Friday, May 30, 2014

AirAsia Chennai-Bangalore & back for Rs 829: Details

Air Asia has announced its India operations and as expected, they've started off with a fairly competitive price tag. I somehow feel they've chosen wrong cities to start with. Bangalore-Goa and Bangalore-Chennai. Bangalore Goa is somewhat fine, but Bangalore Chennai is not worth flying.

I've tried their Chennai-Kuala Lumpur, Chennai-Bangkok sectors and was looking forward for their India operations like everyone else.

This post is an analysis of Air Asia India's Chennai-Bengaluru schedule, fare, hidden charges and other pros and cons.

Since I do occasional weekend trips between Chennai and Bangalore, I am taking this sector first for comparison. Let us say I wish to go to BLR from MAA for the weekend.

How much air asia tickets cost between Chennai-Bangalore?
Return Ticket price starts at Rs 829 per person, only few seats per flight are offered at this rate. Next lot of seats are expensive by about 500 Rs per person one way. It is not known how many seats are available at what price, but my guess is less than 10 seats are offered at throw away price.

The promo rates are 60% cheaper than its rivals. Cheaper than Shatabdhi train or KSRTC bus fare. Need to see what will be their regular fare.

Looks like Chennai-Blr service is starting 20th June, about 1 week after initial Blr-Goa launch. Two flights a day sounds good and useful for business visitors who can return on same day evening and also for weekend travelers.

What are the other hidden expenses in an Air Asia India ticket?
1. Processing fee: Credit card payment costs Rs 319, while netbanking can save you 240 Rs (netbanking costs Rs 80). You can't skip this mandatory extra payment.
2. Meals: Optional, costs Rs 150 for hyderabadi biriyani. These rates are much cheaper than what other airlines charge and almost same as what a medium range hotel would charge
3. Seat selection: About 12 seats in the centre of the plane are sold for Rs 600 extra (Similar to Spicejet's MAX seats
4. Baggage: No free checkin baggage. 15 kg costs Rs 200 oneway.
5. Insurance: Optional extra
Unfortunately air asia is only starting flight operations. They're not starting a cheap taxi service. So we'll have to factor travel expense from city to airport and back. (While railway stations are well connected by city buses, airports are not so affordable to reach.). So I need to factor approx Rs (Rs 350 to Chennai airport, Rs 250 at BIAL to take Vayu Vajra, Rs 250 while coming back and Rs 650 from Chennai airport to home)- This amount adds up to as much as my flight ticket, if not more.

Air asia leaves Chennai at 7.30 AM and reaches by 8.30 AM. We need to be at airport by about 6AM. From Blr airport to heart of city will take another 1 hour. So we're looking at about 3.30-4 hours of travel time. Shatabdhi leaves at 6 AM and reaches by 10.30. 5.5 hours at about one fourth the expense.

So travel to airport and back will cost two times the ticket fare.  Thus Shatabdi or a KSRTC AC bus could be effectively cheaper if we consider end to to travel time and cost.

I feel airasia could have picked up some other sector, which can't be reached by overnight train. Something like Chennai-Pune, Bangalore-Kolkata, Chennai-Kochi etc. If such long haul flights are launched, more first time travelers would queue up to buy tickets.  Hope they'll cover these sectors soon.

What about Bengaluru-Goa on AirAsia?
Blr-Goa is priced at Rs 990 one way, so it is twice as expensive as Chennai-Blr. Further, the timings are in middle of the day, not early morning or late evening. So not very convenient to plan a weekend trip. I've my cheapest ticket ever- Rs 1444 for 2 people all inclusive from spicejet sale recently. AirAsia couldn't beat it.

It is not possible to book Chennai-Goa on their website. One has to book Chennai-Blr and Blr Goa separately. Ultra low fares are only for select dates and select number of seats, mainly to simulate market. Regular fares appear to be a bit cheaper than rivals. Let us see

I've booked a Chennai-Blr trip with AirAsia for July. Looking forward.

