Saturday, November 22, 2014

AirBnB like Private accommodations vs Hotel rooms

Booking a hotel was traditional way of buying accommodation so far. But of late, there are many options opening up for the travelers. Global sites like Airbnb and Indian versions like, etc are providing platform for small time operators and individuals to list their properties and get some revenue. Apartment owners, those who have few extra rooms in their houses, small time hotel/guest house operators can easily list their properties online and get some business, without spending much effort in marketing or selling their rooms.

But one question that keep bothering me is "what are the key differences between a hotel and a private accommodation?" and obviously, which one is better?

Below is what I could list. Your comments welcome
Feature\ Accommodation type
Private accommodations (Apartments, guest houses etc)
No of rooms
Usually many, suitable for large groups
Usually a few, ideal for small groups

Service Quality
Hotels usually offer a predictable & standardized service
Experience can vary greatly from host to host and guest to guest. Difficult to predict if everything will be as per your expectation

Customized attention
Potentially high, not guaranteed

Hotels are usually adequately staffed
Minimum to zero staff, often maintained by owner themselves

Standard and not much
Can vary depending on host

Opportunity to interact with people
Possibly high, as guests might get to interact with host and their family

Usually hotels issue proper bill and pay taxes
House and apartment owners who rent out a room or their empty apartment on commercial basis may not have legal backing in some countries
Singapore had planned legal action against those selling private accommodation online
Standard restaurants
Possibly home cooked in some cases, not guaranteed

Fairly high
Depends on case to case basis. Many private accommodations might not have a separate entry

Usually well known to local people
May be difficult to locate/can be in deep interiors

Usually small, confined spaces
Usually bigger, with extra common areas

Price-wise, I don't find a difference. Many private accommodations are priced at par with hotel rooms
Representative image
In a nutshell, private accommodations have a potential to give more enriching experience to the traveler in you. Depending on your host and other factors, your trip might end up more interactive, more localized and more memorable. But the challenge I find with apartments and rooms booked via sites such as AirBnB is that the experience can be highly diverse. Depending on the host, your expectations, cultural differences and other factors, sometimes there is a small risk of disappointment.

This risk, however can be mitigated thanks to the review feature. Read what other guests have written to assess if you should expect any problems.

If you've never tried anything other than hotel rooms, I think you should definitely try AirBnb and such sites. You can sign up with AirBnB using this link. On sign up you will get AirBnB credit worth Rs 1549 which you can use for bookings.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Skywatch Friday:VidyaSagar Sethu, Kolkata

For this week's Skywatch, it is Vidya Sagar Sethu, Kolkata.

Vidyasagar sethu is much newer and wider than the popular Howrah Bridge. There is a Rs 10 toll for cars on this bridge. Below pictures are clicked from a moving cab.

 While visiting Botanical garden or Santragachi railway station, you will have to cross this bridge. Vidyasagar Sethu is twice as long as KR Puram hanging bridge we have in Blr...

View the other skywatch post on Kolkata- Hoogley river special

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Central Park, Salt Lake City, Kolkata: Photos

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
Central park in Salt Lake City, Kolkata was more impressive than I had suspected. Salt lake city central garden has lots of birds, lakes, picture worthy locations and I recommend spending a few hours here.

Below are some good pictures I clicked at Central Park, Salt Lake city, Kolkata

The row of trees along the bank, coupled with white coating for the bottom half, makes them very scenic

A squirrel, Egret and Cormorant. Also spotted kingfishers, but couldn't take decent photograph.


Banana tree, spreading its leafs as if a Cobra's hood
A photo of butterfly- this is not clicked by me- I just clicked photo of the photograph that was displayed there. Couldn't resist.
 Notice the bluish fly on the leaf
 Lots of lotus flowers, with a bit of a zoom, could take these close up pictures


Some more reflections

We should have spent more time here. Map of the central park area given below. There was no entry fee or camera fee.

Central Park is also well maintained compared to other parks I'd seen in Kolkata. There was a central park metro station, but metro service is not yet operational in this part of the city.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: Hotel Esplanade Chambers, Chandni Chowk, Kolkata

Hotel Esplanade chambers is where we stayed for 3 nights in Kolkata. It wasn't our first choice. The other guest house I had selected wasn't available, so after some basic checks, I zeroed in on Esplanade Chambers.

