A hack is a secret, a shortcut, a trick that makes life easier or better.
I must confess that I only recently learned this meaning of the word. I had previously known it to be a slang term for a journalist. Or the process of breaking through computer security systems and stealing people’s data. But the new, life-enhancing kind of hacks are definitely to be sought-after and enjoyed! Here are 4 travel hacks that I’ve discovered and appreciated.
1. Free transport
Some enlightened metropolitan authorities have realised that making it easier for people to get around on public transport can benefit their city economically, socially, and ecologically. One of the best known free rides is Melbourne’s city circular tram route, which takes you around all the major attractions and shopping areas in just under 50 minutes. A real time and foot-saver! And you can enjoy the historic old trams too.
In fact, the whole central Melbourne CBD is a ‘free zone’ on the trams. So you can hop off and on any tram at will. You’ll be warned just before a tram is about to cross over into the paid zone, giving you time to ‘tap on’ with your Myki card (these are pre-paid cards that you can buy at certain tram stops and retailers, and top up as necessary).
Another, less well-known free ride is available at London Heathrow Airport. If you’re spending a night in one of the airport’s local hotels, you might like to know that most red London buses offer free travel between any stops within the airport’s extensive perimeter (Heathrow is as large as a town, with 76,000 people working there every day and 81 million passengers passing through every year!)
I only found out about this free travel zone thanks to my hotel’s helpful web site. Try searching on either the Transport for London or Heathrow Airport web sites, and you’ll be lucky to find anything. The Heathrow site does tell you about the Hotel Hoppa and individual hotel transfer services, all of which charge varying prices for tickets, but I couldn’t find anything about the free buses. Strange. London Toolkit’s website has some information.
As long as you don’t mind lugging your bags to the bus stop and sharing your ride with London commuters, this free travel is a great perk. The key thing is to check which services stop by your hotel and then check that those services also pass through the specific terminal you’re arriving at, as not all services go to all 5 terminals. Your hotel website might also have information on this.
2. the upgrade hack – short-haul flight, long-haul plane
Most short-haul flights are nothing like long-haul when it comes to service and comfort. Many short-haul routes now operate with the same business model as budget airlines, whereby you pay a basic price for your flight, and everything else – food, drink, entertainment and leg room – costs extra. So imagine if, instead, you could fly on a comfy large long-haul jet with full service included! Well, sometimes you can.
Let’s take a long-haul route like Singapore to Melbourne, for instance – two major international hub cities served by various airlines. If one of those airlines could be persuaded to make a short extra hop, from Melbourne to another city, they could pick up more passengers from that city and take them back to Singapore via Melbourne. That’s great for all 3 cities, right?
Of course it’s a bit more expensive for the airline to fly the large plane to that small city, so the local government might have to subsidise the cost a little bit. But what if they do their sums and decide that it’s worth it? That’s exactly what’s happened in my city – Wellington, New Zealand. Instead of the no-frills flights to Melbourne operated by local airlines, I can choose to fly on a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 with fantastic full service including lunch menu! And the price is very competitive.
Of course the other huge benefit is that I can fly on to Singapore and beyond if I want to, directly from Wellington. I love it!
3. The code-share hack
This is another hack for the budget-conscious. It’s worth checking whether the route you plan to fly is operated under a code-share. Let’s take the Melbourne-Singapore example again. Flight QF35, operated by Qantas on this route, has no fewer than 12 code-share partners! They are: Jet Airways, Air France, Finnair, British Airways, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Japan Airlines, Jetstar, KLM, China Eastern Airlines, Bangkok Airways and Sri Lankan Airlines.
So you could look up the same flight on each of those airlines’ sites, and see which is offering the best price. If that sounds like a lot of work, you can try searching on sites like Momondo or Skyscanner, and narrowing your search to your intended flight route, day and time, but not to any particular airline. This should gather the relevant information for you.
4. Luxury for less
Do you like a little bit of luxury? I find that the older I get, the less I feel like settling for the budget hostals of my youth. Sometimes it’s possible to get what looks like a good deal on 5 star rooms. Then you arrive and find that you’re in a poky back corner, near a noisy lift, with a lovely view of – the wall of the building next door.
My tip to avoid this is to go for a more modest hotel, say 3 star, but choose an upgraded room. They’re often beautiful and still cost less than the poky entry-level 5 star version. What’s more, if you’ve forked out for an upgrade, you might be lucky and get upgraded even further. Hotels often do this as they find it easier to sell cheaper rooms than top-grade rooms, so you’ll be doing them a favour by freeing up your room. Win-win!
Experience tends to suggest that this is more likely to happen if you’ve booked directly with the hotel, rather than through a third party.
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