Ever since 2016 my wife and I decided that we want to do one international trip (though not necessarily one country) every year. We made it to Singapore in 2016, and Dubai in 2017. It was time to explore and take my family to Malaysia this time around in 2018.
The fact that I was working in Malaysia in 2002 and could not get time in the short one year that I stayed there to see many places only meant the urge to go there was pretty strong in order that I could get another chance to cover all the places I did not see this time around.
Also 15 years down the line with a lot of instrastructure and convenience improvements happening around the world, surely the trip would seemingly put me at more ease than earlier on. So it was time to decide how to plan the trip.
My logic for planning trips
I usually do my own booking and planning for everything for my trip. I look through places to visit, I look through multiple sources of reviews, I look through the best times to travel to maximise effeciency and minimize costs at the same time.
Based on these criteria I then use some of my favourite apps to look for flights or hotels and go on with the booking part. Let me share with you how I managed to do that for Malaysia. One of the questions I wanted to answer before I flew there was whether I just wanted to visit Kuala Lumpur (KL) or something more than that which everyone does in a packaged deal – such as Cameron (like our Ooty), or Penang/Langkawi types of ventures. This is when my friend suggested to me that I could not cover all places for just 10 days. I still wanted to be a bit ambitious.
For flights my preferred destination is Cleartrip portal/app. I am a man of simple UI designs and those kinds of apps that get job done rather than confusing people. Cleartrip has been my favourite for many years and also somewhat the cheapest even though only by a few hundreds of bucks. Still, search is simple, user interface is intuitive, they remember all my values I filled in for previous trips, so booking as such is a breeze. I would still prefer that these sites show the total amount upfront to avoid any confusions but Cleartrip adds the convenience fee only at the end. I believe so also MMT and other sites do the same thing.
The logic for flights is simple. If X is the cost of the flight, X will again be the cost of airport taxes, then about Rs.500 more than 2X would be the insurance cost per passenger, and about another Rs.300 would be the convenience fee. Since we are four of us in my family, I would always be scouting around for deals worth about 15000 Rs. all inclusive for a person. If I am able to get it lower, all the more merrier. Also you need to start at least 2 months prior to the date of travel. Especially so if your travel is on the week during the year end. This is exactly what I did. I booked my travel during September-October for a travel in December.
There are lots of factors which determine what price is shown to you, so be aware of them
- how many times did you access that app using your own phone?
- are you accessing the app over multiple networks or only at home?
- did you also access the portal on the same wifi network or not?
- did you try booking via portal or via app (the discounts are more on the app sometimes)
- did you access the app continuously with your login ID every day of the week for a week or so
- how desperate you are on those dates you want to travel, were you looking for same dates each time or different dates to find it cheaper
- are you trying to book all four people at once or only one person at a time
These are some of the things that determine pricing to a large extent. So it is upto you how to outsmart the app. Use different phones or PCs, use office PC / home PC combination, use different locatios, etc. Beyond all this the price won’t vary too much until you start reaching the deadline for booking itself. So you need to be careful of that.
Sometimes the pricing also varies based on location. It is always better to board the journey from a smaller civil airport than a place where the transit passenger density is too high such as metros. But you must also bear in mind that if you want to board at a smaller airport, then it also means if you are living in a metro you need to first go upto the smaller airport by car or train or bus or air, which will set you back by 5000 to 10000 Rs. more. It is important to understand the cost addition to make your decision.
I booked my trip from Trichy to KL just because the trip from Bangalore to KL was 90k and the one from Trichy to KL was 53k. But I also ended up spending about 10k more to go to Trichy and back which you need to understand. This is because you need fuel for driving upto there, some place to stay, food costs, etc. But this time it was still lesser by 30000 Rs. to do this journey. The 30k saved is better spent on the journey elsewhere while in Malaysia. However if you frequently get tired of driving, then this option should not be chosen.
For hotels, I believe in booking hotels where Indian restaurants are nearby if possible. I am particular about food and hence this mode of booking. Also among the multiple options that I have tried with respect to hotel bookings (booking.com, trivago.com, tripadvisor.com, makemytrip.com, etc) – I was most comfortable with booking.com for the following reasons. Now before you read below, you may say after reading that some other portal provides you with same or similar options which I will not deny. For me it is about ease of booking that helps me go forward with the portal more than the cost of the hotel itself. The whole experience has to be seamless.
Booking.com provides me with photos of the hotel. The way it would be when I land there. Nothing more, nothing less. It provides the full inclusive prices except the taxes which also it prints an approximate of below the full price just so that I get an idea how much extra it would work out to. It also shows rooms that are going to house two semi-adult kids and two adults in comfort and in line with the policies of the hotel which would not throw a surprise on me when I reach there.
The good thing about booking.com is that it also provides me with passes to attractions which help me skip the line and go into the priority queue at different places. I tried this out at the KL tower, and it was pretty useful although the queue itself was not so much. If it were Petronas towers or for example the Burj Khalifa, then the real benefit of these passes would be well understood. I decided to visit four places on my travel, KL City, Cameron Highlands, Penang Island and Langkawi Island. Based on these choices, I booked the available hotels by either giving my credit card details and in some instances, paying a nominal fee to ensure my booking held good.
You need to be tactical about these bookings and must surely make the trip to ensure best price and avaiability. In the event that you feel you are not going to make the trip, be aware of the last possible date on which you would be able to cancel and always have a reminder around those dates to help you cancel. You will mostly be charged only when you land up at the hotel or a day or two earlier to that depending on the hotel policy. So no worries there.
Visa (Entri Malaysia)
Once you have your air travel and hotels secured, it is time to make the visa. For Malaysia, the visa is called Entri visa and you can choose tourist type and either single or multiple entry based on how your planning has been done. If you plan to say go to Singapore and enter Malaysia again on non transit mode, you will need the multiple entry visa, else a single entry visa would suffice. For the most part, it was a breeze to get the visa, sitting at home, filling in a few details online, paying the visa fee online and taking a print of the resulting visa grant form.
Visa and fees
- paying online is safe no issues with that
- indicate your travel date properly so that the visa would be granted for a month from there for tourist option
- choose the visa type properly (single or multiple entry visa)
- always ensure, double check, proof read and ask others to read all the fields you enter properly for correctness, a little time spent on this will save you lots of trouble at the immigration counter
- if any data is filled wrongly then you may face rejection when you enter malaysia and this can put you into lots of trouble, so take care of this.
The visa fee was about Rs.1500/- per head, so for a family of four 6000 in total. Be advised about this additional cost in addition to flight charges.
You must also be aware that all flights do not offer the standard free 7kg cabin and 20kg check in luggage options free. In fact some flight costs do not even allow one cabin bag. In my case I opted for standard 7kg for each of us as cabin luggage, and additionally paid for 20kg x 2 suitcases for check in. It was a deliberate choice since I knew I will be carrying that much of weight already.
For all you know you will return with an additional 20kg over and above this, so bear these in mind. The charges were about 700-1000 extra per 20kg baggage, so depending on your plan you will need to pay accordingly at the time of flight booking.
Given you completed until this step, the only other things pending are to plan what you want to visit while in the country, and how you are going to travel there. I will cover more on this in my next post.