At about Rs 1800 a day, Esplanade Chamber is not very cheap and overall I find their services Ok-Ok. No complaints as such.
Good things about Esplanade Chambers: 
  • Room was decent
  • There are 2 south Indian restaurants within walking distance, hence we didn’t face issue with food.
  • Close to Chandni chowk metro and Esplanade, so visiting different parts of the city is easy as public transport is close by
  • They allowed us check in 2 hours early and check out an hour late. Good.
  • About 3 different charging points helped us charge multiple devices simultaneously.
  • They do have a few CCTV cameras for security, (but I never saw any motion in them)
  • Main gate was locked during the night. Good.
  • Free WiFi was good

Not so good:
  • Lift feels very fragile and is not for the faint hearted. It is also narrow. If you have 2 big check-in bags, they won't fit inside.
  • No dedicated parking space, if you have a car.
  • Breakfast options are too few (only bread toast and omelet were offered) and served little too late (after 8AM). We let it go on 2 out of 3 days, as we couldn’t afford to lose few hours of siteseeing just for breakfast.
  • A bit crowded area, surrounded by lots of computer shops.
  • On our day 2, we were told of a water problem- they have run out of stock and even overhead tanks have gone dry. We were asked to adjust with a bucket of water they kept in the bathroom for us. But surprisingly, when we ran the tap we did get enough water- probably the quantity that was left in the pipes.
  • Noise insulation is not that great. While sound from the outside (road) was fairly insulated, doorbells of other rooms could be heard in our room very often.
  • No complementary drinking water.
  • There was a steel cupboard/almira in the room, but no lock was provided.  I left the bag in the room and gave key at the reception- nothing happened, but would have been safer if there is a lockable storage.
  • They don't own the full building. There're 2-3 other hotels operate in same building (Gypsy and few other)

I had booked via Esplanade Chambers is not a bad hotel, but I feel you might be able to find better hotels in similar price range. If you can afford something better, book in a different hotel.

New Makemytrip American Express Credit card

For the travel buffs in you, the new AmEx MakeMyTrip cobranded credit card should be something worth considering.

American Express is the preferred brand for many corporate, as most corporates use AmEx corporate credit cards for their employees. AmEx's credit card services, coupled with a series of benefits should make this credit card a must have in every traveler's wallet.

Joining benefits of AmEx MMT credit card
1. MakeMyTrip vouchers worth Rs 9000 (It is 9 vouchers of Rs 1000 each, to be redeemed in 9 different bookings)
2. Guaranteed 5% cashback on MakeMytrip bookings (For domestic flights, cash back only on return flights and Max Rs 500, for international flights, cash back is on the base fare, max Rs 3000, read fine print for details)
3. Additional voucher worth Rs 2000 if spending exceeds 1.25 lakhs
4. Loyalty points are handled via Payback. You'll get 2 payback points for every Rs 100 spent (not applicable for utility bill payments and some other cases, check fine print) and also additional payback points with select partners.

Please note following eligibility criteria before applying for AmEx MMT credit card:
  1. You should be earning more than 6 lakhs per year, roughly 50k per month
  2. You reside in metros such as Delhi NCR, Blr, Chennai, Jaipur, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Chandigarh, Amhedabad, Surat, Vadodra, Pune or Hyderabad. In other cities/smaller towns AmEx isn't operational yet as of now and you won't be able to apply
  3. Self employed individuals should show that they are in business for more than an year
  4. The Amex MMT card is not lifetime free card. There is an annual fee of Rs 750+ tax for first year and Rs 1500 + tax from second year onwards. (This amount is recovered if you're spending about 30000 on makemytrip, at 5% discount)
An illustration: Let us take an example and examine how much savings the MMT-Amex card can facilitate. Let us say a family trip to Kashmir from Chennai next summer (March 2015)
Below are the actual costs
Flight tickets: Chennai-Srinagar: Rs 13000 round trip per person, Rs 52000 for 4 people
Cost of 5 Day/4 night Kashmir package (Excluding flights): Rs 15000 per person, Rs 60000 for 4 people

1. Rs 1000 on flight tickets, (Max Cash back Rs 500 and max 2 transactions allowed per month per category, so if you make 2 separate bookings for Rs 26000 each, you will get back Rs 1000
2. Rs 1000 on holiday package (Similar to above)
Total saving is Rs 2000 (roughly 1.8%)
3 Payback points worth about 2500, using which you can redeem gifts worth about 500 Rs (Approx)
Above two transactions add upto 1.1 lakhs. Assuming you'll spend some more during the year and cross 1.25 lakhs, you can expect additional Rs 2000 voucher.

Makemytrip-Amex cobranded card is a fair deal because most of us do spend over 30k an year on travel anyway. A family trip for 4 people with flight and hotel alone can easily cost upward of Rs 50-60k. MMT has been a pioneer in India's travel services industry and have large inventory of flights, hotels and holiday packages. [MMT was featured in Anuradha Goyal's Mouse Charmers for revolutionizing online travel scene] Globally AmEx card gets more respect than competition, so expect better deals and offers on your AmEx card during international travel.
Contextual image: A spicejet bombardier in Mysore

Happy traveling. More details about the card can be read here