cheap package holidays

Cheap package holidays

Slash costs with late deals and haggling

Booking a package holiday can offer valuable protection while travel restrictions remain changeable. But they can also slash the cost of going away, particularly if you're heading to a popular beach destination. This guide looks at what protection they give, when's best to book, where to go and how to weigh up if all-inclusive is worth it.

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Package holidays give greater protection during coronavirus uncertainty

Right now, a 'traditional' package holiday – where you book a ready-made package through a tour operator – can offer more protection than a DIY package, where you book a flight and hotel separately.

Last year, travellers who'd booked flights and hotels separately found it harder to get refunds from airlines when holidays were cancelled, because the flight itself was still running.

If you've booked a package holiday and you can't leave the UK or you can't get to the place you're going to because of Government restrictions, ABTA says you should get a refund, even if you're the one who cancels. This is because the package travel regulations state if "unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances" occur which "significantly affect the performance of the package" you're due a full refund. So this offers some protection if you're unable to travel due to the pandemic, but a couple of firms have left ABTA over this so it's not 100%.

Package holiday firms will often cancel anyway under these circumstances, in which case you're due a full refund regardless – see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide.

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Package holiday need-to-knows

Travel restrictions have eased somewhat, but as we've seen, things can quickly change. A package holiday could be the safest option if you're planning a holiday this year. But you still want to find a good deal, and some providers are offering greater flexibility if you want to change your dates. Here's what you need to know before you look for a cheap package holiday:

  1. Flexibility is key while travel restrictions are uncertain, so be sure to check this before booking

    Some overseas holidays are possible again, but big restrictions are still in place, and things can change quickly – this means any travel booking right now is still risky. As there’s no certainty on what restrictions will be in place when you come to travel, you should look for a holiday where you’ve no-quibble rights to change dates or cancel for a refund or voucher without charge.

    Here’s what you should be aware of…

    It’s crucial to check the rules on where you can travel. If you’re wanting to go away soon, check which destinations fall into the Government's Green, Amber and Red lists – though this is only really relevant in the short-term and only applies to coming back to the UK. It’s equally important to check the entry requirements for the destination you want to visit so you’ll know if the country will actually let you in, and what tests you may need. See our list of the top 15 holiday destinations' entry requirements.

    Do also check Foreign Office country advice, which is about safety when away – and doesn’t always align with the traffic light system – but this is key for travel insurance cover and your rights to a refund, as if there's an advisory against travel it can invalidate travel insurance policies if you go away, but it also increases your chances of a refund from travel firms.

    Look for flexible bookings that let you easily change your mind, or the date, or cancel. With package holidays, which give extra protection, you’re usually due a refund if you can’t go because your destination has closed its borders to Brits as firms tend to cancel these bookings. Yet you’re not automatically due a refund if you’re unable to go because you’d need to self-isolate on your return, so look for firms offering free changes or easy cancellation – see major tour operators’ flexible booking policies below.

    Travel insurance is vital – get it as soon as you book. Flexible bookings are a form of self-insurance for Government-related restrictions that mean you can’t go on your holiday. With very rare exceptions, travel insurance won’t cover cancellation due to Government rules, but it does cover you for a multitude of other non-Covid risks, eg, theft or bereavement. Most policies will cover you if you get coronavirus before you go away and can no longer travel, or while you’re away and need treatment or to delay your flight home. See Cheap Travel Insurance for full info.

  2. Check tour operators' flexible booking policies

    Many tour operators now offer flexible booking policies to encourage you to book during the pandemic, and of course this gives you greater safety at the current time when booking is risky. Below are the policies major operators have confirmed to us.

