If you're dreaming of a holiday but don't want to spend more than you have to, there are ways to save. Read on for our tips on when it's best to book and how to bag a bargain break.
Time it right
Timing can make a huge difference to the cost of your holiday. Leaving it late, no more than eight to ten weeks before departure, can help you bag a bargain. 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. If you're flexible about dates and destinations, you'll often get an absolute bargain by leaving it until the week before travel.
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.This is usually the best option if you're planning a family break during the school summer holiday. In December and January many
travel firms offer early bird discounts and free child places.
Research shows that if you're booking a summer flight, the cheapest deals are on offer as late as five or even three weeks before you travel, particularly for popular European destinations like Spain or Greece. Charter flights in particular are often cheaper if you leave it late, since they'll be keen to put bums on seats.
It is also thought that many of the cheapest offers are available on Tuesdays, because it tends to be less busy with business travellers - and early morning flights not only have the benefit of a cheaper price, but you're less likely to face delays.
For those who have specific dates and destinations in mind, screen scrapers like Skyscanner, Travel Supermarket and Kayak are a great resource for finding the best deals, but do use at least two to be sure you really are getting a good price.
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.
As a general rule, you'll get a much better price travelling to long-haul destinations if you travel during the quiet season. Flights to the USA, for instance, are typically cheaper from September to March, while there are good promotions to be had in May, June and October if Asia floats your boat. And if the Caribbean is your dream destination, try to travel between May and September, when the hotels and airfares are at their cheapest. Clearly you'll want to double check that you won't be turning up in the rainy season, but in many cases it's possible to get some fabulous weather at a greatly reduced rate by leaving the peak seasons to those who want to splash the cash.
If you don't have a particular destination or date in mind, it's possible to find amazingly cheap deals with the help of technology. Money Saving Expert, for example, has an Flightchecker tool that will tell you when and where the cheapest deals are, while Momondo's Flight Insight comparison is another great tool for picking up a bargain break.
Package or DIY?
The travel agents says that their buying power enables them to offer cheaper prices. But don't take their word for it. 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
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 pick up a great bargain.
Have you managed to cut the cost of your holiday? Leave your comments below...