. As soon as we hopped off the bike, rain began. We also were low on fuel.  As my brain hemispheres and subsidiary lobes were still contained in their original packaging, this trip still qualified as a success.

 

We retreated to shelter for beer while we waited out the showers. When the weather improved about an hour later, we went a-hunting for fuel.  We stumbled on small self-service pump.  I handed him B40, and we were good to go for a bit longer.

 

Alexey needed a bite, and you don’t need to ask me twice to enjoy some Thai grub, so he took me to Tony’s Restaurant just outside of Phuket town.  He was fond of it for the cheap Pad Thai and beers at 10 baht over the 7/11 price.  Pineapple fried rice for me and a Singha, and life was looking good, until another downpour befell us.

 

Realizing that it wouldn’t let  up, we donned plastic ponchos and slowly made our way back.  Heavy rush hour traffic, a downpour, and flooded roads – what could go wrong?!  Miraculously, very little.  As we rode through inches-deep water, I joked that I hoped Alex was up to date with his shots (putting his foot down in the filthy flooded water when stopped for a light.)

 

By some unknown grace, we made it home only moderately soaked.

 

Pros: We survived, had food and beverages. Cons: Soaked like bilge rats; no beach time.

 

Day 2

 

Given his imminent departure from Thailand, Alexey decided that more beach time was needed.  I didn’t need to be asked twice.

 

After pulling on trousers and a long-sleeved shirt (sun protection, slightly more protection in an accident versus shorts/t-shirt/tank), we were off again.

 

Today’s destination was Surin beach, and there was barely a cloud in the sky. After a ride across the island and over the mountain, we arrived at Surin, one of the cleanest beaches I have seen in Asia. The lack of plastic garbage was refreshing.  I can’t overstate how marvellous the water was – cool enough to refresh, warm enough to frolic in for hours.

Surin Beach

At around 4pm, I managed to communicate to Alex that it would be a perfect time for a beer.  In emphatic agreement, we were soon on our way to a 7/11.  An old hand at Thailand has already discerned the problem with this plan.  Thailand’s sports its own version of a blue law that prohibits the sale of alcohol between 2-5 pm.  I cursed myself for making a rookie oversight before retiring to the beach to wait out the hour.

 

There are far worse purgatories!

 

In time, we had a pair of Singhas in hand. Those who drink with me will attest that this is the point where the “respectability quotient” of the banter heads south faster than a retiree sensing the arrival of winter.

My sexiest shot
Comfortable

We were discussing food. I relayed a story of my grandmother stuffing a chicken who alternated between muttering something about “impure thoughts” and singing/humming the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind.”  His first reaction was asking via a mix of google translate and google images if we in the West stuff geese with apples.  I stared, blinked, and communicated that, regardless of Siberian custom, we do not sodomize geese with apples in the Anglophone West. And so was born the joke of the month.

 

I’ll leave it to your imagination where the conversation went from there.

The sunset was spectacular
The sunset was spectacular!

In time, it was time to return.  Stash had received a new guest who was keen to hire a scooter for an evening run into town, so Alex had to dash back to facilitate the transaction.

 

If nothing else, the beer made me somewhat more relaxed about the safety of zipping around on a scooter.

 

Day 4

 

After a Day 3 that looked much like Day 2 (hence its absence), Alex decided to bring me along again for his last day in Thailand, for the foreseeable future.  I strapped on my old familiar helmet, hoped for good luck on the road, and we were off again.

 

Our first destination included a visit to Big Buddha, probably the most famous cultural attraction on the island. “Uncle Sid” (as one friend calls him) commands a magnificent view of the island.  Fortunately, we had a clear, sunny day and low season tourist levels, so the visit was quite pleasant. Note: Women do have to dress relatively modestly, though men don’t appear to (e.g. a man can wear a sleeveless shirt, a woman cannot).

View from the Buddha
View from the Buddha

Souvenirs and snacks are available, if you wish to indulge.

Pet the temple kitties

After the Big Buddha, we made our way on the scenic route, and we blew out our rear tire just as we arrived at the beach on Promthep Cape.  Alex went off to have it fixed, as this exact setback befell him at this same beach a few months ago. I decamped for lunch (I hadn’t yet eaten that day).  He returned in need of 40 baht.  The front tire blew on the way to the shop, but it could be patched.  Lucky us!

Around Promthep Cape
People bring their cats to this beach. I saw three with their owners.

My custom was to buy the beers for us, as 50-60 baht for his libations seemed worth all the fun. I begged him to get a second for his troubles. After the tire fiasco, I didn’t have to try too hard.  After all, that tire was the apple in his goose.

