This content originally appeared in the MSE weekly email on 3 June 2015.
Don't leave it till the week before and let your holiday be ruined by overspending guilt. Our holiday checklist can save you large, if you sort it now.
From car hire to currency, free sat-nav to sun cream, here's what you need to know:
1. Book cheap car hire ASAP (and from Monday ensure you've a DVLA code).
Book now and in some resorts it's under £10/day, but the longer you leave it, the costlier it gets. As Dave emailed us, "Booked 4mths in advance, paid £296 for 10 days. Before I went, checked and the price was £900. Glad I booked early."
Full help in Cheap Car Hire, but at speed...a) Use the top comparison sites. Try Kayak*, Carrentals* and Travelsup*.
b) Check stealth fuel charges. Hire for 3+ days and some firms make you pay for a full tank and return it empty – if you won't drive far, that can be £100 extra. If that'll hit you, search by fuel policy to avoid it.
c) Get cheap excess insurance before you go. When you pick up the car, the hire firm will push up to £20/day excess cover on top of the included insurance. Instead, get cheap excess insurance for as little as £2/day.
d) Ensure you've your DVLA code. From Monday 8 June, pick up a car in the UK or abroad and you may need to give the hire firm a DVLA code. So request one before you go. It only lasts 72hrs, so time it right – see DVLA code help.
EXTRA TIP: Free foreign sat-nav. Got a smartphone with GPS? Convert it into a free sat-nav for 28 countries. Just download maps before you go.
2. Pocket permanently unbeatable exchange rates in every country.
The cheapest way to spend abroad is the Halifax Clarity* (eligibility calc) Mastercard credit card, provided you repay it IN FULL each month so there's no 18.9% rep APR. It can take a few weeks to arrive, so apply now.
It wins because, unlike most debit and credit cards, it doesn't add a 3% 'non-sterling transaction fee', so you get the same unbeatable 'Mastercard wholesale rate' the bank does. In other words, £100 of euros costs you £100. Doing it this way usually easily undercuts going to bureaux de change.
Other cards that don't add this fee include Post Office* (Mastercard), Saga* (Visa) & Nationwide's Select* (Visa) - all decent if you've got them. Use our overseas Card Eligibility Calculator to see which you're most likely to get. Fail to repay them and they're 17.8%, 11.9% & 15.9% rep APRs.
Yet Halifax is our top pick, as Mastercard tends to beat Visa exchange rates (see Mastercard vs Visa), and it has no overseas ATM fee. Though like most other cards, even if you fully repay, you do pay a month's interest on cash withdrawals at c. £1.50 per £100. Cheap Travel Cards (APR Examples).
3. Slash airport parking costs 'from £115 to £40'.
The earlier you book, the cheaper. The easy way is to use our discounted links to comparison sites including APH 20% off* (Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham), Holiday Extras 10-30% off*, SkyParkSecure 13-25% off*, FHR 12-18% off* and Airparks 12% off*.
As forumite Bigdaddy1210 says: "Brilliant deal using your links for a 4-day break, costing just over £40 instead of £115." Tricks: Cheap Airport Parking
4. Are your EHIC, ESTA, passport and driving licence still valid?
- Going to Europe? Check your EHIC is still valid. 5.2m free European Health Insurance Cards expire this year. It gives you access to EU state-run GPs or hospitals at the same cost as a local. See our Renew EHIC for free guide.
- Is your passport valid for at least 6 months? If not, you may be refused entry to some countries. We heard one story of a family's 4-year-old girl being refused entry to Turkey as she'd less than 2mths left. See passport renewal.
- Heading Stateside? You'll usually need an ESTA. It costs $14 and lasts 2yrs. Do it at least 72 hours before you fly. Full help and legit site: Get an ESTA. - Driving abroad? Check if you need an International Driving Permit.
5. WARNING: Get insurance as soon as you book – £13 for a YEAR's trips.
Buying early doesn't cost more, yet many leave it till late. That's a nightmare. If you get an illness that lasts till you go away or a family death means you need to cancel, if your insurance wasn't in place at the time, you're not covered. Our Cheap Travel Insurance has full info and best buys, in short...
- Cheapest one-off policies from £6. PYB Economy* tends to be cheapest for under-45s (eg, from £6 for 1 week Europe, £13 families). If 45+ both LeisureGuard (Lite)* and HolidaySafe* can undercut it, so check them too.
- Cheapest annual policies (under-65s): If you travel at least twice in a year, an annual policy usually wins. Currently, HolidaySafe (Lite)* wins in most categories. Prices depend on age. Singles £13-£15 Europe, £23-£26 world. Families £27-£30 Europe, £46-£51 world. Full best buys, including winter sport and our picks with a proven track record, in Annual Policies.
- Cheapest cover for over-65s and those with past medical problems. Full best buys: Over-65s Travel Insurance and Pre-Existing Conditions Cover.
All the policies above meet our minimum cover criteria.
6. Find the best foreign cash rates in seconds.
If you want cash in your pocket, our TravelMoneyMax travel money comparison tool compares over 40 online bureaux to show which give the best rates. My guide on The pound's hit €1.40. Should I buy now? may also help.
7. Cheapest prepaid cards for spending abroad.
Here there's no credit check. Just load it with cash before you go, then spend it abroad. Yet you're at the mercy of currency moves (for good or bad), as unlike with credit cards, you usually get the rate on the day you load, not when you spend.
Our top picks based on rates and fees are the FairFX euro* and FairFX dollar*cards, specifically via these links, where they're free (direct, they're £9.95 unless you load £200+), plus load £500+ and you get an £8 discount. More picks and info for other currencies in Cheap Prepaid Travel Cards.
8. Don't buy new sun cream.
Open bottles can still be effective for up to two years. Check the Period After Opening (PAO) number on the bottle – it looks like a jar with a lid and has a number next to it (usually 12 or 24). For more clever tips, eg, grab the best plane seat, see 50+ Overseas Travel Tips.
9. Fight budget airline extras, including Easyjet refund trick.
If you're flying on a budget airline, expect added 'extras', including charges for airport check-in. Follow our 23 Budget Flight Tips checklist to push these costs down, eg:
- Booked on Easyjet? If the price has dropped, see Easyjet refund trick.
- Hand luggage can be bigger than you thought. See size limits.
- Wear your luggage. To reduce check-in bags, wear heavy coats, stuff underwear in pockets or even buy multi-pocket suitcase jackets.
- Always check in online & print your boarding pass. If not, some airlines charge large, eg, with Ryanair, it's £90/person per return flight.
- Security bans liquids, not food, so take a plane picnic.
- Baby on board? Budget airlines charge up to £80/rtn to take a tot under two on your lap, so compare infant fees first.
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. So check discounted advance tickets.
As MSE Paloma says: "I saved $50 on two-day passes to Six Flags theme park in LA by buying tickets in advance." This is especially powerful if you're going to see the big mouse – see our Cheap Disney Tickets guide.