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50+ Overseas Travel Tips

Tricks to bag cheap flights & more

If you're planning a trip overseas, don't just wing it. Whether chilling in Chile or roaming in Rome, there are loads of hidden tricks to save cash and ensure you're Havana great holiday.

We've 50+ travel tips to help, from finding the cheapest flights and top overseas spending cards to reclaiming cash for flight delays.

Pocket a super-cheap overseas spending card

Most cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can avoid this by packing a specialist card that doesn't add this 'load', meaning you'll get perfect exchange rates which beat even the best bureaux de change. Pocket one just for spending overseas (always repay IN FULL to avoid interest). You'll need to apply at least three weeks before you go.

The Halifax Clarity* credit card has no foreign exchange fee anywhere in the world for the best rate possible. Plus we've a canny eligibility calculator, which leaves NO credit file mark and lets you see how likely you are to get it. ALWAYS fully repay by direct debit to minimise the 12.9% representative APR.

Last updated 8 Jan 2015. See the Cheap Travel Money guide for full best buys.

Free app turns phone into international sat-nav for 50 countries

If you've a smartphone with GPS, such as an iPhone, here's a nifty way to turn it into a sat-nav abroad, with local maps, for free - without using up any pricey data overseas. It isn't a fully-fledged system like paid sat-navs, but it's handy for a one-off trip.

Launched in 2010, Navfree is a free app for iPhone and Android. It turns a GPS smartphone into a sat-nav, with pre-loaded maps, route planning and voice prompts.

The big boon here is that once you've downloaded it to your phone, it doesn't need any internet data to find routes, search or access its maps via GPS (unlike similar apps, eg, Google Maps), as these are stored offline in your phone.

It also has optional paid premium content, including voice prompts by Wallace and Gromit or Snoop Dogg, traffic updates and more.

By contrast, paid sat-nav app TomTom Europe is £64.99 on iTunes at the time of writing. Navfree doesn't have the same bells and whistles, but it's still a big saving.

Quick questions:

Where can I use it?

Download it before you go

Are there any other free sat-nav apps?

Use the right cheap flight-finding site

Freeze! Don’t search the first knock-down flight site. You need to use the right type - here's what you should try:

  • Screenscrapers: If you know when and where you want to go via scheduled airlines (eg, BA, KLM), try Skyscanner* (for ease), TravelSupermarket* (for breadth) and Kayak* (for tailored searches). They grab the cheapest prices from airlines' sites and also include brokers like Expedia* (but check separately for further discounts if booking hotel and flights together).
  • Charter comparisons: If you're off to a traditional package holiday destination, charter flights (spare capacity on tour operators' bespoke planes) can win. Try TravelSupermarket*, Avro* and FlightsDirect*.
  • Budget airline sales: If you just want uber-cheap, ask our FlightChecker tool to find "all sub-£20 flights in May" either to a specific destination, or just select "I’ll go anywhere".

The Government announced in the Autumn Statement last year that it's scrapping Air Passenger Duty (APD) for children under 12 from 1 May 2015 - and if you'd already booked ahead, you may be due a refund. For full details, see the How to reclaim Air Passenger Duty airline-by-airline MSE news story.

The codeshare trick: grab a premium flight for less

Codesharing is when two or more airlines sell seats on the same flight. Many operators now do it – and it can offer a little-known way to snag a cut-price flight on a premium airline.

For example, a United return flight from Birmingham to New York in March is £420 if you book with United, but £400 with Lufthansa – even though it’s the same plane. 

The airline that operates the flight (providing the plane, the crew and ground handling service) is called the ‘operating carrier’. Airlines which sell tickets for the flight but don’t actually operate it are called ‘marketing carriers’.

Codesharing flights can be hard to spot, but marketing carriers will tell you before you book if your flight's operated by another airline. To find them, try going to a comparison site and look for flights flying the same route at the same time – if you find some, the chances are they're codesharing, but you can check by clicking through (some sites, eg, Kayak and Skyscanner, show codesharing flights on their main results page).

Bear in mind it can work the other way too – if you have a favourite airline, codesharing can lead to disappointment if you end up travelling on a plane operated by another firm. Plus if you're on a multi-leg trip it could mean you’re not only changing planes, but airlines too.

Beat price hikes with Easyjet's Flexifares

We've found a clever way to bag cheaper flights using Easyjet's 'Flexifares', which let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying anything extra.

It only works with 'Flexifare' tickets, but once you've booked you can switch dates by a few weeks without paying more. It works the whole year round - but it's particularly useful when prices shoot up during the school holidays. This means you can bag a cheap term-time flight, then swap for your chosen school holiday dates. Full details: Easyjet Flexifare Trick.

Ethnic travel agents may be cheaper

The UK's a melting pot of different immigrant and ethnic communities, and this can be used to great advantage for a cheap flight booking. Niche travel agents often specialise in finding deals to those communities' linked countries.

For example, Shepherd's Bush in London and the surrounding area has some Caribbean specialist tour agents, or buy the Jewish Chronicle, which has firms advertising cheap flights to Israel. You've also told us about Chinese travel agent Omega, which has two branches in the London Chinatown area, as well as branches in Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Don't forget to check prices elsewhere before you buy, to make sure you're getting a good deal. If you know of a cheap specialist travel agent, please add your finds/read others'.

Is your EHIC still valid? Over 4m expired in 2014

EHICIf you're off to Europe, ensure you've an up-to-date European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Here are the key need-to-knows:

  • It's valid across the EU. A valid EHIC can get free or discounted medical treatment in state-run hospitals in any European Union country, plus a few others.
  • It entitles you to the same treatment as a local. This is extremely useful in emergencies, and means if it's free for them, it's free for you. Keep it on you at all times when you're away to ensure you're covered.
  • It doesn't cost a penny. Don't just Google "EHIC", as there are a host of unofficial sites that charge a fee of about £20 to do it for you - see our 60-second guide on copycat websites for more details. Apply via the official link, www.ehic.org.uk, to ensure you get yours for nowt. Full help: Free EHIC

An EHIC isn't a substitute for travel insurance - while very useful, it’s only for medical cover. See Cheap Travel Insurance.

Free Android app translates 90 languages - get it before you go

overseas travel tipsIf you're travelling to a country where English isn't widely spoken, here's a handy trick to turn an Android smartphone into a translator for free - without using any costly data abroad.

The Google Translate app is free, and lets you translate words and phrases to and from your chosen language.

The real boon is it lets you download free language packs on Android to access offline. Do this in the UK before you go, and you won't need data to use it overseas.

To do it, download and open the app, press the menu button and select "offline languages". Then tap the pin button for each language you want to download. There are 90 to choose from, including French, Spanish, Greek and Thai.

More info:

You'll need Android 2.3 or above

Download it before you go

Can I get it on iPhone too?

Download a free app for typeless translation

Grab the best plane seats

Once you've bagged flights, use specialist sites Seatguru or Skytrax to check the plane's seating plan and see whether 18E beats 19C. If it's a budget flight with unassigned seats, turn up early and lurk by the boarding entrance.

For 2+ trips abroad each year, get annual travel insurance from £13

Get travel insurance as soon as you book. If not, you won't be covered for cancellation or changes. Plus if you'll go away two or more times a year, annual policies are usually cheaper.

Here are the cheapest under-65s' picks which hit our minimum cover criteria:

Correct at 14 Jan 2015 - always check before you book.

See the Cheap Travel Insurance guide for full best buys and help.

Don't pay airport prices for travel accessories - try pound shops

travel kit

Pick up travel accessories such as adaptor plugs, eye masks and travel cushions at the airport and you risk paying inflated prices for last-second shoppers.

So plan ahead - you can often bag 'em cheaply at pound shops, while MySupermarket* quickly compares prices across the major supermarkets, plus Boots and Superdrug.

If you're buying adaptor plugs so you can charge gadgets abroad, note down which type you'll need before you buy. The Travel Adaptor website has useful country-by-country info.

Uncover secret bargains on 5* hotels

The secret hotel section at Lastminute.com* has bargains on four- and five-star hotels worldwide (including London), because you only know the description and star rating before you pay. This means rock-bottom prices for classy establishments.

