Pic: Shutterstock / V. Shvd
When money is tight, life's luxuries tend to be the first things to go from your annual expenditure, and for many that includes holidays. But even if you are tightening your belt, it's possible to get a good deal if you know where to look.
Holiday rentals can be a cheaper option when it comes to getting away, particularly if you can get a large group together to cut the cost. Here are a few tips on getting the best deal on a cottage, villa or apartment.
When a rental is cheaper
As a simple rule of thumb (though it's not always the case) renting a place either in the UK or abroad is cheaper than a hotel if there's a big group of you going. While a couple may find themselves a bargain hotel room, larger groups can significantly cut costs by hiring a villa or cottage. And since you'll likely be self catering, you'll also save on food bills, while a washing machine may mean you can pack light and avoid hefty flight charges.
Where to look
Just as with package holidays, an online search is your best bet when it comes to finding the right property, and there are many sites providing properties both home and abroad. HomeAway.co.uk includes an impressive 720,000 properties available worldwide, and enables customers to search for specific features such as a pool, wi-fi, washing machine.
Villarenters is strong for European destinations with a total of 18,000 properties on offer. It has the added advantage of processing card payments on the site, and will refund your total payment should your chosen property turn out to be non-existent or unavailable.
If you're planning a UK break, Owners Direct connects those looking to rent out cottages, apartments and houses in Britain with holidaymakers, and you can even specify whether you want a dog-friendly property if you want to take Fido along.
While holiday rental sites are a great place to start, you could save money by booking direct with the owner of the property. However, it's important to remember that you won't get the same protection if something goes wrong, so a little extra caution is advisable.
In order to avoid the non-existent property scam, for instance, make sure you call rather than email or book online. Speak to a real person, using the official number listed on the holiday rental site, and don't be afraid to ask for references, how long the property has been listed. An online search to check that the property isn't listed elsewhere under a different name, and a read of any reviews on TripAdvisor, for instance, is also well worth the time.
Once you've found the property of your dreams, a spot of telephone haggling could bag you a discount. In general they'll be more likely to be open to dropping the price if you're booking four weeks or less before the date, and off-peak prices will undoubtedly be cheaper right from the off.
A property owner may also have fill-in dates available between rentals, even if it's just a few days, so if you're after a short break, it's always worth asking. If they drop the price but you think you can do better somewhere else, consider calling similar properties in the area to see if they will beat the price.
Though budget airlines are the kings of hidden charges, the price you see on a holiday rental site may also be hiding some little extras. With that in mind, keep a checklist of questions on hand so that you can be sure you know what you'll be paying.
For instance, is there an extra charge if you have children or are bringing your pet? Are bed linen and towels supplied, and are there any extra cleaning fees? Are all the utilities included in the price, such as electricity, gas and wi-fi?
Finally, if you are booking direct, be sure to ask what the changeover days and times are, how you pick up the keys to the property, and whether the owner or keyholder is nearby should you have any problems during your stay.
Last but by no means least, paying the right way can afford you more protection in case something goes wrong. This is particularly important if you've bagged a bargain by booking direct with the owner.
In most cases, owners will require a non-refundable deposit typically of 25 per cent, with the remainder due four to eight weeks before your arrival date. While you are likely to incur a charge for paying by credit card, should the property turn out to be non-existent, at least you will be able to claim back some, if not all of the money back. If the owner insists they don't have credit card payment facilities or asks that you wire money, it may be best to walk away and try somewhere else.
Have you saved money by renting a property rather than booking a hotel? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...