Airline miles are a great way to offset flight expenses, said Mr Wong, who prefers to fly business class on long-haul flights and uses his miles to upgrade his tickets.
“The miles required for premium economy are 80 per cent of business class, and the comfort depth is so different,” said Mr Wong.
For those whose jobs or commitments allow them the flexibility to travel on short notice, Mr Wong said that last minute flight deals can help reap savings in miles.
Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) Spontaneous Escapes, for example, is a monthly promotion that offers savings in miles to selected destinations within the airline’s network, he said.
“The idea is that you book it this month, you’re flying next month and you can save up to 30 per cent off the normal required number of miles,” said Mr Wong. “This is a direct way of being able to find last-minute award space at a cheaper price than normal.”
Apart from the usual travel fairs and credit card or bank promotions, Mr Wong said that flight dollars can also be shaved using cashback services.
Connecting flights are also generally cheaper than direct flights, said Mr Wong, but cautioned that there should be a balance between price and travel time.
“(It’s cheaper to transit) through Kuala Lumpur while flying to Bangkok (from Singapore), but keep in mind if it’s worth spending the additional time transiting for a short-haul flight. But for a far flight, this can help save a few hundred dollars,” he said.
Travel search services such as Google Flights or Kayak make comparing flights and fares easier, added Mr Wong. The Explore feature on Google Flights also allows users to input information such as dates, interests, and budget, before churning out options to choose from.
“(Explore) shows you all the possible destinations that you can go to for that time period and that budget. So if you’re not fussy about where specifically to go, you just know ‘I’ve got $500, I want to travel for one week during this period’, this helps you see from a bird’s eye view all the different possibilities,” he explained.
Mr Wong also uses third party platforms for activities, saving 15 to 20 per cent for each booking during his trip to New Zealand this year.
However, Mr Wong said that third party booking agencies should be used with careful consideration, as any change in itinerary will be a hassle to manage, with customer service, wait time, and conditions differing from direct bookings.
He also cautioned travellers against using a third party booking site if the region is seeing volatility or disruptions.
Cost of accommodation can be reduced through points or loyalty programmes. Mr Wong explained that some hotels sell points, which the public can buy and redeem for rooms without needing to become a member.
Mr Wong said he took advantage of this points system during his recent visit to California, United States, when hotel rates were “through the roof” due to a tennis open tournament. He purchased points and ended up paying for his accommodation at a third of market price.
“Around peak periods, while the cost of a hotel room is very variable, the range of points tends to fluctuate within a smaller band than for cash rates,” he explained. “Taking some time to learn about hotel loyalty programmes can help with some savings.”
IMPORTANCE OF TRAVEL INSURANCE
Mr Wong also stressed the importance of travel insurance.
“I’m a firm believer that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” he said, adding that insurance should be purchased before going overseas, regardless of COVID-19.
With the current travel chaos in airports, travel insurance is all the more important in the event of flight cancellations or lost baggage, Mr Wong said.
“Travel insurance will cover if your bag gets lost, delayed, mishandled – you want to make sure you’ve got some coverage for your content. Your flight could be cancelled, you might have to book a hotel, you want to make sure you are covered from extremities such as these,” he said.
Mr Wong shortlisted three areas of particular coverage importance when choosing a travel insurance policy – serious accidents resulting in death or disability, medical expenses, and travel inconveniences.
He also emphasised the need to read fine prints instead of going straight for a policy with the highest coverage, as some terms and conditions may make claims difficult.
“You also would want to look at things like definitions because, if your bag is delayed, certain policies may pay out after a four-hour delay. Certain policies might make you wait six hours (or longer). So it’s not enough to just look at the quantum of coverage … you need to look at the qualitative factors as well,” he said.
Mr Wong also said that regardless of how well protected by insurance travellers are, they should always carry important items such as identification, medication, and communication tools in their carry-ons.
Tracking devices such as the Apple AirTag are also great ways to keep track of baggage.
“It’s no coincidence that AirTags are sold out now because a lot of people are buying them, putting them in their luggage, because they do a much better job of finding the bags than some airlines,” he said.