This content originally appeared in the MSE weekly email on 29 July 2015.
The great jet-away has started. August is the biggest travel month, and my Twitter feed and mailbag is jammed with questions. So I've compiled the core information everyone flying abroad within the next six weeks needs to know to get the maximum bang for your bucks.
For more tips, see the full 50+ overseas travel tips.
1. Is your EHIC leaving you unprotected?
The European Health Insurance Card gives you access to GPs or state hospitals in the EU at the same price as a local (if it's free for them, it's free for you). Yet 5 million+ cards are out-of-date and invalid. See How to check your EHIC and renew for free for full information. PS: Any site charging for EHICs is a con.
2. Cut airport parking "from £123 to £59".
As forumite Mark told us: "Other quotes were £123 for 20 nights – your link got me down to £59 including airport meet and greet." For far more tips, eg, hotels giving a week's parking for a night's stay, see the full Cheap Airport Parking guide.
3. Hack holiday costs, eg, free sat-navs, £1 sun cream, school holidays trick.
A few weeks ago we launched our 25 tricks to hack holiday costs. Here are some of the most-read to give you a flavour...
- Always turn your sun cream bottles around. For why see our how to make sun cream last tips (and £1 sun cream if you need new).
- Turn smartphones into a free sat-nav. If it's got GPS, you can convert it into a free sat-nav for 28 countries. Just download maps before you go.
- Master the art of hand luggage packing. Many restrictions are about size not weight – our packing masterclass shows how to max this out.
- Save £100s on school holiday flights by booking the wrong Easyjet date. Not 100% straightforward but savings can be huge. Easyjet Flexifares Trick
- Uncover Lastminute.com secret hotels for big discounts before booking. Turn detective and find secret hotels, plus use a 15% off code.
For many more clever tips, see 25 Travel Hacks.
4. Book cheap car hire then defeat the fear sales pitch when you pick it up.
Know the game and holiday car hire can be super-cheap, but time and time again when I'm picking up a car abroad I see people in fierce rows due to the extras which can add £100s on top. So be prepared before you go...
- Not booked yet? Get the cheapest rental. Use comparison sites Kayak*and TravelSupermarket* to find your cheapest, then try this special Holiday Autos* up-to-11% off link to see if you can beat it.
- Get your excess insurance BEFORE you go. When you pick up the car they'll try to fear sell you into paying up to £20/day extra for excess insurance, to prevent £500+ costs for just a scrape. To prevent this, get cheap excess insurance before you go, for as little as £2 a day.
- Beat stealth fuel charges. Some make you pay for a full tank and return empty, adding £100s in cost if you don't drive far. See how to beat stealth fuel charges.
- Get your DVLA code in advance? It's a new rule – see How to get your code.
5. Got problems? You're screwed without insurance – get it for £13/year.
Last week, I again had a worried holiday cancellation question. A lady's mum (who was also going) is ill and the daughter is fuming the airline won't give her a refund so asked me, "what are my rights?". I had to tell her she doesn't have any.
The airline seat is still available and valid – if you bought a tennis racket and broke your arm, that doesn't mean the racket is faulty. While not perfect, it's travel insurance that protects you from this and sadly she didn't have it. Always get it the moment you book. Our Cheap Travel Insurance guide has FULL options and info on how we pick – in short...
- Cheapest annual policies (under-65s): Travel two or more times a year and an annual policy usually wins. Holidaysafe Lite* and Leisure Guard Lite* are usually the cheapest – prices depend on age, eg, £13 for an individual under 36 in Europe, £51 for family worldwide cover where the oldest person is 55. Full best buys in annual policies.
- Cheapest one-off policies from £6. PYB Economy* tends to be cheapest for under-36s (eg, from £6 for one week Europe, £13 families). If 36+ both Leisure Guard Lite* and Holidaysafe* can undercut it, so check them too.
6. Get cheap travel insurance EVEN if you're 65+ or have illnesses.
Older travellers or those with pre-existing conditions can face hideous charges. Yet don't give up. Mari, aged 70, is keen to spread the word: "I was diagnosed with breast cancer and insurers said I couldn't get cover. I nearly fell off the chair when Nationwide [see below] quoted £85 for me and my husband despite my medical history – we've already been to California."
- Age 65-80 annual policies. Full info in Over-65s Travel Insurance. In short, for those without serious past problems Holidaysafe*, Leisure Guard* and Planet Earth* usually win, so check all three. Prices are as low as £39/year for someone aged 67 in Europe, or £200/year for a 79-year-old going worldwide.
- Over-80s annual policies. Prices ramp up here – Castle Cover* is £325 for Europe, £512 world, up to age 85. It's tough after that, so try the MoneySupermarket*comparison for single-trip policies instead.
- Switch bank instead. The fee-free Nationwide FlexAccount* includes Europe on travel insurance up to age 74 (needs £750/month income to qualify). If you want a world policy, are older or have past medical conditions it'll often (not always) still cover you for an added charge.
- Past medical conditions. If getting cover's tough use our list of specialist medical travel insurers or better still read our Pre-Existing Conditions Travel Insurance guide. PS: I'm afraid just 'not declaring them' isn't the solution.
7. Bag near-perfect exchange rates in EVERY COUNTRY, EVERY TRIP.
In my overseas wallet, there's a Halifax Clarity* Mastercard. Unlike most debit and credit cards it doesn't add a 3% non-sterling transaction fee abroad, so gives the same near-perfect rates banks get, smashing bureaux de change.
Of course it's only worth it if you repay it IN FULL each month to avoid the 18.9% rep APR interest, though if you use it in an ATM you will pay a month's interest (c. £1.50 per £100) even if you repay in full. So it's best to spend on it, rather than withdraw cash and spend that.
While it's our top pick specialist overseas card, it's only marginally so, and as you have to pass a credit check, use our overseas cards eligibility calculator to see which specialist cards you're most likely to get. Full step-by-step help in our Top Overseas Credit Cards guide (APR Examples).
8. Find the best foreign cash exchange rates in seconds.
For cash, our TravelMoneyMax holiday money comparison tool compares 40+ bureaux to find the best rates including short-term sales such as the Post Office's this week. Just NEVER leave it till the airport – that's almost always a raw deal.
9. Use a prepaid card to get £60 of euros for £50.
These are available to anyone (ie, there's no credit check) – you load cash on them in advance to use abroad. Unlike credit cards you usually get the rate on the day you load up, not spend, so for good or bad you're at the mercy of currency moves.
Two cards at the moment have free cash intro deals, which can cut the cost of your holidays (you can do both). They usually take around two weeks to arrive.
Full info and more options and help in our Cheap Prepaid Cards guide.
- £5 extra on £10+ and perfect interbank rates for a year. The new Revolut card gives the perfect rate for euros, dollars and many others for the first year, and you can get an extra £5 added when loading £10+ (full info via the link).
- £10 extra on £50+ and perfect interbank rate option. WeSwap card works in dollars, euros and a few others and you can get an extra £10 of currency when loading £50 or more. You can get the perfect rate, if you choose the 'load up cash seven days in advance' option.
10. Beat £120 roaming charges using your UK tariff there for free.
Taking your mobile abroad (roaming) has got far cheaper in the European Union as there are now caps on the price of calls, data and texts.
Yet further afield you can still pay over £1/min or £8/MB (ie, £1,400 for watching 30mins of TV). My new 10 USA Roaming Tips guide shows how to use a UK tariff (including unlimited data) in the USA at no extra cost.
If you're going elsewhere or want tips and tricks for cutting costs in Europe see our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide.