It’s possible to haggle already-cheap package holiday late deals down by a further 10%. One MoneySaver who "had no idea this’d work" reports getting £600 off a Crete holiday, just by calling three travel agents.
This step-by-step guide shows you when to book, where to go and how to haggle travel agents down to shave more off.
Package vs DIY holidays
The first thing to decide is whether a package holiday is right for you, or if you would get a better deal booking a DIY flight and hotel online.
A package holiday is an all-in-one, where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price. That means they're off-the-peg and best suited for standard breaks of standard length. So...
As a rough rule of thumb, packages are usually cheapest for seven, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional holiday destination.
If you're going away for a different trip length, to a less-visited spot, on a city break or a multi-stop holiday, you'll tend to be better off with a DIY break. Read the Cheap Flights, Cheap Hotels and Cheap Holiday Rentals guides, as well as the Hotel Sales deals note, for more on those.
This means if the holiday company fails, you'll either be given a refund or, if you're away, can complete your trip.
Create your own 'protected package holiday'
Changes to the ATOL system now mean package holidays aren't the only way to get protection for your trip. Since 2012, if you book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire together (or within 24 hours) from the same travel (not airline) website, you now get ATOL protection, just as with a package holiday. See the MSE News story ATOL travel protection extended.
It's worth comparing this to booking the cheapest flight and hotel separately to see if this protection 'costs' you.
With DIY holidays that don't include this type of ATOL protection, if one of the components fails, you're unlikely to get your money back unless the transaction was over £100 and you paid by credit card (read a full guide to Section 75 Refunds).
Flight delayed in the last nine years?
Whether the flight was last week, last summer or up to nine years ago, EU rules mean if you’re delayed over three hours or your flight is cancelled, you’re often entitled to £100-£480 compensation per person. Full step-by-step, including free template letters, in Flight Delays.
It's all about when you book
When it comes to timing your package holiday booking, there's one thing to remember:
The later you book, the cheaper, but this means limited choice. If you can't book late, book as early as possible.
The later the better...
Booking late is the cheapest way to get a package. Later means no more than EIGHT to TEN WEEKS before departure, when the bargains flood in.
The reason's simple. Tour operators have chartered the planes and reserved the rooms, and, if they don't shift 'em, they lose money. The later you leave it, the more desperate they are to flog empty rooms, so the price drops further.
Yet the later you wait, the more you need flexibility about dates and destinations. So if crèche facilities or a specific hotel are must-haves, be careful.
If you just want anywhere hot and cheap, leave it very late, ie, the week before you go, and you may get elegant trips for dirt-cheap prices.
...or the earlier the better
The other way to get discounts, is to book early, as much as NINE MONTHS in advance, because many tour operators offer early booking discounts. These can include £100 per couple discounts or buy-one-get-one-free weeks. For example, if you book a 2015 summer holiday with Thomas Cook*, you can get up to £300 off per booking (if you book before Tue 30 Sept).
Last two weeks of summer hols are cheaper
Take a holiday when others can't, such as travelling before school holidays in May and June to family destinations such as Florida, and you'll get a better price.
If that's not an option, prices for package holidays drop rapidly at the end Aug/early Sep. This is likely to be because most people want to go as soon as they can, according to ABTA. For example, a week in Spain for a family of four was £1,695 in early Aug, but £865 for the end of the summer holidays.
Go off the beaten track
The same's true if you venture to once-in vogue mass destinations that are no longer chic, where hotel capacity is unquenched by off-the-boil demand.
If you don't fancy a package, city breaks tend to cost less in summer as they're less obvious destinations. Consider Bulgaria rather than Greece, while countries with recent political unrest, such as Egypt, will also cost less - though check Foreign Office guidance first.
Haggle down the cost of your holiday
The most important thing to understand before haggling is:
Tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell them.