My earlier review of Air Asia

Skywatch-Skywaltz: Balloon ride cancelled, no refund

April 2015 Update: My ride was rescheduled and I got second time lucky. Here's the flight experience.

------------Original Post ------------------------------
For today's skywatch friday, its the story of aborted hot air balloon ride experience.

I had written earlier about the hot air balloon ride in Pune, being organized by Skywaltz. After paying Rs 16000 for the ride, another 20k had to be spent on flight ticket, stay, car rental and other misc expenses (for 2 people).

This post is an update on what happened on the day of our flight.

About 1 week after our booking and 10 days before the day we were supposed to fly, operator called us and informed us about deteriorating weather condition in Pune and asked if we can pre-pone it to next few days. That meant re-booking our flight at an additional expense of about 12000 per person (last minute return ticket costs a bomb).

I had to decide between 2 options:
Option 1: Take my chances- probably everything will go well and we'll have memorable moments. Or flight will get cancelled and big chunk of money (travel+stay+car etc) goes down the drain.

Option 2: Cancel the balloon flight and related arrangements. Loose 6-7k in cancellation of air ticket and other bookings, but get to save rest of the amount. But if balloon takes off on the day, I would end up regretting my cancellation.

With some debate, I told the organizer I can't make that ad-hoc re-scheduling, will stick to the plan and take our chances.

Skywaltz facebook page continued to promote the event and solicit bookings, without any updates on weather, previous cancellations or other critical information.

Last weekend, we went to Lonavala as per plan. It was a big relief that weather was normal- no rains, no strong winds. Visited Lavasa and few other places around Lonavala and we were eagerly awaiting for the flight next day.

Previous night we received instructions as to where to come. (Depending on wind they decide from where to take off, so this location is not fixed)

On the day of flight, we woke up early and drove to destination ahead of given time. We met the skywaltz crew on the highway and were driven few kms inside to an open area.

The entire balloon and its accessories would fit on the back of a pickup truck. They unpacked it, spread out the balloon skin on the ground and started filling cold air to inflate it.

Everything looked normal and we were waiting for the moment when we will be in the basket.

We were given a briefing- not to go too close, be mindful of the ropes, ride would take about an hour, landing position to be taken moments before touchdown and so on. We were told the pilot is waiting for final weather report.

Sun started raising near the horizon. We were supposed to see sunrise from the air inside the balloon. We were still on the ground.

Now the balloon looked big. Filling of cold air was almost done. Next step would be to erect it fully and ask passengers to board it. There was light wind teasing the balloon. Everyone got busy taking their pics with balloon in the backdrop and instantly uploading on social media networks.

Few moments later, we were called again and without wasting much time, were told upright that flight is cancelled. This was reportedly because wind report wasn't favorable. If we take off, landing could be difficult later and there could be injuries to people.

We were told marketing team will get in touch with us about the money we'd paid. We were dropped off on the highway.

That's 20k+16k to watch how a balloon is inflated. I could do a AFF Skydiving with that money!

Disappointed, we drove back to resort, checked out and returned to Pune. We could have checked few more places in and around Lonavala, but weren't really in good mindset to enjoy anything.

1.5 days since the cancellation, no communication from the marketing team about refund. When I call, I am pointed to the terms and condition that says there's no such thing like a refund. Once you pay them that money is gone for good, irrespective of the service.

If flight is cancelled due to bad weather, those who'd booked on that day will be given another slot next season. This means to recover my 16k I should now spend another 10-12k for another trip to Pune.

I asked how many slots I'll be given next season- can I get 10 continuous slots- such that if I camp in Pune for 10 days there's very high possibility that on at least one of these 10 days balloon will take off. I am told only 1 slot will be given next season, nothing more.

I ask them what happens if it gets cancelled next time also. "Sir it won't happen" was the immediate answer. "How can you be sure?" I challenge him- will I be given one more slot subsequent season, I should try my luck for third time and this will go on forever? With some hesitation, I am told that if it is cancelled second time also then I will get refund. (Why not call this out in Terms and Conditions?)