Yet often you can cut and paste key phrases into Google to discover which hotel it is. Once you know the hotel’s identity, check reviews on TripAdvisor* and whether it’s really a bargain compared to what you can get on the top comparison sites. See Cheap Hotels for how. Some inspiration from MoneySavers:

I booked the 5* Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London for £109 (rack rate £215). OH YEAH BABY."

I booked the Hilton London Paddington for £69 for a double room. I had a look on the Hilton website and the equivalent cost would be £205 - bargain!"

Liquids are banned through airport security - not food

Budget airlines make extra cash by flogging snacks to hungry flyers at sky-high prices - a splurge on airline snacks could easily undo the savings on your ticket.

Yet as it's only liquids that you can't take through security, you can plan ahead and bring your own snacks and sarnies with you.

For example, just the £2 spend on a single airline muffin could often buy eight of 'em in a supermarket, making it nearly 90% cheaper to bring your own.

More info:

Have a picnic at 30,000 feet

Check airline and airport restrictions

Find WHEN to go for super-cheap budget flights

If you're looking for a cheap getaway and want to know the cheapest time to go, we've built a nifty FlightChecker tool to uncover the cheapest budget flights across the web from European budget airlines and British Airways.

  • Find super-cheap flights. Tell the Flightchecker tool what you're willing to pay, and it finds when that's available. Sub-£60 returns can be possible, though this jumps in school hols.
  • Try 'I'll go anywhere' for ideas. If you just want to get away cheaply, select "I'll go anywhere" (or anywhere in Spain or France, etc) to reveal the winners.
  • Includes baggage and payment fees. The tool also includes an estimate of budget airlines' added extras, so you can search with or without those.

Don't trust the hotel star system

The star rating system isn't standardised worldwide, and it's usually just an indicator of facilities, rather than quality. A 5* may not live up to its hype - it just means it has extra facilities, so don't just rely on this if you're after a swanky getaway. Plus the star system differs within countries, never mind worldwide.

Stars may be given by governments, review organisations or even the hotel itself. Package tour operators tend to be overly generous, often a star higher than independent reviews.

To uncover a real gem, use TripAdvisor* feedback to help you find a hotel. It isn't perfect, but ignore the very best and very worst feedback and it's a handy gauge.

Flight delayed in last seven years? £100s in compensation possible

A blockbuster European Court of Justice ruling means some can net up to €600 compensation (arond £470 based on the exchange rate in early Jan) for flight delays if the airline was at fault.

You can claim back to February 2005, but it's harder for flights before 2008. If you don't remember whether or not your flight was delayed, check using FlightStats (register for free to use it).

Under EU rules, you may get compensation for delays of three or more hours. In some instances you may also get your ticket money back, plus other costs such as meals and accommodation. See the Flight Delays Compensation guide for full details.

Use TravelMoneyMax for the best rates

You're a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal, so you'll probably be lumbered with the worst rates. If you must get your travel cash from the airport, order ahead then pick it up to get a better rate.

Use our TravelMoneyMax comparison site to instantly uncover the best possible deal, including all fees and any commission.

The tool lists all the big currencies, and also lets you see who's cheapest for exchanging unused currency back to pounds when you get back (if you've any left!).

Wear your luggage!

If you're flying with a budget airline and want to stow luggage in the hold, expect to pay a hefty whack. Plus the weight allowance for budget airlines can be lower than elsewhere, at roughly 15kg to 20kg. Yet there are nifty ways to get round this.

Most airlines will give you a free 10kg hand luggage allowance (except Thomson, which only gives you 5kg). It's amazing what you can fit in - use your home scales to help.

To minimise weight, wear your heaviest clothes and shoes. If you're near the weight limit, put heavy gear in your pockets, then stow your jacket under your seat on the plane.

Another option is a Rufus Roo* specialist big-pocket jacket from £34.95 (free delivery). We asked forumites to road-test it. Typical feedback: "Fits in a lot of stuff, more than I expected. No hassle through check-in or security", and "It isn't the most stylish, but it's very lightweight". See more reviews & pictures.

Don't needlessly buy new sun lotion

sun lotion

Many simply buy new bottles of sun lotion every time they jet off. Yet don't shell out if you don't need to - open bottles can still be effective for up to two years.

