When I decided to start writing my blog, I never thought I’d be doing the old Judith Chalmers bit. The more i thought of it though, i reckoned why not? It’s not like I haven’t been around the snooker block more than a few times. And besides, young players aren’t exactly given the copybook guide to managing time, finances, what, where, and when to book hotels / flights / entry fees etc. The main objective will be giving a few pointers to any newbies on tour, and at the same time, give snooker fans some idea of the logistical problems faced by every player regardless of ranking.
First off, snooker players constantly face the question of when should I book not only my return flight, but often the outbound flight too. Remember, this isn’t a week in Majorca when your return flight is cast in stone, and you can start mentally packing away the flip flops a day or so before flying home. Unlike I’d guess 99.9% of travelers, a snooker player rarely knows when he or she will be returning home. The obvious downside is that thanks to sometimes hefty changing fees, you can be considerably out of pocket once the necessary change is made. As is usually the case, booking your flight asap will secure the cheapest price whether you fly economy or business class, and some good early deals can be found for both. That’s why we hear players complain on social media when draws and formats are released at such short notice, and I don’t blame them. It can be very frustrating (and costly)! In an ideal world we’d have draws and formats put out a month or two in advance. Players would then be able to save quite a bit of hard earned I can tell you.
So what can be done? Well, for a start, be as organised and disciplined as you can. For example, before playing in let’s say a qualifying match for China, and providing the final venue dates are confirmed, have a look at the various flight options before qualifying even starts. Try to get the lowdown on the best deals so that upon qualifying you’re ready to strike while the iron is still hot. Bear in mind that the other players have similar flights to book also, so don’t delay. With PR activities having to be attended in Asia and the like, and always the day before play starts, be aware of the dates and arrive in plenty of time to attend (usually 24 hours). Another thing, don’t be lazy and put off joining the various airline travel clubs. If you’re going to be doing a fair bit of travel, get yourself in there. After all, it’s free, and in my experience if there are any good deals or free upgrades being handed out, you can be sure that their own members will get first refusal on any good offers. Again, don’t put it off. You might as well start building up those air miles as they might just come in handy somewhere along the line.
Another recommendation is to avoid using a travel company to take care of your flight bookings. It’s fair enough if money is tight and the cost of them booking it for you comes off your prize money, but avoid this if finances allow. If you do use a travel agency, check the change restrictions on whichever fare you buy. I’ve seen players desperate to get home, but the ticket they have (although reasonably priced) is non-changeable until a certain date. This is something the agent may not verbally tell you when booking, but can be found in the small print, so do ask the question. The solution, if you’ll excuse the pun, is to fly solo on these matters, where booking it by yourself online means you have a level of control of your change options when that time inevitably comes along. Also, it’s likely that the flight you now want to catch home after a match loss, will be within the next 20 hours or less. So, depending on the time of day back home, you mightn’t even have time to make that ‘office hours only’ phone call to the agency, whether it’s changeable or not. Basically, do it yourself online, you’ll learn the travel ropes quicker, and at least you then have a fair amount of control over your return flight. Oh, and do ask advice of the other players who know the drill. They’ll be only too happy to advise, once they’ve gotten their own flight sorted that is.
I know it’s obvious to say that the ‘get in early’ mantra for flights applies to hotels also, but there are ways of making sure you get the best deal possible. When travelling to continental Europe etc, where you will have to pay your own hotel, do your homework. I’ll give you a good and current example – take the PH Classic in Furth. Even although the tournament is in late august, I’ve already booked a good hotel with air-con (a must at that event with minimum 25c temperatures) with free cancellation right up until the day of arrival. Another plus to this is you can then pay only on departure, so losing early means only paying for the nights stayed, rather than the amount of nights booked. So, do ask the relevant people at World Snooker if the event dates and venue are cast in stone, even if it’s still many months away. If it is, shop around on Booking.com or the like. If you know your travel dates, which are fairly standard for those events, it’s worth booking early. Not only will you and your roomy save a few bob in the long run, you may even be fortunate to get that free cancellation up until the day of arrival, which takes the pressure off. For flights to this type of event, the main problem is that you are rarely able to cancel without some financial penalty. Again, check that the event is cast in stone if you are booking flights well in advance.
One piece of good news for UK players is the latest change to the China visa rules. Down the years we’ve been given various options of both visa duration and prices when filling in the application forms. In short, you used to get a 6 month single entry visa for say £80, or a 12 month double entry visa for around £140. The bother with this, aside from not really knowing which visa will suit best, is having to regularly re-apply every time you happen to qualify, where leaving your passport with the visa people for a week or two sometimes isn’t an option, especially if there’s a Euro event to attend that week, and your passport is required for entry. Anyway, the good news is that in the Edinburgh visa office at least (I assume others are the same) we are now granted a 2 year unlimited entry visa as standard for £151. A right result you might say, considering it saves time, hassle, travel and money. Maybe the visa people have calculated that most people only visit China once, so might as well offer a longer duration, but a bigger price as standard? Either way, I didn’t argue. I just said thanks very much. Like I say, I assume and hope the other UK offices now offer players the same visa deal. As for countries outside of the UK?, I’m afraid you’ll have to find that one out for yourself.
I know most of this is standard stuff, if a tad mind-numbing of almost Crucible almanac proportions. As you know, I’m trying to give non-players and fans out there a bit of an insight into life on the snooker tour. With snooker Q-School happening right now, if it helps any of the youngsters in any way then it’s been worthwhile. And besides, it’s taken up quite a chunk of my summer holiday flying time……now that’s what us snooker players call proper mind-numbing.
Have a great summer. Thanks for reading. And I’ll try to come up with a few new blog topics as the new season gets under way. With more than a few changes on the horizon there will be plenty to talk about – The Home Series events, some new tournament destinations, ranking cut off dates, some new faces on tour and whisper it quietly – the Shootout gaining ranking status which caused a minor kerfuffle on social media. It’s all go, so crash helmets at the ready. One thing is certain, it’s going to be entertaining!
Yours in snooker