I understand Skywaltz's temptation to hold on to the money. But they loose lots of goodwill in the process. If they give prompt refund, customers will be happy and would naturally book again next season. By holding on to the money, they hurt people more, given that they'd already be disappointed with the cancellation.

Transfer of booking to another person is allowed.

I was looking forward to share my experience and promote balloon ride and skywaltz a bit. But now all my focus will be on recovering the money and I don't want to recommend this to anyone- as they may also face similar situation and end up blaming me for suggesting this. Book at your own risk.

Note: Skywaltz is legally correct- Booking terms clearly stated that there's no refund, the uncertainity of flight due to bad weather was well known and crew did make their best effort to fly. Nature is in no one's control and safety is important. All that is fine. But skywaltz is overlooking one basic factor- every happy customer can bring in 2-3 more customer and each disappointed customer can turn off 10-20 potential customers. So while they can hold on to a customer's booking amount, unknowingly they'll be loosing more money, as other prospects hesitate to book hearing negative experience.

That is the story so far. Month of May hasn't been very kind on me- after loosing money after car is hit with a tractor, this is second debacle.

Also this leaves us with another question- with so much technological advances, why can't we control a hot air balloon effectively? With some navigation aids- may be a rudder or a flab- mechanical or otherwise, why can't a hot air balloon be made maneuverable similar to say a helicopter?

Related: My Skydiving Experience * Scuba diving experience * 10 Adventure activities you could try in Karnataka

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Buying property at private cities like Lavasa-Pros and Cons

Well-funded private companies are building their own mini cities and tempt people to buy property there and settle in. Lavasa near Pune is one example, about which I wrote in my earlier post. Similarly Marg Group in Chennai is promoting Marg Swarnabhoomi, some 100kms from Chennai as a city to live and work in.  These properties are positioned as planned cities with provision to work and live together, away from polluted cities we’re hitherto used to live in. 

Lavasa management as advertised their intention to build 100 such cities. Their thought is that current cities have reached saturation and can’t support growing population. Only solution is to build new cities.
While all these sound tempting, there’re many hidden aspects not communicated before purchasing a property. Tempted by these propositions, coupled with nice marketing and scenic photographs, many individuals are buying houses in these private cities. In this post I am listing some of the factors a prospective buyer should consider, before putting life time savings/hard earned money into properties in these new private cities, such as Lavasa, Ambey Valley, Swarnabhoomi etc.

You may not OWN anything
When you buy a traditional plot, you own that piece of land, however small. You’re free to build anything on top of it (of course subject to approvals).

But in privately managed cities like Lavasa or Swarnabhoomi, you may not own anything. Lakhs of rupees you may might only be for ‘using the property’. The villa you bought might still be under ownership of Lavasa management and is sub leased to you.  You don’t own the land and can’t modify the property as per your taste (Ex: construct another floor, or build a shed for your car or change paint of the house etc). You may not even have liberty to get your own plumber to fix bathroom fittings and may have to go by city Management’s dictate at a premium price for everything.
At Marg Swarnabhoomi, the property is leased to you for 99 years (and then renewed, something like perpetual lease).
Please check the fine print very carefully about the ownership, applicable restrictions and how to sell off the property if you wish.
It will be boring after sometime
New private cities like Lavasa may have a few cinema theatres, convention halls and a set of touristic activities. But these can’t keep you engaged year after year.

Any new place will be exciting for some time and then, you’ll definitely start to feel bored. However tempting the pictures might look,  whatever options you’ll have for entertainment and time pass, it will never be a match to the options available at a large city like Pune or Chennai. So soon you’ll end up going back to main city every weekend for entertainment, defeating the whole purpose of buying a property far away from it.
Everything will be expensive, as you’re the captive customer and your options are limited
In traditional cities, if I don’t like a supermarket or a particular vendor (say for quality, price or service related reasons), I will have the option of patronizing another super market or a different vendor, even thought it might mean driving few extra kms.

However, in private cities like Lavasa your options will be highly limited. If you feel the supermarkets are fleecing you or the school is not being run properly, there won’t be too many alternatives. With next best option 60-100kms away, your only option will be to compromise.

