Let's be blunt - it's more expensive to go abroad now. Brexit uncertainty means the pound hit a 32yr low against the dollar this week. Against the euro, it's as bad as the lows of summer 2013.
A weak pound not only hits holiday spending but hotels, car hire and more, so ensuring you get your holiday right this year is crucial. And as January is the biggest month to book, here are our top tips for keeping costs down whenever you go away...
1. Make a New Year's resolution to always get near-perfect rates everywhere, and with extra protection. Most cards add a 3%-ish exchange fee, so spending £100 of euros costs you £103, plus they may add other charges.
Specialist cards don't add that fee, so you get the same near-perfect rate the banks get on the day the payment's processed. If you're going away, pocket one, only for use abroad, then repay IN FULL each month to minimise interest. Crucially if you find it best to book your flight or hotel on a foreign website, use this and you'll also get near-perfect exchange rates (but factor in any card payment fees).
Our top two picks are the Creation Everyday card (apply*), which has the best rates overall (12.9% rep APR on spending and cash withdrawal), and Halifax Clarity (eligibility calc / apply*), which is a smidgeon more on cash but has better long-term feedback from users (18.9% rep APR on spending and cash).
For one of the cheapest ways to withdraw cash abroad, the Barclaycard Platinum Visa (eligibility calc / apply*) comes top. It has no exchange fees till 31 Aug 2018 and unusually it doesn't charge a cash withdrawal fee or interest on overseas (not UK) withdrawals if you pay your bill IN FULL (14.9% rep APR on spending). For a full list, incl cards for poor credit scorers, see Overseas Cards (APR Examples).
Extra protection: With credit cards (not debit, prepay or cash), you get Section 75 protection on all spends over £100, incl abroad, so if there are problems with what you bought, the card firm must sort it.
2. Slash airport parking costs from £200 to £44. Early booking tends to win. Use our discounted links to comparison sites...
APH 20% off* (London, Manc, Birm, Edin) | Holiday Extras 10%-30%* | SkyParkSecure up to 30%* | FHR 12%-30%* | Airparks 12%-25%*
Eg, MSE user Robert emailed: "Booked using MSE link & got 8 nights' parking at Aberdeen for £44." On-the-day pricing for this can cost £200+. See Cheap Airport Parking for more.
3. Ram down the cost of hotels, eg, £1,600 stay for £700. Check as many comparison sites - Trivago*, TravelSup* and TripAdvisor* - as you've time for. They show a range of hotels and who sells them cheapest in your destination. If you know the one you want, just find it in the results. Then call the hotel to see if it'll beat the price.
Our resident travel bargain-hunter MSE Nick got five nights in a plush Zanzibar hotel for £715 instead of the £1,620 it cost to book direct. To further hack down costs, read Cheap Hotels.
Also, if Expedia's cheapest, sign up for its loyalty scheme and get money off future bookings - see Expedia loyalty analysis. You can also get serious cashback on hotels sometimes - we've seen up to 13%. Check after you've done comparisons elsewhere so you're sure it's a good deal. MSE Sally got £100 cashback after booking five nights in New York on an already low price. See full Cashback help.
4. Rooms with free cancellation allow you to save if the price drops later. If it's no more expensive than a non-refundable room (or there's little in it), try this trick. Keep checking prices after booking and if they drop - whether because of sales, low demand or the pound strengthens - just cancel and re-book, though watch out for fees if cancelling VERY late. Full how to get free cancellation tips. Alison tweeted: <"em span class ="purple-update">"Saved £200 when price dropped two days pre-travel."
5. Book car hire ASAP and you could get it for under £11/day. If hiring abroad, generally early booking is cheaper. What can be £11/day months ahead can easily double just before, or when there.
a) Find the cheapest via comparisons: Skyscanner*, TravelSup*, Carrentals* & Kayak*.
b) Check stealth fuel charges. Some make you pay for a full tank & return it empty - adding £80ish if you don't drive far. Skyscanner*, TravelSup* & Carrentals* let you filter by fuel policy. Stealth Charges
c) Get cheap excess insurance before. When you pick up a car they often try to fear-sell up to £25/day excess cover on top. Yet you can buy it for just £2/day before you go - see Cheap Excess Insurance.
6. Find best holiday money rates from 30 bureaux in seconds (NEVER buy at the airport). Tell our TravelMoneyMax comparison how many euros, dollars, rand etc you want and it compares 30 bureaux, including fees, to find your winner. Or use the TMM iPhone app or TMM Android app, which does the same and has added functions such as storing your plastic, so when you're away it shows your cheapest way to pay. To show the impact on a €1,000 mixed spend...