 

All good things must come to an appointed end, and so did this arrangement.  I found myself missing my Russian driver, my late-afternoon beer, and the inevitable goose-apple banter that followed. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide of the island. Such is the traveller’s life – these sort of brief, happy encounters are a defining feature of the lifestyle.

 

I’ve also realized that I haven’t eaten an apple in almost a month.

 

fried chicken onigiri

Tokyo for Digital Nomads

My first stop as a digital nomad (aka Expat 2.0) was Tokyo. I was quite interested to survey it from the perspective of a digital nomad. Most feedback I received from other Americans had to be considered in the context of said Americans visiting as 4-5 star premium/luxury tourists.  My other sources were Australians and New Zealanders going on ski holidays in Hokkaido. How would Tokyo be from the perspective of someone not frittering away ¥10,000 notes ($90) on every meal with the time to relax and enjoy the city? 

 

I offer a quick guide based on my observations and experiences of a couple of weeks. I’ve tried to cover certain basics. Your mileage may vary, so to speak.

Location

 

 I based myself at Chapter Two Hostel, located in Asakusa steps from the local train station. I avoided the much more famous districts of Ginza and Rappongi. The former reminds me of Fifth Avenue near Central Park, and the latter of Times Square (i.e. tons of tourists clogging the streets). My accommodation cost ¥3,100 per night. My rate was somewhat reduced as I had booked in excess of two weeks. A light breakfast (boiled egg + toast) was put out in the common area each morning.

Transport Costs

 

Subway/train rides tended to run ¥200-700. The 700-ish ride took me from Tokyo to visit my friend in Yokohama. A number of different companies serve Tokyo, so hopping A-B on Company 1 and taking B-C on Company 2 means that you’re paying fares to both. It’s important to note that there is no maximum daily fare, so a tourist frenetically rushing around Tokyo could run up high charges on their card. (Note: get a SUICA/PASMO card for your stay. It works on all trains and can be used at convenience stores for purchases).

 

The limited express train running between Narita and Haneda costs ¥1,290 to Asakusa. The faster Narita Express runs ¥2600-ish.

 

Taxis tend to be cheap for short rides, but rapidly go up in price if taken at night or for trips over 4km.

 

Accommodation

 

Variable, in a word. In my own searches and chats with other travelers, hostels and other shared accommodation starts at US$25/day. Private hotel rooms start at $60, though at that price, they’re small enough to feel quite cramped if two people are traveling. Airbnb in Japan is in turmoil right now, with many bookings being cancelled and throwing travel plans into chaos.

 

Food

 

This part is the most variable (that word, again), and in my opinion, the area most laden with misconceptions. I would remind my readers here that my perception of cost is colored by my American upbringing. I found ample options at every price range from ¥300 lunches up to many thousands of yen.

 

Assuming that you aren’t cooking for yourself for whatever reason (lack of desire or access to a full kitchen should cover most possibilities), the cheapest eats come from your nearby convenience store (konbini) – 7/11, Family Mart, and Lawson.   Fresh fruit, hot foods, take-away meals like katsu curry, spaghetti, salad, dumplings, and onigiri (filled rice balls) await your pleasure. Expect to pay ¥100-180 per onigiri, ¥280-300 for a can of Sapporo/Asahi/Kirin beer, ¥400-530 for a sushi, karaage, or curry meal, and ¥105 for a banana.

Tokyo seven eleven storepicture of lawson convenience store

 

At the next level are quick-bite restaurants that serve roughly the same function as a US diner: cheap, fast comfort food. Ramen & gyoza restaurants are by far the most common. Other small noodle and onigiri restaurants fall in this category. A meal will run you ¥400-1000, with ramen tending on the cheaper side. Kaiten (conveyor) sushi and premium quality noodles (yes, there is a perceptible difference between a ¥1100 bowl of “good” soba/tan tan/udon versus ¥450 ramen vs cup noodles) occupy the next level between ¥1000-2000 depending on location, ingredients, and your appetite.

standing sushi

 

Before this drags on, the quick summary: pick a sum between 500 and 50,000 yen, and you’ll find lots of tasty options.

 

Drink

 

 This wasn’t a huge area for me, but I’ll pass on what limited info I picked up. Most of what I drank here was sake. I was in Japan, after all. Sake at a restaurant typically began at ¥650 and went all the way up. A premium sake like Hakkaisan (my favorite) would cost ¥1300 for a 180mL portion. I didn’t do much cost research on bottles to bring home, as I tend not to drink solo at home.