    Tour operators' flexible booking policies

    Operator What qualifies? Notice you need to give What happens if you cancel?
    British Airways Holidays Travel up to 31 August 2022 21 days before departure You get a voucher for the same value to rebook anywhere at any time, so you’ll have to pay any difference
    Easyjet Holidays* Travel to 'amber list' countries up to 30 September 2021 24 hours In both cases, you get a voucher for the same value to rebook anywhere at any time, so you’ll have to pay any difference
    All other travel 28 days before departure 
    First Choice* & Tui* Travel on or before 31 October 2021 14 days before departure
    You’ll be able to switch to a different booking, but you’ll need to pay any difference
    Virgin Holidays* Travel up to 30 April 2022 21 days before departure You get a voucher for the same value to rebook anywhere at any time, so you’ll have to pay any difference (1)

    (1) Voucher is for travel up to 30 April 2023

  3. Package holidays give extra protection beyond coronavirus

    Above, we explained the extra protection package holidays give around coronavirus, but beyond that, they come with greater consumer protection through ATOL or ABTA. This means that if the travel company fulfilling your booking goes bust, you'll be refunded if you're yet to travel, or found alternative accommodation and flights home if you're abroad. You're also covered if you don't get the holiday you paid for, eg, if an airline goes bust, or bad weather stops you travelling. 

    What's more, most DIY package holidays bought in the same transaction now get the same cover as 'traditional' package holidays. The rules on this changed in 2018 - here's how package holiday protection now works:

    • This includes financial protection (so you're entitled to a refund or to be brought home if necessary if the firm organising your package goes bust) AND legal protection (so you're covered if you don't get the holiday you paid for, eg, your hotel is overbooked or promised facilities are missing). 

      For years, only holidays from travel agents sold in one go as a ready-made package were protected. But with the rise of online bookings, this has been gradually extended – and since July 2018, you're fully protected if you create a package by selecting elements separately via the same website (or shop or call centre) and then buy them in the SAME transaction.

    • Under the current rules, this is what's technically known as a 'linked travel arrangement' – it applies if you buy the different elements separately in multiple transactions, but in the same visit to a website or shop, or in the same telephone call (eg, if you book and pay for a flight, then go on to book a hotel on the same site). 

    • So if you book another kind of DIY package, or the different elements of your holiday with different providers, you won't be covered.

      Crucially, ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) says this means a few now get LESS protection than they used to – until July 2018, DIY packages booked from the same site within 24 hours gave you ATOL protection, but unless you book in the same website visit that now isn't the case.

    Travel firms are now required to tell you upfront if you're buying a 'package holiday' or 'linked travel arrangement' – so if in doubt, check before you buy. See Holiday Rights for more info.

  4. Package holidays can also be MoneySaving, depending on the type of holiday you're after

    Package holidays are often the cheapest way to travel to certain destinations, though it's always worth comparing costs with a DIY break.

    As a rough rule of thumb, traditional packages are usually cheapest for seven, 10 or 14 days away in traditional holiday destinations.

    If you want to go away for a shorter or longer amount of time, to a less-visited spot, on a city break or multi-stop holiday, it's likely you'll be better off booking each part of your break separately through different firms.

    Read our Cheap FlightsCheap Hotels and Cheap Self-Catering Holidays guides, as well as Hotel Deals, for more on booking a DIY break.

  5. Slash the price using comparison sites, tour operators & flash-sale sites

    First, benchmark a decent price on the web. To get an idea of the type of price you should be paying, start by searching the major package holiday listing sites. All the sites below allow you to filter your options and, if you can be flexible, search for dates around the one you want to see if it's cheaper.

    First check the top comparison sites. Here are our current top picks:
     
    • Kayak* - When we compared prices across different comparison sites, Kayak often came up cheapest, making it a decent starting point when hunting out a bargain. It also lets you filter holidays by star-rating, board and 'freebies' such as parking, internet and airport shuttles.

    • TravelSupermarket* - Also check TravelSupermarket as it can sometimes beat Kayak's cheapest price. As well as the standard filters, such as board and star-rating, you can filter hotels by TripAdvisor score.

    Then it's worth doing some extra checks so you don't miss a bargain:

    • Expedia can beat comparisons. Although it does feature on comparison sites, we found going direct to Expedia* was sometimes cheaper, so it's well worth checking.
       

