Holiday In India – Without a Tour Operator (Pt 1 – Booking Flights and Accommodation)
We have travelled to India on a number of occasions since working in Goa for a couple of seasons for a tour operator.
We have sometimes booked a package and sometimes booked everything ourselves and there are certainly pros and cons to both, so on this series of posts, I wanted to show how easy it is to do everything yourself.
The first thing to decide is where do you want to visit. On our last trip we flew into Delhi from Manchester and took part in a 7 day Golden Triangle Tour, before heading down to Goa for a week on the beach, however for this trip we decided to visit Mumbai and then spend the majority in one of our second homes of North Goa.
Booking in advance is always your friend, as is Sky Scanner. We had a two week block with which to work, with the possibility of a few extra days before or after if needed.
On the last couple of occasions, we have found Emirates to be great value, with return flights costing approx £440 each via Dubai, taking us into Mumbai for this trip.
For the first sector we flew on an A380. It’s a good plane for sure, however as we have previously travelled with TUI on the Dreamliner, its the latter that gets my nod. As someone that suffers severely with sinus and ear problems, the reduced pressure on the 787 Dreamliner is hugely appreciated. Even more so after I ruptured my eardrum onboard this Emirates flight – with more sectors still to go. The Dubai – Mumbai sector was on the smaller, but still comfortable 777.
One real downside to Emirates over a charter flight is the cost they charge to pre book your seats, with some of their ‘preferred seat’ options costing around £70 per person per segment (Remember you have 4 segments per person for the return journey -so that’s over £500 for adding precooked seats!!)
If your happy to chance it, you can check in and choose your seats 48 hours before you fly – however when we did this, there was only a few seats left. Plus you cant book for the return segment at this stage, so that will need to be done while your away.
Emirates onboard service is generally always good and superior to that onboard the charter flights including TUI, where usually you get a stare if asking for more that one drink. Ironically I only had one G&T on the Emirates flight out because when I asked for a second I was told no because they were serving tea and coffee and on the second leg I was already suffering with my ear and so not drinking anything but water.
The Emirates flight has a change in Dubai, which is great if you want to stop over for a night or two as we have previously, but not so good if you just want to get where your going. This was one of the biggest downsides to flying Emirates over TUI to Goa, as outbound we had to wait over 5 hours in Dubai.
I looked into lounges to while away the time. Flying Emirates you can opt to use their business lounge for a cost of $100 US per person, however after reading reviews decided this didn’t seem worth it. Looking around I discovered a Swissport Partner Lounge (those that run Aspire Lounges in the UK) for a cost of £32 per person for 4 hours.
This was the best money spent, mainly for the comfortable sofas that enabled us to actually sleep for around 3 hours. With some breakfast and a few soft drinks (Alcohol was included however due to not feeling great I refrained), we were ready for the next sector.
The second sector takes around 3 hours. So time wise the TUI flight would win hands down.
Heres where booking everything yourself really wins – the flight on a charter direct to Goa would cost approx double that of flying to Mumbai with Emirates and adding in an internal 1hr flight with India Air that cost approx £60 return per person.
With a package deal, your kind of restricted with one location and hotel, where as we were able to mix and match whatever we wanted.
In Mumbai we stayed at the Taj Palace Mumbai and in Goa we booked a local apartment through Airbnb.
You can read more about those experiences in parts 2 and 3 of these posts later in the month.
A visa to India used to such a chore – getting your photos taken and being the right size, filling out forms online and printing them off – taking everything to a visa centre and then awaiting everything to come back – it used to be costly too – at one point over £100 including all the fees – things however have changed.
Now for just $25 US you get yours authorised electronically online – just be prepared for the application which is still a little labour intensive. You’ll need your passport details – parents details and name and address of at least one place your staying as your ‘reference in India’. It really isn’t anything too difficult though.
Also remember to print it out when granted to take with you – airlines will check your visa status before allowing you to check in as the onus is on them to get you back if you’re turned away at your destination.
I would recommend always using the official site as well. Many others have popped up and charge you more to duplicate the information you’ve given them. The official site can be found here.
16 nights away (3 in Mumbai and 13 in Goa) costs £1015 per person including a stay at the majestic Taj Mahal Mumbai and is completely flexible
14 nights in a 3 star hotel in Goa only costs around £1400 per person
So on paper it’s looking like the independent version is winning – but make sure you capture parts 2 and 3 where ill be posting about the Mumbai and Goa parts of this trip along with some more hints and tips for holidaying in India.