Boracay is a scammer’s paradise. The beach is so darn beautiful that most people would still pay even if they are institutionally scammed (ehem, environmental fees, really? 100 Pesos per tricycle, really? And the list goes on…) or otherwise. Airlines are in on the joke, too, folks. And they’re laughing at you. Yes, you, who in your desperation to experience one of the world’s best beaches that beat Ibiza and Miami’s South Beach to a pulp, had hastily booked a flight as soon as you’ve plotted your work-leaves for the summer holidays. You come back to Manila a few days-week(s) after and realize you’ve spent waaaay more than what you imagined you’d spend for such a holiday.
Fortunately, there are ways around this. Possibly the deadliest trap to avoid is the flight-trap, and here are a few tips that I hope will help send you on your way to Boracay without having to sell your belongings.
Tip # 5: Travel in a group
A good rule of thumb for anything in the world is: everything is cheaper by the dozen. Did you know that most airlines have special provisions (and quotations) for booking for groups of 10 or more? It’s often in the fine print in the airline’s website. Call them up, if you are part of such a group. It’s rare to travel in such a big group, you say? I say nay. Anyone from friends, family, coworkers, friends-of-friends, or anyone who wants to travel on the same dates as you can easily be amassed to form that powerful group of ten. Unless you’re a soul-searching foreigner, it’s rare for a Filipino to go to Boracay alone. Do away with the excuses and take the initiative of coordinating with people who are smart about their money like you are. You can and will find 10 people, especially for Peak and Super-Peak seasons. If you end up with your entire barkada, even better. Imagine converting an entire Airbus into a Magic Schoolbus ready to whisk you away from the humdrum of daily life? Plus, lodging gets cheaper, too, the more you are in a room.
Tip # 4: Travel Off-Season, If Possible
Unless you go to Boracay very specifically for the sun, travelling during off-season is not as bad as first glance makes you think it is. First of all, EVERYTHING, bar none, is cheaper. Hotels can sound dirt-cheap compared to their super-peak season prices. Secondly, that famous, cringe-worth, algae-border of White Beach is often not there during most of Habagat season (very roughly, from June-December). The basic rule of algal growth dictates that for algae spores to proliferate, it needs lots and lots of nutrients and sunlight. Habagat winds dilute those nutrients and provide less sun than in the summer. And let’s face it, folks (especially those that have forayed into the aquarium hobby like me) — this influx of nutrients comes from mismanaged waste material. I am not in the position to talk about the waste situation of the overpopulated Boracay, but I can hazard an educated guess. And it’s probably a contributing factor as to why that stretch of filth is so very visible during summer.
Actually, almost all air carriers go on sale for off-season, not just to Boracay. But maybe you could trade your resources for a peak-season in, say, Bohol, or Coron, and visit Boracay when it’s not at that point in the year when you’d probably regret going there (feeling scammed by all the post cards and Google Images pictures you’ve seen of “paradise”)?
Tip # 3: Never book Caticlan flights.
Caticlan is scamming paradise for airlines. In case you didn’t know, there are no airports in Boracay Island. Caticlan is only the nearest one to it, and you’d still have to take a boat and pay all the environmental fees and other incidental transportation costs after stepping out of the plane. Caticlan airport is also very very small, so the planes that service it are not your typical Airbuses. They’re the smaller side-propeller type. I’m not sure what they’re officially called. But they’re small, with less passengers, and this leads to more expensive fares. Also, Caticlan airport during peak season is notorious for delayed and even cancelled flights (that unprofessional, stoic air carriers often do nothing about to compensate despite rioting passengers. Heh. The perfect blood-boiling scam stress situation for any vacationer. [In some cases, though, some lucky fellas have been offered free transport via Kalibo and a free domestic roundtrip flight ticket]). So save yourself a few thousand Pesos and the risk and never book Caticlan flights, especially not the Caticlan-to-Manila trip home. The prices are ridiculous for that kind of risk of destroying your beach getaway.
