MAKE LAST MINUTE TRAVELLING IN HK EVEN EASIER!
Let’s face it, HK is hands down the best hub for last minute travels! You could get on a plane for an hour and be in a completely difference place and experience a completely different culture – it’s insanely awesome.
I recently wrote an article for VIVA’s Lifestyle & Travel website on the reasons why spontaneous travel is on the rise and why it’s becoming the cool way to travel. At the peak of my obsession with travelling, I tried to get out of HK once a month, so I’ve compiled a list of my tips and tricks on how to make your weekend getaway or spontaneous travel more organized and easy! Please do bear in mind that this article is very HK centric and is most helpful to those in HK.
With 17 public holidays on the calendar in HK, it’s one of the countries in the world with the most bank holidays, which means you should definitely take advantage of those long weekends. Here’s a list of tips and tricks to help you utilize your public holidays to their full advantage! In no particular order:
ONE. FANFARE BY CATHAY PACIFIC & HK EXPRESS.
Cathay Pacific has the most awesome program ever and it’s called Fanfare. Every Tuesday at 8am, they release a bunch of discounted flights that depart in the very near future. Deploy the “the early bird gets the morning worm” strategy here. If you want to get the good stuff, make sure you’re on the site by 830am or else, you snooze you lose. The best flight I ever got from Fanfare was a weekend flight that only costs around HKD1400 (USD$200) to Cebu when it would cost HKD4000 (USD$500) otherwise. If you want to be one step ahead of the game, sign up as a Cathay Pacific newsletter subscriber and you’ll know that week’s destinations and prices at around Tuesday 12am via email.
HK Express is a great budget airline, albeit they’re not as punctual as Cathay Pacific, their services aren’t as great, and flight times are limited – but their prices are pretty much unbeatable if you’re looking for flights for cheap. I have taken them numerous of times and they’re best for short haul flights.
TWO. PICK A LOYALTY PROGRAM & STICK WITH IT.
Pick a loyalty program; stick to it and collect those miles as religiously as you can. For Asia, the most popular loyalty programs are Asia Miles, Marco Polo and Star Alliance. Asia Miles and Star Alliance have numerous participating airlines; whereas, Marco Polo is the loyalty program exclusive to Cathay Pacific. If you’re hoping for a joyous upgrade, try to book the flight that is the most empty and make sure you’re a part of their loyalty program – the chances of you being upgraded are going to be much greater if they know you fly regularly with them.
Currently in HK, at the time when this post was published, Standard Chartered, American Express, Citibank all have a credit card that lets you earn Asia Miles based on your spending which can greatly help on the accumulation of points! <- This is definitely the way to go.
THREE. GET PRIORITY PASS OR SOME SORT OF AIRPORT LOUNGE PASS.
Airport lounges are your best friend. They are especially good for a free quick bite to eat (the Plaza Premium lounge at the HK Airport serves the best Fishball Noodle Soup! It’s even tastier since it’s free) or lo and behold your flight is delayed and you have some time to kill. Even if you think you don’t have time, the lounge is the perfect place to chug down a bottle of water because who wants to pay for ridiculously overpriced water at the airport? The Priority Pass has a yearly membership; however, American Express has the Cathay Pacific Elite credit card which lets you get into any Plaza Premium lounge for free and entry into a Priority Pass lounge 4 times annually.
FOUR. SAVE A PACKING LIST ON YOUR PHONE.
My friend is very diligent with her packing and she always does it the day before; however, if you’re like me, and you like to do it 45 mins before you have to leave for the airport, then it’s best to rely on a packing list. This is because I don’t always guarantee that the best money for value flights take off at sane hours… So if you’re packing at the wee hours of the night or if your brain is not functioning after one too many drinks, it’s best to have a tried and tested packing list.
It’s best to actually write out the list after a trip so you can look at your luggage and see what items you brought and was a waste of space vs. the items you needed but didn’t bring. Make sure you make your list generic enough so you can provide options for yourself to adapt it to a hot or cold climate (or just make 2 lists!). Do this once, and voila, you’ll be able to pack in 20 mins or less thereafter!