Hakkaisan sake

 Beer at a konbini ran ¥280-300 per can. Out and about, ¥300 for a cheap mug/happy hour is the bottom end, whereas my most expensive turned out to be ¥1000 at a in Roppongi. The overwhelmingly common price was ¥500-700 depending on size. Note: these prices were for Japanese domestic beer. Expect to pay a considerable premium for craft and import.

 

Internet

 

 I found the process of a sim card byzantine and expensive considering phone band compatibility and the ¥3000 for the card. I elected to go with scrounging whatever wifi I could. This turned out to be a reasonably doable option for a short-term visit. I found internet at convenience stores, train stations, restaurants, Starbucks (as always), museums, and around major landmarks. Free. I had one situation in 3 weeks where I was cursing at my ill-luck, which is remarkably excellent in the greater scheme of life (for me). Otherwise, connectivity of some sort is fast, stable, and nearly ubiquitous.

 

Coffee

 

 I am embarrassed to admit that I did not get to assess this part. Caffeine is ubiquitous, but I was turned off of visiting cafes, as ¥500 for a basic beverage was standard at an independent café.  $4.50 for an Americano is a turn-off. 

 

Down Time

 

This is where Tokyo shines. When I wanted to get away from my screen in order to rest my eyeballs and refresh my brain, Tokyo delivered numerous options.  I found the Asakusa area jam-packed with stuff. Sensoji temple merited a wander or two. My favorite option included exploring one of Ueno Park’s attractions on a given day. There’s a shrine/temple for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the zoo, and multiple museums covering modern art, Euro-American/western art, Asian art, Japanese artifacts, natural history. The Tokyo National Museum and Ieyasu’s shrine are personal favorites. 

samurai armor picture

 

Beyond the big stuff, I highly recommend walking around and exploring. I “found” small shrines, parks, and public gardens. It helps to be in an old district of Tokyo, I suppose, but I loved stumbling on a small park or garden. 

Ueno Toshogu shrine to tokugawa ieyasu
Ieyasu’s Shrine

Keep these documents on you for travelling

Wallet, passport, phone, backpack, laptop, chargers (plural), clothing, camera, and so on. Such is the typical 2018 travel list – be it for a tourist, digital nomad, or backpacker. If you’re like me, it’s 8 p.m. at the hotel, and you’re cursing yourself for leaving the charger at home or at your prior accommodation. Woe unto thee.

 

However, there are a couple of things I never  forget when travelling, particularly to Asia. As I get ready to go off again, these items are in mind. I’ve been stocking the envelopes and passport wallet with them just this weekend!

 

Old Credit & Debit Cards

 

American express credit cardBy luck & planning, I had my major credit and debit cards replaced/updated within the last 4 weeks. Here’s the thing though, my bookings were primarily made with those cards. I didn’t cut up and dispose of the cards. It’s not uncommon on check-in for flights or hotels to have the original booking card requested as a form of security. This is extremely rare in North America, but it’s not uncommon throughout Asia. When I received my replacement cards, the old ones attached to bookings went straight into my passport holder.

 

This can be exasperating for Westerners traveling out of airports/countries where this additional security check is common. The time between purchase and the flight date can be up to one year, after all. In my observations, low cost carriers tend to be far stricter on this check than full-service carriers.

 

What happens if you can’t produce the card? It varies. Jane Doe holding a passport for Jane Doe travelling on a ticket for Jane Doe is probably at a relatively low risk of being denied use of that ticket if she isn’t holding the card ending in 1234 Jane originally used to book 7 months ago. If the carrier is truly a ball-buster, you might have to buy a new ticket at the airport, which can get very expensive.

 

Crisp Cash

 

There are few problems that  Ulysses Grant or Ben Franklin can’t solve, particularly if you deploy him/them en masse. There are numerous reasons why you might want to carry the cash. Budgeting can be psychologically easier than swiping plastic. ATM fees can be extortionate when added up, especially if you have a fee from your home bank on top of something like Thailand’s foreign ATM fees (₿200 – about US$6). Of course, there are always those pesky emergencies like being locked out of your card for “security!”

 

Moneychangers abound in global cities of any size. I have found that Southeast Asia  Hong Kong (Chungking Mansions!) have some of the most incredible rates of exchange for cash I have seen. I calculated a .25% (one quarter of one percent!) difference between the exchange booth and the spot rate when I changed Hong Kong Dollars to Singapore Dollars in central Singapore. Try getting that in a Western country. Surprise: you can’t. 

