Travel during COVID: 3 budget tips

3 new travel hacks for the new normal in a COVID world.

Now that we have started to travel during COVID again, we noticed that as airlines and hotels try to make up for lost revenue, we found three … ahem … less-than-transparent ways some companies try to get more of you money.

Companies used the following methods as we tried to book flights to Thailand from the Philippines.

Awareness means you won’t fall for charges on services you don’t need.

3 new travel hacks for the ‘new normal’

  1. Remove items automatically placed into your cart
  2. Scroll UP on mobile devices to see the ‘real price’
  3. The fine print is more important than ever before!
    • Including for COVID-19 insurance

#1: Remove items automatically placed into your cart

This one is a no-brainer — if you know something has been added to your total cost.

If you’re in a rush or distracted, you might not realize a $5 sandwich has been added to your ticket price – $10 extra for two people.

I’m sure the ‘Char Siu’ chicken sandwich offered by Cebu Pacific Air is tasty, but I don’t want it.

Tip #1 for travel during covid: remove items "placed in the cart for you" -- like this $5 chicken sandwich, not revealed until the final booking page of an airline reservation on Cebu Airlines.

I had to go back on the browser two pages and scroll all the way down to remove the ‘items we’ve added for you.’

Bleh. It felt dishonest – no matter how politely you word it.

#2: Scroll UP on mobile devices to see the ‘real price’

This one really irked me. It happened on a mobile device when I searched for a hotel in the “Test & Go” program to enter Thailand.

I looked at government-approved hotels for the mandatory one-night stay while we will wait for our RT-PCR test results. In the Test & Go scheme (and it is a scheme), the ‘package’ includes airport transport to a hospital for the tests, transport to the hotel, a one night stay. If you are negative, you an ‘Go’ anywhere in Thailand, as long as you also take a self-test on Day 5 (this honor test is also included in the Test & Go package price).

I ran a preliminary check of prices, and I assumed it was all included in the big red price tag.

In the new normal, never assume.

Agoda and Booking.com are two aggregators that offer these ‘package’ deals. Below is one example.

Deceptive ad looks like the price for a hotel in the Test & Go program is only p 792, or about $16.

As a budget traveler, I looked at the above option because it was the cheapest option – by far (792 pesos is about $16).

The other prices I saw that day went up to $200, with the average price around $60 – $80.

Note the black arrow across from the “Test & Go Package” in the above picture. What I saw when I tapped on that arrow is pictured below.

Screen shot says, "Test & Go Package Inclusions: Airport pick-up, 1 RT-PCR test/pax, 1 ATK test/pax. p 792 (or about $16).

It was the same listing layout on a variety of rooms with higher prices.

How Agoda hid the true price is why it felt so damn sneaky.

I went back a few days later to look more seriously, and I realized I’d made a huge mistake in assuming the big red prices on all rooms in the “Test & Go” package category covered everything.

When I made a hotel selection, the next screen showed me entry fields for guest information.

“Let us know who you are,” said the text at the top of my screen, all with the big read countdown clock:

Turns out that view pictured above was actually on the middle of the page!

The real price was ‘hidden’ at the top of the page.

I had to scroll up to see the real price.

Check it out:

The advertised price is the equivalent of $20, but the real price is listed at $260.

Sticker shock! That 12,778 peso price translates into $245.

Needless to say, I felt embarrassed for assuming such low prices as $60, $40, $20 would cover an entire package like that. I should have known better.

Why did I scroll up? I guess because the prices seemed too low the more I thought about it.

I’m guessing that if I had gone through with booking on the phone, the real price would have been revealed before the final check out. At least, I hope so. But I’m not really sure – because I ditched the phone for the laptop.

I made the reservation on the laptop, where pricing was much more transparent, if you can call this transparent:

In big red numbers, it says, "1,238 pesos (about $46) and in fine print is says, "+P 10,183 taxes and fees." (About $220.)

So, budget travel buyer: beware. The final price may not be listed up front, and you may be taken to the middle of a page.

#3: The fine print is more important than ever!

I saw an amazing fare by Scoot Airlines from Manila to Bangkok — priced $50 less than other airlines. That’s $100 for two people so I was intrigued and began to investigate.

Wary from the marketing trickery I’d experienced so far in the new normal, I went through with the actual booking process — even though I wasn’t going to actually book — to see the real deal. Since we are vaccinated, I picked the ‘vaccinated travel lane’ option.

What I discovered wasn’t a problem with price — but with vaccination certificates! Not all of them are accepted!

What if I booked the non-refundable flight and got to the gate with an unapproved certificate? I wonder how many people that’s happened to.

Note the third bullet point:

Third bullet point reads: "Please note the CovPass or the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), also known as the Carte Jaune or Yellow Card, will not be accepted."

We couldn’t make the connection in Manila work, so we didn’t book with Scoot anyway.

I discovered days later that Scoot Airlines is doing away with this requirement for the ‘vaccinated travel lane’ all together in early April.

In fact, I wonder if the Scoot website was even updated with the latest information when I looked.

COVID Insurance fine print

One last ‘fine print’ mention about COVID insurance. Another requirement to enter Thailand, and many other countries, is COVID-19 insurance coverage, generally up to $50,000.

However, Thailand recently lowered that amount to $20,000, yet (many) insurance companies haven’t dropped their prices reflecting lower coverage amounts. They’re still (mostly) charging higher premiums for up to $50,000.

In fact, many insurance companies offer ‘basic’ plans – but they only cover $10,000 of illness abroad.

Reading the fine print has always been a travel hack – a consumer hack. But it might be more important now than ever.

Changes in the new normal

We expect continuous and possibly sudden changes in the ‘new normal’ of a travel lifestyle with COVID-19, and we’ll be ready. More requirements will likely ease, and new ones may pop up.

We are ready to roll with the punches – because we miss travel. But we sure don’t want to pay more than we have to, for travel during COVID.

We’ll keep passing along any new hacks we discover.

What trickery in travel marketing have you discovered? Scroll down to share your knowledge.

Thanks for reading, “Travel during COVID: 3 budget tips.”

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