Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cheap Fares to Europe

Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) is offering some unusually low prices on fares to Europe this fall and winter, provided you book by November 3 at the latest.

The lowest is for a return ticket from Montreal to Dublin, at $678. Montreal to Paris goes for $768. or Montreal to Milan for $776. Even Montreal to Copenhagen is low-priced, starting at $793 return. Prices from other gateways such as Toronto or Halifax are similarly low. Travel can take place between November 5 and December 10, or between December 24 and May 6.

The prices quoted are round-trip, including taxes and fees, and the charges are in Canadian dollars. This means that it may be worthwhile even for Americans who live near the border to drive to a Canadian airport, since the Canadian dollar is now worth about 10 per cent less than a U.S. dollar. This would be a reversal of the usual trend, where Canadians often cross the border to get cheaper flights in the U.S.

On a less happy note, I was recently unpleasantly surprised when I went to use a travel credit for a flight I had booked with United Airlines (www.united.com)  through Travelocity (www.travelocity.com.) In order to use the credit, I had to pay a $200 U.S. change fee upfront, which is actually more than the cost of the ticket I bought. There is still considerable remaining credit, but this is an extremely annoying practice.

I have read for years that United is not a customer-friendly airline, but up to now I have never had any reason to believe it. All my experiences with United had been good. According to the representative at Travelocity, many other airlines allow you to deduct the cost of the change fee from the credit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sex in Exchange for Travel

According to an article in www.wantchinatimes.com, a young woman who appears to be Oriental is seeking  temporary "boyfriends" to fund her travels around China. She has apparently already been able to find some in certain parts of the country.

Not just any sugar daddy will qualify. The applicants must be at least 1.75 metres tall, under 30 years old, affluent and generous. The girl describes herself as pretty, and from the picture seem to be quite thin --her face is obscured.

This gives a whole new meaning to the idea of budger travel. It is of course nothing new--women and men have been exchanging sex for various benefits from time immemorial. Even famed British travel writer Lesley Blanch admitted in one of her books to taking a ticket for a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from an admirer, and I suspect there are many other people who have done similar things.

Some critics claim that journalists who accept press trips (or bloggers who accept partnerships and sponsorships) are prostituting themselves, but it is usually not so blatant. As a journalist who has taken press trips, I believe they have a point. However, with the cost of travel being what it is, this is often the only way for journalists (and even more for bloggers, who tend to be unpaid) to make ends meet.

The girl who wants to travel around China has apparently generated a lot of comment in that country. It's just my opinion, but I think she is taking too many of chances. Better to wait until she is a little older and can afford to pay her own way. I'm all in favour of saving money on travel, but not at any cost.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Moscow Lodging Bargains

I never thought I would be able to write the above headline, but it is true. Hotels and apartments in Moscow are cheaper this winter than I have ever seen them, at least in this millenium. In many cases they are cheaper than hotels in North America or Western Europe, quite a turnaround from 2007 when Moscow was one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit.

If you are seeking an apartment for a short stay, Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) has a number of listings for under $150 per night. A one-bedroom, one-bath place within walking distance of Red Square called the Kremlin Suite Apartment goes for $128 per night. A two-bedroom, one-bath place called the Rezident Hotel Timirzskaya can be rented for as little as $106 a night. Unfortunately, the description is in Russian only, though the agent supposedly speaks English.

Willing to share an apartment with the owner to save money? Then a listing near Tverskaya Street in central Moscow may be of interest. A bedroom that can sleep two goes for $57 per night, and the place gets a good review written in Italian.  One thing about the reviews on Trip Advisor, you get to practice different languages.

Some hotels are also amazingly inexpensive. I checked random dates in early November and found that a room at the five-star Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya costs as little as $108 Canadian, just under $100 U.S. This hotel is next to the Garden Ring and is one of the famous Seven Sisters, the Stalinist Gothic buildings that stand out in Moscow. The interior, however, is totally modern.

Even cheaper are the Courtyard by Marriott Moscow City Centre at $69 Cdn., about $60 U.S., and the Vega Hotel near the Izmailovo Park and market at the same price. The Vega is one of a group of hotels in this area, all built for the 1980 Olympics. I stayed in the Alfa a few years ago and enjoyed the retro vibe--the rate then was about $100 U.S. per night.

This is also a good time if you want to splash out on a beautiful, amazingly well-located hotel like the historic Metropol, right on Red Square. The rate is about $210 U.S., considerably lower than normal.

The ruble has dropped by about a third in the past three years, which means prices for food, meals and tours are also likely to be cheaper. The drop in the currency's value is attributed to falling oil prices, sanctions, and the unpopularity among foreigners of the Russian government.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Budget Airlines

One of the problems with budget airlines is that they have even more fees than the legacy carriers, and the fees can quickly add up to make a fare a lot less affordable. At least one of these airlines, Peach (www.flypeach.com) which operates out of Osaka, Japan, has an answer to these costs with its Happy Peach plus fare. This higher fare covers the cost of one checked bag in addition to a carry-on, seat selection and unlimited free changes of travel date and time. Peach serves a number of destinations in Japan, as well as others in Asia--South Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Closer to home, Allegiant Air (www.allegiantair.com) has some unusually low fares on its routes to Florida, provided you book by October 27. For instance, you can fly between Tampa-St. Petersburg and Asheville, NC for as little as $40. Tampa to Belleville, IL goes for $55, the Hudson Valley can cost as little as $58. For a flight from Plattsburgh, NY near the Canadian border to Tampa the lowest fare is $67, and from Niagara Falls, NY near Toronto the tariff to Tampa starts at $77.