    • Check flash-sale sites for short-lived deals. You'll need to be ready to pounce for this one, but flash-sale sites offer great deals which beat comparison sites for a short time only. Holiday Pirates is one which has decent deals on holidays, flights and hotels – also check Travelzoo* and Secret Escapes
       

    • Try BA holidays for last-minute flight and hotel deals. Some deals with BA Holidays can work out cheaper than flights alone – great if you can be flexible on dates and destination. It also has a range of filters including average temperature and TripAdvisor ratings which can help narrow down your search. 

    • Check traditional tour operators incl Tui and Virgin Holidays. While some traditional tour operators' offers will be included in the comparison sites above, it's worth checking direct as well – the likes of Tui and Virgin Holidays can often have last-minute deals you won't find elsewhere.

      Remember, tour operators buy holidays in advance (usually around a year ahead) so they need to shift 'em. If you can be flexible and wait until the last minute, you could bag a real bargain. Plus tour operators' sites sometimes offer extra perks such as upgrades with certain hotels, or early booking discounts.

    However, often for the real bargains it's about getting on the phone to late specialist travel agents to see what they can find. And remember tour operators make holidays, travel agents just sell them, so the same holiday can be different prices at different agents. See our holiday haggling tips below.

  6. Usually, it's best to book late for the best deals...

    The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted travel massively, and our usual tips on when to book may not always apply this year. But booking late is normally the cheapest way to get a package, and naturally lots of people will be leaving it later because of current travel uncertainty.

    'Late' usually means no more than 8-10 weeks before departure, when the bargains flood in. The reason's simple. Tour operators have chartered the planes and reserved the rooms, and, if they don't shift 'em, they lose money. The later you leave it, the more desperate they are to flog empty rooms, so the price drops further.

    Yet the later you wait, the more you need to be flexible about dates and destinations. So if creche facilities or a specific hotel are must-haves, be careful.

    If you just want anywhere hot and cheap, leave it very late, ie, the week before you go, and you may get elegant trips for dirt-cheap prices. 

  7. ...or book early for special offers and discounts – great if you need particular facilities – but book flexibly

    The other way to get discounts (in normal times), is to book further ahead, because many tour operators offer early booking codes or discounts. These can include £100-per-couple discounts or buy-one-get-one-free weeks. Though as travel restrictions are so uncertain, it's important to check for flexibility.

    Don't be sucked in by marketing hype – first, use a comparison site to compare costs for the holiday you're after. 

    'Free' child places

    These operators all offer free child places when you book for adults, though availability may be limited:

    • First Choice – free child's place includes flights, hotel, entertainment and all-inclusive food and drink. You can only get one free child place per two full-paying adults in each hotel room, apartment or villa.

    • Jet2holidays* – includes flights, check-in baggage, accommodation, coach transfers, food and drink. If your group has two full-paying adults in a hotel room or villa, you'll get one free child place. If you're a family of one adult and two children, one child will be charged the full adult price and the other will have the free child place.

    • Tui – includes flights, hotel, transfers, food and drink. You can only get one free child place per two full-paying adults in each hotel room, apartment or villa.

  8. All-inclusive can be better value

    All-inclusive deals typically include all meals, snacks and drinks (though not always alcoholic ones), and sometimes transfers and luggage too – costs which can quickly add up.

    According to research by the Post Office in 2019, a family meal out for four (including three courses for two adults, two courses for two children, plus a bottle of house wine and soft drinks) costs around £60 in Costa del Sol – that's as much as £420/week for evening meals alone. 

    So if you don't mind eating in the hotel it's worth weighing up if you can save by going all-inclusive, factoring in local costs and exchange rates. Sometimes it's only a little more and you can make big savings overall – for example, we found a week in the Canary Islands for a family of four for £570pp (including breakfast), while upgrading to all-inclusive was only £16pp more.