Because of extra transportation cost and probably a premium/cut charged by city management, those who run business in private cities will be forced to charge more from their customers.

A bottle of water costs Rs 40 at Lavasa, parking and food is overpriced, hotels cost 2-3 times normal rent. Expect this to extend to all other essentials like school fees, groceries, utilities etc. Your cost of living will be much more than what you thought it will be. Please factor this well- as you’ll have to spend more all through the life, not just for a day.

Marg Tapovan had a maintenance fee of about Rs 10000 a month for those who buy Rs 1 crore villas at Marg Tapovan-that is as much as monthly rent of an apartment in a city or cost of 2-3 night stay in a luxury hotel. Be vary of these expenses not communicated up front.
Delays in completion & Complicated Resale process
Most of the new city constructions get delayed much beyond their original planning. This is because of multiple reasons. Mainly it is a catch-22 situation. Builders need people to buy properties, so that they get some money and complete more work. Buyers want the city to be ready for living ASAP before they decide on buying.

Similarly, while builders promise schools, hospitals and other such facilities, buyers expect schools to be operational before they move in, but school/hospital operators don't want to run empty facilities. They need enough people living the city. Builders often manage these expectations by lying to both parties about each other's readiness.

Unlike a city apartment complex which is of a few hundred crores budget, private cities cost thousands of crores, too many approvals and hence face bigger risk that something or the other will go wrong, inducing delays worth years of time. If someone who’s booked already and awaiting possession decides to opt out and sell off because of delay, builders may not at all be co-operative, as they would wish the new buyer to buy a fresh piece than one already sold.

Often cost escalation forces builders to compromise on quality and services, without lowering sale price. All these factors could result in serious deviation from what marketing guys portrayed during sale and what is finally delivered. Be careful about all these things that can go wrong.
Additional restrictions to protect commercial interests of the management
Having spent thousands of crores to build the city, builder is very likely to leverage every opportunity to earn money or force people to spend more money. Many thing you might otherwise have taken for granted-many not work smoothly in private cities. 

Some examples:
-          Lavasa management reportedly  bans residents from having guests. Houses are for owners only and guests are expected to stay in hotels.
-          In normal city, you might park the car on the road in front of your house during night and get away with it. Same may not work in private cities- you need to buy parking lot at premium.
-          You may be keen to earn some money through activities like conducting tuition, music classes or renting out a room to paying guests. Check if there're any objections to this kind of house hold commercial activities.  
-          In traditional cities you are free to avail services of any vendor/service provider you like (say for internet, DTH, drinking water supply, taxi booking etc). But in private cities, management may not permit vendors/service providers who are not affiliated to them (i.e. one who doesn’t pay them a cut).
Management control will never be handed over to residents
In regular cities, citizens can vote and select their mayor, corporator etc. Such a democracy will not exist in private cities. Even if you buy 90% of the properties in Lavasa or say 90% residents don’t like current city manager and want you to run it, Lavasa management will not handover control to you so that you can run the city. They would still retain full management control. Majority may not really mean anything.

At some point in time you’ll end up feeling frustrated and betrayed as your options are limited and with no way out, you’ll be forced to live a compromised life.

Of course there’re advantages like
-          Being able to live within few kms of your work area,
-          Less pollution compared to traditional cities
-          Good ambiance, nature

If you’re tempted to buy properties in private cities, do following checks
1.       Befriend an existing property owner and understand how his/her experience has been
2.       Try renting out the place for few months, stay there and experience life first hand, before committing life time earnings/huge sums like several lakhs of rupees to buy property there. Many things that are not told in marketing or cleverly hidden during site visit will come to life once you start living.
3.       Make a video recording of whatever sales person is promising you. This will come handy later.
4.       Read the fine print. For various things that can go wrong (many listed above), check if there’re adequate clauses or if your interests are protected
5.       Find out if any existing owners are selling their property and how is the demand/sales process. This will come handy if you ever have to sell off your purchase.
6.       Decide on what will be your next best alternative, if you’re not buying a property here in the private city. Compare the pros and cons of both options

Do you agree? Share your thoughts.