The British Skin Foundation says: "The main thing to keep an eye on is the Period After Opening (PAO) number on the back of the bottle.

"This normally looks like a jar with an open lid with a number next to it (eg, 12 or 24). This is the number of months you ought to keep and use the product for before throwing it away once opened.

"Sun tan lotions may, given time, start to separate and become less effective, so it's always worth noting down on the bottle when it was first opened."

They also recommend storing your sun lotion in a cool, dark place, and avoiding leaving it in direct sunlight when it's in use. For the latest roundup of deals, plus reviews and safety tips, see the Sun Cream Deals page.

Package holidays can undercut DIY bookings and you get protection if things go wrong

The internet's great for flights or DIY city breaks. But if you're going away specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, then good old-fashioned package holidays can often come up trumps.

A package holiday is an all-in-one, where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price. They're best suited for standard breaks of standard length. So if it's a traditional holiday destination like Florida or Crete, it's worth checking to see if you can get a package for less than the DIY route.

When to book? Massive savings are possible in the late market, which are deals done within eight weeks of travel, yet of course there's restricted choice & you may need to be flexible. So if you need special facilities (eg, for families) you're going to have to book now and try to cut prices down.

How to cut prices? 
Remember tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell them. So one operator's holiday may be on sale at many travel agents, the aim is to find who'll sell it cheapest.

Package holidays also usually have added ATOL and ABTA consumer protection (though always check when you book).

Get ATOL protection by booking flights + hotel or car hire

Package holidays have long been protected under the ATOL scheme, so if something goes wrong you get your money back or help getting home.

Yet it's often forgotten that if you book a flight, plus a separate hotel or car hire together (or within 24 hours) from the same travel website then you'll get ATOL protection too.

Once you've booked your trip you'll get an ATOL certificate - keep it safe as you'll need it if anything goes wrong.

Free flights - if you play your cards right

Credit cards offer all sorts of free gifts to new cardholders, so it's possible to sign up for the card and grab the freebie. This is handy if you're travelling as there are loads available, including flights around Europe, Eurostar returns and more.

The gifts aren't doled out on application or acceptance - to trigger the freebie gift most providers require you to actually spend on the card.

So spend as little as possible, and pay off the balance in full to ensure it's totally free. See the Credit Card Freebies guide for the full lowdown, plus the top freebies.

Dress kids in bright colours to stop you losing 'em at the airport

If you have kids (or you've ever seen Home Alone), you'll know what a nightmare it is to keep an eye on them in crowded places - especially if you're hurrying to catch a plane or transfer. So one way to keep tabs on the tiddlers is to dress them so they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

MSE Andrea uses this trick every time she goes away with her family.

I pop my kids in bright coloured hats or clothes with spots on so they stand out when we're travelling. We also take a photo of them on our phones in what they're wearing before they leave. If they get lost, we can show someone the photo - much easier than describing them.

Check out more, ahem, bright ideas in the Tips to keep kids safe when travelling discussion.

Turn off mobile 3G and data roaming to avoid shock charges

If you're not careful, using the web abroad could rack up a bill of £100s or even £1,000s. The cost per MB is capped in the EU at €0.20/MB (about 20p/MB incl VAT). Outside the EU, providers are free to charge what they like, some as much as £8/MB.

The most sensible plan is to turn your phone off completely (or put it in 'airplane' mode) while you're on holiday abroad.

But if you can't, there are ways to slash costs, including data-roaming add-ons, free wi-fi hotspots abroad, and even switching your Sim. See the Cheap Data Roaming guide.

Ensure your passport's valid

If you're jetting off, remember to check your passport's expiry date before you book. Some countries demand your passport's valid for at least six months from arrival, so check the Government's foreign travel advice before you go.

Renew your passport in plenty of time and it'll save the hassle and extra cash needed for an urgent trip to the passport office. A standard adult passport is £72.50 if you send it by post. Yet leave this until the very last minute and you risk having to pay £128 for its premium service.

To renew yours, go to Gov.uk. Don't just Google it - we've had reports of some being caught out by unofficial websites which charge extra, so always use the official Gov.uk link above to ensure you aren't caught out by a shyster site. Full help in 60 seconds on passport renewal.