FIVE. KNOW YOUR TRAVEL AGENTS.
Know your travel agents and options like you do your boys. Who are you going to snog, marry and avoid? Flight Centre in HK does price beats for you but they’re not good for time sensitive deals; China Travel Services does all things China related; Travel Experts can sometimes have amazing flight + hotel deals, but I have found that Expedia has some of the cheaper flight options amongst the online flight websites. Once I was able to snag an amazing flight + hotel deal with Expedia that was half the cost of what I would have paid if I had bought the flight and hotel separately.
SIX. MUG SHOT x10.
Lots of Asian countries require a visa before they permit you into their country. The good news is that a lot of times, it can be a visa on arrival; however, if you’re planning to jet set at any given moment, you need to make sure you have enough passport photos handy with you. Most visa applications require 2 photos – they usually only take 1, but the application always says 2. Yes, those mugshots will get used up so there is actually a valid reason why they give you all 10 ugly copies of it…
SEVEN. KNOW YOUR TRANSPORT TO THE AIRPORT.
Figure out what is the quickest yet cheapest way to get to the airport. Airport Express is a way quick and easy way as it’s only 22 mins from Central to the Airport and you can check in your luggage at the Airport Express station up to 48 hours in advance (times may differ with different airlines). It’s awesome if you’re catching your flight right after work because you can check-in/bag drop in the morning and then leave directly via Airport Express after work. It is somewhat expensive as it’s HKD100 one way and HKD180 round trip. However, a relatively new start up by the name of Klook, now offers Airport Express tickets for $42 (at the time this post was published).
And what happens if you’re not near an Airport Express station? Well, if your taxi fare is over HKD60 to the Airport Express station, then your Airport Express ticket will be 50% off. You can claim this discount by showing your receipt to Customer Service and they will process the discount via your Octopus card (discount only available via Octopus card). This option is the cheapest and quickest option for me.
Of course, other options include taxis* (could be more expensive and even slower than Airport Express depending where you are), Uber, airport buses (cheapest but slowest and a pain if you have luggage and a carry-on), the MTR (Tung Chung line takes 45 mins to go from Central to Tung Chung (~HKD25) and then for ~HkD5. the S1 bus goes to the airport), or a combo of the above.
*A note regarding taxis in HK. There are phone numbers you can call for 20% off taxis – the numbers I use are +852 2672-8520 and +852 6126 8624. I don’t know if they speak English but you can get airport Customer Service to help you. They’re best for travelling from the Airport back home because at that time you’re too tired, you just want a taxi, and you don’t want to queue in that hideous taxi lineup. How to use a 20% off taxi from the Airport:
- Call the number after you’ve picked up your luggage
- The taxi operator will broadcast your travel request to other taxis so there’s nothing to do but wait at this point (~5 mins)
- The taxi that picks up your order will call you back to let you know their ETA, where to meet (parking lot #3) and their license plate (remember it because that’s how you find your taxi!).
- The taxi will pick you up at Parking lot #3 and be warned, it’s chaotic there during prime time
EIGHT. KNOW YOUR CURRENCY EXCHANGES.
There are a few currency exchanges that are good in Hong Kong, but the lineups are hideous… (I’m looking at you Berlin Company Exchange Limited, who have one of the best USD rates in HK). If you’re only exchanging enough money for a weekend trip, is it really worth trying to save a few hundredths of a decimal place?
For RMB, there is a HSBC ATM at the airport that can let you directly take out RMB from your bank account. For other currencies, I actually have found it best to exchange it when you arrive at your destination’s airport. If you are arriving late, then just exchange some money at the bank in HK first; BUT never exchange money at the Hong Kong airport because they honestly have the worst rates.
And when USD is low, head over to a currency exchange of your choice and get some USD, but make sure that none of your bills are ripped/frayed/slightly old because they will not be accepted in other Asian countries. While not all currency exchanges in Asian countries outside of the airport accept HKD, they all will gladly take your USD so it’s good to have some handy incase you need fly out on sudden notice. You can actually get by with just USD in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam.
