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How to guide to designing your own itinerary and getting the best prices...

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Dec 14th, 2003, 09:41 AM
  #1
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How to guide to designing your own itinerary and getting the best prices...

While to some of us on here it may seem pretty basic on how to design a custom itinerary and receive the best prices, thinking back to before my first trip, I remember pretty much being at the mercy of the tour operator, www.skyauction.com, from whom I had purchased a pre-packaged tour.

While I did make changes to the itinerary to my liking, in the end I still did not have a well-flowing schedule, having spent two stints in Cape Town, one before Victoria Falls and one after Victoria Falls. I should have been able to use the time spent on the second go round at Chobe, a mere two hour drive, I believe, from Matetsi Water Lodge, where I was staying in Victoria Falls.

Rather than take it for granted that most people on this board, especially first-time visitors to Africa, know how to design and efficiently book their own itinerary, I will lay out some basic groundwork. These are just things that I have discovered to work for me that may or may not work for others. Also, I do not proclaim myself an expert, just more expert than I was for my first trip and hopefully my trip from this year, although I am 99.9% certain that I got the very best prices possible this year to South Africa and Zambia, other than I had a way to know that South Luangwa would be at 25% capacity in early June and that had I waited I could have saved nearly 50% off the already low prices of $200 per person per night.

Never knowing how to make a good outline in school, I will attempt one here but forgive me if it is not properly formatted:

A. Start by looking at pre-arranged itineraries so you have some idea of the places to go in a selected country or region. Chances are that you will be taken to all the right destinations but chances also are that you will be taken to all the wrong hotels/lodges, at least if you are expecting the best, a requirement that I think is proper since when going to Africa for a couple weeks one will be hardpressed NOT to spend a good amount of money.

1. Now that you see the hotels/lodges that are offered, do a search on alternate lodging in the area. Do you see any places that you would prefer? Good. Take notes on the places you would like and start scratching the existing places on the pre-arranged itinerary and replace them with the one that is to your liking.

2. Visit the direct websites of the hotel/lodge of your choice to see if they have any specials. Just because a place is running a special doesn't mean that a tour operator will not charge you the full rack rate if they believe they are dealing with an unsophisticated/inexperienced traveller. Even if you don't want to book directly with the hotel/lodge yourself, you can use this knowledge to your advantage by alerting the tour operator to the special offer, asking whether they can match this or if you should book this portion directly with the hotel/lodge.

3. Find out if the hotel/lodge has any shoulder season/low season/green season/last second specials. I did save 50% off a hotel stay at the Mount Nelson hotel on my first trip to South Africa in March, 2002, because I ended up cancelling two nights in the Cape Winelands to spend more time in Cape Town. I also saved 50% off Matetsi Water Lodge because I was willing to brave civil war, booking my stay for a stay that commenced five days after the "re-election" of Bobby Mugabe.

As mentioned earlier, had I known or enquired about last second specials in South Luangwa, I could have saved 50% off my already low priced stay. It was a bitter pill to swallow knowing that at least one set of other guests, whom had booked their stay in Kafunta, only after arriving in Lusaka, had likely paid half the price what I was paying but were getting exactly the same service. Imagine, going on a safari with full board at a great place for only $100 per person per day, including airport transfers???!!! For anybody interested, I promise you that if you go to South Luangwa in June, that this is almost a certainty at both Kafunta and Kaingo, another great looking place that emailed me with this special only after I had already booked and was too close to cancel my stay at Kafunta. Then at Kafunta I did see that this special was also offered to those who were booking last second. Kafunta was never at more than 25% capacity during my stay and I suspect that the other competing lodges were the same way.

B. Invest $50 - $100 USD on a few different travel guides. Travel guides such as Fodor's, Lonely Planet and Frommer's will teach you a lot more about where you are going than any website. Even if you only make one discovery, you are likely to more than make back your investment.

1. Although some may disagree, for the casual traveller, I strongly suggest periodicals such as Conde Nast Traveller, Travel & Leisure and Tatler's. These publications all print their top 100 lists/gold lists or other types of lists, listing the best properties in the world. While many of these listings may be related to whether or not the place advertises in the publication, it is still helpful to know.

a. Rather than paying big bucks to the places named on such top 100 lists/gold lists, try to find places that are nearby. Rather than shell out $1,800 USD per night for a return visit to Singita this year, I happily paid less than $600 USD per person to stay at Djuma Vuyatela. While neither the food, service or even the rooms were on the same level, the rooms were VERY nice on a smaller level than Singita and the location was within the same Sabi Sand Game Reserve as Singita. On the same note, had I known that it was only a couple miles away and had the same traversing rights, I probably would have elected to stay at Nkhoro Bush Lodge for half the price of Djuma Vuyatela.

You do have the choice of paying $300 per night per room at Nkhoro Bush Lodge, or $1,800+ USD per night if you NEED to say that you have been to Singita. (By the way, I think I fall into the category of those that NEEDED to say that I have stayed at Singita, so I completely understand if one refuses to consider anyplace but a Singita or Mombo).

a. You may be able to save a little money by shopping around for the price of airport transfers. While your tour operator may charge you $60 per person, for example, be sure to ask your lodge if they offer transfers and, if so, the transfers may be less. If nothing else, this may pay for your tips to your ranger and/or tracker.

C. After much research, design your own itinerary to your own individual tastes. Chances are that if you are well-enough versed, that you will not even find a pre-arranged itinerary that matches the one you ultimately come up with. I mean I am talking about a million to one odds that yours will be different than any pre-arranged itinerary, as you may not only want to visit different locations, but you will likely want different lodges/hotels than those offered by any pre-arranged itinerary.

