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Subang Airport was… KLIA?! 6 stark differences between travelling then vs now

If you had gone for a holiday recently, you may have wondered what it was like to travel during the terrifying dark ages. (Y’know like 30 years ago, before the days of smartphones, cheap flights, hotel booking sites and FaceTime… or WhatsApp video, for us peasant folk without iPhones.)

So together with our friends at Merchantrade, one of Malaysia’s largest and most-established money services provider, we wanted to see whether travel has actually improved over the years. If you haven’t heard of them, well chances are you’ve actually used them without realising it – they handle money transfer and currency exchange, transacting RM16.2bil a year from money transfer, retail and wholesale currency business (figure from 2018) across 85 branches with prime locations in Pavilion KL, KLCC, Imago Mall (Kota Kinabalu), MyTown and DC Mall. (Btdubs, they once helped us answer all your melebih questions about money changers.)

No need cash lo, just bring this cukup

No need cash lo, just bring this cukup

Well, they’ve got a new product and it’s something EVEN COOLER – think of it as the 21st century way of changing money – called Merchantrade Money Visa Prepaid Card. It’s essentially a multi-currency wallet and a prepaid card which you can use to store multiple currencies! It’s also the ONLY digital e-wallet platform in Malaysia with the buy-and-sell function for foreign currency.

You basically buy foreign currencies at competitive rates whenever you want via the app, and it’s stored as that foreign currency (rates are locked in). Since it’s a multi-currency wallet, one account can have US$500, SG$300, and RM1000 (up to 20 currencies) all at the same time, but do note that the overall limit is RM10k in total. You can also spend with ease anywhere overseas since it’s a Visa prepaid card.

If you know how expensive it can be changing money overseas, or hate the hassle of lining up at Mid Valley, then this is the card for you….We’ll explain more later, but for now, let’s put on our jetpacks and take a blast into the past!


1. Today, flying won’t cost you a kidney… or two 

Anthony (not his real name), a former flight attendant with over 30 years in the industry, told us that a flight from KL to London in 1991, would cost about RM3,000 two ways (RM5,500 today adjusted for inflation). For comparison, that same route now goes for about RM3,000… and that’s a long haul international route!

An old old oooold ad :)

An old old oooold ad 🙂

With the advent of price comparison sites and lots of competition from budget airlines, flying in general has become really cheap.

Anyone old enough to remember these chess sets? - Image from Carousel

Anyone old enough to remember these chess sets? – Image from Carousel

“Back then there was less competition. Today, everybody’s lowering their fares – Economy about the same, but today you guys get better prices. Then again, lower prices means the food also not so nice as before la – many routes have reduced cabin crews, and so the food needs to be easier to prepare.” – Anthony to Cilisos

Back then, you used to get lotsa freebies also for long haul flights, like magnetic chess sets, playing cards, and even toiletry kits for economy class. Today, even premium carriers have reduced these significantly.

In 2004, KLIA had only handled about 20 million passengers. Fast forward to 2018, and MAVCOM announced that the number of local airlines passengers has reached over 100 million. With the construction of KLIA2, you can just imagine how the passenger capacity in Malaysia has also taken off.


2. But unfortunately, we’re paying MORE for other stuff 🙁

Yay for cheaper flights! But our readers also told us that they always feel super pokai wherever they go, thanks to our not-so-hotshot currency.

(FIT=Free independent travelling) Most people share our sentiment haha

Yeah, we totally understand ;_; (FIT=Free independent travelling)

Just to give you a rough comparison… don’t cry k:

  • 30 years ago, RM1 = SGD$0.663 / USD$0.34 / GBP£0.208
  • And today, RM1 = SGD$0.318 / USD$0.23 / GBP£0.179 (omg… it halved for SGD!!)

Wahhh why our Ringgit so kesian one? Well the Ringgit is undervalued because of low oil prices, the China-US trade war, and a host of other factors, which are kinda complex la.

To make matters worse, a fluctuating currency can cost you quite a bit more than the simple exchange rates. And if you’re strapped for cash in a foreign land, swiping your credit card or trying to exchange money with our lesser-known Ringgit may just leave you with a bigger hole in your pocket.

Y I K E S. From Reddit user DevoShell

Y I K E S. From Reddit user DevoShell

But thankfully with Merchantrade Money, before you go for your trip, you can check value using the app and purchase up to 20 different currencies with 0% transaction fee by exchanging value, you can enjoy the rate you purchased (no need to worry about fluctuations), AND not have to worry about exorbitant conversion fees.