Always double-check everyone has their passport before you leave (not when you're halfway down the motorway!)

Haggle down package costs

Tour operators make holidays while travel agents sell 'em. Therefore, many big tour operators’ holidays are sold by multiple agents. If you’re booking one, once you’ve found a specific deal, try calling up different agents to see if they can beat the price. You could save up to 10% more. See Cheap Package Holidays.

Pay the right way for extra protection

If your flights or package hols cost over £100, pay by credit card to nab extra protection. This is because when the transaction's over £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means the card company's equally liable if owt goes wrong.

This means if the airline goes bust, you can at least get your money back from the card company. Always pay your card off in full at the end of the month so you're not charged interest. See the full Section 75 Refunds guide.

More info:

Watch out for travel exceptions

Debit card payments get some protection too

Beat budget airline check-in fees

Sadly, budget airlines can charge up to an eye-watering £150 per person, per return, just to check in at the airport. So do this free online first, though Monarch still charges to check in online. See the Beat Budget Airline Charges guide for more tricks to avoid check-in fees.

Always book car hire BEFORE you go

calendar

Holiday car hire can save a hefty whack on taxis to and from the airport. If you're going to need it (see below for alternatives), book the right way to grab it as cheaply as possible.

There's one golden rule to remember:

The earlier you book car hire, the more you'll usually save.

You can find full details of current deals and tips 'n' tricks in the Cheap Car Hire guide. Here are the key points:

  • Work out what you need. There's often a mass of costly add-ons on offer, including air-con, sat-navs and extra drivers. Before you book, work out what you need and ditch the rest.
  • Quickly compare quotes. Next, take the legwork out of your search by using the right comparison sites to grab the most quotes in the least time. Our top picks are Kayak*, CarRentals* and TravelSupermarket*.
  • Check for extra discounts. See if you can squash the price further via fly-drive package deals, cashback, specialist travel brokers and online vouchers.

Driving abroad? Check if your UK licence is valid

IDPA UK driving licence is accepted throughout the EU, but if you're planning a road trip further afield, check if you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

An IDP is required or recommended in about 140 countries, including the USA, Thailand and India. Drive without one where it's needed and you risk trouble with the authorities, and may be refused a hire car.

It's in booklet format and there are two types, known as the 1926 and 1949 Conventions (they're the same price). Which you'll need depends on where you're off to.

Beware websites selling 'international driving licences' – these aren't legally recognised documents, so don't get caught out.

Book a cheap package just for the flight

Scheduled flights to tourist places, such as Orlando and Sri Lanka, can be silly money, yet packages there can sometimes come in much cheaper.

If you only need the flight, check if there’s a cheaper package holiday, then grab it but DON’T stay in the hotel.

Martin once helped a friend book a £300 Sri Lanka holiday for the flight when the cheapest scheduled deal was £1,000+. See the Cheap Package Holidays guide.

Don't assume a pricier sun lotion is safer

Sun lotion can cost up to a whopping £25 for a 200ml bottle on the high street. Yet it's possible to grab sun lotion for a quid in pound shops, while MySupermarket* quickly compares prices in the big supermarkets, Boots and Superdrug.

sun lotionThe British Skin Foundation told us: "When choosing a sunscreen, rather than price or retailer, the two most important factors to look out for are its SPF and UVA rating.

"Firstly SPF, or sun protection factor, is the level of protection sunscreen gives against UVB radiation, the type that causes sunburn. This is usually on the front of the product. We recommend choosing one at SPF 30 or higher.

"Secondly, check the UVA rating, which tends to be on the back. It may be a circle with UVA inside it, or star rating from zero to five. Ideally, aim for four or five stars."

For the latest roundup of deals see the Sun Cream Deals page.

Beware car hire firms' pricey excess insurance

If you're hiring a car, hopefully the closest you'll come to crashing is post-holiday ice-cream withdrawal. But if the worst happens, bear in mind that while there's some cover for hire car damage, there's usually a big problem:

Check the 'excess' – the amount which you'll pay towards any claim. If it's high (£500-ish), any scratches or minor damage will be expensive.

To get round this, hire firms try to flog costly excess insurance at pick-up. This is usually a costly extra at about £20+ a day, especially with cheap hire companies, as often their profits come from the insurance.