 

Typically, I advise that one exchange $50 or $100 (if US$) in the best condition possible. For the sake of convenience, it is typically best to carry larger denominations. Moneychangers like them more, and carrying smaller denominations discreetly becomes problematic (over $200 in $20 notes isannoying). Like any rule, there are exceptions. or dollarized economies such as Cambodia, having a stash of $1, $5, and $10 notes is extremely useful for smaller, day-to-day transactions.Picture of a US 100 dollar bill on top of other dollar bills

Do non-Americans need USD? Not necessarily. Recognizable global currencies like Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand Dollars as well as Yen, Euro, British Pounds, South Korean Won, and Chinese Yuan are fine.

 

 

Flight & Hotel Printouts

 

This one may seem quaintly archaic in the era of apps and digital confirmations, but never underestimate the authority and utility of ink on paper. A billing dispute (e.g. prepaid reservation or not) or apparently non-existent reservation magically ends in your favor the moment you can produce a piece of paper with key information.

 

When crossing borders, I find it very useful to have proof of accommodation and proof of an onward ticket. The latter applies more to backpackers, long term vagabonds, digital nomads, et al. When traveling on one-way tickets, the airline checking you in or (on rare occasion) the immigration officer will want to see proof of departure by the end of your allowed stay.

 

Another great part: I don’t need to worry about some god-damned app cooperating, my phone’s charge at a given time, or my ability to connect to WiFi or 4G!

 

On a final note, the sweetness really comes when you’re arranging transport to the hotel. Certain websites, such as Agoda.com, use both Latin characters and local script in the booking confirmation. Life becomes much easier when the Hong Kong or Bangkok taxi driver can read the hotel address in Chinese characters or Thai script rather than figuring it our from the romanization.

Cheap Flights III: Travel Hacking

Travel Hacking – Defined by James’ English Dictionary as the art of maximizing your frequent flyer miles and hotel points for the optimal returns.

FYI DO NOT SKIP: Ticket class shorthand:  First – F; Business – J; Premium Economy – Y+; Economy – Y.

Before I go into further detail, I am not particularly sanguine about this field as an effective and practical option for many travelers.  For any digital nomads reading this, it tends to require “gaming” US-issued credit card rewards, which requires getting a card mailed to you overseas – a not insubstantial PITA. For Regular Person, while the logistics of cards aren’t an issue, hitting the minimum spend bonus can be.

Travel credit card sign-up bonuses tend to involve spending X dollars within Y timeframe.  Expect to see offers featuring a  $1,000 – $5,000 spending goal within a 1-3 month timeframe.  There are three ways around this: a high income, high spending lifestyle should make the spending target easy – duh. Otherwise, one applies before certain large planned expenditures (e.g. a new car purchase, tuition, etc) or engages in “manufactured spending.” 

Manufactured spending involves buying items readily convertible to cash. An old scheme that the US Mint killed involved buying $500 boxes of $1 coins and then cashing them in at a bank.  While the Mint hoped that this would allow the coins to circulate, they just ended up recycled back to banks. Contemporary manufactured spending plans typically involve buying gift cards, in effect front-loading future spending for gas/groceries/etc. 

Strategic Planning

While most airlines, even low-cost carriers (LCC) have frequent flyer programs, legacy carriers tend to benefit from their alliance and non-alliance partners.  An alliance is merely a formalized, substantial, multilateral cooperation arrangement between multiple airlines.  From the customer perspective, alliances allow you to earn and spend miles on partner flights as well as harmonizing frequent flyer elite status. 

Fun tidbit: Alliance partners are responsible for those really annoying gate announcements where Hypothetical American Airlines flight 238 is also called with a number of codeshare partner numbers like being British Airways Flight 4238, Qantas 2238, LAN 1238, and so on.

Non-alliance partners are airlines who have a strictly bilateral rather than a multilateral relationship.  One example is the partnership between Etihad and American Airlines. AA is part of Oneworld, and Etihad is a large non-alliance-affiliated carrier. 

The Three Major Alliances & Their US Carriers

Star AllianceUnited – The first alliance and often considered the premier alliance due to its top notch (Skytrax 5 star) carriers such as ANA, Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Lufthansa, and Eva Air. It’s a favorite for “aspirational” hackers who want to spend their miles in F or J. You’ve also got South African Airways and Air New Zealand if you’re up for a trip to the ends of the Earth as well as Air Canada to take you to the friendliest (if ridiculously cold half the year) place in North America.

