January is the year's busiest summer holiday booking month. No surprise that with short days, icy air, and rain many focus on sun, sea, sand and, er... sangria.
So without any further ado here are 14 tips to ensure you get a bargain bucket (and spade). And there are far more in our 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide.
1. Speedily find cheapest flights. It's all about using the right tool for the job. In general, use Kayak* (for gizmos), Skyscanner* (ease) & TravelSup* (range). Yet if you're flying to a traditional package holiday destination, eg, Majorca, then make sure you check TravelSup* & Flights Direct* as they include charter flights - spare capacity sold on tour operators' airlines. This is just the tip of the iceberg, see our 28 Cheap Flight tricks.
2. Ram down the cost of hotel stays, eg, £1,200 not £1,600. Before you book any hotel, always check who's selling it cheapest, as a bare minimum plug the room into Trivago*, TravelSup* or TripAdvisor*. That alone found a week in a 4-star New York hotel listed at £1,560 for £1,170. Always then call the hotel itself to see if it'll beat the price. To further hack down costs read Cheap Hotels.
3. The codeshare trick, eg, get a £350 BA flight for £300. Often two or more partner airlines sell the same flights, at different prices. Eg, we found a BA London to New York return in March for £350 via BA but £300 (same flight) via its partner Finnair. See Codeshare trick.
4. Never delay getting travel insurance - it costs as little as £13/yr. From when you book until you get insurance, if you or a family member get ill or need to cancel, you've no recourse. People who leave it late are negating half the point of cover. So get it when you book - just not with the airline/holiday firm, that's often costly. Our Cheap Travel Insurance guide shows how, briefly...
- Cheapest annual policies up to age 80. Annual policies usually win if you'll make two or more trips a year. For pretty much all combinations one of Holidaysafe Lite*, Leisure Guard Lite* and Protect Your Bubble Economy* are our cheapest, that meet our minimum cover levels.
Prices vary with age and who's travelling, eg, 21-year-old in Europe £13, family worldwide £55, 78-year-old couple Europe £61.
- Cheapest single-trip policies: For one-off cover the above are cheap but it's also worth doing a comparison at MoneySupermarket.com*.
- Pre-existing conditions & over 80s. See our specific Older travel Insurance, and Cheap pre-existing conditions guides.
5. School hol flights at term-time prices - "I saved £1,100". In 2014 we revealed an Easyjet trick using its Flexifares, which let you switch date by a few weeks. Done right you can bag cheap term-time flights, then move them to school-holiday dates. Do read the full step-by-step in our Easyjet Flexifare trick.
Forumite jenf81 said: "Booked 4 tix to Turkey, then moved our flights to the 'right' half-term dates and saved almost £1,100. Thank you, MSE."
6. Uncover secret hotels for big discounts before booking, eg, £69 not £205. Secret hotel bookings are where you get big discounts worldwide on 3-5 star hotels at sites such as Lastminute and Hotwire, but you don't get told the exact hotel, so it's a gamble.
We've a way to check in advance so you can see if it's a good hotel and check if the price is a winner. Full help in Uncover Secret Hotels tips. As forumite Caroline said: "I booked the Hilton Paddington £69, on Hilton's website the cost would be £205 - bargain."
7. Is 53 days before you fly the perfect time to book? As a general rule with flights, unlike package holidays, booking early wins. The Flight Insight tab on comparison site Momondo* shows its perfect time to book for each destination, and on average it says 53 days ahead. However that factors in sales, so take it with a pinch of salt. If in doubt book early.
8. Book your car hire ASAP and you could get it for under £10/day. If hiring abroad, generally early booking is cheaper. What can be £5/day months ahead can be £27/day just before, and more when there.
a) Find cheapest via comparisons: TravelSup*, Carrentals* & Kayak*.
b) Check stealth fuel charges. Hire for 3+ days and some make you pay for a full tank & return it empty - that can add £100 if you don't drive far. Both Skyscanner* & TravelSup* let you filter by fuel policy.
c) Get cheap excess insurance beforehand. When you pick up the car they'll often try and fear-sell up to £25/day excess cover on top. Yet you can buy the same for just £2/day before you go, see Cheap Excess Insurance.
