1 The DIY approach to room upgrades Hotel booking websites allow guests to request high or low floors, quiet rooms and off-street parking. You can select a suite with a sea view and, by scouring online reviews, you might discover that rooms in the old annex are bigger but those in the new wing have a better Wi-fi. Snagging a stylishly furnished suite that looks even remotely like the one in the photos is still a bit of a lottery, however.
Let a search engine do the legwork for you. Type: Bangkok hotel 2016 “recently refurbished” or Seoul hotel 2016 “newly renovated” and you’ll filter out tatty lodgings with cigarette burns in the carpet and threadbare towels. Now you’ve got the hang of inverted commas, try Langkawi hotel 2016 “newly opened” or Maldives 2016 “soft opening”. Some properties may offer discounted rates to coincide with the opening. Best of all, you’ll be greeted by polite, eager-to-please staff, sumptuously comfortable beds and a faint smell of emulsion.
2 Hotel room upgrades Part II. (And how not to upset staff.) You’ve checked into your “recently refurbished” hotel room only to find there’s a problem. You may be exhausted after a red-eye flight but summon the energy to dial 0 and address the issue with the receptionist. Staff might not be in the mood to hear that there’s a cockroach, rather than a chocolate, on your pillow, but they would prefer to try and solve the problem (or offer you an upgrade) than find out that you kept quiet about it during your stay and then posted a biting complaint on a hotel review website.
There could be a reason it’s beyond their control, such as a city-wide power cut or noise from a nearby bar. Tired tourists who write online reviews they regret the following morning are the bane of hotel staff the world over. And it seems plenty of disgruntled guests feel guilty about acting hastily, judging by the frequently asked search engine question: How do I delete my TripAdvisor review?
3 Airline upgrades (without leaving economy.) Travel writers are fond of offering tips on how to score an upgrade, which usually involves dressing smartly and politely asking for one. An alternative approach worth trying is to request the economy seat with the highest likelihood of an empty one (or more) next to it. There’s nothing wrong with gourmet menus and well curated wine lists but sometimes on a long-haul flight, all we want is to stretch out and grab some sleep. You won’t have to dress smartly either.
4 Open-jaw travel Not so long ago, one-way airline tickets cost as much as a return. Times have changed, however, with flights now sold by the sector. This means “open-jaw” trips (industry speak for flying to one destination and returning from another) are easy to arrange. From Hong Kong, you could head to Phuket, hop south through the Andaman Islands and fly back from Penang. Or book a ticket to Hanoi, take a train to the imperial city of Hue and explore the graceful riverside town of Hoi An before returning from Danang. The beauty of open-jaw travel is that you don’t need to stick with the same carrier, which opens up lots of possibilities in North America, Europe and Asia.
5 Changing money A number of rules (and exceptions) apply to the minefield that is changing holiday money. Depending on your bank, the currency and destination, ATMs work out best, but for travellers with cash, rates are usually better on arrival than at home. Avoid airport exchange booths wherever possible (you already knew that) and if you plan to convert enough money to last the whole trip, don’t do it at weekends, as rates are worse at this time. If a bureau de change offers a tempting commission-free deal, it’s reasonable to assume fees have been absorbed into the rate.
When you use your credit card overseas, you should be given the choice of paying in local or home currency. Keep it local. The retailer makes a profit by converting your bill to Hong Kong dollars and applies a conversion fee using the kind of foreign-exchange rates only seen in five-star-hotel receptions. Once you have your cash, play safe and stash it in more than one place. If your pocket is picked or your bank card isn’t accepted, you’ll be glad you did.
6 Excessive insurance excess When buying travel insurance it’s worth checking the small print to see how much excess (the amount you are required to pay towards a claim) you’ll need to cough up. Cheaper policies invariably have a higher excess (US$200 isn’t unusual), which means it may not be worth claiming for flight delays and (depending on your travel wardrobe) lost luggage.
7 Festivals: celebrate or steer clear? Arriving to find a festival in full swing adds an exciting dimension to any holiday, so why not plan your trip around one? Tourism office websites have What’s On events calendars so that you can turn up just in time for a cheese-rolling race in Britain, the Naadam games in Mongolia or the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea. Knowing when an event is taking place is also useful if you want to avoid soaring hotel rates, not to mention the risk of a soaking (Songkran), getting covered in coloured powder (Holi) or, worst of all, a ban on alcohol sales (Poya).