It's meant to be getting warmer at home and the hot weather only brings the thought of summer hols closer. Yet you need to act NOW to ensure you get the best deals and top rates, even if you're not heading off for a couple of months. So we've a plane-load of new tricks and old favourites to book in advance if you want to give your hols a head start.
1. Access an airport lounge for FREE. Can take 4-6 weeks to sort. Don't pay a royal sum to lounge like a prince. Our new Free and Cheap Airport Lounges guide has tips for free access, plus 25% off well-regarded No1 lounges at key UK airports. Calum tweeted: "I've twice used lounge at Malaga for free. Great lounge."
2. New. Get £20 cashback on one of the cheapest ways to spend abroad. Cards take 1-3 weeks to arrive. Most debit and credit cards add a 3%-ish 'exchange fee', so £100 worth of euros costs £103. But if you pass their credit check, specialist overseas credit cards don't charge so you get near-perfect exchange rates.
- £20 cashback on long-term top pick. The Halifax Clarity (eligibility calc / apply*) card just got better. Apply, then buy anything abroad by 30 Sep and you get £20 cashback within 90 days. It's 18.9% rep APR on spending and cash, so pay IN FULL to avoid interest on spending, though you pay a small amount of interest on cash till it's paid off.
- Top credit card for cash withdrawals. New custs who apply for the Barclaycard Platinum travel credit card (eligibility calc / apply*) won't pay exchange fees on purchases or cash withdrawals till Aug 2022. (Be careful. Barclaycard says it'll go live at 9am so if you apply before you'll only get fee-free till Aug 2018 - we'll direct the link to the new deal when it's live). Unlike most other specialist overseas cards, you'll also pay 0% interest on overseas (not UK) withdrawals if you pay your bill IN FULL (18.9% rep APR on spending & 27.9% on cash if not). See our Top Overseas Spending Cards for full help and more options.
- Don't fancy or can't get a credit card? Grab a fee-free prepaid card. You load money on them in advance. The top deals offer near-perfect rates and are fee free, though in the past some have added fees later. See Prepaid Travel Cards.
3. The big question... should you buy holiday cash now or after the election? You've asked this in your droves due to the pound's recent volatility. So read Martin's 'Should I buy currency now?' blog.
4. Book car hire ASAP to drive a bargain, eg, save £200+ on a week in Spain. When hiring abroad, early booking is generally cheaper. We found £11/day for car hire in Malaga in August, but it can cost £40/day on the day. Full help in cheap holiday car hire, but at speed...
a) Find cheapest via comparisons: Skyscanner*, TravelSup*, Carrentals* & Kayak*.
b) Check stealth fuel charges. Some make you pay for a full tank & return it empty - that can add £80 if you don't drive far. Enjoy Car Hire* only shows fair fuel quotes & Skyscanner*, TravelSup* & Carrentals* let you filter by fuel policy.
c) Get cheap excess insurance. It's worthwhile protection, yet hire companies will try and sell it for up to £25/day when you collect - ignore them by buying in advance from £2/day. See Cheap Excess Insurance for more info. Glyn tweeted: "Followed your guide, got excess insurance for £13 all-in, instead of £12/day."
5. Check your EHIC now - 5.3m are due to expire. Normally takes 7-10 days to arrive. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a must if going to Europe. Yet millions expire every year. See our Free EHIC guide for how to renew for FREE.
6. See TRUE flight costs including luggage and payment fees, before booking. Comparison site Kayak* lets you include luggage and card fees in your search - good for comparing real costs which can add hundreds to a family booking.
Always use a comparison to speedily find the best prices - others to try incl Skyscanner* and Momondo*. Sometimes they reveal the SAME flight at vastly different prices, showing the best way to book. Eg, we found London to Las Vegas return on a Virgin Atlantic plane in June for £750 booked on Virgin, but the SAME flight booked via Delta was £830.
See Cheap Flights for more tips plus our specific Ryanair and Easyjet tricks.
7. Driving to France? Get an emissions sticker, or you could be fined. Takes up to 30 days to arrive. Fines can be as high as €68 (£59). How to get one and why.
8. Already booked? Get travel insurance NOW - don't risk £1,000s for a fiver. If you've paid but don't have insurance, and you need to cancel because you fall ill or suffer a bereavement, you won't be covered.
- Cheapest annual policies - best if you go away 2+ times a year: A year's Europe cover that meets our minimum cover level for a 30-yr-old starts from £9, worldwide from £19. Your winner depends on age and number travelling - Holidaysafe Lite* and Leisure Guard Lite* often win, but Coverwise* can beat it in some combinations. For top value, incl feedback and past payouts, LV* is from £67 for Europe, and £111 worldwide. Full help and minimum criteria in Cheap Annual Travel Insurance.
- Cheapest single policies. Again, for almost any combination Leisure Guard Lite* or Holidaysafe Lite* are usually cheapest. Eg, from £5 for a solo under-45 for 1wk in Europe, and £16 worldwide. See Single-trip travel insurance.
- Over 65? Pre-existing conditions? Prices can rise so see our specialist Cheap over-65s travel insurance and Pre-existing conditions travel insurance help.
9. Save £150+ paying in advance for airport parking. It gets far more expensive closer to the time. Our Cheap Airport Parking guide has full info but the easy way is to use our discounted links to comparison sites incl APH 20% off* (London, Manc, Birm, Edin), Holiday Extras 10%-30%*, SkyParkSecure up to 30%*, FHR 12%-30%* & Trusted Travel 16% off. Robert emailed: "Used MSE link & got 8 nights' parking at Aberdeen for £44."
10. Slash long-haul costs by £100s (and see a new city at the same time). If you break up your trip (for a few hours, or even longer to sample a new city) you can often save a packet, eg, we found London to Cape Town return in November for £790 direct or £500 via Dubai. See Stopover savers for more.
11. The hotel re-book trick can save you £100s. When booking a room we always say check comparison sites such as Trivago*, TravelSupermarket* and TripAdvisor*. Some hotels offer free cancellation, though sometimes for a premium. Yet if the price drops later you may be able to cancel and rebook at the lower price up to 24 hours before arriving. Alison tweeted: "Saved £200 when price dropped 2 days pre-travel." See Hotel tricks for much more.
12. ESTA and other entry requirements are YOUR responsibility. Passports can take 3 weeks to renew. If heading Stateside, even just to change planes, you'll need to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before you go - see our ESTA guide for how to apply. Elsewhere you may need a visa (eg, Turkey) and you may need to have at least six months left on your passport. To check entry requirements, see the Government's foreign travel advice.
13. DIY isn't always best - package hols may still win. We found a week in August in Spain for a family of four for £285/pp. Late deals can work well too but don't forget to haggle - full help on how to do it in our Cheap Package Holidays guide.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 24 May 2017.