Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Deals on Cruises

Cunard (www.cunard.com) has some interesting reductions and special deals on certain fall and winter sailings. For example, a double upgrade on some October and November crossings on the Queen Mary 2 means you can enjoy a balcony stateroom for the price of an inside cabin. That can work out to $999 per person for travel between New York and Southampton, or $1,299 between Hamburg and New York.

In January, the smaller Queen Victoria offers a crossing from Southampton to Florida with stops in Punta Delgada, Azores; Antigua; Tortola B.V.I. and Nassau. The 13-day voyage starts as low as $1299 per person, an amazing $100 per day. If you can afford the time, consider the world cruise which takes 82 days and starts at $11,311 per person. Portions of the longer cruises also sound interesting, with a Panama Canal transit cruise for as little as $1,724.

Even when you add on the cost of air fare to the ports, some of these sound very reasonable. You may have noticed that I mention Cunard often, perhaps because it is the only line I have sailed on more than once. Both crossings were on the Queen Elizabeth 2, the first in 1981 and the second in 2001. (Actually, I have sailed on ships of the Black Sea Fleet twice also, but this line is no longer providing passenger service.)

If you hurry, you may be in time to book some steep cruise discounts through Travelocity (www.travelocity.com.) This offer expires tomorrow and includes a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida starting at $365, and a Western Caribbean voyage from Galveston that also lasts a week for as little as $440 per person.

For 2015 bookings, it may be better to wait until cruise week at the end of October, when a number of lines offer special savings.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cheap Hotels

Cheap Hotels (www.cheaphotels.org) is a Website I just discovered which claims to list more than 100,000 hotels worldwide. Among its featured offerings are the Euston Square Hotel in London, where rooms start at $104; the Hotel Harvey in Paris, with rooms from $142; and the Bedford Hotel in New York City where you can spend a night for as little as $113.

Of course, there are also plenty of other sources for inexpensive hotels such as www.hotels.com, www.booking.com, and www.EuroCheapo.com, so Cheap Hotels is operating in a crowded market. However, one of its advantages if your credit is dodgy is that they list some hotels which do not require a credit card to make a reservation. Before booking with any of these sites, be sure to check exactly what is included in the room rate (breakfast, tax, parking, etc.) and what the site's cancellation policy is.

According to a survey conducted by Cheap Hotels, the area of the U.S. you want to avoid if you are seeking inexpensive rooms is the Northeast. This month, the lowest price they found for a hotel on Nantucket, a charming island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, was $301. Nearby Martha's Vineyard, favourite vacation spot for President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other liberal luminaries, is almost as costly with the cheapest room in the range of $270 per night. The Portland, Maine area was similarly priced.

Those of us who live near the Northeast are aware that it is a pricey part of the continent, but it is also a region with a lot to offer in terms of history, scenery and attractions. After all, most of the original 13 colonies were in the Northeast.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ride Sharing with Uber

You have probably already heard about Uber (www.uber.com,) a ride sharing service based in the U.S. that operates in 43 countries. It is an alternative to taxis, and easily accessible for smart phone users via an app; The appeal is both lower rates and ease of use, since you can book and pay via your smart phone .

For techno dinosaurs like me who lack a smart phone it does not seem to be an option, but it certainly sounds interesting. It would be especially attractive in places like Moscow, Zurich and Tokyo where taxis tend to be very costly, and it claims to operate in all those cities as well as many in North America and elsewhere.

There has been a lot of push-back against the service from taxi drivers and their industry, and according to a story I saw yesterday the city of Berlin has banned Uber. However, if you live in one of the many cities where Uber does operate, you could make extra money by becoming a driver for them using your own car.

I often enjoy using the gypsy taxis that tend to ply the roads in Russian cities. Will Uber put them out of business, I wonder? Or will car owners continue to offer rides to strangers for a consideration of a certain amount of rubles? I would hate to see the gypsy cabs disappear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Airbnb Competitors

Any successful idea, such as renting out rooms or apartments on a short-term basis to travellers, usually sparks competition. While Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) is the largest room-sharing service, it does have competition.

One of them is called Wimdu (www.wimdu.com) and some of its offerings are bargain-priced, such as a room in the heart of Havana for just $29 a night, a one-bedroom apartment in Berlin for $74,  a room along the Seine 15 minutes from Paris for $55, or an apartment with balcony in Split, Croatia for just $44.