  9. In normal times, the last two weeks of summer can be cheaper – though this year may well be different

    While the current pandemic has greatly restricted when we can travel, generally if you can take a holiday when others can't (such as travelling before the school holidays in May and June to family destinations such as Florida), you'll get a better price.

    If that's not an option, prices for package holidays usually drop rapidly towards the end of August – this is likely to be because in normal circumstances most people want to go as soon as they can, according to ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents). And many people don't want to be away the week before schools go back, so if you can leave it to the very last minute you'll likely save.

    In July 2019, we checked the prices of 20 different holidays across each week of the summer (for English school hol dates) and found if you wanted to book right away, the key to getting the best price was being flexible with when you go. For example, one seven-day holiday to Greece for a family of four was £753 cheaper booking in the cheapest week - so try not to be rigid.

  10. Look for out-of-favour destinations - when you're able to travel to them

    Heading to once-in-vogue holiday hotspots that are no longer so popular can be a holiday MoneySaver. If demand's off the boil, massive hotels can lie virtually empty. However, it's important to note that right now, travel is restricted by the Government's new traffic light system. This means your choice of destination is much more limited, and this trick might not be as handy.

    In normal times, where this trick works best often varies year-to-year. For example, a country which has just emerged from recent political instability may represent good value if it's trying to tempt back tourists. Always check the latest Foreign Office guidance before booking though.

    The same principle also applies to destinations off the beaten track that aren't popular with the masses yet, though capacity at these may be more limited. Opting for Bulgaria rather than Greece, for example, can help save.

    Finally, if you don't fancy a package, city breaks tend to cost less in summer, as cities are less obvious destinations.

  11. Package holidays can be cheaper than flights in some cases

    If you're going away specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, package holidays are often best. They can sometimes be much cheaper than booking a scheduled flight... even if you DON'T want to use the hotel.

    Eg, we found flights for a 7-day trip to Florida for £689 per person – a package holiday for the same dates was just £682 per person. It won't always work, but it's worth a try.

    This can even work with specific airlines - for example, Virgin told us its package holidays are sometimes cheaper than its flights to the same destination. So if you must fly with a particular airline, it's worth checking the holidays it offers too.

  12. A holiday is usually two weeks at most – don't spend all year paying for it

    We all deserve a holiday now and then (and many will feel the need to get away now more than ever). But do remember it's only two weeks a year for most – a holiday you spend the rest of the year worrying how to pay for isn't relaxing, nor helpful for long-term finances.

    Try the free Budget Planner for help and to see if you can afford it (it's worth applying the Money Mantras before you book too).

How to haggle down the cost of your package holiday

The most important thing to understand before haggling is:

Tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell 'em.

Admittedly, they're often both subsidiaries of the same company, yet the distinction is crucial. Just as a Game of Thrones DVD is available from different shops at different prices, many different travel agents will try to sell the same tour operator's holiday at different prices. The aim's to find the travel agent who'll sell it to you for the least.

Getting on the phone to agents to haggle used to be a fairly sure-fire way to slice prices - it's got harder, though it's still worth a shot. When we tried with four holidays we failed to get anywhere with three, but did manage to shave £80 off a £1,930 two-week break in Barbados.

Step 1: Benchmark a price for your perfect holiday

The aim's to locate a suitable holiday and grab all the details. First benchmark a decent price online (using the sites listed above). Then, once you've found a holiday you want within your price range, ensure you write down as much info as you can, for example noting meals and transfers, plus the name of the tour operator.

Step 2: Call up travel agents and ask if they can beat the quote you have

Now you've picked a holiday, the aim's to get EXACTLY THE SAME holiday cheaper.

It's worth remembering to stay polite, charming and smiley throughout this, as travel agents don't like the tactic – or us – much.

You'll need to act quickly, as prices and availability change.

