The economy may have turned a corner, but for millions of Brits, the luxuries of life are still proving tricky to come by. If you're desperate to get away this summer though, there are ways and means to cut the cost when you book.
Timing really is everything when it comes to booking a holiday. Leaving it late, no more than eight to ten weeks before departure, can often be the best way to go. This is because tour operators have chartered planes and reserved rooms, and they want them filled, which means the prices will drop the nearer it gets to an empty-seat scenario. You'll also be able to make a saving if you book well in advance, nine months or so before you plan to travel. At this stage, many travel agents offer early booking discounts, which could be £100 off or buy-one-get-one free weeks.
Just as timing can make a big difference to the price, so too can a little flexibility on your part. Travel when others can't, for example before or just after the school holidays, and you'll certainly get a better price. But the day you choose, or even the time of day, can also save you cash, so think about night flights or midweek travel to cut the price of your break. Similarly, if you can handle the hassle of a connecting flight, you may find that those that include stop-overs considerably cheaper, as much as 20 per cent in some cases.
The travel agents, rightly so in many cases, claim that their buying power enables them to offer cheaper prices. But don't just take their word for granted. If you know where and when you want to travel, check online to see whether you could get the flights and hotel cheaper if you book them independently. These days if you book, for example, a flight and hotel or car hire together from the same travel website, you may well be Atol protected (though you'll need to double check whether you choose the package or DIY option), so you won't be disadvantaged by doing things this way. It is also worth looking into all-inclusive deals, as they are often available quite cheaply, and mean you won't have to budget for food and drink while you're away.
Competition is rife in the travel industry, particularly with the Internet offering more and more options. That means haggling could really bring down the cost of your break. Search for your ideal holiday on the likes of Travel Supermarket, Ice Lolly or even Teletext, and note down the price, along with all the details, i.e. tour operator, flight times, hotels, and what little extras are included. Then get calling travel agents to see if they can find the exact same holiday. Get their price, then call others to see if they can match, or even beat it. You might be surprised how much they'll knock off.
Though the plane tickets and hotel reservations are probably the biggest ticket items in your travel bag, all the little extras like airport parking and transfers, where not included, can add a considerable amount to the cost. Advance booking airport parking, for instance, means you'll get a much better price than if you just turn up, saving you as much as 60 per cent off the price. And that's a saving worth making.
If you're prepared to take a bit of a risk, you can bag a bargain at the likes of Lastminute.com, who offer discounted rates on 'secret hotels'. You choose the number of stars and a rough location, and then get what you're given. But a little research on the area will give you a good idea of whether you'll be happy with your eventual digs.
Bid for a bargain
We Brits have been using eBay for decades now, but few of us think of bidding for a bargain break. Priceline.com allows you to bid on hotel rooms by first picking an area, star rating, and then 'naming your price'. You'll only get one bid per day, but if your hotel of choice has rooms going spare, you could find yourself living in the lap of luxury for a fraction of the usual price.
Have you managed to slash the cost of your holiday? How did you manage it? Leave your comments below...