WITH temperatures dropping and mist and rain increasing, many Irish people are turning their thoughts to getting on a plane and heading for the sun. Whether you are hoping to get away for a break during the winter or planning for next summer to give yourself something to look forward to, here’s how to get yourself the best possible deal.
The big question when it comes to booking a holiday is whether to do it yourself or book from a travel agent. With sites like TripAdvisor and booking.com, it’s never been easier to create your own customised holiday.
This summer I was interested a 10-day holiday in Italy, three days in Rome followed by a week on the Amalfi coast. It was advertised as a package with an Irish travel agent at €995pp.
Booking the flights, transfers and accommodation myself I was able to arrange the same holiday for three (two adults and a teenager) for roughly €1,500. Even allowing for me choosing different accommodation than the package deal, it shows there are major savings to be made.
But there are also downsides. You have to be willing to put in a lot of hours trawling through websites and reading reviews to try and find reasonable accommodation. And there is a certain amount of trepidation until you actually get there, a fear of having made a bad call and landed your family in a Fawlty Towers-esque nightmare.
Your family holiday is precious time together and one of the big spends of the annual budget. So you must judge for yourself what price you put on having someone else be responsible for making sure the accommodation is decent, plus organise all the details of airport transfers, check-in etc.
I asked Cork-based corporate travel agent Martin Heap how much readers could trust TripAdvisor reviews. He believes the site can be very useful, once people are aware of its limitations.
“You will always get people who are never happy and will find something to complain about,” he said. “And you will get a certain amount of untrustworthy reviews.”
“So even though it can be off-putting to read a terrible review of a place you’re interested in, look at the overall picture. If 70% or more of reviewers rate the place as good or very good, it is more than likely fine.”
In terms of booking flights, generally there are savings to be made if you travel midweek rather than at weekends, with Tuesday and Wednesday suggested to be the cheapest days.
Flights are one area where you will pay dearly for booking close to your travel date. When booking watch for hidden extras like travel insurance being added to the cost (although do book travel insurance). Also check baggage allowances.
That cheap flight will become expensive very quickly if the allowance is too small for the trip you have planned and you have to add extra bags. Always book your airport parking online well in advance, to get the best deal.
If you are interested in going down the travel agent route a good site to check is the Irish Travel Agent Association’s own site, itaa.ie. They round up the best deals currently available.
They currently have last-minute offers for holidays between now and Christmas as well as offers for next summer. It may seem very early to book for next year, but given how little deposits are currently earning in the bank, it could make financial sense.
You will be able to take advantage of early deals, budget for it over the course of a few months and get the pleasure of looking forward to it during the dark winter days.
If you prefer to holiday in Ireland, signing up for deals sites is a must. Groupon and in particular Pigsback.com offer superb deals on hotels around Ireland, often with a meal or activity included in the price.
If you are planning a short break somewhere, particularly a stag or hen, and have decided the location one great idea is to sign up for Groupon alerts for that city/area.
Offers for activities like golf or spa days and deals on eating out can make a huge difference to the budget for the trip.
If you have a football fan in your life, now is the time to get booking the Christmas present of their dreams. Trips to matches are definitely one of the areas where it’s best to go to an agent and Irish company Champions Travel will get you sorted for games anywhere in Europe.
The company take a deposit of €50 per person to secure a booking and then allow you pay what you want when you want, once it’s fully paid two weeks before the fixture.
You can tailor your package by choosing what grade hotel to stay in and also what match package you want. They range from basic to executive packages.
So whether your footie-lover is a La Liga hipster or a Premier League faithful, they’ll have a package to suit. Generally the deal is they sort the match ticket and accommodation and you book the flights yourself separately. So do check that you can get a handy, reasonably-priced flight before you commit to a package. Champions Travel can also give you a customised Christmas voucher so you have something to put under the tree.
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