To help, we've compiled a list of specialist holiday companies and brokers to try

This list below isn't exhaustive, but it's a good place to start. Note – we don't have specific feedback on how open these agents are to haggling – there's never any harm asking if they can beat a figure you've been quoted, but let us know how you get on in the Holiday haggling forum thread.

TRAVEL FIRM TEL NUMBER
Away Holidays 0800 408 8000
Balkan Holidays 020 7543 5555
Best At Travel 020 3993 4455
Blueseaholidays 020 3474 3075
Broadway Travel 020 3368 6221
Caribbean Classics 01793 841421
First Choice 020 3451 2688
Holiday Genie 020 3771 3073
Jet 2 Holidays 0800 408 0778
Love Holidays 020 3897 1185
NetFlights 020 3918 4038
Olympic Holidays 020 8492 6868
Perfect Holidays 020 7725 7090
Southall Travel 020 8843 4444
Teletext Holidays 020 7741 1305
Tui 020 3636 1931
TravelSoon 01708 412134
Travel Trolley 020 8843 4400

Try to negotiate in price per person, not total cost, as discounts will seem less to the travel agent.

Then continue the process with a few more, quoting the best price you got (maybe knocking a tenner off to speed things up) and see who can beat it.

Step 3: Call the tour operator directly

Once you've hit the price floor, to be absolutely sure, call the tour operator's own direct booking arm and see if THEY can beat what you've been quoted.

Step 4: Give the first broker the chance to match it

Finally, just to try to be fair, if a travel agent spent a lot of time with you to find the holiday in the first place, why not give them the chance to match – not beat – the price to regain your custom?

  • We previously tried our own haggle on a two-week all-inclusive break to Cancun in Mexico staying in the five-star Hard Rock Hotel, based on two people sharing. The total cost booking direct with the tour operator was £2,166pp. 

    We started by checking comparison sites and found the same holiday for £2,045pp – a good start. From there, we called a few different agents all selling the same holiday and put our haggling skills to the test.

    The first provider wouldn't budge, but the second offered a £20pp discount – not groundbreaking given the cost of the holiday, but a discount's a discount. So we're now down to £2,025pp.

    We tried our luck at one more provider and the tour operator directly but sadly neither would go anywhere near what we were last offered. However, from initially seeing the holiday for £2,166pp, we did save £141pp by comparing then haggling the cost.

Be aware – travel agents don't like this very much

Martin's been showing us how to haggle with travel agents for years and a few years ago presented an ITV Tonight programme, taking a couple of families and showing how much they could save using this technique. While it may be a little old now, the method hasn't changed and it does still work.

Following the show, travel agents vented their spleen – letters were sent and their trade magazine devoted pages to it. Apparently showing people how to cut their costs is 'immoral'. Read their views and Martin's response and his later blog: 'Dear travel agents, I have nothing against you but I won't stay schtum to protect your profits'.

The aim seems to be to persuade us that travel agents have it tough. Yet that isn't enough of a reason for us to hide the fact that haggling with travel agents results in consumers paying less. This is a site for consumers, after all.

To be fair to travel agents, try to minimise the amount of their time you use when originally sourcing the holiday if you're going to buy it cheaper elsewhere anyway. It's one of the reasons we favour phone specialists, who deal with this all the time, over high street agencies.

How much can you save?

Many people have tried our haggling technique with varying degrees of success. If you save 5%, you're doing well – though in some cases it's possible to cut costs by much more.

To inspire you, here are some quotes from the forum:

I wanted to travel to Southeast Asia. I booked a year before the holiday. I visited one firm who said it would be £4,000-£4,500pp. The next travel agent quoted £2,700pp, but I tried one more and got it for £2,200pp. Couldn't get it any less after that, so this is the one I booked the holiday with.
- Cass61

Recently we booked a holiday for a family of four to Florida. Initial quotes were in the region of £5,000-£6,000 for chartered flights, accommodation and car hire. By employing the haggling technique, we managed to get the final price down to just over £2,000 all-in!
- MoneySaver2

Add your success story and read others'. See Holiday haggling feedback.

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