Admittedly, they're often both subsidiaries of the same company, yet the distinction is crucial. That's because, just as a Kylie CD is available from different shops at different prices, many different travel agents will try to sell the same tour operator's holiday at different prices.
This is the HEART of the haggling system. The aim's to find the travel agent who'll sell it to you for the least. This system works best for late deals from major tour operators, eg, Thomas Cook, rather than smaller niche operators.
Step 1: Pick your perfect holiday
The aim's to locate a suitable holiday and grab all the details. Make sure it's within your budget. A holiday you spend the rest of the year worrying how to pay for isn't relaxing (try the free Budget Planner for help).
Benchmark a decent price on the web
To get an idea of the type of price you should be paying, use the web - grabbing brochures for likely destinations helps too.
More inspiration is available on the late deals sections of tour operators' own sites - try Thomas Cook*, First Choice*, Virgin* and Olympic.
Though it's not perfect, use review site TripAdvisor* to check out hotels. Also check Weather2travel, which charts average weather conditions for different countries to see whether your destination will be sunny or soggy.
There is a growing number of package holiday listing sites:
TravelSupermarket* Slick, easy to use site
While its functionality is straightforward, TravelSupermarket* covers a wide range of holidays. If you're flexible, just leave the 'going to' box blank, and it generates bargain basement suggestions. Fancy somewhere steaming hot? A handy slider lets you specify temperature. Read more
Plus you can filter the list of brokers, so if you find one agent only sells holidays it's put together itself, not big-name tour operator hols, you can filter it out (see Check it's a genuine package for more on this).
Icelolly.com If you've no clue where to go
For a starting point, you won't go far wrong with Icelolly.com. Enter your travel details, and it searches all eligible holidays. Read more
If you don't have a specific place in mind, leave the destination blank and it finds uber-cheap deals. Handily, you can include up to three airport choices in your search.
Finally, just for fun, click the 'who's been there' button to see which celebs have visited a destination. Who knew that Prince William was a Corfu fan?
Teletext Holidays An oldie but a goodie
Remember its old TV pages? Now the Teletext Holidays website is a good place to get inspired. Its homepage lists top cheap picks to get you started. Read more
The site makes you specify a destination and board basis when you search, which makes it tricky if you just want 'anything cheap'.
While the filter and search options aren't advanced as some other sites', it's got a good range of last-minute and exclusive offers to choose from.
You can't haggle on the web
While the web's great for getting a price, you can't haggle on it. This is because prices change all the time, especially if you're booking at the last second. Ultimately, this is all about speaking to real travel agents, to get real prices and cut the price.
It's worth using a website, such as TravelSupermarket*, because it allows you to search for a place and see cheap holiday travel agents for that region. Yet don't believe the web if it mentions a holiday; as you must call and check it's actually available at the price mentioned.
It's also worth heading down to high street travel agents to see if they'll cut you a deal, especially if you're booking early. Sunday newspapers often list discount travel agents.
Once you've found a holiday you want, within your price range, ensure you write down as much info as you can.
That means tour operator details, flight times, hotel destination (or minimum star if it's allocation on arrival), whether transfers, meals and plane meals are included – everything you can get. Though don't spend too long on the phone to the original travel agent. It's unlikely you'll actually book through them.
Is your holiday protected?
Brokers sell two types of trip. First there’s the traditional package, where flights, transfers and hotels are all booked with one tour operator, eg, Thomas Cook or Thomson. These formal package holidays are ATOL-protected.
Then there are holidays which the agent puts together, with separate, usually budget, flights, hotels and transfers. Giveaway words are ‘dynamic’, ‘tailormade’ and ‘pyramid’ hols. While agents call these packages, often they aren’t.
These used to be unprotected. However, from 30 Apr 2012, ATOL protection was extended to include flights and accommodation or car hire booked from the same company within a day of each other, even if they're not part of a formal package. See the MSE news story ATOL Travel Protection Extended for info.
Always ask a broker before you book: “Is this holiday ATOL-protected?” and “What happens if my flight is cancelled?”
