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03 November 2010

An experience to last us a life time!

By Ween Nee

Early November 2009, I saw airasia’s advert on their upcoming zero fare promotion. This is not new but this time, an idea came to me at that spur of the moment. Why not fully utilize air asia’s zero fare to backpack around Asia? Made a few phone calls and the crazy idea was given the green light! 4 of us ready for an adventure!

Over the next few days, we spent all our midnights checking out routes and took time off work to get our passports renewed. Finally, on the 4th day of airasia’s zero fare promotion in 2009, we spent 3hrs to book 2 months of back to back traveling with AA from 1am – 4am. 50 days,18 flights & 12 destinations in total, costing only RM750 per person inclusive of baggage & tax!

We were covering Bangkok, Vietnam, Phuket, Surat Thani, Myanmar, Bali, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, Manila & Jakarta. It was too good to be true but we were definitely not dreaming!

For the next 10 month, we planned our trip based on the route determined by AA’s zero fare. We listed down all the places we wanted to go and our main challenge for this trip was to travel with a backpacker’s budget. We hunted for good hotels but at a backpacker’s budget.

When the date to travel drew closer, we realized that we can only travel for 22 days. Work held a few of us back hence we had to forgo half of our initial plan. We were disappointed but nevertheless, we are still covering a lot!

We have been regular travelers and we are familiar with all the unpleasant stories many have gone through with AA. Lucky for us, up till today, it has been a smooth sailing journey for us with AA. For our trip, we were ready hiccups though we hoped there will be none!

Prior to our trip, we started receiving emails on route cancellations, flight time changes & stress built up but we took it positively. Time changes is not much of a problem for us because we have arranged all our flights in a way where we do not have to transit. Route cancellation was however an issue. Being on a budget, additional cost matters a lot. We initially booked for a flight from Ho Chi Minh to Phuket and this route was cancelled. So now, we have to fly from Ho Chi Minh – Bangkok and Bangkok – Phuket. This new route will cost us an additional RM1500 for the 4 of us. RM1500 is equivalent to 12 nights of hotel stay for us!

We decided to write to AA. Knowing that the normal helpline and emails usually result in disappointment, we wrote straight to Tony Fernandes. We attended his seminar once and he told us how efficient he is with sms & email response! Trust me, he is! Within a few hours, we received reply from Tony. He’s got his staff to assist us. After a few emails and phone calls, they graciously booked us the new route at no additional charge. We were really impressed with how they handled our situation. Being a no frills airline, they could have stand firm to their rules but they took responsibility of their cancelation.

Nevertheless, we still couldn’t help having reservations for our trip because there’s always so many unhappy AA customers. So many stories of flight delays and bad experiences. So, for our 22 days backpacking trip, we were prepared for flight delays, baggage loss and any other things that can come about! We had our play cards, books, iPods and etc ready to keep us entertained!

Finally the big day arrived. With the changes in our flight arrangement, we will be flying 8 times & 6 destinations in 22 days. We fully utilized AA’s very user friendly online check-in which saved us a lot of queuing time.

Throughout our 22 days, everything went on very smoothly. All our baggage arrived timely with us waiting less than 10 minutes each time; there was no delay at all; flights were great with no turbulence; their leather seats were comfy; flight take offs & landing were perfectly done; & service from AA is as advertised! Smiles all the way and they were very helpful. It’s such a plus point to be greeted this way for our holiday :) It puts you in a great mood straightaway!

Finally, after our 5th smooth flight, we did encounter with a major hiccup. Having booked the flights one year in advance, we did not realize Myanmar changed their regulations about their visa. They lifted their visa on arrival as of 1st September 2010. We arrived happily at Bangkok airport for our flight to Myanmar only to realize we are not allowed to fly without a visa and it will take some time (1-7 working days) to get our visas done!

AA’s staff immediately rescheduled our flight for the next day but we decided to stay on in Bangkok and forgo Myanmar as it’d be too rushing. We cannot blame AA for this mistake but it would have been nice if AA sent us a note regarding this change just like how they emailed us on flight changes. Myanmar visa upon arrival was only removed on 1st of September and we all left on 8th of September 2010. By 1st of September everything for the trip was all booked & all we were focusing on, was finishing up work! But like I said, no one is to be blamed but ourselves! And most importantly, Bangkok is a great city to be ‘stranded’ in!

All in all we had a great 22 days of adventure in Bangkok, Vietnam, Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lanta, & Ko Samui. We spent enough time at each place to experience all there is to experience!

From city life to amazing islands & beaches and hideaways in the jungle… It’s definitely an experience to last us a life time!

In conclusion, we did not once felt that Air Asia was a low cost airline. I guess it takes 2 to tango. In order to make your trip a pleasant one with AA, you have to make good planning – buy sufficient weight for your luggage; allocate enough time for your transits; understand AA’s rules & comply with them; don’t jump the gun each time AA make changes; and most importantly, be patient when booking especially if you want to get their amazing deals.

Thank you Air Asia for making it all possible!

Look out for our next story on what we did for the entire 22 days! You gotta read it to believe it!