3. And yes you can carry water onboard last time 🙁

Sigh. So waste. Image from Reuters

Sigh. So waste. Image from Reuters

Do you remember what it was like to fly before KLIA was built? Let us know in the comments! But from what we could dig up, before KLIA as we know it opened in 1998, there was another Kuala Lumpur International Airport! It’s the Subang airport la basically (still used for domestic flights), and oh how we miss the days where we could shop at Subang Parade before taking a quick, breezy, 15 minute drive to the airport. 🙁

Kuala Lumpur International, now the Sultan Abdul Aziz SHah Airport. Images from MalaysiaAirports and BeingLostOnGreatness

Kuala Lumpur International Airport, now the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport. Images from MalaysiaAirports and BeingLostOnGreatness

Also, contrary to popular belief, airport security back then already included X-Ray machines and scanners. BUT, Anthony also informed us that security was much more lax compared to today. While firearms and weapons were always a big nono, you could basically bring any personal item with you whatsoever. In the past, you could also visit airplane cockpits! 

“Back then any boy any kid could go into the cockpit and take a picture. There used to be a minors program: We used to be able to do that, take the kids for tours of the aircraft, that all happened not too long ago still, but no cockpit visit.” – Anthony

Nowadays, especially on international routes, chances are you’ll be told to place any liquid, aerosol or gels you have into a plastic bag. In addition, things like non-lithium batteries are also banned from flights.


4. People used to… SMOKE in planes?? And clap too?!?!!? 

International flights before 1988 actually allowed you to smoke on board. Malaysia was a little late to catch up with the rest of the world, however, as we had smokers on planes even as late as 1999! That said, apparently people still try to sneak a smoke on flights.

“The whole plane used to smell like an ashtray. There was no escaping smoking. You can get a whiff of it even if you sit far away, as there were selfish passengers who wanted to smoke but not sit in the smoking zone.

By the late 90s, we stopped all smoking flights.” – Anthony to Cilisos

This flight is lit! Photo from

This flight is lit! Photo from

For some of our younger readers, this might surprise you but back then, whenever a plane landed without any problems, passengers would clap their hands! When we were much younger (think early 2000s), clapping on landings was quite a normal occurrence as landings used to rely 100% on the skills of the pilots involved, and a smooth landing was usually followed by the whole plane clapping.

So enthusiastic. Screengrab from YouTube user Joe Ben

So enthusiastic. Screengrab from YouTube user Joe Ben

Nowadays, with the aid of autopilot and automated landings, there’s no real reason to clap anymoreSome people still clap though, especially if the flight was extremely turbulent! Though some are trying to discourage the practice, we can only remember it as a super wholesome and cute way of showing your appreciation of the pilots for bringing you safely to your destination – in one piece no less!

When we said 'the whole plane started clapping, we meant the people. Though it'd be pretty funny if the plane itself started clapping too. And this, presumably, is what we think that would look like. Image from lolsnaps

When we said ‘the whole plane clapping’, we meant the people. Though it’d be pretty funny if the plane itself started clapping too. And this, presumably, is what we think that would look like. Image from lolsnaps

Oh no. Not another Rob Schneider movie!! - Image via Thrillist

Oh no. Not another Rob Schneider movie!! – Image via Thrillist

Aside from that, the planes we use have come a long way from before. Last time it was everyone share one screen – dun like the movie too bad lo.

In-flight entertainment has generally improved, plus some flights even have WiFi. In comparison, back then, everyone had to share a single screen at the front of the plane, with each section getting their own screen. Nowadays, every seat gets their own entertainment (unless you’re flying budget la).

And when it comes to inflight purchases, today you may even get to use Merchantrade Money! No more worrying if you have enough foreign cash on you.



5. We hardly depend on tour agencies anymore 

Also, tour groups have a certain... reputation about them. But to each their own right? Image from

Also, tour groups can be pretty hectic and packed. But that’s what package vacations are like eh? Image from

Back then, when it came to international travel, travelling with a tour guide was essentially mandatory, especially when visiting countries where you cannot speak the language. We spoke to a frequent traveler who used to work for one of the biggest tour agencies in Malaysia, Danny Tam*, and here’s what he told us. 

“Back then there were only a few travel agencies and they made money by selling tours in volume, as well as from booking hotels and airline tickets in advance based on their prediction of total sales. We used paper maps and referred to brochures from travel agencies and hotels we stayed at.” – Danny Tam to Cilisos

Well, those days are long gone as you can simply refer to your smartphones for everything from research to booking. Heck, before the internet and smartphones, we even had to look through the Yellow Pages to look for hotels, making very sure to call a toll-free number to haggle the price for a room!

And on the off-chance that you get lost with Google Maps, you can simply use a translator app to converse with any of the locals. Incidentally, English proficiency has also increased by quite a bit, especially in tourist-y areas, making travel easier than ever before. To be fair, it still doesn’t hurt to learn some basic vocabulary of whichever country you’re visiting.