Similar: Marg Tapovan * Club Mahindra Coorg * Club Mahindra timeshare membership *

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lavasa Hill city-my impressions

Lavasa is a private city being built and maintained by HCC. This campus is located some 60kms from Pune city. The property is facing lots of environment related litigations and legal battle is going on in court. You might remember Lavasa’s full page ads in leading newspapers trying to justify whatever they were doing.
Recently I had an opportunity to visit Lavasa first hand. I had some time to spare, so drove from Pune to Lavasa, spent an hour or so driving around and then we headed to Lonavala.

Below post shares my observations and thoughts related to Lavasa Hill City.

As we started driving from Pune to Lavasa, google maps was showing some 58 kms but official signage put by Lavasa was showig a much smaller number-about 8-10kms less. It gave a feeling that Lavasa is closer than we thought. But soon we realized that it is a deception. The distance shown by Lavasa is till the big entry gate. After crossing this point one should drive another 8-10kms to reach centre of Lavasa- say the convention centre. So google map was correct.

The roads are superb. While I enjoyed every moment of driving around the curvy roads, some of my passengers started having vomit sensations and head ache.

I am told Lavasa operators have ensured that no other residential/commercial project comes up between Pune and Lavasa to avoid any possible competition. There's hardly anything all along the route, except few petty shops on the road side. We passed by a dried up dam.
Eventually we reached the Lavasa gate. Security guard asked if we are visiting or staying. He gave us a small flyer with information on the events going on in Lavasa and let us through. (At Ambey valley, I am told visitors are not allowed unless authorized by a property owner)

Some online writings have expressed that Lavasa (And also Amby Valley) is ‘Close to Heaven’. Most of them have visited in during monsoon when the weather is naturally cool and inviting. Even the greenery photos taken for ads were clicked in best time of the year. During summer months is when the reality strikes. It is as hot as elsewhere, all trees are cut to make space for buildings and roads, so many of the natural shade is gone.

We stopped at few places enroute to click below photographs.

Lavasa aerial views

Can rivers be private properties? First and foremost thing that hit me was the dam that held back water for the residents of Lavasa. While the dam retained water, the other side of the dam, as you can see in below pictures, is completely dry. Thousands of villagers living along the river bank downstream should be having hard time sourcing water for their daily needs, as their water lifeline has been dried up thanks to the Dasve dam at Lavasa. 

I feel this is a dangerous trend. If builders across the country catch up with this idea and manage to build townships around river banks after building dams, life of people downstream will be ruined. Rivers can't be private properties and should be left flowing. 

At first I thought they've privatized entire river. But a closer look at Google map reveals that Lavasa hasn't built the dam on main water body, but has captured a part of it. This is some relief.  But still larger question remains.
We entered Lavasa town and stopped by a shop to buy water bottle. One litre water bottle, MRP Rs 18, was being sold at Rs 40, at par with multiplexes in the city or 5 star hotels. This was our first exposure to how expensive living or visiting in Lavasa will be. Be ready to pay more than twice for everything.

I guess same logic extends to your everyday needs like grocery and house hold consumables. Prices are likely to be much higher than MRP (or products will be supplied with inflated MRP), as Lavasa management might want a cut from every sale that happens in the city and shopkeepers who paid a premium will be forced to charge extra.

There're designated parking areas where parking fee is Rs 100. We managed parking by the roadside during our short visit.

As we drove around, we noticed that hill side is reinforced with rocks and steel net, to safeguard against landslide. Many of the buildings are built on edge of hill sides that are flattened. A major landslide could potentially collapse an entire building. Hope engineers have factored for these possibilities.

But lot of time commercial interests make management ignore technical advise and compromise on safety.

Construction is still in progress at most of Lavasa. Only part of it appeared ready- the closest ring around the water body appeared ready, while the next circle onwards, it is work in progress.

A work in progress villa below- No covered car parking, no ramp for differently-abled.

