Brexit fear means the pound's at a 30-year low against the dollar, and is down sharply against the euro. Last week I analysed if you should buy holiday cash now. Yet unless sterling recovers, even things you book here for an overseas holiday may be 20% more than last summer when the pound was at a high.
Of course if you booked an all-inclusive a long time ago, the impact will be minimal. But if you're sorting your own food, want excursions or will be out on the razz, expect it to feel expensive. Our 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide helps keep your costs down, and for speed here's my checklist of the key 12 tips...
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1. Over 5m EHIC cards are invalid - is yours? The European Health Insurance Card gives access to local GPs or state-run hospitals at the same cost as locals; so if it's free for them, it's free for you. Here are the need-to-knows...
- Over 5m are invalid as they're out of date. Check yours (see image) and renew if it is.
- Every family member, including children, needs their own.
- Never pay to get or renew one. Beware on search engines of con artists making you pay admin charges for 'helping you' or 'fast tracks'. To avoid this, see get and renew EHICs for FREE.
And don't let Brexit put you off; the EHIC scheme still works, and should do for at least two years, until we leave the EU (and may yet continue beyond). PS don’t see an EHIC as a replacement for travel insurance. You need both, see point 9.
2. Slash the cost of car hire - it can be £9/day. What can be £9/day booked a month ahead can cost £40+/day if you book once there (that's if any cars are left in high season). Full help in cheap holiday car hire, but at speed...
- Use comparisons: Skyscanner*, Kayak*, TravelSup* and Carrentals* - try as many as you've time for. Once booked, double-check details with the car firm.
- Beware stealth fuel charges. Some make you pay for a full tank & return it empty - that can add about £80 if you don't drive far. Most sites let you filter by fuel policy. See fuel charges help.
3. Buy car-hire excess insurance BEFORE you go and save up to 80%+. Pick up your hire car, and while basic insurance is almost always included, you'll often hear the scare tactic: "Hey señor, you need excess insurance too - if not and there's a problem, you pay €1,000." I can't tell you how often I've hired a car and wanted to intervene when I hear this happening next to me.
This insurance can cost €20 a day, that's often more than the hire itself. Far cheaper is just get standalone excess insurance before you go, as Glyn did: "Thanks @MartinSLewis, I followed your guide & got a week's car hire excess insurance for £13. Rental company wanted £12 per day."
To do it, use Moneymaxim* comparison site, then compare against:
- Leisure Guard* with 20% off code MSE20.
- Reduce My Excess* with 20% code MSE03.
- Questor* with 20% code MSE2097.
- Direct Car Excess Insurance* with 15% code MSE2101.
Even with this, hire firms will often say "you'll still need to pay us". This is true, as they require a deposit of €600 - €1,350 on a credit (not debit) card, from which they'll take the cost of any incidents. Yet with standalone policies you then reclaim that cash. See more on card deposit issues.
4. Easy way to get near-perfect rates everywhere, every time, with extra protection. Most debit and credit card firms get a near-perfect exchange rate from Mastercard or Visa, then add a 3%-ish 'non-sterling exchange fee' to what they charge us, so £100 of euros costs you £103.
But a specialist overseas credit card has no exchange fee, and you get the same near-perfect rate on the day it's processed. So pocket one, only for use abroad, and ensure you repay IN FULL each month to minimise interest. It can take 1-2 weeks to arrive; my top picks are:
- Long-term winner: Halifax Clarity (eligibility calc / apply*) has good feedback and a) it's a Mastercard, which usually wins on the underlying exchange rate - see rates compared. b) It has low fees for cash withdrawals.
- Slightly cheaper at ATMs: The Creation Everyday (apply*) is similar, but cash withdrawals are a touch cheaper, but we've little feedback (let us know).
- Easy-to-get card, but bad for ATMs: The Aqua card (eligibility calc / apply*) has no exchange fee, pays 0.5% cashback on spending and accepts some with past CCJs/defaults. But ATM withdrawals have high fees & high interest.
These aren't the only specialist cards - see the full list. If you have one, it isn't worth shifting. Check the two overseas debit cards too.
The Golden Rules. Full info: Top Overseas Cards (APR Examples).
1) Pay on the card - it's cheaper than withdrawing cash.
2) Clear IN FULL or these cards are 18.9%, 12.9% & 34.9% rep APR.
3) You usually pay interest on ATM withdrawals (not spending) even if you clear in full. Even so, Halifax and Creation still beat most bureaux.