This is handy extra protection, as it means you've more flexibility when choosing your trip. If you're covered, you'll get an 'ATOL certificate'.
Step 2: Haggle down your holiday price
Now the holiday's picked, it's a game to get EXACTLY THE SAME holiday cheaper.
It's worth remembering to stay polite, charming and smiley throughout this, as
We went through the process as we wrote, though tragically it was only for the sake of research. Our destination was a week's self-catering in Barbados, at a three-star hotel, for two, leaving in two weeks' time.
Use online sites to find agents
TravelSupermarket* and Icelolly.com are useful here as they list phone numbers of all your destination's specialist holiday companies and often brokers too. Act quickly, as prices and availability change.
We found a price of £570 per person (compared to £786 in a brochure). After calling, the other costs brought it down to £593 including booking fee, transfers and plane meals. These supposed 'extras' are almost always split out with late bookings, so always check.
- Call and ask if it can beat the quote you have
Pick an agent, and with politeness and charm, tell it you've been quoted a holiday price. Give it the details and ask if it can beat the price. Try to negotiate in price per PERSON, not total cost, as discounts seem less to them.
Our price was £593, so we quoted £585 and it came back with £570.
- Then continue the process with a few more
Now call a few more, quoting the best price you got and see who can beat it. To speed up the process, you could knock about a tenner off your existing price before you haggle. But don't go too far with this, as the agent will often ask for the name of the rival outfit.
Quickly repeating this process with three others, the price soon dropped to £523 per person. After that, no one else would budge. Still, so far that's a saving of £140 for two, with just a few phone calls.
- Call the tour operator directly
Once you've hit the price floor, to be absolutely sure, call the tour operator's own direct booking arm. Thomas Cook*, First Choice* and Virgin* all have them.
At this point, we called the tour operator offering the holiday, but the cost must have been down to the bone already, as they would only match, not beat, our price of £523.
- Give the first broker the chance to match it
Finally, just to try to be fair, if a travel agent spent a lot of time with you to find the holiday in the first place, why not give them the chance to match – not beat – the price to regain your custom?
Compared with the brochure price at £1,572 for two, it was a saving of £526 for two on the original price. And this is on a relatively cheap holiday. The more expensive the trip, the bigger the savings.
How much will you save?
Many people have tried this technique with varying degrees of success. Here are some quotes from the forum:
Recently we booked a holiday for a family of four to Florida. Initial quotes were in the region of £5,000 to £6,000 for chartered flights, accommodation and car hire. By employing the haggling technique, we managed to get the final price down to just over £2,000 all-in! - MoneySaver2
I have just saved myself over £600 on a holiday to Crete. I had no idea it would work, but I got three quotes from three advertisers on the Teletext ads. I am so happy to have got all this money off! - Shughesnerys
I just followed the tips on haggling down the price of our holiday and managed to save £460 per person on our next cruise. It works, just give it a try! - Clutterbux
Add your success/failure story and read others
A few years ago, Martin presented an ITV Tonight programme on this technique, taking a couple of families and showing how much they could save by haggling.
Travel agents vented their spleen, letters were sent and their trade magazine devoted pages to it. Apparently showing people how to cut their costs is ‘immoral'. Read their views and Martin's response and his later blog: "Martin Lewis turns down travel agents’ invitation” – is that news?.
The aim seems to be to persuade us that travel agents have it tough. We don’t really need persuading. We're pretty sure in the current climate some agents – like those in many other industries – are having difficulties, and we wish them all the best.
Yet that isn’t enough of a reason for us to hide the fact that haggling with travel agents results in consumers paying less. This is a site for consumers, after all.
To be fair to travel agents, try to minimise the amount of their time you use when originally sourcing the holiday you want, if you're going to buy it cheaper elsewhere anyway. It's one of the reasons we favour phone specialists who deal with this all the time over high street agencies.