Instead, book for Kalibo. It’s two-ish hours by land from Caticlan port where Kalibo shuttle vans will drop you (for a Php250/person fare). It’s anyone’s best choice, better than Caticlan by a few thousand Pesos in the price department. It’s hassle-free too, as people in Kalibo are very used to tourists coming to their airport to go to Boracay. You can find the shuttle vans just outside the airport, and if you’re traveling in a big group, perhaps you can even book your own van for a better deal than the standard Php250/head including boat fare.
If that’s still expensive, book Clark-Kalibo flights via TigerAirways. They’re the cheapest regular-fare offers that I know of. If traveling solo or if there’s no one to drive you to Clark Airport, there are buses in Megmall and Pasay that take you directly to the airport for Php350, one way. Add that in your computation of whether taking a Manila-Kalibo flight would be less economical than taking the Clark route.
Alternatively, and for those who want to do a side-trip, take the Iloilo route. Iloilo-Manila flights can be pretty cheap all year round, but especially when booked early. In case you didn’t know, Boracay Island is just off the Panay mainland (which consists of Iloilo, Roxas, Kalibo, etc.) Boracay is about 4 hours away by van (around Php325 fare) and about 6 hours by Ceres Bus line (that takes a longer path, around Capiz. But same fare, or negligible difference. I just prefer the bus ride because I love road trips and I much prefer the feel of a bus ride over a stifling van ride).
Tip # 1: The early bird always gets the worm!
What I like to do is to daydream about the places I want to go to within the year, who I want to travel with to those destinations, and when. As soon as a seat sale hits (which happen pretty often throughout the year), I book right away and plan/research later. Keep in mind, though, to not be fooled by extremely attractive “Piso fare” or “288-Peso fares”, because (ehemCebuPacific) likes to put in not-so-visible charges the farther you click into a booking. It’s their way of making you feel like that travel’s already within your reach (come on, who can resist “Piso” fares?), and as you type away your details, credit card numbers, call up and rally friends to book with you, they slowly but surely add a few pesos here and there until poof! Your Piso becomes a thousand! Airphil and Zestair are better in this regard. Their sites display the fares that they mean til the very end. Little fluctuations may apply, but not as wild as Cebupac claims their fares to be at first. Philippine Airlines is out of the question for fare sales. Their fare sales amount to regular fares of other carriers, although of course, their service is a bit better. Out of them all, Airphil is my favorite for the complimentary 15kg check-in baggage + 7kg hand carry, because being a contact-lens wearer, I need to travel with my solution and other such liquids, which aren’t allowed in hand-carry. Otherwise, I often skip the prepaid baggage option because unless I plan to stay in some local destination for a year, I simply don’t need that much stuff. Plus, it saves me 300+ Pesos at the very least.
Again, beware and be smart about purported seat sales. A scam by a good name can be a scam nonetheless. A good price for a budget roundtrip legit seat sale is anywhere from Php 1000-2000 to most local destinations from Manila. For Boracay routes, up that margin to 2500 and I’d still call that a very cheap air fare. Be vigilant, be realistic. If the final amount feels too pricey, don’t book it. You might regret traveling altogether if you do, and maybe it’s better not to travel at all than to travel with high expectations bound for disillusionment. A very expensive trip can easily take away the magic in discovering an otherwise great destination, if you worked hard for your money and know its value. Remember that good budget flights should be around 25% of all that you are willing to spend for in a trip, if you truly want to be a budget traveler. If you can envision spending 75% more of that amount during the days that you’ll spend at your destination (which, if Boracay, try to make it more than 3 days. Anything less is bound to be more of a waste than a good vacation.)
There you have it, folks. Those are my five budget-hacks for beginning budget travelers. Don’t be a slave to false advertising. Above airfare sale scams, I hate nothing more but tour packages that make it sound like they’re insanely cheap. But if one took the care to open their eyes, Google a little, and be less afraid of the unknown, DIY is still and will always be the cheapest way to go.
In terms of flying to the Philippines’ best-loved party beach, there are things you can do to enjoy it without offering yourself to the scam-gods. Best of luck! Tell me your Boracay budget experiences in the comments below!
See you in Boracay in May,