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On a Budget

Big-Ticket Savings Down Under

November 04, 2001|ARTHUR FROMMER

The first thing to know about a trip to Australia is that it will be a long one. The 13-to 14-hour flight from Los Angeles keeps many travelers from going, but that's a mistake.

The second thing to know is that after you arrive, prices are lower for everything. This is principally because of an exchange rate that favors Americans. On a trip this summer, the rate was nearly two Aussie dollars to one American greenback. Because things Down Under are priced about the same as they are in most parts of the United States (say, $2.50 for a Burger King Whopper), everything from car rentals to souvenirs is effectively half-price to you.

What many Americans also don't realize is that supplemental trips can be affordable and easily made from Australia. Because the Aussie dollar is so much weaker than ours, Australians pay less for air fares than Americans do for equivalent distances.

By going where the Australians go for their vacations and buying your onward tickets in Australia, you will not only pay less, but you also will see parts of the world you might otherwise never visit.

From Perth or Sydney, round-trip air fare to Singapore is often around $250, and to Kuala Lumpur, $225, as opposed to $1,000 from the U.S. if undertaken on a separate trip.

I recently saw a five-night, air-inclusive package from Perth to Malaysia's five-star Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort for about $98 a night.

And don't forget New Zealand. If you fly around Australia using a deal like Qantas' Boomerang Pass, available outside Australia and New Zealand to holders of international air tickets, you will pay $190 each way to tack on a visit to Auckland.

But buy a ticket after you reach Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, and you could pay half that, or as little as $200 round trip.

You can find deals like these from most of Australia's top travel agent chains, which include Flight Centre (, Jetset ( and STA Travel (, all of which are found in every major Australian city. There's also Virgin Blue (, Australia's bargain airline. If you buy online well in advance, a one-way ticket from Sydney to Melbourne (about as far apart as San Francisco and San Diego) will cost as little as $35.

Finally, broaden your choice of vacation locations. A dozen Club Med resorts within reach of Oceania are rarely sold to Americans and are priced to the depressed Aussie economy. Depending on the time of year, the per-night rates at the cheapest Club Meds (the two-trident-rated Chateau Royal in New Caledonia and the three-trident Cherating in Malaysia) are $75 to $100, including room, food, drinks, sports and all.

And that's the rack rate; you're likely to score a better deal as you shop travel agents. (Honeymooners get 25% off full packages through April.)

So when you plan your trip to Australia, give yourself extra time to shop around and look for what's on sale.

You can buy some tickets before you leave home; others will be available only after you get there. But because you're going all that way, make sure to give yourself the scheduling leeway to maximize your time and money.

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