1. Shop vigilantly! Find as many different tour operators as you can and send out price requests to each of them. Do not be afraid to name drop about some of the other operators that you are working with. If the others know that you know what you are doing and already talking to the competition, they may try their best to offer the best possible pricing.

a. Research the credentials of any tour operators/lodges/hotels that have favorable pricing that you may be of interest. Are there any references listed on their website? For example, I only felt comfortable booking my stay at Kafunta in South Luangwa after fellow Fodorite, Thit Cho, gave it a thumbs up, as well as another person that I contacted that was listed on Kafunta's website as a reference. Otherwise, I would have paid about $300 USD per night more to stay at Robin Pope Safaris or the Bushcamp Company, places that advertise much more heavily and are better known but probably no better than Kafunta.

D. Be open minded to an auction site such as Luxury Link (www.luxurylink.com). I used this site to great success on my last trip, booking stays at the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg for about half price and the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town for about a 70% discount.

1. I have seen places as prominent as the Royal Malewane, which some put on par with Singita, listed on Luxury Link. Other places I have seen included the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, the Westcliff? Hotel in Johannesburg, Orient Express lodges in Botswnana and many other top places in South Africa in the Cape Winelands and Garden Route.

E. Do a search on travelogues on a search engine such as Google or Yahoo and you may come across some very good travelogues posted by others whom have already visited the areas that you hope to visit. Often these will have the most unbiased opinions, rather than those you may read in travel publications or on tour operators and lodges/hotels own websites.

Final conclusions: While all the above sounds like a lot of work, and it is, you can save A LOT of money by doing your homework. For my hopeful upcoming trip to Tanzania for example, I have received a price quote of about $7,000+ per person from one company and for the exact same itinerary I have received a quote from a local Tanzanian tour operator for $4,300 per person. The more expensive company is out of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, where the median home price that I saw listed on www.realtor.com was over $2.5 million, probably enough for about 200 homes in Arusha, Tanzania, the location of the tour company offering the lower price.

You can almost be certain that any tour company located in the USA will just turn around and subcontract with a local tour operator, that if researched properly, you can likely find yourself, cutting out the middleman.

Again, I do not proclaim to be an expert and I am sure that others can contribute to this thread to lead us all to even better savings and better African holiday experiences.
Roccco is offline  
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Dec 15th, 2003, 06:38 AM
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That's a great post, and should be read by all planning a safari. I agree with everything that you said, and I believe I've come to the same conclusions after five safaris.

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Dec 15th, 2003, 10:51 AM
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Great advice Roccco -- I wish you'd posted this in August when I was first planning!

I would also suggest for a first trip to vary it with high end accommodations and lower end if at all possible. There are tour operators who own properties in different countries (Serena, CCAfrica, etc.) and tour operators who are able to schedule accommodations pretty much anywhere (go2africa, leopard safaris, etc.). While the former may be able to provide better rates by staying at all of their lodges, the latter could be less expensive in the long run by providing different types of accommodations.

Take ALL expenses into consideration. This could include park fees, visa fees, shots, taxes, drinks, laundry, flights, automobile transport, taxis, tips... At first glance we thought the price tag for one operator was very high until we compared operators by the details they provided (or didn't).

Second the recommendation to read travel magazines. I DON'T recommend a book from Discovery regarding African Parks. It's horrendous and tells absolutely nothing about the different parks and lodging. Roccco posted a book recommendation a few weeks ago that I hope is good since I'm getting it for Christmas!

For first trip planners, don't be intimidated by all of the knowledge here. On the other boards it seems there's a gamut of travel advice, from those who have never visited to those who live in various cities. On this board it seemed that everyone had been to Africa and the Middle East multiple times. The gamut does exist here, it only exists with a smaller group of people! Don't be afraid to ask loads of questions.
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Dec 15th, 2003, 12:42 PM
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Thanks for the wonderful advice. I lurk on the Africa board, reading the wonderful posts and hope to go there someday. I printed your post out for future reference - sometimes these things can disapear!!
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Dec 16th, 2003, 04:21 AM
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Hlphillips2 is absolutely correct about asking questions. It is imperative you ask a lot of questions. Don't assume that you "think" you understand an answer. If you are unclear, ask the question again, and if you are still unclear, ask again. The worst situation is not completely understanding what it is you are getting into!
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Dec 17th, 2003, 01:54 AM
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Absolutely fantastic post Rocco and same for the subsequent posts.

You're right that it may seem a lot of work, but when you work out hours invested against amount saved it's pretty worthwhile and that's not even taking into account that the trip is so much more to your exact liking!
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Feb 17th, 2004, 01:57 PM
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ttt (since I am feeling so much love today for my business practices)
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Mar 10th, 2005, 07:58 PM
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ttt for cv
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Mar 11th, 2005, 06:15 AM
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Great advice. When you mention that this can be a lot of work, that's true, but it is also part of the fun. And it educates you about the upcoming trip and maybe future trips.
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Mar 13th, 2005, 07:41 PM
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This may be a silly question but how do I print this out? When I print all I get are the numbered questions on the left hand side of my screen.
Thanks in advance.
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Mar 13th, 2005, 08:22 PM
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Philbill,

With your left-click button on your mouse, highlight all of the text that you wish to print, and then it should print that text only.
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Mar 14th, 2005, 04:40 AM
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sandi
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I've tried the highlight and then print, but I also get all the following posts - some are of interest, many others are not.

So, instead I highlight what I want, copy it, then send it to myself in an email.
 
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Mar 14th, 2005, 05:53 AM
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Thank you so much. I did highlight then print but only printed out one page at a time then I could stop when I wanted to. That way I only printed as much as I wanted.
I will try your way, Sandi, next time.
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