What to look out for when booking holidays online

My friend's parents used to run their own travel agency. Once, as teenagers, in the days before budget airlines, we went on a trip to Bangkok. Flights and accommodation for a 3D2N stay cost us $400 each… which is mad expensive.

These days, unless the furthest you've travelled is JB, it's common knowledge that a weekend getaway to Bangkok can be super cheap if you do your own research online, fly budget airlines and book your own hotel through sites like Agoda.

Heck, I recently spent an entire month in Thailand for under $700 thanks to the wonders of the Internet.

If you're from that breed of generally older people who are used to just calling up a travel agency and having them arrange a holiday package, you're probably used to the luxury of knowing that your entire trip from start to finish is included in the price.

The only thing you need to do is get to the airport on time, and then everything runs like clockwork. Not so if you do everything independently on the Internet. Here's what to look out for.

Baggage weight

Gone are the days when you could check in baggage for free on budget airlines. Today, the cheap prices their websites boast usually do not include baggage fees.

For instance, Tiger Airways charges a minimum of $25 one way to check in baggage, which means to check in your luggage there and back you'll be paying a whopping $50.

Solution: Always make sure your bags are small enough to bring onto the plane as carry-on luggage.

This is generally around 54cm x 38cm 23 cm on most airlines, and you're usually allowed two pieces with a combined weight of not more than 10kg.

A small roller suitcase can pass off as cabin baggage, as can most backpacks or gym bags.

If you're carrying a backpack you might want to make sure it's not super tall though. I have never once been asked to weigh my cabin luggage so I wouldn't worry too much about that if I were you.


Many travel agencies will allow you to book travel insurance through them when you sign up for a package, but if you're doing everything on your own, you will have to settle your own insurance.

Budget airlines will allow you to opt for their travel insurance packages when you purchase your ticket. Great, how convenient… right?

Every time I book air tickets on behalf of friends, they almost always choose to buy the budget airline's insurance. Obviously they haven't read this article elsewhere on MoneySmart about why it's not a good idea to buy travel insurance from airlines.

Solution: The easiest way to handle travel insurance is to compare all the available plans using MoneySmart's Travel Insurance Wizard so you know what plan to get each time you travel.

Hotel charges

If you're booking mid-range to high-end hotel rooms, it's almost always cheaper to do so through third party sites like Agoda and Booking, than to book directly with the hotel itself.

On the downside, doing so might mean you forfeit perks like free wifi, breakfast and hotel transfers.

Solution: To avoid disappointment, make sure you read the listing carefully to make sure whatever is essential to you is included in the booking.

For instance, I absolutely need WiFi, especially when I'm working on the road, so when I make bookings on Agoda I always make sure the listing indicates there's free WiFi.

I also read the customer reviews to see if there are any comments on the wifi signal. If you're staying in the middle of nowhere, paying a bit more to get breakfast might be a good idea.

Credit card deals

Credit cards roll out so many deals it's impossible to keep track. While some deals are totally irrelevant, like free Ferrari servicing (to me anyway and I daresay most of you), travel deals are usually quite generous.

Seriously, there are so many deals that I never go on holiday without using at least one or two of them.

For instance, POSB and DBS credit cards currently get you 5 per cent off hotel reservations on Agoda (down from a cool 10 per cent during this year's Chinese New Year period, for those who missed out).

Solution: Before you make a booking, check if your existing credit cards are running any promotions on airlines or hotel booking sites.

Also know which are your go-to credit cards for cash rebates on online bookings, air miles and travel or overseas currency expenditure. Use the MoneySmart Credit Card Wizard if you don't know which card to use.

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