OneworldAmerican Airlines – The second alliance formed. This alliance is something of a union of the Old Guard flag carriers. AA and British Airways have the US-UK market locked up as tight as Scrooge’s pocketbook.  Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific are fan-favorites for J and F redemptions, as well as overall awesome service. If men from down under are your thing, Qantas has your back.  [Give my regards to Adam]  Substantial cooperation between some Oneworld carriers (AA, BA, Cathay) and Alaska Airlines is a thing.  

SkyteamDelta – The last major alliance formed.  While it has been disparagingly referred to as the leftover casserole of alliances, Skyteam may have the last laugh. Its member airlines serve some of the most promising economies of the developing world: China Eastern and China Southern, Kenya Airways, Garuda Indonesia, and Vietnam Airlines – to name a few. There’s a lot of potential.  From a customer service perspective, the two best products in the air are going to be Air France and Garuda. 

When doing your travel hacking, it helps to have a plan.  The “best” carrier for you is a product of your home airport, your willingness to take a connection, and where you want to go.   You may find that your hand is substantially forced.  A resident of Atlanta would be highly encouraged to be a Delta/Skyteam, while New York and LA are basically hubs for all players.  Larger cities tend to offer the most diverse array of feasible options.  

Given how award bookings (i.e. when you cash in your miles for a ticket) work, you need specific award inventory to be available.  The availability of seats for cash purchase does not mean that the airline is offering them for mileage redemption. It helps if your city has multiple options for a given alliance’s redemption options.  If you are a Oneworld guy, your epic round-the-world itinerary can be ruined if your Small Home City only has one American Airlines flight per day connecting to a larger hub – there may not be award inventory on that short hop!

 Earning

In the AirThe earning of miles changes constantly as airlines re-evaluate their programs. Currently, we are in a period of peak demand, full planes, a booming economy, and low-ish fuel prices (this may be coming to an end?). Presently, airlines have no incentive to be generous. Currently, airlines are even more disproportionately generous to their flyers stumping up for business and first than ever. Given earning rates for no status flyers/economy flights and the subsequent “burn” rate (the cost in miles for a free ticket), it’s practically pointless to bother being loyal and saving up if you’re an occasional economy flyer. It’s better to just take the cheapest fare with the best schedule.

Example of earning today: Having elite status helps immensely. Airlines offer elites bonuses on mileage earning.  Delta currently offers 5 miles per dollar spent on their flights, but elites can earn up to 11 miles per dollar.

The combined move in the US of rewarding flyers directly for dollars spent versus miles flown has me less sanguine about the Frequent Flyer game than in the halcyon days of yore.

On the GroundThis is where things get interesting, especially for the absurdly generous American credit card market.  Amateur level players might rely on shifting their daily spending to the airline card augmented by a sign-on bonus for a free ticket. American right now is offering 50,000 bonus miles on their co-branded credit card if you spend $2,500 in 3 months. The problem is that a round-trip economy award between the US and the UK on AA costs 60,000 miles + taxes and fees.  This doesn’t impress me.

The most common method of generating large quantities of miles for the cool redemptions is “churning” with credit cards .  I would advise you that this is an area for the experts, travel fanatics, insomniac planners, and those who do not care about the number of hard pulls/inquiries on their credit report.  The most extensive churning strategies can leave you with a wallet like Ben Schlappig/Lucky of OMaaT.  Last I checked, he claimed to have 37 credit cards.  If you do some digging on the r/churning subreddit, you will see how this can happen.  A strategy might include signing up for an American Airlines credit card for the 50k bonus, then signing up with a card like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express to collect a points bonus that can then be transferred to American Airlines.  A 50k bonus from each could net you 150k miles, enough for 1 business class round trip to Asia.

American express credit card

Ryan Born

The value of an award

No two travelers look at award redemptions in the same way.  One traveler might aim to redeem only in J or F when they can because it is an indulgent treat.  Another may prefer to redeem in Y, as it allows them to travel more often.

I prefer J redemptions myself.  I’ve had the luck to have been part of programs like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic where significant fuel surcharges take the fun out of many (mostly Y) redemptions. Why cash in 40,000 miles +$475 in fuel charges for a Y ticket that costs $700?  Moreover, I have had the best luck on redeeming for short, costly flights. My personal favorite redemption is to spend BA Avios (miles) on Qantas domestic business flights between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. While short, having priority treatment, lounge access, and baggage makes a tedious 3-4 trip into quite a comfortable experience. At 5,000 avios + US$90 versus AU$650-700 each way, it’s a steal in terms of Avios per dollar.