Another company in the same business is Roomorama (www.roomorama.com.) Its lodgings seem to be higher-priced, though that may mainly reflect market rates. For example, in London a small (322 sq.ft.) studio apartment near Broadway market will set you back $205 per night, and a number of other places for rent are still more costly. In Berlin, a one-bedroom apartment with balcony in the central Mitte neighbourhood goes for $155 per night.

With all these services, you need to do your homework. Read reviews if available, check the policies on cancellations and so forth. You will be dealing with a private person in most cases, and it is not like a hotel where there is more structure and often a connection to a hotel chain in case you have serious problems. There have been some horror stories about using these roomsharing services, but then it is also possible to have hassles with hotels. As always, the rule is caveat emptor.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Private Plane Bargains

Tired of being cramped in economy? Eager to try a more expansive flying experience? According to an article in the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk,) if you can fly at the last minute with a group of mates, flying private may be within reach even for budget travellers.

You are no doubt familiar with re-positioning cruises, but private planes too need to re-position from time to time, and thus may have empty seats for sale. A company called Private Fly (www.privatefly.com) in the UK offers the chance to buy seats that would otherwise go empty, and in some cases the per person cost can rival that of budget airlines.

Current offerings include a flight from London to Ajacio, Corsica on Aug. 14 for 2000 pounds, or one from Nice to Birmingham tomorrow for 1400 pounds.  Depending on the number of seats in the aircraft, this can work out well for a large family or group of friends. One London to Corsica flight cited in the Daily Mail article worked out to 235 pounds per person.

There are potential problems with this type of arrangement, since the market for private flights is basically unregulated, and a flight could be cancelled at the last minute. Another source of relatively low-cost private flights in Europe is the company Victor (http://v1.flyvictor.com,) also based in the UK. Membership is free.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Low-Cost South Korea

South Korea is a relatively well-developed country economically, but it can still be a bargain for visitors. So says an article at http://our-oyster.com/asia/budget-travel-in-south-korea.

The country has plenty of hostels where a bed will cost between $15 and $25 a night. In the capital Seoul, stick to the Hongdae district for the best bargains, since it is where students hang out. A Metro ride anywhere in the city costs just $1.30, and inter-city express buses cost only about half what train travel does. They are slower, however.

Traditional Korean food is both tasty and inexpensive. In a Korean restaurant the sizzling barbequed meat served with unlimited soup and side dishes costs only about $10, or if you prefer vegetarian fare a dish called bibimbap with rice, vegetables and spicy sauce goes for $3 or so. Seoul is a very large, lively city with lots to do at any time of day, and according to the story the people are very friendly.

By coincidence I had seen a show about South Korea the day before reading this story on the TV program Ports d'Attache (http://ports.tv5.ca,) and it did indeed look interesting. Haven't been there yet, but it's on my list.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

YMCA Hotels for Savings

The YMCA Or Young Men's Christian Association operates a number of hotels around the world, in addition to providing other useful services such as moderately priced gyms, children's programs and so forth. The hotels generally aren't fancy, but they offer clean, safe rooms and sometimes other services. I have stayed in Ys in Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver in Canada and in Dublin, Ireland.

There is a listing of some of the Y hotels at http://www.ymca.int/ymca-hotels/. It is not complete, but is a good starting point for finding these modest lodgings when you travel. Y hotels can be found in, among other places, Norway, India, Argentina, Armenia, France, Hong Kong, Switzerland and New York City. Opting for a Y is particularly attractive in pricey destinations such as Norway and Switzerland, Paris or New York City.

For example, a bed at the Basel YMCA hostel starts at just 29 Swiss francs, or about $40. In Paris during July and August only, you can rent a room in the Y's student residence in the 9th district for as little as 36 euros per night, or about $50. Rates are higher in New York City, but still low by local standards. A room at the Vanderbilt Y on the East Side costs between $119 and $139.

Everyone is welcome at these hotels--you don't have to be either young, male or Christian to qualify. If you do not find a Y hotel listed in the place you plan to visit, do an internet search and you may turn up something. For example, there are both a YMCA and a YWCA hotel in Montreal, but neither is listed on the international site. YWCA hotels are less numerous and they tend to prefer female guests, but they too are a good option in places such as Hong Kong and Vancouver. If you recall, even the Village People sang the praises of the YMCA back in the day.