Yet it's possible to grab cheap excess insurance for less than £2 a day via comparison site Money Maxim*. See full Cheapest 'Extra' Insurance info.

Always book cheap airport parking

Airports often make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave the car there without booking first and you risk sky-high rates, so don't just turn up. Booking first, even on the day, could save money. See the Cheap Airport Parking guide for the full technique, plus safety tips, how to snaffle hidden local discounts and more.

Posh villas can cost £1,000 less than posh hotels

If you don’t fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, villas offer space for large groups of friends, or families with kids who need to let off steam.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving, so they're great if there's a party of you going. When we checked, a 3-bed villa in Sicily was £720 a week, compared to £2,200 for a similar quality hotel.

Direct booking sites let you quickly search for holiday rentals. Our top picks are HomeAway.co.uk* for global reach, Clickstay* for easy payments and TripAdvisor* for search. Be careful how you pay. You book directly with an owner, so there's less protection. Plus check it's not a fake villa - see Cheap Holiday Rentals for safety tips.

Avoid the 'perfect trip' trap

For many of us, a holiday's an invaluable way to relax and unwind - or gear up and party. Yet before you splash out, remember, the holiday industry is a beacon of commerciality. Travel marketing is honed to make you spend more and more, using emotive language such as "precious moments" and "magical memories". Don't be sucked in.

Too many plan a dream holiday, then only consider later how they'll actually pay for it. That’s a sure-fire way to end up disappointed or broke.

Instead, ask "what can I afford to spend?" then work out how to have the best trip within that budget. A holiday lasts a week or so - don’t ruin the rest of the year for it.

Use the free Budget Planner tool to help plan. If you're saving for the trip, the Boost Your Income guide's crammed with tips to make extra cash.

Get local travel info for free before you go

If you plan to explore beyond a trip to the pool, pick your must-sees and transport before you go (see Car Hire Alternatives below).

Forget to do this and you risk shelling out on pricey last-minute trips, or ending up stranded at the hotel.

For ideas, TripAdvisor* has a handy 'things to do' section with reviews of holiday attractions, activities, nightlife and shopping. Travel guidebooks can also offer valuable local knowledge on the go. Instead of buying, try your local library.

If you'll need a phrase book, try the library's language section - basic numbers and phrases such as "How much?" can be a huge help when haggling (see How to Haggle). If you're going to buy a guide or phrase book, use a shopping comparison site - our handy MegaShopBot tool instantly compares the best results, or try eBay* and Amazon* for second hand copies.

Bag 'free prints' promos for cheap holiday snaps

Once you're back, there's a quick trick to grab massive savings on getting holiday snaps turned into glossy photos.

Many photo printing sites offer a set number of free prints to entice new customers. By playing the field, you can use different deals to get loads of holiday snaps printed free, though you’ll need to pay delivery.

To help you sort all the top offers at a glance, we've built a Cheap Photo Print Finder tool. Just enter the number of prints you're after, the size and the type, and it'll find you the cheapest deal. It also includes 'free prints for newbies' offers.

Tell your mobile provider you're going abroad

Taking your mobile abroad can turn it into a cash assassin in some places, costing as much as £2.50/min to receive a call. Of course, the easiest solution is not to take your phone with you. But if you know you're going to use your phone overseas, it's possible to cut the cost.

Many providers have special packages to use abroad, but unless you call to let them know, you won't get 'em.

These packages slash the price of calls, and they're the easiest, no-fuss option, though work best if you'll make few calls. Some are free, others have a daily or monthly fee. Remember to cancel when you're back. See Mobile Roaming.

Receiving texts is always free worldwide, so get friends to text, not call.

Don't get stung by luggage fees on the way back

Many people jet home from a holiday with more than they took. Yet if you plan to shop, ensure you leave space in your luggage for the return journey when you pack. Forget to do this and you may be forced to pay extra charges to get it all home, or risk having to ditch your sombreros and straw donkeys at the airport.

Off to the US? Beware unofficial ESTA sites

Everyone going to the States by air or sea needs to fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form.

Applications cost $14 each, yet beware Googling it. Do this and you may be directed to sites that pretend to be the official web page, and charge an additional fee to process your application. More details in 60 seconds to copycat websites.