Nicole Harrington

The easiest objective way to assign a value to miles is by comparing miles spent with the notional cash ticket cost.  Using the above Avios-for-Qantas-domestic-J case as an example, spending 5000 BA Avios to save (US)$450 means that each Avios point was worth 9 cents.  Given how wildly many air tickets fluctuate in price, it is difficult to assign an ideal redemption value, such as “Only spend if your miles are worth more than X cents each!” 

Another favored option is to, again, use BA Avios for regional J on Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon within Asia.    I can use a small-ish quantity of miles (5-15k) + a cash surcharge equivalent to a LCC economy ticket and fly an excellent carrier in business, with awesome Cathay service and their lounges in HKIA.  I also found such “equivalent” redemptions using United miles on Thai or Singapore Airlines regional business tickets to be awesome.

Other interesting redemptions (prices each way):

  • American Airlines: US Mainland to Hawaii @ 22.5k – Y
  • American Airlines: Canada-Hawaii @ 25k – Y
  • British Airways Avios on Qantas: Sydney-Brisbane; Sydney-Melbourne @ $87 +5k or $17 + 9k – J
  • BA Avios on Cathay Pacific: Hong Kong-Singapore @ 11,000 + $161.44 – J
  • Delta Skymiles on Saudia: New York to Cairo @ 42,500 + $32.80 – Y
  • Delta Skymiles on Virgin Atlantic: US to Johannesburg @ 50k + $52 – Y
  • Delta Skymiles: US Mainland to Honolulu @ 50,000 + $5.60 – F
  • United on Ethiopian Airlines: US to Africa @ 80,000 + $5.60 – J
  • United: US to Europe @ 30,000 + $5.60 – Y  

An International Health Info Must-Have for Travelling Women

In my meandering around the internet, I came across a discussion about nomad-friendly online resources for women’s health. Give how much of my network travels extensively, I thought that my findings might be of use.

Soroush Karimi

One particular resource stands out: Gynopedia. It aims to provide women’s sexual, reproductive, and women’s health info for cities and countries around the world. Further, the site also takes into account the needs of LGBTQ women. Users will find information on access to contraception, local attitudes that may complicate service provision, cost of healthcare goods/services (in local currency, often with US$ conversions).

 

This page lists the most complete/informative cities. You’ll note that for most countries, only the capital is covered. To my auld St Andrews/UK readers, you might be surprised to note that only London and Edinburgh have reasonably complete pages.

 

To my women readers: if you can spare 5 minutes to add some info or create a page for your city, you’re giving a great gift to community knowledge. For any reader, if you are affiliated or have contacts with a community that could benefit from local knowledge re: women’s health care, please circulate this site. Examples might include support groups/clubs for foreign students, LGBT societies, and recent migrants.

 

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe!

 

Featured image credit:Hush Naidoo

Picture of a plane taking off

Cheap Flights II: The Search

Congratulations on making it to part II. 

 

Disclaimer: Broadly speaking, your options for searching and booking flights likely vastly outnumber your ability to give a damn about searching all of them.  Hopefully, this helps you figure out a strategy to more effectively manage your searches.   Here are, broadly speaking, the four options to choose from in your search. 

 

Booking direct with the airline: Barring a significant cost advantage, this is my preferred option.  Card transactions are seldom declined here, room for errors is small, and you’re a higher priority than those on tickets sold by a third party. Further, if there an inquiries/issues with your ticket, you deal directly with the airline rather than with the third party agent.  

 

Online travel agents (OTAs):  Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, et al.  You can search across the OTA’s inventory across all carriers.  Certain OTAs are capable of doing more complex routing and tickets than you’d be able to do with an airline’s own website or their phone booking operators.  There’s access to discounted inventory and flight packages.  Between the ability to assemble more complex/lengthy itineraries on one ticket and the cost savings, this might be a very attractive option.

 

Consolidators:  These are (usually) small agencies/OTAs that buy *really* deep discount inflexible tickets that you won’t find elsewhere.  Some don’t like dealing with these shops as many are here-today-gone-tomorrow websites. Some, like Vayama, endure.  Expect minimal customer service.

 

AggregatorsMomondo, skyscanner, google flights, etc.  These guys effectively meta-search the OTAs, consolidators and airlines to compare who is selling at the best price.  Note that you do not book directly with an aggregator. They direct you to another seller. I am a huge fan of starting here to gauge the market before making a final booking decision. It also saves the time of individually searching airlines, OTAs and consolidators.

Screen capture of momondo website business class itinerary between DC and Mexico City
Momondo.com screen capture

 

Which one is best?

