Jun 07, 2012|
Travel agents always seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Americans don’t consider packages to be that great a bargain, and I sometimes found cheaper airfares online—why pay a commission? But when I moved to Hong Kong, it seemed everyone and their mother/corporate travel planner had a preferred agency for bookings. I slowly came ‘round and realized that unless I was dead-set on flying Air Asia, Cebu Pacific or another low-cost carrier, packages WERE actually a good deal. For example, I flew to Cebu on Dragonair and stayed in the Shangri-La resort there on a hotel plus airfare deal. Compared with airfare alone, the additional amount to stay in the usually-$2,300-per-weekend-night hotel for two nights was amazingly small. Now Australian travel agency Flight Centre, which has been in Hong Kong for a while but only recently set up bricks-and-mortar operations, is aiming to establish itself as a friendly, accessible establishment that can get you the best deals on flights and vacation packages.
I went to test out the new Happy Valley branch last week, giving manager Paul Jeffels the task of finding me packages to Shanghai and Bangkok for the July 1 long weekend—with a $3,000 price cap including taxes and fees. He immediately started typing away, recommending I stay in the French Concession in Shanghai and near the Asok BTS station in Bangkok. He pretty much met the challenge, finding me a Dragonair flight and three nights at a four-star Holiday Inn for $3,450 per person—and for an extra thousand, I could stay at a five-star Swissôtel. A Thailand jaunt, staying at the year-old Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok or the even newer Grand Centre Point Sukhumvit Terminal 21, would cost me $3,200 per person. Jeffels knew his stuff, telling me that the Centre Point had Japanese-style toilets (yes, the ones with all the buttons!) and a better infinity pool but that the Four Points had the biggest rooms. It was a pleasure to talk to someone knowledgeable in person rather than just exchanging dozens of emails with a nameless, faceless travel agent. If you’re still cynical, check into one of their locations and try querying one of their agents. They also promise to beat any fare you dig up—so you’ve really got nothing to lose.
Visit Flight Centre at 49 Caine Rd., Mid-Levels, 2830-2810 or 8 Sing Woo Rd., Happy Valley, 2830-2793.
Our colleagues over in Bangkok have put together a list of the best mobile applications to use when you’re on the road. Toilet/Bathroom Finder and Have2p help find restrooms near you; XE Currency is the favorite conversion option; iTranslate's function is obvious. Also, even if you’re not staying at a Ritz-Carlton, the hotel’s app has a concierge function that recommends things to see and do. Last but not least—self-promotion alert!—our very own Happy Hour Finder contains a database of bars in Bangkok and Singapore (as well as our beloved HKG). Presuming you’re roaming or connected to a Wi-Fi network, it can sort them in order of proximity to where you are, meaning you’ll know exactly how far—or how close—you are to your next bargain brew.You can find the full list of 18 apps here: tiny.cc/best-travel-apps.
Dragonair is expanding its network at breakneck pace, adding direct flights to Taichung (Taiwan’s third-largest city), Jeju in South Korea (an island off the country’s southern coast known for volcanoes, natural beauty and fresh fruit), Clark International Airport in Manila and, just for the summer and fall, Chiang Mai. Calcutta will follow this winter, and Dragonair has also resumed previously suspended direct flights to Xi’an and Guilin. Although parent carrier Cathay Pacific is in cost-cutting mode, Dragonair’s growth is outpacing expectations. Perhaps they’re trying to get ahead in order to outrival competing airline Hong Kong Airlines, or even anticipating the arrival of low-cost carrier Jetstar Hong Kong next year? Ah well, maybe it’s just their year.
Book the new flights at www.dragonair.com.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @HanaRAlberts