We drove across the Dasve dam. Stopped by a club, thinking of having something at their restaurant. But this club being members only, we were politely told to vacate the premises.
Above: Entry to the club and right- boating charges. Click on image to enlarge. 
Below: View of the jetty

View from boarding point for boat ride

One of the hotel complexes at Lavasa. Fortune Select Dasve costs around Rs 7000 a night, Waterfront shaw costs Rs 6000 a night approx. These rates are at par with room rent of ITC Sheraton Park and towers in Chennai. There're no budget options in the range of Rs 1000-2000. It might be economical to stay in Pune and visit Lavasa.
Lavasa aims to be a self contained city, hence had plans for school, colleges, convention centre, hotels, resorts, adventure activities and so on. In order to stay in the news, they do keep organizing festivals/ events all through the year. We spotted a hop on hop off tourist service bus with centre cut off. Good design. We also spotted shuttles plying around once a while.

Lavasa official website doesn't talk about litigation and legal tangle the city is in. For that, you need to dig deeper in the internet. Little digging on internet reveals lots of content about Lavasa- how they are arm-twisting property owners as well, not just the government and generic public. One blog, said to be maintained by someone who bought a house in Lavasa and got cheated, has shared lots of details here:

HCC has bigger plans - to build 100 cities similar to Lavasa all over India. Would you buy a property and live in this kind of towns? What are the pros and cons of living in this kind of private cities? I feel it is not worth buying a property and staying here, because your options will be limited and you'll be captive resident, forced to shell out more and more money for everything. I will share my thoughts in next post. [Now updated here]

Review: Girivihar Dining Holiday Club Lonavala

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
Girivihar is a budget accommodation in Lonavala and we found it fairly good and value for money place. 

This post is a quick review of this budget accommodation in Lonavala

Girivihar appeared to be a club house once, now converted into hotel. Spacious and green enough.

Good things about Girivihar Dining Holiday Club Lonavala
  • Spacious rooms and decent balcony
  • Small but nice garden with seating facilities
  • Good parking space, games (TT, Carom etc)

Not so good things about Girivihar
1) Instead of 12 noon we checked in at 5 PM (After deviating to visit Lavasa). Still one of the rooms they couldn’t keep it ready and started preparing it only after our arrival.

2) They don’t have a restaurant here though display says so. Upon order, they get it from outside and deliver. Understandably they charge a  premium as delivery charge and their own profit margin, making food expensive. A cup of tea was priced at Rs 25. For comparison, a cup of tea at Kamat Green House few kms away costs Rs 20. So, where possible have food outside.

3) We had to leave very early for the balloon ride (which incidentally got cancelled)- I was suspecting that at 4 AM I may have to wake up security to unlock the gate. But when I woke up and went out, gate was unlocked and no one was in sight. Not locking the gate means a little extra risk.

4)No view. The hotel is located in between other residential properties. So you don’t feel like you’re in a tourist area or hill station. If you’re particular about view of the Lonavala valley, there’re other hotels in Lonavala which you should try.

I didn't spot any swimming pool in the campus- not sure if it is somewhere else.

Costed Rs 1326 per room per night without AC. There are other properties in Lonavala in similar price range. Hotel Saffire, Hotel Biji resort etc are very close to this hotel- all of these are located near L&T Training centre. Tourist attractions of Lonavala are in the range of 5-10 kms from this hotel.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bike Registration in Uttar Pradesh-Observations

My previous visit to UP was only to its touristy destination, Agra. So I didn’t feel much or rural UP that time. But my recent trip allowed me to drive longer and deeper into Uttar Pradesh and understand it slightly better than last time. One of the many things we observed in UP was that the bikes hardly sported registration numbers. Most of the bikers had either removed the front number plates or used that space to write slogans like ‘Jai Mata Di’. Thankfully some of them had the courtesy of displaying the number in the rear, while others didn’t care. I was told that in many places showroom people hand over the bike if you pay the ex-showroom price. No need to pay tax, registration, insurance etc. People use unregistered vehicle for years and only if they want to sell, then it gets registered. No one bothers enforcing the law.

