the trip has actually been planned since last year. i promised my mother and my sisters a trip to hong kong: my mother will be using her PAL miles for our airfare, while i would shoulder the hotel costs.
i kept reminding her since november to start booking our trip, or to at least check her miles so that we can start booking our flights. well, it seems my mother also has a procrastinating side that i didn't know about. she failed to inquire, and by the end of january, the seats for mabuhay miles users have all been taken for flights on february 18 to 21.
after hearing that, i started panicking and scoured the net for cheap airfares. no go, february 18 to 21 is the first weekend of the chinese lunar new year, and it seems everybody wants to be in hong kong for the festivities. fares ranged from php 12,000 to php 14,000 per person. my hong kong birthday trip was about to be flushed down the drain.
travel agencies save the day
as a last resort, i googled a list of travel agencies in manila, and listed down their names and phone numbers on a piece of paper. on my free time, i sat by the phone and called each of them up, asking for hong kong packages for february 18 to 21, and even february 25-28. most the packages they gave me were for hotels that i didn't particularly like, and the prices started at USD 398 per person, which includes airfare and hotel accommodations for 4 days and 3 nights.
sounds like a good deal, right? the catch is, these packages also include a compulsory city tour, which i've been on once and sworn to never take again. i also don't want susie, my sisters, and my cousin to go through that ordeal. sure, they take you to a couple of sights, but at the end of the trip, they shuttle you from one shop to another, somehow forcing you to buy something from the place. it's the perfect way to waste a day in hong kong.
so i decided to just ask travel agents for flights to hong kong. after all, i can find a good hotel deal online anyway. most of them, however, offered pretty expensive airfare, some even reaching USD 300 just for the airfare alone.
i lucked out with doljunts travel. mari, the agent who handled my booking, was able to get me a flight for february 18 to 21 on hong kong express, which leaves at 8am on the 18th, and flies back to manila at 930pm on the 21st. the fare cost USD 183 per person (USD 152 for children), which already included the hong kong tax that was charged by most agencies. philippine travel tax of Php 1,620 wasn't included yet, though.
it was the cheapest deal i could find, and my mom, who had been calling up agencies as well, agreed that doljunts was the cheapest we found. so finally, we booked the tickets (though my mom decided not to go with us anymore), and now susie, my sisters, my cousin, my nephew, and i are off to hong kong in a few days!
booking a hong kong hotel
after securing our tickets, it was time to book a hotel. susie and i fell in love with the western district last year when we stayed at the bridal tea house hotel. this time, though, i would be with a bunch of people who aren't open to staying in hostel-like places, so i had to scour online for decent hotels with affordable rates.
i checked agoda for some hotel deals and found that they had good rates for island pacific hotel hong kong along connaught road west. i checked out hotel reviews from tripadvisor, and found that people were generally satisfied with island pacific. the general consensus was that it's a clean hotel with great service. it's also a little out of the way, but the tram made going to central pretty easy. besides, the hotel has a shuttle that can take you to central, too.
before booking on agoda, though, a friend recommended that i check out booking.com. the site is like most online booking engines, except my friend has experienced cancelling a reservation and was not charged at all for the transaction. booking.com asks for credit card information for verification purposes only, and everything has to be paid for at the hotel when you check out. i felt that it was a good option, even though i wasn't planning to cancel. it's still a good feature just in case something comes up and you do need to cancel.
so i went to booking.com, found that their rates for island pacific are actually better than what i found on agoda, and booked them as well. upon confirmation of your reservation, the site gives you a link where you can modify or even cancel your booking. it lets you see the information you've provided and modify that as well. they also have an area for remarks or notes that you'd like to communicate to the hotel, so that they can meet your preferences. check out the dashboard of their self-service tool:
it was my first time to reserve with a booking engine, as i make it a point to always book direct with properties that i stay in, but my experience with booking.com so far is making me reconsider that approach. booking.com seems to offer better deals than booking direct, and also gives me the freedom to modify my bookings. it also has other features, which allows you to add your booking to your google calendar, check for driving directions, and even gives you a link to a tomtom download.
so there you go. two more tips to booking your trips when your travel google-fu has failed you. most budget travelers would scoff at the idea of consulting a travel agent, but it looks like they're also a good option to consider. at the end of the day, we all want to get the best deal, and travel agents sometimes have access to great ones. just don't forget to compare their offers with what you've found.
travel agency information
address: suite 1032 cityland mega plaza tower, ADB avenue cor. garnet road, ortigas center, pasig
look for: mari diaz
phone number: 6872808, 6872984
mobile number: 09207893648
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
booking engine information
read more about it here: about booking.com
address: 152 connaught road west, hong kong
phone number: +852 2131 1188