- Top specialist credit card repaid in full (see point 1): £887
- Cash, via TMM's cheapest bureau (must pick up in London): £890
- Change at airport (not pre-ordered): £1,007
Want to know whether to buy holiday cash now or later? See point 9.
7. Speedily find the cheapest flights. It's all about using the right tool for the job. In general, use as many of the comparison sites Kayak*, Skyscanner* & Momondo* as you've time for. They'll find the cheapest flight when you want to go but don't always search all budget airlines, so check if one you know doesn't appear. These are just the tip of the iceberg - see our 28 Cheap Flight tricks.
8. Package holidays can still be a winner - and try to haggle. Package hols are where you usually get flights, hotels and transfers in one. They can be cheapest, especially for 7, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional tourist spot. Note, all-inclusives lower the risk of currency fluctuations as you can pay now and spend very little (or nothing) when there - just double-check what 'all-inclusive' includes.
To benchmark the best prices, try TravelSup* & Ice Lolly*, as well as traditional tour operators. When you've found a package, haggle to see if anyone else sells it cheaper. Agents won't like it and are often up in arms so, if one spent a lot of time with you, always give it the chance to match it.
If you want choice and flexibility, book ASAP, while there are discounts on at Thomas Cook, First Choice, Thomson etc. If you've more freedom with dates and facilities/locations, the 'lates' market - within eight weeks of travel - can mean serious bargains. Full help and tips in our Cheap Package Holidays guide.
9. Should you buy holiday cash now or later? Let's be honest - we don't know. And with the pound more volatile than Donald Trump's tweets, no one knows where it'll be in future (though some will guess correctly). So we can't tell you when to buy.
One way to hedge is to buy half now and half later. Then if the pound worsens you've still some of your cash at the better rate. The best way to buy half now? See point 6. How do you get the cheapest cash later? Get a specialist card, because spending on the card while you're there gives you the near-perfect rate - see point 1.
Plus if you're going away within the next month there's a trick to buy cash now but cancel if rates rise, and re-buy at the better rate. Full info in Currency Buyback Trick.
10. Travel insurance - holiday booked? Arrange cover NOW. If you don't have it once you've booked - even if you're not travelling until later this year - and you or a family member gets ill or needs to cancel, you've no protection.
Cheapest annual policies (under-65s): Go away 2+ times in a year and annual policies usually win. A year's cover in Europe for a 32-yr-old costs from £9; for a family worldwide, from £42. The cheapest no-frills cover is usually Holidaysafe Lite*, but also check Coverwise* and Leisure Guard Lite*.
Full help in Cheap Annual Travel Insurance. Also see cheap one-off & over-65s' insurance + cover if you've a medical condition.
11. Booked Easyjet? Use its refund trick. If your Easyjet price drops after you've booked (excluding sales), our Easyjet refund trick shows how to get the difference back as a voucher. Jo emailed: "We got an £803 voucher... all thanks to you."
12. Large family/group? Check if posh apartments or villas smash hotels, eg, £450 not £1,560. We found a 3-bed villa in Crete with pool for £450 for a week in mid-August, compared with £1,560 in a similar-quality hotel nearby. Our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide shows you how to do it. Or just want a room in someone's home? Read our renting rooms info for more help and safety warnings.
13. Eat cheap, visit attractions on the cheap and get around cheap with our new MoneySaving city guides. We've done the work on the best deals once you're there.
- Costa del Sol incl Marbs, Malaga and Torre del Mar - see 43 Cheap Costa del Sol Tips.
- Rome incl beat Colosseum queues and all-you-can-eat buffets for the price of a drink - see 21 Rome Tips.
- Amsterdam incl free concerts and halve the price of hen dos - see 27 Amsterdam Tips.
- New York incl sail past Lady Liberty for free and cheap Broadway tickets - see the popular 34 New York Tips.
- And Paris incl cheap Disneyland tickets and £58 returns - see 29 Paris Tips.
14. Get ATOL protection even if you DIY. Package holidays have long been protected under the official ATOL scheme, so if something goes wrong you get your money back, a new holiday or help coming home.
But since 2012, if you book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire from the same online travel agent firm within 24 hours, you also get ATOL protection - see how to create your own protected hol. So check against booking separately.
Also note online travel agents Expedia*, Opodo* & Lastminute.com* often discount flights & hotels booked together.
It's always safest to book by credit card, as you often get Section 75 protection so the card firm is jointly liable if something goes wrong, though there are some exclusions.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 18 January 2017.