by Rachael Boon
The holiday-maker's bargain destination, the Natas travel fair, has just ended, but there are still plenty of good deals flying around.
Airlines and travel websites are going all out with new twists on discounts and goodies to woo travellers in the hope that the travel bug bites, even as the recession does.
Take one of the bargains that popped up recently at online travel portal Zuji.com.sg. Fifty-six-year-old retiree Mohammad Salim recently landed a two-night stay at the five-star Hotel Royal Macau for just $84.21.
That is a huge reduction from the starting price of $306 for two nights.
The lucky bidder also scored a one-night stay in a deluxe suite at the boutique-style Singapore Link Hotel for $44.32. The usual price is $186 a night.
Such deals are popping up on the website's new, fun feature, a reverse auction offered every weekday at noon.
One to three items such as airfares and hotel stays are put up for auction. Prices, instead of rising like a normal auction, drop by one to five cents every second.
Travellers click on the 'Buy it now' button whenever they feel it is at its lowest point. The reverse auction is on now until the end of this month.
Mr Mohammed read about the reverse auction and decided to try his luck.
The auction winner says: 'I've not decided on the dates because the hotel stay is valid until June 30 but I plan to stay an additional two nights in Macau, with cheap packages from travel agencies.'
He adds: 'I will continue to watch the auction for a Kuala Lumpur deal.'
This week, Zuji is auctioning off items such as two nights at the Bali Dream Villa and a seven-day car rental at any holiday destination.
Besides Zuji's innovative promotion, other sweet deals are taking flight too.
Premium carrier Singapore Airlines is offering a 50 per cent discount on its KrisFlyer air miles redemptions to selected major destinations such as London, Beijing and San Francisco.
The move is part of KrisFlyer's 10th anniversary celebrations to thank loyal passengers and stimulate demand for travel during these leaner times, said an SIA spokesman.
Amid all the economic turbulence, the air mile smiles keep coming. Malaysia Airlines has a promotion similar to KrisFlyer's in its Enrich miles programme. Members need to redeem only half the miles they normally would have to for flights from Kuala Lumpur to destinations around the world including Paris and New York.
Other airlines are slashing fares and packages.
Garuda's sales and marketing manager Clarence Heng says the airline's promotions this year are cheaper and more value-added than last year's.
For example, it is offering a Hard Rock Bali package at $348 a person, excluding taxes. For a minimum of two persons, it includes flights, two nights' accommodation and shopping vouchers. Last year, such a deal would have cost $438, without any value additions to the package.
Also, an economy return ticket to Ho Chi Minh City is now $120, excluding taxes, a drop of $80 from last year's $200.
Other prices coming down to earth include Cathay Pacific's fares for popular flights from Singapore to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, which have dropped about 30 per cent compared to prices in February and March last year.
And Qantas Airways has been aggressively advertising its special $869 fare for two Australian cities.
For those eyeing a flight to Britain, it is not just the pound that is taking a pounding. Economy return flights from Singapore to London now go for as low as $1,260 (taxes and surcharges included) on British Airways. Last year, most airlines were charging around $1,800.
Ms Alicia Seah, senior vice-president of marketing and public relations for CTC Holidays, notes: 'Prices for airfares will drop between 20 and 30 per cent during this low travel season, except for public holidays and school holidays. Taxes and fuel surcharges have dropped as well.
'For example, Japan Airlines used to charge $450 a person for taxes and fuel surcharges on return flights from Singapore. From April 1 onwards, it is charging only $150.'
The bargain offerings have enticed the likes of student Khairina Hairyani Hairy, 19, who will be flying to Seoul and returning from Tokyo on Thai Airways this month. Her economy tickets cost $800.
She says: 'I compared all the airlines and chose Thai Airways because it had the cheapest tickets to the East Asia region.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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