Always apply via the official ESTA web page. See the ESTA guide for full info, including renewal help and safety tips.

Hidden loophole gets up to 70% off posh hotels

picture of key

Giant US site Priceline* flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it's especially strong for US hotels.

On Martin's own US trip, he got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price, but even he was beaten by one MoneySaver who got the Times Square Sheraton for £55/night rather than the listed £200.

It's all about Priceline's "name your own price" function, where you pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it. Of course the aim's to find the minimum acceptable price, so start low, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted - but you can ONLY bid once a day.

There are also techniques to get more bids per day, including bidding with a partner, or adding more areas of a city. See the Priceline Hotel Bidding guide for full help.

Max Avios points for flights 'n' more

Avios is the points scheme formed from Air Miles and BA Miles in 2011 (see the Avios launches MSE news story) - you can use it to grab free flights, ugrades and more.

Many mistake it for a frequent flyer scheme. It's actually a points scheme like Nectar and Clubcard, and there are loads of different ways to earn them - in Shell, Tesco and by spending on credit cards.

Unlike the old Air Miles system, Avios charges passengers taxes and fees on flights. But it has some benefits over its predecessor. Avios customers can book one-way and 'open-jaw' tickets – eg, London to Vegas, then LA to London – and can use points to upgrade cabin class. We've a full list of tips in 30+ Avios Boosting Tricks.

Asked to pay in pounds or euros? Say euros

Many overseas banks or shops ask this, especially in Spanish tourist resorts. If you choose pounds then the retailer does the currency conversion - rates are often poor compared to letting your card do it (by choosing the local currency), although things are closer than they used to be.

If you've a top overseas card, always opt for the local currency as your card does the exchange and it's unbeatable.

If you don't, it's touch and go, but it's still safer to go with euros, as the vendor can set its own rate if it wishes, which will usally be worse than the credit card rate. See Martin's blog: Using plastic overseas? Always pay in euros.

Try hostels for cheap accommodation

Don't think hostels automatically mean dorm bunks. Many offer singles, twins and doubles, and they can offer massive savings over hotel prices.

While a few may be squalid, many are clean and friendly, even offering free internet access and breakfast. In the UK, Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland properties include fabulous castles and mansions.

To check out prices and availability, use Hostelbookers.com* and Hostelworld*, both of which give hostels a percentage rating based on visitors' experiences. To read more reviews from past hostel guests and compare prices, try Hostelz.com.

Make your own travel-size toiletries

Travel-size lotions and potions can be pricey. Retailers know they're convenience goods and charge accordingly - but you don't have to pay through the nose to smell like a rose.

When we checked, a 75ml travel size Sanctuary body lotion was £2.50 in Boots, or £3.33 per 100ml. Yet the full-size version worked out at £2.20 per 100ml, a third cheaper if you'd buy a full bottle anyway.

So instead of buying pricey travel size versions, grab some small empty bottles, then wash and dry them carefully. Then just fill 'em up from your everyday Caron Maptoiletries (this is where complimentary mini-toiletry bottles from previous hotel stays come in handy).

Driving in Europe? Check insurance, breakdown and road rules

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning an overseas road trip, yet forget these tips and your dream drive may look more like a Mad Max outtake.

Here are our top tips:

  • Car insurance. Most comprehensive or third party, fire and theft policies become third party outside the UK. They'll pay if you damage another car but not your own, and there's no cover if your car's stolen abroad.

    You may need to notify your insurer of your trip, so check your policy or call to confirm. See Cheap Car Insurance.
  • Breakdown cover. Go outside the UK and often your breakdown cover isn't valid. Check and if it's not, you can either upgrade to a European policy or buy special one-off temporary cover. See Cheap Breakdown Cover.
  • Driving rules. Check country-by-country driving regulations on the AA website to ensure you're familiar with local rules before you go.
  • Do a maintenance check. Do all maintenance before you go, and ensure you've got manuals and the numbers to call if your vehicle breaks down.

Don't waste cash on energy while you're away

Don't just turn off the biggies like lighting and heating before a big trip - also ensure you remember to turn off any TVs and gadgets on standby too.