 

That’s impossible to say.  It depends entirely on your route, timing, flexibility, and preferred class of service. Someone looking to go home for Christmas with a 2 week travel window is at the mercy of the airlines compared with a retiree free to travel on their preferred itinerary any time between April and June.

 

How do I do it? Typically, I do a quick search of google flights to check out the lay of the land.  Google however doesn’t look super-deep, so to say. It will check out airline sites and top OTAs, but leave out quite a bit, so the overall scope you get is limited.

 

The Power of a Comprehensive Search

 

Gather round children, for I have a story to tell. 

 

Flight searches are a recreational activity for me. This is the simplest characterization.  I’ll look up flights simply for the hell of it.  When a friend is pondering a trip, I search with gusto.  If people paid me to search for flights, I’d probably be elated. 

 

When I was living in Auckland, I had a triangular trip planned. I was visiting Thailand and Sri Lanka. While I had my Auckland-Thailand and Thailand-Sri Lanka flights set up, I needed the final leg back to Auckland.

 

Nicole Harrington

Initially, I wasn’t optimistic.  Colombo has excellent flight links heading east (towards E and SE Asia) and west (mostly carrying Sri Lankan migrant workers to the Gulf States and Indian tourists to SL).  Links north and south are…limited.

 

Nonetheless, I pressed on and directly searched for Colombo-Auckland on momondo. Seeing little harm, I decided to do a business class search.  The result was unbelievable: a business ticket on Sri Lankan and Qantas via Singapore and Sydney ticketed with expedia.co.uk for £474 (about US$715 in January 2015). Quelle le fuck?!

 

 

Three legs, 20 hrs 15 min travel time (including reasonable stopovers), all business – including a flight on Qantas’ awesome new-to-them 1-2-1 business class seat. I checked on google flights. They didn’t pick it up.  Expedia’s US site didn’t show it for me. Hmm.

 

Further surprise happened when I clicked through to Expedia’s UK website, and the itinerary didn’t return an error. I felt the thrill of stealing the Hope Diamond as I clicked through with the purchase. 

 

Not content to lord over my once-in-a-year find, I decided to dig deeper and share with the world via Flyertalk.  This rock bottom fare was also available to Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, dramatically increasing its utility to the travel hacking community.  Also, it priced out at roughly $1,175+ for a return ticket, a steal for someone wanting to visit AUS/NZ but needing/wanting to return to South Asia.

 

Alas, great fares die when publicized much as measuring quantum stuff changes the thing measured (paraphrasing from Futurama).  The pro travel bloggers picked up on this bargain, and that inventory disappeared damn quickly.  I guess Qantas wasn’t happy with their slice of the pie of a $700 ticket that they could charge AU$3,000 for on their own.

 

We have two lessons to take away from this.  First, POINT OF ORIGIN PRICING FTW!  Second, share your awesome fare finds at your peril. If you are considering booking the ticket yourself, don’t shout from the rooftops and mountainsides until you’ve secured your own passage.

 

– James out

 

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Featured Image Credit: Ricardo Mancía

The Art of Cheap Flights: Behind the Scenes

Does anyone like paying a high price for flights? Barring a few aging fossils who yearn for a return to a rosy, imagined past of exclusivity, most of us don’t.

 

The world of airfares is largely opaque to most people. They need to go somewhere from their home. On a site like Kayak or Expedia, they punch in their origin/destination info, dates, click, and hope for the best.

 

That’s not part of James’ Highly Effective Habits of Thrifty Flight Shoppers.  It’s an even worse idea for long-term travelers and digital nomads.

Picture of a flight time screen at an airport
Save your energy hoping for an on-time flight.

Matthew Smith

 

 

Before I delve into the juicy bits of, I want to cover the jargon and technical stuff for the uninitiated.  This will save us all time later on.  If you’re a veteran travel hacker or industry insider, feel free to skip to the next article.

 

Hub – An airline’s base (singular or one of many).  A hub will frequently be dominated by its carrier. Examples: Delta in Atlanta, British Airways at London Heathrow, and Emirates at Dubai.

 

O/D – Origin and destination – described travelers who start and end their journey on a non-stop between a city pair. Example: “75% of flyers on BA’s New York-London flights are O/D travelers.  The rest are connecting onward.”

 

Load: The passengers on board a flight, usually a percentage. 75% load = 75% of seats sold.

 

Yield: Profitability. Distinct from yield in that a full flight may not necessarily be profitable.

 

Irrops: Irregular operations – when something goes wrong and your flight is cancelled/delayed. 