Can't get or don't want a credit card? Anyone can get the Supercard. It has similar exchange rates to the cards above, but charges 2.99% for ATM use. Or try a prepaid travel card, here you load up cash in advance (and get that day's rate) - you can currently get £60 worth of foreign currency for £50.
5. Find best holiday money rates from 40 bureaux in seconds. Tell our TravelMoneyMax comparison how many euros, dollars, ringgits etc you want and it compares 40 bureaux, including fees, to find your winner. Or use the new TMM iPhone app or TMM Android app, which do the same and have added functions such as storing your plastic, so when you're away they show your cheapest way to pay. To show the impact on a €1,000 mixed spend...
- Top specialist credit card repaid in full (see point 4): £857
- Cash, via TMM's cheapest bureau (must pick up in London): £862
- Cash from M&S on the high st (non-M&S cardholders): £876
- Change at airport (not pre-ordered): £964
7. Slash airport parking costs from £80 to £40. Early booking tends to win. The easy way is to use our discounted links to comparison sites. Try a few...
8. Turn your smartphone into a free sat-nav. If it's got GPS, convert it into a free sat-nav for the UK and 182 other countries. If you're going overseas, download maps before you go to avoid pricey data costs.9. £9 A YEAR travel insurance (if you've booked, you need it NOW). Depressingly at this time of year my feed fills with tweets saying things like: "Just found I've a breast lump & need treatment, my airline won't refund my ticket, no insurance, what can I do?" The answer, sadly, is usually 'nothing', as that's what travel insurance is for. Yet many wait to get it until before they go - defeating half its purpose.
So get travel insurance the moment you book. If you don't, and you or a family member get ill or need to cancel, you've no recourse.
Cheapest annual policies (under-65s): Go away 2+ times a year and annual policies usually win. A year's Europe cover for a 32-yr-old costs just £9; for a couple worldwide aged 45 it's £44. The cheapest no-frills cover is usually Holidaysafe Lite*, but also check Coverwise* and Leisure Guard Lite*, as they beat it in some combinations. Full help in Cheap Annual Travel Insurance.
10. Bag cheap attraction tickets before you go. Paying on the door can be costly, especially for popular attractions such as theme parks, water parks or historical sites. See our cheap Disney and other attraction tickets guide.
11. Got your flight but nowhere to stay? Our Cheap Hotels and UK Hotels guides show how to get last-minute rooms at cheap prices. Tips include...
- The same hotel room can be sold at vastly different prices. Use Trivago* (or TravelSup* & TripAdvisor*) to see who's selling it cheapest. For example, last week one 5-star Las Vegas hotel room in Sept had prices ranging from £232 to £394/night. Plus you can then call the hotel to see if it'll beat the price.
- Uncover secret hotels. Secret hotels are a great way to stay in 4 or 5 star rooms at big discounts. The catch? You only find out the hotel once you've paid, yet we can show you how to uncover secret hotels in advance.
- Cheap holiday villas. These can massively undercut similar quality hotels. A 3-bed villa in Malaga with pool is £358 for a week in mid-August, compared with £1,420 in a similar quality hotel. MSE Jenny says: "Last July for 14 of us we got an amazing villa in Tuscany with a huge pool and 2 separate cottages for £2,170/wk, so £22/night each. During the school hols too." Our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide shows you how to do it.
- Rent a room or home. Alternatively, rent rooms in homes via Airbnb or Wimdu, eg, £55/nt for a room in Barcelona. Yet read our renting rooms info for more help and safety warnings if doing that.
12. Not booked anything but decided you need sun? The UK's beautiful, and we do get sun, but if you still want a trip abroad...
- Flights: Start by speedily doing a quick comparison. In general, use Kayak* (for gizmos), Skyscanner* (ease) & TravelSup* (range). Though if you're flying to a traditional package holiday destination, eg, Majorca, check Flights Direct* too, as it can be better for charter flights. This is the tip of the iceberg, see 28 Cheap Flight tricks.
- Package holidays: Here you usually get flights, hotels and transfers all-in. They can be cheapest, especially for 7, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional tourist spot. Better still, the 'lates' market (so within 8 weeks of travel) is where there can be some serious bargains. The key to really knocking down the price though is haggling - see our Cheap Package Holidays.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 13 July 2016. Its contents were fact-checked and updated on 19 July 2016.
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