This content originally appeared in the MSE weekly email on 21 October 2015.
- 16 cheap flight, hotel and holiday booking tips and tricks
- And a warning: don't book a holiday naked
It seems odd to be talking summer 2016 before we've got to winter. Yet there are a couple of urgent booking tips taking off right now, so I thought why not bring you a plane-load? Whether it's for half-term, Christmas or next summer, if you want to go abroad, I've 16 key tips to ensure it's cheap and financially safe...
1. The CHEAPEST time to book millions of Easyjet summer seats? It releases seats four times a year, and when it does the super-savvy pounce to bag tickets at what is usually the cheapest possible price. 22 Oct is when its June-Sep 2016 tranche went on sale, although the quicker you are, the more likely you are to bag a bargain (Update 27 Oct - The very cheapest seats are likely to have been snapped up on release day so there's an increased risk of the price you get now being undercut by sales, but it's still worth checking). Full pros, cons & tricks to max it in our Easyjet flight launch info.
2. Flash Avios sale: 40% fewer points needed for long-haul. On economy flights to 60 destinations, incl Johannesburg, Hong Kong & New York. Book until Mon 2 Nov for travel up to 20 Mar 2016. Full info in Avios Sale.
3. Slash flight costs using the RIGHT comparison. Our 28 Cheap Flight Booking Tips show how to truly slash flight prices. If you know when & where you're going, picking the right comparison site is the key... we like Kayak* and Skyscanner's* tools.
Yet for traditional package holiday destinations, use TravelSupermarket*and Flights Direct* as they include many more charter flights (spare seats on tour operators' bespoke flights).
4. Find the cheapest rate for the hotel you want. If you know which hotel you want, try Trivago* and TravelSup* comparisons to track down the cheapest. For far more tips and how to find the right hotel, see our Cheap Hotels guide.
5. How to uncover secret 5-star hotel discounts. A number of sites offer huge discounts on 3-5 star hotels in the UK & worldwide, but you take a risk as you don't know the exact hotel till you book. Unless, that is, you turn detective & follow our uncover secret hotels tips.
6. A warning... don't book your holiday naked. Last week Hayles sent me two tweets, saying: "Purchased annual travel ins in March to start in Oct for Oz trip. No point doing before, so I thought. Fractured ankle in Sep and insurer won't cover as policy not begun. Anything I can do?"
Sadly the answer's no. I often hear of people exposed and uncovered (naked is hyperbole, but I wanted you to read this), without active insurance from the day they book - in the event of cancellation, injury or illness, or death in the family, you've no recourse.
Of course you can try to throw yourself on the airline's mercy, but most flight tickets aren't flexible. And just as if you bought a tennis racket and broke your arm you can't say the racket is faulty, nor is your airline ticket. It's these eventualities that Cheap Travel Insurance is there to protect you from.
7. Travel insurance for a year's trips for £13 (£19 with winter sports). If you go away two or more times a year, annual travel insurance usually wins. Your price depends on who's going and where - these are no-frills policies.
Eg, a 25-year-old's Europe-only cover is £13 (£19 with basic winter sports), while for a family worldwide policy (oldest person 45) it's £56 (£74 with winter sports). The battle is between Holidaysafe Lite* or Leisure Guard Lite* to be cheapest, but if time check Coverwise* too. Full info in Annual Travel Insurance.
8. Get travel insurance just for one-trip for £5. Exact prices depend on who and where, but Leisure Guard Lite* usually wins, eg, it's £5.40 for a week in Europe for someone under 36 (£11 with basic winter sports) rising to £38 for a week worldwide for a family, oldest person 50. Yet for belt & braces check Holidaysafe* and PYB* too. Full info in Cheap Single-Trip Travel Policies.
More adventurous winter sports, eg, stunt skiing, aren't covered by basic policies - you'll need (costly) specialists like BMC or Snowcard.
9. If you're over 65 or have pre-existing conditions, get clever to get travel insurance. And as getting clever needs explanation, no brief tips here – instead please read our Cheap Over-65s' Travel Insurance and Cheap Pre-Existing Conditions guides.
10. Find the perfect time to book flights. The 'Flight Insight' tab on comparison site Momondo* shows the cheapest time to book for a range of destinations – on average, 53 days ahead is the winner. Yet it's a guide not a science – first wait until an airline's seats are launched (if you're thinking of summer 2016 flights, with airlines like BA and Virgin, often there's a chance of Jan sales).
11. For packages, booking late wins, but if you can't do late, do early.The cheapest time to book is within 8 weeks of travel as prices come down in the 'lates' market. The risk is limited choice & flexibility. The alternative if you've a specific need, eg, a kids' club, is to try to grab early bird discounts (summer bookings are often on in Jan). See Cheap Package Holidays.
12. One card to rule them all – for cheap spending abroad EVERY time. Bag a cheap overseas spending card, which saves money & hassle each time you go abroad. On a day when €1,000 from M&S travel bureau costs £763, spending on the cheapest card costs just £735.
Our long-term winner is the Halifax Clarity* Mastercard credit card (eligibility calc). Use it to spend and you get the same perfect exchange rate the banks get - just ensure you repay IN FULL each month so there's no interest.
The new Creation Everyday* Mastercard equals Halifax on spending, and on paper is a smidgeon cheaper on ATM withdrawals. Yet we don't have any feedback, so do let us know if you try it. Again, pay both cards off IN FULL each month, or you'll pay 18.9% rep APR and 12.9% rep APR respectively.
If you don't want a credit card, top prepaid cards can match them. See the full 15 cheapest ways to get travel money and our Travel Cash Comparison site.
13. Haggle down the cost of package holidays. Don't ignore the good old-fashioned package holiday, especially for 7, 10 or 14 days in traditional resorts like Majorca, Mykonos & Malia (and some that don't start with an M).
These can still undercut DIY web bookings. Yet it's important to understand tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell them. So one operator's holiday is often sold at many travel agents - the question is who'll sell it to you for less. Full help in Slash Package Holiday Costs.
14. Sneakily get package holiday protection on DIY web bookings. The ATOL scheme protects package holidays, so if something goes wrong you get your money back (or help coming home). However, the law also states that if you book a flight plus separate hotel and/or car hire within 24 hours from the same travel (not airline) site, you also get ATOL protection.
This works with online travel agents like Expedia*, Lastminute*, Travelocity* & Ebookers* that also often discount if you book flights & hotels together. Yet do check if it's more costly than booking flight & hotel separately.
15. Book car hire from £4/day. Usually, early booking wins. Right now you can get £4/day for Malaga in December (a bit of sun, plus drive to ski in Sierra Nevada) or £12/day in Majorca in June. Find your winner at speed in Cheap Holiday Car Hire. And when you pick the car up, beware a £20/day hard sell on excess insurance – instead stand-alone cheap excess insurance bought beforehand can be £2/day.
16. Cut airport parking 'from £123 to £59'. Book as early as possible before you go and use these special discounted links to comparison sites: Holiday Extras 10-30% off*, Looking4Parking 10-31%*, SkyPark Secure 13-30% off* & Airparks 12-25% off*. As forumite Mark told us:"Other quotes were £123 for 20 nights - your link got me down to £59 including airport meet & greet."
For more tips, eg, hotels giving a week's parking for a night's stay, see the full Cheap Airport Parking guide.