These prices are based on paying by debit card and booking online. Paying by credit or booking over the phone will set you back a little more. One of the good effects of the recent drop in oil prices should be lower air fares, or at least no big increases.

It's not related to travel (although Ottawa is an interesting place to visit,) but I feel compelled to remark on the very sad events that transpired in that city yesterday. I worked as a reporter on Parliament Hill, and used to enter the building through the stairs in Centre Block and walk along the corridor that became a shooting gallery. The Hill had a friendly, collegial atmosphere that is bound to suffer in light of tougher security measures.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Adventurous Miriam

That is the name of a Website (www.adventurousmiriam.com) managed by a young Danish woman who loves to travel, and shares some useful advice on how to do so inexpensively. She travels mostly with her husband, and the majority of her tours seem to be to Latin America or Asia.

Miriam has some good recommendations on how to travel at moderate cost in Costa Rica, which she says is the most expensive country in Central America. First of all, go off-season, in the period May to November when it rains a lot and prices are lower. Take local buses whenever possible--a local bus from the capital San Jose to the Monteverde Cloud Forest cost just $5, compared with $50 for the same trip by minibus. The local water is perfectly safe to drink, so save on bottled water.

Buy beer at the supermarket rather than in bars, and make your own meals or eat at modest local restaurants, places such as the local chain called Soda where meals go for $3 to $6. It is a long time since I was in Costa Rica, so I'm afraid I can't offer any further useful tips. My favourite tour when I was there was to the Poas Volcano.

Miriam also offers tips on how to travel in the Phillipines cheaply, $1155 per person for two weeks visiting several different islands. Boracay is considerably more costly than most of the other islands, she says.

If you subscribe to the email alerts supplied by Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) you can discover some amazing deals. For example, a round-trip between Chicago and Kansas City for just $81 on American Airlines (www.aa.com,) provided you travel on Nov. 12 and return on Nov. 15.

However, you should be aware that in a post on one of the forums on Flyer Talk (www.flyertalk.com,) a woman writes of being on an American domestic flight where another woman was forced to spend the entire trip in the washroom because she had the bad luck to vomit. (This report is unconfirmed.) Ebola over-reaction, perhaps?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Rail Journeys for Less

If you happen to be a fan of rail travel (and who isn't?) you have probably got an iconic rail trip of two on your wish list. Whether it is the Orient Express in Europe, the trans-Siberian across Russia, or the scenically gorgeous trip through the Canadian Rockies, there is a good chance that you can make the trip at moderate cost.

There is a very useful article in Britain's Telegraph about less expensive ways to do 10 of these journeys in different parts of the world. The link is www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/journeysbyrail/11165085/Great-luxury-train-journeys-and-their-budget-alternatives.html.

For example, if you yearn for Czarist-era luxury, there is a train that will take you across Russia or through Mongolia to China for close to $16,000 per person. It is called the Golden Eagle Luxury Train (www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com.) Or you can do basically the same trip on a regular trans-Siberian or trans-Mongolian train operated by Russian Railways for about one-twentieth of that price. Of course, it isn't so fancy, and you will be sharing a four-berth cabin with strangers. However, by opting for the latter, you will get to meet a lot of ordinary Russians, who are scarce to non-existant on the pricier rolling stock.

Similarly, the trip through the Canadian Rockies costs about $123 if you book a seat on Via Rail (www.viarail.com,) compared with almost 10 times that much for the Rocky Mountaineer (www.rockymountaineer.com.) The Via train runs between Jasper, Alberta and Vancouver, whereas the Mountaineer operates between Banff. Alberta and Vancouver.

These are just two of the train trips mentioned in the article. In general, the journeys by rail section of this newspaper looks to be a very good source for up-to-date information on this type of traditional travel, which must be a favourite for Brits, or at least for those Brits who read the Telegraph.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Argentina Cheap Again

According to a post on Tim Leffel's blog, www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com, because of its economic crisis Argentina is once more a good deal for budget travellers. The way things are going this week, world markets are in crisis in Europe and North America, so perhaps there will soon be more places where travel is cheap.

In Argentina a secondary market has developed for the peso, with an exchange rate almost double the official rate of 8 pesos to the dollar. The only way to take advantage of this discrepancy is to exchange cash (new U.S. dollars preferably) for pesos, which will nearly double the buying power of your money. The unofficial rate is called the blue rate.

Argentina is a terrific place to visit, with many natural wonders and for those who enjoy tango and nightlife, the buzz of Buenos Aires. I found Buenos Aires too crowded and noisy for my taste, but even there the people were friendly and courteous. I felt welcome despite my very poor Spanish.

That was back in 2001 when the peso was worth $1 U.S., so prices were relatively high and I only stayed for 10 days, taking day trips in Buenos Aires and an excursion by plane to the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Argentina is so large and diverse that I would happily return to see parts of the country I did not visit then, and it sounds as if this could be a good time to do so.