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Secrets to keeping your air travel costs low

Learn the secrets, you could save over
Learn the secrets, you could save over Sh100,000 on a one-week trip. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Humans thrive as marvelers at novelty. We love to see new sites, hear new sounds, taste new flavours, feel new textures, and smell new fragrances. We are psychologically programmed and hard-wired to explore, discover, and learn new things. We are a curious species.

But how do we exercise our yearnings for novelty? Ancient kings would task their subjects to find and import new objects, gadgets, and gems to satisfy curiosity. Modern presidents and prime ministers bring famous and interesting thought leaders together for discussions and collaborations. But in the twenty-first century the average household prioritises travel. Since 2000, the International Trade Administration shows families travel and tourism in dramatically higher proportion than just a generation ago.

Travel satisfies our search and drive for newness by tasting tantalising surprising new foods and gazing at marvellous unique architecture, etc. Researcher Stefan Klein highlights travel and new experiences as a key antecedent to life happiness. Alana Dillette, Alecia Douglas, and David Martin found that travel and tourism, depending on the type, improves people’s quality of life. Euejung Hwang, Jungkeun Kim, Jacob Lee, and Saetbyeol Kim show that experiential-focused travel increases happiness more than material consumption-focused travel, such as shopping.

Travel agencies in Kenya capitalise on the tourism craze. Many large outfits package travel destinations for businessmen and businesswomen all over the world. One of Kenyans’ favourite destinations is Western Europe. A group of 26 European nations formed the Schengen Area in 1995 to eliminate border checks and create unified border movement within the area. Inasmuch, it made intra-European travel dramatically easier. Every year, thousands of Kenyans travel to the Schengen Area for business, learning, and tourism.

But many travellers pay large sums to travel agencies to package their trips. Voyagers may feel better knowing they have one point of contact for all their travel needs. But tourists may be putting themselves at risk by putting all their eggs in one basket. What if the travel agent books their hotels for the wrong dates? Or air tickets that do not have overlapping connecting flights. In pricing a recent trip for master’s students, we discovered that going through a travel agency can add up to 49 percent to the cost of travel.

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So Kenyan business travellers and tourists, please be aware of ways to buy directly and save substantial money so you can travel more often and build better more robust business linkages.

First, in obtaining a Schengen visa, the European embassies in Nairobi require hotel reservations. A traveller does not have to pay for the hotel or airfare before the visa, but rather have bona fide hotel reservations and a proposed flight itinerary. Many embassies will reject a Kenyan travel agent’s confirmation of a hotel reservation because of a variety of issues. So, the travellers must have a confirmation direct from the hotel itself even in email form so the respective embassy can confirm the reservation. The best hotel prices can be garnished directly from the hotels instead of paying agency fees who then in turn pay a second European agency and their fees. Websites such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Expedia.com can save travellers substantial money by going direct. Kenyan tourists can even use the sites to search for the cheapest and then reach out to the hotels one-on-one and reserve directly with the hotel, bypassing the website, and sometimes get even cheaper rates. Travel agencies will often book tourists hotels on the outskirts of a city. But use the maps feature on the websites to get hotels exactly where you want them. These websites even allow travellers at most hotels to reserve without prepaying.

Additionally, buying air travel direct from an airline can be substantially cheaper than a packaged agency rate. Use the “flexible date” search features in the huge famous flight websites to see the cheapest days to travel. Kenyans find success with Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, and Kayak.com. Many major NGOs and multinational corporations disbanded their internal travel departments and direct their employees to use these websites. Also, do not underestimate the power of Google. When travelling in Europe, utilise Google Maps to find very cheap public transport from point A to point B very accurately. It takes away the mystery and fear. Do not bother paying for hotel transfers at exorbitant agency rates. Alternatively, Uber, Taxify, and Lyft rates are almost always cheaper than prearranged and paid for transfers.

Finally, consider going between European cities by boat rather than train or air. As an example, one can travel from Stockholm to Helsinki and back on Vikingline.com for only 95 euros total for a group of four. But also Kenyan travellers can utilise “all inclusive cruises” that include all food three meals a day in the price. Someone can travel from Naples to Rome to Genoa to Marseilles to Barcelona to Ibiza and back to Naples (or among dozens of other destinations) for seven nights and have all food and travel for only $500 per person. These shockingly low prices make comfort multi-destination travel affordable for more Kenyans. You can utilise the cruise search function on Orbitz.com or directly from the quality budget cruise lines such as Msccruisesusa.com, Costacruises.com, Carnival.com, or Ncl.com.

So, learn the secrets that travel agencies do not want you to know. Try buying directly from hotels and airlines and utilise European public transport and consider cruises. You could save over Sh100,000 on a one-week trip. You might also find that you are more satisfied during and after your trip because you are in control, can verify the accuracy, and can make modifications directly without frantically trying to call an agent in the middle of the night during emergencies.

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