NINE. KEEP A MINI CASE OF TOILETRIES.
Who checks in baggage for a weekend trip anyways? Carry-ons are great but they are subject to some airport security limitations.
Keep those empty eye cream bottles and samples around because they’re going to become part of your new carry-on toiletry kit. No aerosols are allowed in your carry-on so if you use aerosol sunscreen and dry shampoo (must for weekend trips) like I do, make sure you get the travel friendly non-aerosol versions. Lush makes a good dry shampoo that just comes in a plastic bottle in which you can depot some into a small jar. Also remember to take out your tweezers unless you want your Tweezerman to be confiscated.
TEN. GET A MULTI ADAPTOR PLUG.
Consolidate those wires and get a multi adaptor plug, which usually has slots for USB cables too. That way you don’t have to research which type of plug adaptor you need to bring and if you don’t have too many electronics, you could share an adaptor amongst your friends.
ELEVEN. SORT OUT THE SIM CARDS AND WIFI EGGS.
Wifi eggs are super cheap and good for Asia though my only qualm with them is that you have to carry the egg and an extra battery pack to charge it and all that takes too much room in my handbag. The process to get a wifi egg is also super simple. All you do is sign up on their website, then you can pick up AND drop off the egg directly at their kiosk stand at the airport. No frills. I’ve always used WifiBB before, but since then, there have been so many more companies offering a similar service.
I actually prefer SIM cards because there is less baggage to carry around. For China, I would opt for the VPN SIM cards so you are still able to access and update your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. feeds. If you’re travelling outside of Asia, SIM cards will give much better reception. I’ve used Three and have had no problems with their SIM abroad.
TWELVE. GET JABBED.
Spontaneous travel is made easier if there’s a bit of pre-prep involved so make sure you’re up to date with your shots now versus later. There is the common set of routine vaccines that you should be up to date on and then there are a few more shots you should get if you’re looking to travel around South East Asia, such as Typhoid which is recommended for a lot of Asian countries. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s website is a good place for this.
Getting the shots now is better than waiting till you score that awesome flight deal because most of these vaccines will need a 1-2 week incubation period before they take full effect.
THIRTEEN. TRAVEL INSURANCE.
HSBC, Blue Cross, AXA, etc. all do travel insurance and I usually just buy it online when I’m on the Airport Express. If you find that too annoying most companies also offer an entire year’s worth of travel insurance across the entire world at a set price so you could buy it once and not worry about it.
FOURTEEN. WORK THOSE APPS!
Make your life easier and use modern technology. Here are my top 4 travel favourites, in the order of “OMG, I can’t live without it”:
- Maps.me – Not all places in the world have great Internet yet; which makes your offline map the best option. When I was in Laos, the SIM card didn’t work and no wifi egg was available to work in Laos, so we used Maps.me with good ol’ GPS for the entire trip and travelled without a glitch from the South of Laos to the North of Laos.
- Google Drive – Sure, there’s TripIt, but I still love my offline Excel itinerary spreadsheets which I can also share with my travel companions.
- XE Currency – Useable offline and it updates whenever it gets connected to the Internet. When you’re in South East Asia, you’re never really sure if you’re getting scammed or ripped off and the money’s denomination is crazy big so it’s always a peace of mind to be able to check out the currency conversion first. Don’t make my mistake of paying USD7 for a bottle of water in Indonesia when it should really be USD0.5 (in my defence, the kids were very convincing…).
- TripIt – Makes your itinerary accessible anywhere in the world and shareable across with your travel companions. You can simple forward your travel confirmation emails to TripIt and it automatically creates a detail daily itinerary for your trip.
FIFTEEN. SIGN UP FOR FLIGHT ALERTS.
Sign up for the flight alerts if the airline has that option available to you. Cathay Pacific reminds you of your flight time 3 hours before departure and they will also notify you via SMS if there are any delays and/or changes to your flight time so you know what’s going on before you even get to the airport.
And that’s it – good luck scoring the perfect flight deal and safe travels! How fast can you be ready for your weekend away?