9. Package holidays can still be a winner, and try to haggle - "Got 'em from £1,400pp to £1,150." Package hols are where on booking you usually get flights, hotels and transfers. And they can be cheapest too, especially for 7, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional tourist spot.
For serious bargains, book in the 'lates' market: that's within 8 weeks of travel, yet there's limited choice and flexibility. Otherwise book asap, while there are early-bird discounts on at Thomas Cook, First Choice, Thomson etc.
Once you've found a package, haggle to see if anyone else sells it cheaper, eg, forumite Yinster last May said: "I was going to Vegas. Originally quoted £1,400/pp, after calling around got the same deal plus an extra night for £1,150/pp. Happy." Though that's an extreme success, normally 5% off is decent. Full help and how to haggle in our Cheap Package Holidays guide.
10. Large family/group? Apartments or posh villas smash hotels, eg, £650 not £1,500. If you're going as a family or with friends, our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide shows you can massively undercut similar quality hotels. Eg, a 3-bed Algarve villa is £650 for a week in the first week of August, compared with £1,500 in a similar quality hotel. Nick tweeted us about eight staying in Majorca: "Free car and pool included. Super posh. Saved £1,200 for the party. Wonderful."
Alternatively, rent rooms in homes via Airbnb or Wimdu, eg, £55/nt for a room in Barcelona, compared with £90/nt for a similar hotel. Yet read our renting rooms info for more help and safety warnings if doing that.
11. Booked Easyjet? Keep an eye on the price after - "I got £1,700". If your Easyjet price dropped after you've booked it, our Easyjet refund trick shows how to get the difference back as a voucher. Mike emailed: “Thanks. I got £1,680 after the 12 tickets for my family were reduced two weeks pre-flight.”
12. Bag unbeatable exchange rates for all the year's trips in 3 mins. Specialist overseas credit cards give you the same near-perfect rate on euros, dollars etc, that banks get - smashing bureaux de change, and saving up to 8% over other methods. So apply now, set up a direct debit to repay IN FULL each month to minimise interest and the job's done for the year.
Our long-standing top pick on rate is Halifax Clarity* (eligibility calc). But the new Creation Everyday* is similar & charges a smidgeon less interest on ATM withdrawals, yet we've little feedback on it, so let us know if you try it. Matt tweeted: "@MartinSLewis Used my Halifax Clarity in several countries. Cracking exchange rate and no fees."
Only do this if you always repay IN FULL each month, or the gain's lost, as you'll pay 18.9% or 12.9% representative APR. FULL help, including all top cards, in Top Overseas Cards (APR Examples).
13. Slash airport parking costs from £80 to £40. Again early booking tends to win. The easy way is to use our discounted links to comparison sites incl APH 20% off* (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Luton, Manch, Brum), Holiday Extras 10-30% off*, SkyParkSecure 13-30% off*, FHR 12-25% off* and Airparks 12%-25% off*.
As Poppy tweeted: "Just booked 2 weeks airport parking at Luton for £38 using a discount code on @MoneySavingExp. Half of what we usually pay. Result." Tricks: Cheap Airport Parking.
14. You can get ATOL protection even if you DIY. Package holidays have long been protected under the ATOL scheme, so if something goes wrong you get your money back (or help coming home).
Yet it's little known, but since 2012, book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire together within 2 consecutive days from the same online travel agent (not airline), and you also get ATOL protection.
So check if it's not much more expensive compared with booking the cheapest flight & hotel completely separately. Also note online travel agents Expedia*, Opodo* & Lastminute.com* often discount flights & hotels booked together.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 27 January 2016.