 

Understanding fare classes

 

If you thought that this part would be a simple one, you’re wrong. Yes, we’re typically operating on the basis of First, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy fares.  Here’s what you probably don’t know: these classes are subdivided by letters – “fare buckets” – that determine price and privileges.

 

Here is an example of a typical fare bucket breakdown:

  • Economy buckets: Y, B, H, M, L, N, V, O, K, X
  • Premium Economy: W, T,  Q
  • Business: J, C, D, I, Z, U
  • First: F, A, P

 

Bold letters indicate “full fare” and italics indicate tickets paid for with frequent flier redemptions (henceforth simply “redemptions”). Non-italic letters are written in left-to-right order of diminishing price and flexibility.

 

When you search for a plane ticket, your search tool will show you by default the lowest available fare class. If the lowest economy fare bucket is a V, your search for an economy ticket won’t show an M fare. You can specify searches for refundable tickets, but you might get sticker shock. Most fliers are accustomed to the lowest bucket prices.  [Example: a full Y fare between the US and Europe can be $2,500 return] 

 

What are the differences aside from price? As you might have noticed from the verbiage of an e-ticket and the attached conditions of carriage, if you bother to even glance at them, you will notice many stipulations about fees, baggage allowances, and so on.

 

Using economy as an example, a Y fare will be quite expensive (possibly even more expensive than a discount ticket in a business/first seat). However, it will be fully flexible and refundable without additional fees. It will  often include complimentary baggage.  If applicable, frequent fliers on a Y fare will be the highest priority for an elite or operational upgrade (if overbooked) to business or first class. Also, again if applicable, Y fares are eligible to upgrade with frequent flyer miles.

 

On the other hand, the reverse is usually true with an ultra-cheap K fare.  You’ll pay the minimum price, but extras such as seat selection and checked baggage will often require additional payment. Changing or cancelling the ticket will often be impossible or only allowed with significant fees.  In the event of overbooking, you’re a bottom priority for upgrades. In the event of a cancellation, you are the lowest priority for on-ground assistance like re-booking or a courtesy hotel.

 

Were you able to see a matrix of all available fare buckets and their prices at once, the options would be overwhelming to most. Even by single cabin, it’s amazing to think of how you and your seatmate could have paid vastly different prices depending on time of booking, available fare classes, and desired flexibility.

Picture of a plane at a jet bridge loading or unloading passengers.

Riku Lu

 

Location, Location, Location…

 

…applies to more than real estate!

 

Suppose you are flying between New York and Taipei via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. Sitting next to you on the outbound is a Taiwanese resident returning home after a visit her sister who lives in New York.  You’re a New Yorker going to visit Taiwan. You both scored low O class fares. Did you pay the same price?

 

No! Flights are priced both on the overall route and the point of origin. You might have paid $825 for an economy ticket or $5,200 for a business ticket. She could have paid much more or less depending on how CX saw demand for tickets out of Taipei.

 

This point-of-origin pricing leads to some fascinating deals out there. Certain favorites include $1,400 business class round trips from Colombo, Sri Lanka to the US on the Middle East Three (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar) or $1,900 trips in business class from Canada to South Africa. Both of these represent discounts of thousands of dollars less than the global average for tickets to those routes. Try pricing San Francisco to Cape Town or  Dubai to Atlanta if you doubt me.

 

Competitive Bloodbaths Mean Savings for You

 

Have you noticed how much flight prices in the US suck?  Do you hate your friends who mention that their ticket from Paris to Munich was $50 when your ticket from Lexington to Atlanta was $500?  Do you thus find yourself staring skyward and curse creation as you part with hundreds of hard-won dollars for often dismal service on US carriers, wondering how your $200/hr ticket doesn’t even get you a whole can of seltzer?

 

Oh child, things may not be getting easier any time soon, but allow me to dispel the darkness!

 

There’s been a whole lot of consolidation in airline travel. First, Delta ate Northwest. Then, American merged with US Airways. Finally, United united with Continental with such acrimony that even a veteran divorce lawyer would have winced.

 

The result? Fortress hubs and lack of competition on certain peripheral routes leading to astronomical fares for the captives.  On the other hand, America’s tier one cities/destinations enjoy rock bottom fares due to brutal competition.  Some of the best fares on the market right now are New York-LA and LA-Honolulu.  However, others are quite expensive for the flight time. The 1-hour flight between Montgomery AL and Atlanta is $225 on Delta (round-trip) with hand baggage only.

 

Stay tuned for more, and don’t forget to subscribe below!

 

 -James out

Picture of a smart watch displaying flight information for an itinerary Toronto to London.

David Preston