This is Part 3 of the Dubai Marathon Review Series featuring the Colombo Airport (and entry procedures) and the Serenediva Hotel.
Why Sri Lanka?
I’m sure by this point at least one of your is asking why I went to Colombo, Sri Lanka on my Dubai Marathon trip, right? Again, the goal was to hit as many different airlines and cabins as possible for reviews and find interesting ways to get around. I do not want to go into too much depth on the exact technique to book one of these tickets as it is a method that has been around for a long time and many people would be upset if it was shared to explicitly so let me just say a few things about it. It is a fare deal that basically lets you leave from Colombo, Sri Lanka to most places around the world and multiple destinations along the way for a small fraction of the cost of an actual first class ticket between two of the cities in your itinerary. The first class ticket is only a few dollars more than a business class ticket and the economy ticket is normally around the same price. These tickets can be booked with Travelocity and can be made up of various airlines that do not have to be in the same alliance. The nice part about these tickets is that they are actually paid first class tickets that allow you to earn miles at premium rates (normally 1.5 times the distance flown plus elite bonuses). The even nicer part is that you can book them with FlexPerks (FlexPerks are available with the US Bank FlexPerk program that allows you to use 1 point for up to 2 cents per travel booked and the travel engine they use is Travelocity’s – credit card link is here – application – I do not receive a commission for this card) so it cost me nothing even though it was a paid ticket.
Anyway, I hope that vague description gives you an idea of what I did and what is possible. Again, I do not want to be responsible for outlining it so clearly that I burn this method out but if you would like information to book one for yourself, do not hesitate to contact me for assistance!
Entering Sri Lanka
If you are going to be in Sri Lanka for two days or less, you would be eligible for a transit visa that is free. You can apply for this electronic visa here. If you are planning on staying at the airport, there is a transit hotel called Serenediva transit hotel. When you land and walk by all the different shops and lounges, you will arrive at the end of the concourse where you will see a statute of Buddha. If you were to take a left, you will see the signs for the hotel just before the immigration area (there are actually two immigration areas – one is farther up on the left and the other is back from there on the left of the counters). If you opt for a Visa on Arrival, the desk for that is behind the Buddha statue.
I headed toward the hotel upstairs since the Qatar Airways counter would not open until the next day (it was outside the immigration counter so I planned on leaving the hotel early enough to pass through immigration). I had e-mailed with the hotel and was told that I would not have to go through immigration but could go right upstairs. The fee for the hotel is $10 an hour with a minimum of $55. I planned on staying there just for the 5 hours. Before I went up the elevator, I tried to find a bottle of water. Unfortunately, there was no area around there to find water and this is one of the places where you do not want to drink the water from the tap!
When I got upstairs, I found the hotel easily enough and went to the counter. This airport was actually a lot nicer than I had thought it would be and the upstairs was no different. When I spoke with the man at check-in, he told me that I would not be able to stay there unless my flights were with Sri Lankan Airlines. I reminded them about my e-mails and how they said it was no problem. It turned out that the week before, the Sri Lankan security department had changed the rules to state that you had to go through immigration within 30 minutes of your flight landing or else the flight would be cleared from their systems and you would be in big trouble to still stay in the airside part of the airport. It was a good thing I had not decided to stay in the airport area itself!
The man kept insisting that I would not be able to stay there and would need to quickly go though immigration. I asked him if I would be able to then come back in and check-in. Because Qatar Airways was not open until the morning, I would be unable to get my ticket and come back through so I would have to stay in a hotel away from the airport or stay outside the airport on a bench. It was now almost 11PM and I was not about to stay on a bench overnight in Sri Lanka! Furthermore, the nearest hotel was going to cost over $200 for the night and I was not about to pay that. I kept asking him for some help and he finally must have felt bad enough about it to take me downstairs to talk to the immigration people.
After talking to them for 15 minutes, he said I would need to wait in a chair until the line was clear and an official would come to talk to me. Apparently, I would then be able to go back upstairs (but the language barrier was a little difficult so I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do). So, I sat and waited there for almost an hour. After I saw the line had been empty for a while and no one had come to me, I went back to the line and asked the official for some help. He explained that he would give me a sticker that night and I would come down in the morning and they would stamp it and I could go out to get my ticket. Finally!
I went back upstairs and was shown to my room and was told that there were two bottles of water that were free. Yes! I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the room was. The bed was nicely made, the room was large (with a seating area), the bathroom was also very nice.
So, if you ever were to find your way to Sri Lanka, or you just want to use it as a starting point for cheap tickets, hopefully this post helps you with some info about what to expect.
Here is the link to the site for the Serenediva Hotel – Link