Below: One guy has 'Jay Mata Di' on his number plate, while the other- blank. The suzuki is very old bike- at least 8-10 years old as the sale of that model was long stopped. So far does't look like anyone cared to register.
This guy has completely removed the number plate
How about Yadav for a number plate? Easier to remember than numbers no? Yadav caused an accident and ran away!
And Helmet? What's that?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Makemytrip hotel 50% discount offer-hidden fundas

Make My Trip is advertising a 50% off on hotel bookings. But what's not said in the promo is one should book for 7 nights AND Rs 15000 to avail this offer. and there's a max cap on upto what amount can be discounted per booking
Unless travelling for work, how many times a year you get to stay in a city for 7+ days? As a traveler how many cities need 7 days or more to explore?

Anyway I found following loopholes/drawbacks that you should be aware of.

1. This scheme forces you to book at expensive hotels. To avail the offer you need to book rooms that cost more than Rs 2000-3000 per day. This is fundamentally uncalled for. There're many decent budget hotels that are priced in the range of Rs 1000-1500 a night. Just check Forcing me to spend more and then claiming discount may not always result in saving of money.

2. Faulty calculation: Tax is calculated at actual and discount is applied afterwards.
Refer below example. If per day rent is 2500, the discount should be applied on it first and then calculate tax on the reduced amount. As tax is a % of rent paid, that is the logical thing to do. But in makemytrip, they calculate the total and then apply discount.

Total price is 17500, tax is 1750. (10%). if the discount of Rs 7500 is applied on the total, Grand total should be 10000+1000=11000. They faulty calculation makes me loose 750 Rs. I want to know if they'll be really paying extra tax to govt (17.5% instead of 10%)

On the contrary, stayzilla rates are lower and include tax.
3.  Max cap on discount per booking
Refer below example. I am trying to book 2 rooms. If I'd booked them separately, I would have got Rs 7500 off on each room. But if I book together, I loose this benefit

Similarly, If I am booking for 10 days, I would expect 50% discount for first 7 days and 20% discount for next 3 days. But unfortunately it doesn't work like that. You need to make separate bookings to avail and save.

4. You don't gain much if you're booking really expensive hotels
There's a max cap on discounts. So the deal works fine only for hotel rooms priced at around Rs 2200-3000. If you're booking luxury resorts, hotels in the range of Rs 5000 or above, you hardly save anything.

5. Two rooms*4 nights is not same as 8 nights
50% off is applicable if you book a room for 7 nights or more. If I book 2 rooms for 4 nights each, that is effectively 8 nights. But that doesn't qualify for discount. Not fair. Total amount paid would be same in both cases.

6. Weekday discounts are lost
Most of the hotels in tourist areas are overcrowded during weekends and they do offer good discount for weekdays. This advantage seems to be lost while trying to book for 7 days in anticipation of discount

7. There's no such thing as free cancellation, though hotel selection page proudly lists the same. MMT charges Rs 250

8. It is Y% discount OR max X rupees discount, whichever is lower.

Ibibo has been running hotel sale campaigns as well- their rates are also fairly inflated. So please check carefully and compare in multiple websites before making a call.

Most of these schemes are designed to get people excited, come to website and hope that some of them will end up booking without noticing various ways how they were cheated.

Similar: Stayzilla hotel booking experience

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bhagsu falls, McLeod Gunj

Bhagsu falls is one of the tourist attractions in McLeod gunj. During first week of summer, Bhagsu falls didn't really have much water left. Still water was good enough for those who wished to take a bath. Below are the view of the falls from a distance and close up.
Below art work caught my attention
Reaching Bhagsu falls involves driving on narrow roads for about 2 kms from the heart of McLeod gunj. There're a few temples and lots of restaurants (better options than city centre or chowk), along with a pay and use swimming pool.

A parking fee of Rs 20 was collected. While taking the car out, one of the guys (I think he was one of the drivers around, probably waiting for a space) almost put his hand on my steering and started giving loud instructions on what I should be doing to get the car out faster. Getting rid of him was a challenge.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Flipkart replacement- refund experience

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This is not a complaint on flipkart, just narrating my experience.

