The secrets to finding that cheap holiday

Research is key when planning a fulfilling — and financially viable — break. Among other things, it pays to shop around and be flexible in terms of your travel days, writes Tony Clayton-Lea.

IT IS, as they say, a jungle out there. It can also be a nightmare. These scares aside, going on holiday can also be a very fulfilling and — yes! — rewarding experience, both experientially and financially.

All you have to do is be careful, be strategic, and be ever so slightly micro-economically minded. Not stingy, just mindful — and be honest with yourself: would you really rather place your money in someone else’s pocket? No, thought not.

SHOP AROUND

It’s your first step to cutting costs. Many tour companies offer packages, but — outside those that may not have online connectivity — it is virtually the norm now that people book all of the different parts of their holiday separately.

If your time is flexible, aim to travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays rather than Fridays and Sundays — and if possible, consider flying into a smaller airport, which will decrease costs.

If you can marry flexibility with a slight degree of discomfort, consider travelling on either overnight or red-eye flights — you might even avoid having to pay for an extra night’s accommodation.

Another money-saving option is use online travel aggregation websites to help you compare prices on all of your travel, from train tickets and airfare to cruises and hotel stays.

We’d also advise flexibility with your destination; if, for instance, you’re after a beach/sun holiday, why fly to the Bahamas when many parts of Spain and Portugal are closer and cost a lot less to get to?

With regards to accommodation, remember that renting an apartment means self-catering, which can really cut down food costs. Shop around for travel insurance, irrespective of whether a travel agent or tour operator sells it as part of their package.

If you have private health insurance, look into the possibility of discounted travel insurance.

Shopping around also applies to your credit cards.

Choosing the wrong card to use whilst on holiday could all too easily set you back in obvious fees and cleverly hidden commission charges.

It’s crucial to know what charges apply to your card before you leave the country.

Some credit companies, for example, impose a fixed fee for overseas purchase in shops and restaurants — and that could well be on top of the fee they charge you for ‘currency conversion’.

At least if you are aware of overseas charges, your spending can be adapted — the last thing you’ll want, surely, is to be hit with a punitive card fee every time you withdraw a small amount of cash or for purchases of less than €30.

Also, check to see which credit companies don’t charge for ATM withdrawals.

PLAN AHEAD

Parking your car at the airport? We know all about that, thank you very much.

It has become more affordable in recent years, but there was once a time when parking at an airport for two weeks (or more) cost more than your flight.

The primary piece of advice here is to always, always book your car space in advance — in fact, as far in advance as possible.

Also – can a friend or a neighbour drop you off and collect you on your return? A bottle of duty-free wine as a thank-you might make better financial sense than airport car parking.

And speaking of cars, what about car hire costs while on holidays?

If you’re city based or oriented, car hire may be a non-runner, but if you’re in a country where various towns and sights are within a comfortable driving radius, then it’s something to consider.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to only purchase the basic hire package.

Car hire firms and their chatty sales people make gravy by selling add-ons such as ‘collision damage waiver’ insurance.

Again, research really helps — double-check the pricing of major players in the car hire market (Avis, Hertz, Budget) with online agents.

You’ll be surprised at your findings, as these smaller brokers can be much cheaper than going to the big boys. (On the other hand, the bigger operators can justify their prices by offering hard-to-resist special offers.)

Above all, avoid any operators with ‘full-to-empty’ fuel policies. These are particularly widespread in Spain, where inflated prices for a tank of fuel are prevalent.

Be aware, also, for those ‘low-cost’ deals that financially deliver a punch to the solar plexus by whacking up fees for additional drivers, drivers under the age of 25, for taking one-way rentals, for providing child seats, and — although this is becoming redundant since the arrival of smartphones with GPS apps — for the provision of SatNavs.

How much do the bus and/or taxi fares cost from the airport to your hotel? Does your hotel operate a complementary shuttle service to and from the airport?

Is your hotel within comfortable walking distance of the various amenities and attractions — or will you have to factor in daily/nightly transport fares? How much does food in the local restaurants cost?

Mobile phone roaming charges have thankfully decreased in the past few years, but you can still get caught out, so contact your phone provider before you leave the country.

Most people have smartphones, so source a café/bar with free Wi-Fi — the cost of a coffee or a beer will be worth it.

TIPS/ADVICE

Your protection under consumer law is less if you book each part of your holiday separately.

If you are travelling outside the EU, make sure to buy a small amount of local currency before you go — it’s very handy for bus or taxi fares when you first arrive at your destination.

Also — consider exchange rates when searching for a destination outside the EU. In some countries, your humble Euro won’t get you too far!

Some people still prefer the relative safety of Travellers Cheques — make sure you note down the serial numbers of these, as if they’re lost or stolen they can be replaced.

Inform your bank that you will be using your card whilst in a different country — by doing so you will definitely avoid your account being frozen by the bank as a security procedure.

You should also check with your bank what daily cash withdrawal limit there might be (again this is a valid security measure).

Research the best and most financially efficient methods to use your cards whilst on holiday — do your best to avoid bank and foreign exchange charges. They mount up!

Make a note of the 24-hour emergency telephone numbers for your bank /card companies — if your card/s are lost or stolen, you can then swiftly report them as such.

Based on your overall budget, come up with an average daily outlay — and do the best you can to include time spent waiting around at the respective departure lounges.

Airport food/drink is always much more expensive than you think — and besides, you can always make your own sandwiches and other snacks, as well as buy fruit, which is a very healthy and cheap option. As for books and magazines — do you really need to spend more money on them?

Always use your hotel safe to deposit your spending money— never carry large amounts of cash with you.

Social networking outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are useful and successful ways to discover bargains. And remember — they come to you, so you don’t have to do all of the work.

USEFUL WEBSITES

www.consumerhelp.ie 

www.quickpark.ie 

www.dublinairport.com 

www.kayak.ie 

Travel Digest

Northern Lights cruise from Norway

With a direct flight from Dublin, Hurtigruten’s ‘ArcticHighlights’ adventure cruise within the Arctic circle is a great opportinity to see the Northern Lights.

The trip on March 18 combines a voyage from Tromsø in Norway, up to Kirkenes on the Russian border, with one night pre-cruise and one night post-cruise. Prices from €1,040 with www.ClickandGo.Com ; tel 01-6371699.

Thompson offers summer sun in Egypt

Thompson summer offers to a variety of summer destinations include the cheapest coming in at €359 on May 24 ex-Dublin to Sharm El Sheikh, The company also has a May half board deal from from Cork to the Cost Del Sol for €639. www.thompson.ie 

Iceland surges in popularity

Travel Department has seen a surge of interest in the popularity of Iceland. There is direct access in spring and prices on three day package deals start from €539. www.traveldepartment.ie 

Guided tours to Istanbul

Insight Vacations has an eight-day guided tour package to Istanbul — with guide, ground transport, tours and some meals ex-Dublin on April 26 (excluding flights) on sale from €999. Flight extras with Turkish Airline of about €199. www.insightvacations.com/eu/turkish-delights-2015?tab=overview 

Trailfinders target Thailand

Long haul specialist Trailfinders continues to find bargains and Thailand’s island of Phuket remains one of the best right now.

The company has flights with Malaysia Airlines and accommodation for seven nights in the five-star Pullman Phuket from €999 (valid between April and May). Details on www.trailfinders.ie 


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