Or body gestures. The more you know.... Infographic by, click image to see more

Or body gestures. Oh, the more you know…. Infographic by, click image to see more

Also, with budget hotels and comparison sites aplenty (even airlines like AirAsia are expanding into their own cheap hotels) and services such as timeshares and home/room rentals (AirBnB, HomeAway, Booking and etc.), budget travellers have plenty of options without having to refer to tour agencies.

That said, there’s certainly still appeal to having a pre-planned vacation by reputable tour agencies, as evident by their growing popularity even with all the competition we mentioned earlier.


6. No more headaches when it comes to using foreign currencies!

If you were gonna travel overseas, the one thing you’ll definitely need is foreign currency. The last thing you want is to be stuck on foreign land without any cash on you. And being from Malaysia where our Ringgit is hardly accepted in many countries, you’ll definitely wanna make sure that you have sufficient foreign currency before you fly off.

But money changing then and now have changed SO much. It’s actually a pretty old business, so old that it was there even before our central bank was established. In fact, back in the day they only carried about 10 currencies (SGD, INR, THB, IDR, USD, AUD, GBP…). Today, you can get over 30 currencies, even rare ones like Macanese Pataca and Turkish Lira in Malaysia. 

Speaking of cash from the past, we had RM1000 notes?!?!?! Photo from Lowyat forum user Einjahr

Speaking of cash from the past, we had RM1000 notes?!?!?! Photo from Lowyat forum user Einjahr

“Back in the 80s, there weren’t as many money changers as today, and they didn’t have a lot of currencies. I remember for Russia we could only get Rubles, and then we’re not allowed to take any extra rubles we didn’t spend out of Russia after the trip. Also, we used travellers cheques and foreign bank drafts. Very mafan.” – AY, 66, retiree

Back then, seeing people walk out from money changers with envelopes and envelopes of foreign notes was a common sight. Even after their trips, they’d keep their spare currencies in an envelope. And the decision of when to buy and when to sell was also another funny thing – you’d have to wait for the best rates to get the most out of your money.

In the event where you needed to use credit cards instead, you’d have to use old-school carbon copy imprinters. This writer was a little too young to know, but we’ve recently learned that before pay-wave or swiping terminals that we’re used to now, businesses used… carbon copy machines?!

MOTHER! What IS this thing?! Gif from user the one ring

MOTHER! What IS this thing?! Gif from user the one ring

It’s basically a non-electronic machine that makes an imprint of your credit card, then transfers it onto a double receipt. After that, you sign it to acknowledge your transaction… then the shopkeeper would keep the top copy (original) while you keep the bottom copy. Today, paying via cards is as simple as using payWave by Visa. It’ll take you a second!

Speaking of which…


A LOT has changed in 30 years, but at least there’s one thing you don’t have to change anymore…

… and that’s cash! Hurhur. For all the changes to travelling overseas, there are some for the better, and some for the worse – BUT there’s one that we’re glad for – we don’t even need to queue up at the money changer! 

An offline Merchantrade outlet in Pavilion KL

But of course, offline outlets are still there as an option.

The alternative used to be using your credit card overseas, which may result in pretty exorbitant exchange rates, AND 1-3% mark-up on FX rates. Here’s how Merchantrade Money solves that problem – for say a trip to Melbourne next week.

Click here for a quick video on how the whole thing actually works.

Click here for a quick video on how the whole thing actually works.

All you need to do is to load up your e-wallet to, say, RM1000. While on the app, you can browse through the 20 currencies available and their exchange rates and purchase AUD$300. Once in Melbourne, you can pay using the physical VISA card. You can also immediately track and manage your transactions in real time, so you don’t need to wait for months to get a shock statement.

You can also withdraw from the ATM, but you’ll have to pay a fee of RM10 and any other additional fee which may be imposed by overseas ATM banks. There is also an RM1 withdrawal fee in Malaysia.

And when you’re not travelling, you can just use the card for online purchases in foreign currencies, like on Amazon, eBay, or ASOS. It’s also the ONLY digital platform in Malaysia with the buy-and-sell function for foreign currency.

There’s also local and international card-to-card transfers, so you can send and receive money from friends and family for free, regardless of where they are. There are also a number of safety controls in the app, like the option to immediately block your card if you lose it in real life, enabling/disabling online payments, managing overseas retail payments and withdrawals… (For more info, just click here.)

On balance (geddit, geddit?), more people get to experience travel these days, and easier than ever before. While we might miss some of the cool stuff of yesteryear, we can probably agree that our iPads and smartphones make flights seem a lot shorter than Rob Schneider movies.


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