I’ve had a largely great experience with flipkart so far. Recently we bought a Micromax A58 budget smart phone and a flip cover for it, both from flipkart. The phone was priced about 20% cheaper compared to a physical store near us (Sangeetha guys quoted Rs 4500 for Micromax A58, while flipkart price was Rs 3600) Along with the phone also placed order for a flip cover for Rs 299. (AGS Flipcover for Micromax A58, white, sold by Unbeatenrates.

When I received the cover, I tried to mate the cover and the phone. Surprisingly it won't fit. Cover is apparently of the same size or smaller by few mm, so it couldn't accommodate the phone.  For a cover to fit on a phone, it should be few mm bigger or should have a flexible body to expand-fit the phone-then grip it. The flip cover I got had none. It was brittle and if I try to force fit, I ran a risk of breaking it apart. If there're some unconventional ways of fitting the cover on to the phone, there should have been a piece of paper explaining it. There was none.
Flip cover that doesn't fit- notice the extra dimension of the phone
Either the manufacturer made the phone bigger without telling the accessory maker OR accessory maker got the dimensions wrong and built a shorter case. Or do you think I am missing something?

[Update: One possibility could be that one needs to remove the original back cover on the phone and then use the flipcover's back as the only cover. None of my other phone covers were like this, so it didn't strike me to try this possibility. Neither there was any leaflet to explain this, nor did flipkart support team ask me to try this out]

I raised a request for replacement online. Gave description that the model doesn’t really fit. Without any question, replacement request was accepted. Within few days, I got my replacement. But to my horror, replaced unit was of exactly same size as the exiting unit. Understandably no one read the reason for me asking replacement. They just picked up another piece and sent across. May be the entire batch of mobile covers were of faulty dimension- any number of replacements won’t get me right unit, unless someone intervenes, understands and acts.

I told this to the delivery guy and asked him to take it back- he refused. His job was to delivery and that’s what he did. He said I should accept the piece and then deal with it separately- either file a replacement request or a refund request. He actually appeared little scared that I might file a complaint without collecting the consignment.
Replacement is exactly same dimension as earlier unit, which won't fit again
I called Flipkart support, they said they can’t do anything as the piece is not being shown as ‘Delivered’. I told I am right in front of the delivery guy and just got the piece, but  call centre was helpless. They said collect the replacement, wait till you get a confirmation SMS, then raise a request for refund of the money. I said fine and disconnected.

Eventually got the delivery confirmation msg, raised a request for refund, which was promptly accepted. No questions asked. However, money will be transferred to my account many days later, not instant. Same day flipkart guy came and collected it back. I am now awaiting for refund.

I suggest 3 process improvements here:
1. When someone raises a replacement request, do read the description. Blindly sending replacement for a faulty product with another equally faulty unit is waste of everyone’s time.
2. Give an override option for the process- if the delivery guy is right in front of me and I realize that product is faulty, I should be able to return the product then and there, without having to wait. It helps everyone involved.
3. While giving out combo offers or shipping/listing accessories, some basic checks to ensure compatibility can save lots of efforts later.

This post is not really to blame flipkart-they’re now just a marketplace where different vendors sell their stuff.  The accessory maker who put up his covers for sale claiming compatibility with a phone should have been more careful. As Sheshadri commented below, I should thank Flipkart for their no-questions-asked replacement and refund policy. There're lots of websites out there who won't even bother replying- let alone refund or replace. 

The product is just worth 300 Rs, but the time and effort spent on it- to order, to walk from desk all the way to office entrance to meet delivery guy 3 times, then the disappointment that it is not fitting, effort in logging a refund request, follow up etc is not worth it. These are some limitations of online shopping- you can’t feel the product and check its quality. Of course the reliability of online shopping is increasing day by day and incidents like above are very minimal. But this has made me think one more time before ordering everything online.

I've given a negative review for this product on flipkart- let me see if that gets published

I will continue to buy from flipkart, but will be little more careful.

Update: I've received the full refund on time.

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