Why I’m Going to Myanmar
Earlier this year, the New York Times Blog named Myanmar (formerly Burma) #3 on its list of The 45 Places to Go in 2012. (The list also included Oakland, CA at #5, and Chattanooga, TN at #25 … make of that what you will.) After years of military rule (and one of the longest civil wars in history), in 2010 Myanmar held its first free elections and subsequently opened the country, which had previously been all but shut off from the rest of the world, up to foreign visitors. According to the New York Times …
Because the country has been so isolated, the deeply Buddhist “Land of the Golden Pagoda” resonates with a strong sense of place, undiluted by mass tourism and warmed by genuine hospitality. Travelers will find atmospheric hotels and a network of well-maintained regional jets serving the main sites.
But that’s not why I’m going. In the midst of this dramatic transition, there have been a lot of changes. Even the name of the country is still a hotly debated topic, with many preferring the pre-conflict name of Burma to the junta-appointed name of Myanmar. I’m going because, in preparation for the the return of foreign investment following the Obama Administration’s easing of economic sanctions against Myanmar, the ruling government dramatically changed the official value of local currency (the Burmese kyat) overnight on May 1st to match what it was already trading for on the black market.
Introducing “Mistake Fares”
The value of the local currency is important because typically airfares originating from a given country are priced in the local currency. Normally, this creates relatively minor fluctuations — for example, if I buy a one-way ticket from London to San Francisco, it will be priced in pounds sterling, which will vary slightly from day-to-day when you covert that to us dollars, but is generally stable. When the Burmese kyat changes from about 7 kyat to the dollar to 800 kyat to the dollar overnight, however, a 13,230 kyat one-way business class ticket changes from about $1,890 to $16.50.
Every airline received appropriate notifications about the change, and consequently most of them adjusted their fares accordingly; however, a few did not and got caught with their pants down and, thanks to consumer protection regulations introduced in January of 2012, are now required to honor these “mistake fares”.
Personally, I have four of these trips outstanding, all in business class, and each of which cost me less than $300 …
- October, 2012: Rangoon, Myanmar – Bangkok, Thailand – Tokyo, Japan – San Francisco, CA
- January, 2013: Rangoon, Myanmar – Bangkok, Thailand – Singapore – Seoul, South Korea – London, UK – Boston, MA
- February, 2013: Rangoon, Myanmar – Tokyo, Japan – Minneapolis, MN – Vancouver, BC
- July, 2013: Vancouver, BC – Minneapolis, MN – Tokyo, Japan – Rangoon, Myanmar – Tokyo, Japan – Minneapolis, MN – Vancouver, BC
Throw in a bit of creative routing…
This deal wasn’t for the feint of heart. Because each of the trips has to originate in Myanmar (for trip 4, the Vancouver-Myanmar segments are actually part of a round-trip that starts with trip 3), I have to get there on my own — usually using miles that I’ve accumulated elsewhere. In some cases, I also have to get home from my destination (e.g. from Boston to SF, and from Vancouver to SF). Finally, Myanmar is still a bit cautious about accepting visitors — I have to send my passport off to the Myanmar embassy in Washington, DC for about two weeks before each trip to get a visa added to it.
Keeping Up with These Opportunities
This is just one of many different kinds of travel deals that I come across each year though. Some of them are mistakes, like this one, but some are just great deals — for example, US Air had tickets from New York to Dublin, Ireland in business class (with flat bed seats) for less than $900 roundtrip all-in over the Thanksgiving holiday. I am starting a very low-volume travel deal mailing list for anyone that would like to learn about these time-sensitive deals as they happen. If you’re interested, sign up using the form below. You should expect no more than an email a week, and I promise not to sell your email address.