Many devices draw power when plugged in and not in use, so turn switches off at the wall if you can. See the Energy Mythbusting guide for more tips.

If you know you'll forget to switch off unused appliances, set a reminder on your phone for 10 minutes before you leave. It's also worth noting in winter you'll still need water to go through pipes at a minimal temperature, or you risk burst pipes.

Find the cheapest way to call ANY country

If you'll make pre-holiday calls abroad for bookings, transfers or to arrange airport pickups with relatives, the International Callchecker tool quickly finds the cheapest way.

Just enter the country you're calling, and whether you're calling from a landline or mobile, and it'll find you the cheapest no-frills providers.

These work by giving you a special number to call first, so they can be accessed instantly. We've included a quick 'n' easy search if you're in a hurry, or select "all" for the full list.

Compare travel meds prices to get 'em for less

If you're jetting abroad, ensure you're vaccinated against any nasties before you go. Your local GP will offer some vaccinations for free, but others can cost around £50. Some even require more than one dose, meaning costs shoot up quickly.

To find out which you need, the NHS Fit For Travel website has a handy country-by-country guide, while the NHS Choices site lists which are free and which cost.

If you need to pay for travel meds, NHS prescription prices are fixed, but pharmacies can set their own for private prescriptions. These are given when you want a drug not covered by the NHS in your region, such as Malarone, which prevents malaria.

Costs can vary hugely. A few to try are Superdrug, Asda, Lloyds Pharmacy*, Tesco* and Boots*. Find the full list plus more tips in the 20 Medicine Savings guide.

Check big excursion ticket prices before you go

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Whether it's Disney, Universal Studios, a balloon trip or an aquapark, search early doors to see if there are web vouchers or cheap tickets. Specialist ticket agents can undercut buying direct, so use the theme park's own prices as a benchmark to beat. For full details see our Cheap Disney Tickets guide.

Free apps to keep track of travel plans

If you're planning a big trip, don't just let a mass of disorganised booking confirmation emails pile up. These could include car hire, flights, accommodation, travel cash pickup, pet kennels, transfers and more. Fail to keep track and you risk a nightmare finding it all before you go - or worse, forgetting 'em altogether.

If you have a smartphone, handy free apps can help keep track of travel plans. These include TripIt, which keeps booking emails together, and Remember The Milk, which helps organise plans into to-do lists (both free at time of writing, always check).

More info:

Create a separate folder for crucial booking info

Print essential docs before you go

Get a FREE printable wallet-size travel guide

The Little Lifesaver is a free, passport-sized printable travel guide packed with key holiday info, including which plastic is cheapest to use and your flight cancellation rights. It also includes space for you to fill in your passport number and other key travel details. Just print it and refer to it in an emergency (we hope you won't need to!).

Nab cheap France day returns for under £25

If you're hopping across the Channel, it's often possible to get super-cheap day returns for under £25, sometimes even with a free case of wine thrown in. You can even swap £10 in Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £30 in Eurotunnel* vouchers. See the Cheap France Day Trips for the latest deals.

Consider car hire alternatives

Before you book car hire for your hols, don't forget to consider the alternatives. Unnecessary car hire can be an expensive, unused hindrance.

Car swaps, public transport and even taking your own car may work out cheaper for some destinations. Go through this checklist first:

  • Look into public transport. In Florida or LA, pretty much everyone needs a car for the huge city distances. But in New York you can't park anywhere, so the subway wins. Many European cities have great public transport, so always check.
  • Check taxi prices. If you plan to spend most of your time topping up your tan rather than travelling, a few taxi rides may be cheaper. International taxi fare calculator Holiday Taxis* gives an estimate of what journeys might cost.
  • Take your own car. If venturing onto Europe's winding roads, it may be possible to take your own car. All UK car insurance policies automatically provide the correct minimum cover required by law in all EU countries, but check if the full cover extends to Europe as well.

Add your travel tips on the forum

Picture of people chattingThe Overseas Holidays and Travel Planning forum board is a great place to share your travel experiences with others. Whether you want to natter about MoneySaving in Las Vegas, What to do near Calais or tips on Singles' holidays, it's well worth a visit. Plus share your tips in the 50 Travel Tips discussion.