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Travel secrets from an industry insider

Your wallet will thank you for reading this.

Eric Gnock Fah, 29, is the co-founder of online travel concierge, Klook, and a citizen of the world — he was born in Mauritius, studied in the US, and is now based in Hongkong — used to vacay once a month when he was working in the banking industry in Hongkong. “We’d decide to go on a trip today, book hotels and flights, and fly the next day. That was the easy part. The itinerary was the most troublesome part. I used to have spreadsheets of itineraries and thought, why couldn’t all the itineraries and relevant contacts be put on a platform so that other people can be entitled to the same type of convenience and price?” says Eric of the inspiration behind Klook, an online platform which is part-Airbnb, part-Uber and all sorts of convenience for booking travel experiences (and some necessities like wi-fi routers and airport transfers) while you’re on the go.

#1:  Join frequent flyer programmes to up your chances of an upgrade on a flight.

“Be one of the first to check-in online, if you’re part of a frequent flyer programme. I’ve heard that when airlines do upgrades, they go by [the different tiers of their membership programme]. For example, they’ll upgrade whoever checked in first from, say, Diamond, then Gold, then Silver. Or if you’re on a flight that, say, Cathay Pacific is code-sharing with American Airlines, if CX were to upgrade anyone, they’d upgrade their own members first. I don’t know if it always works, but it’s happened before.”

 #2: Pay the local price, not the tourist price.

“Before I started Klook, I took at least a week to plan a Nepal trip, with a lot of back-and-forth with the tour operators. You worry if they’re safe or reliable or if they’re overcharging. After some negotiation, I got a 30 per cent discount. When I started Klook two years after that, I wanted to work with those guys again ’cos I had a good experience with them, and we got another 30 per cent off the price I paid for my own holiday! That’s when I realised that pricing for itineraries and activities in the travel industry aren’t very transparent, unlike hotels where rates are about the same if you book with the hotel directly or through a site like Agoda. Coming from Mauritius, I kind of knew this was happening — if you went to a resort as a local, you’d always [pay less] than a tourist. That’s why when we started Klook, we hired local curators in the destinations who will bargain for prices that locals may get with, say, a special card or a certain local discount.”

#3: Do your duty-free shopping even before you get to the airport.

“I always thought you get the cheapest prices at duty-free shopping at the airport. I didn’t realise that online duty-free shopping is even cheaper. I went to Korea recently and I heard that as long as you fly in and out of Korea, you can go to Lotte Duty Free’s online store to buy first, then pick it up later.”

#4: Don’t scrimp on everything.

“The last thing you want is to arrive with your luggage and kids in tow, and scramble around the airport looking for a taxi that may overcharge you. Kick off your holiday on a nice note and have someone there waiting to pick you up. It’s not always more expensive — on our platform, you can book airport transfers that are about the same price as a taxi, but you get better service and the convenience of someone waiting for you. The second thing you should pay for is wifi or mobile data. I think no one would disagree with that. I’ve paid HK$3,000 (S$538) in overseas data-roaming charges before ’cos I’d forgotten to turn it off.  [What really adds to the charges these days] are Facebook videos that auto-load and auto-updating apps. I don’t mind splurging on things. But the thing is, when you pay for something like an expensive meal, it’s okay ’cos you enjoyed it. But [paying for data-roaming charges you didn’t know you incurred] is very unjustified (Laughs).”

#5: To save on hotels, have friends in big corporations.

“You can use corporate codes for most good hotels, which gives you better rates and more flexible terms like free cancellations. Most big corporations, like Morgan Stanley [where Eric was an investment banker for a few years], have that. And even though I’ve left the company, I still ask my friends to get the code for me.”

For more info, go to https://www.klook.com/or download the Klook app.

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