#HolidayHelp | How to book a great value holiday – all you need to know
When it comes to booking a great value holiday, we know just where to start! Everyone wants to know how to book a great value holiday right? We share our Girl About Travel tips in our #HolidayHelp series
Getting great value
Whatever our budget, everyone likes to feel like they’re getting a good deal and everyone wants to know how to book a great value holiday . At Girl About Travel, we’re not bothered about expensive for expensive sake but nor do we want bargain basement cost-cutting – we just want to feel like we’re getting good value, whatever the final price may be.
What makes a fair price and provides good value is a personal thing, but there are some hidden tricks and tips to the travel industry that, once you know, mean you’ll get a good deal every time you go away.
Over the years, Girl About Travel’s founders Lyndsey and Rebecca, plus the Blog Squad of Ambassadors, have picked up some great ideas for saving money on your next holiday. And it’s just this sort of advice that we like to share in the Holiday Insiders’ Club. To give you an idea of what to expect in there, we’re sharing our expertise here.
Q I want a great holiday deal, where should I start?
A It depends what sort of holiday you want. If you’re heading to a popular beach destination, shopping around for a package holiday is often the easiest and cheapest, plus will give you the greatest protection. Plan far in advance to take advantage of early booking offers or if you have specific requirements, or if you don’t mind where and when you travel, leave it to the last minute to bag a bargain. Tui and Virgin Holidays are reliable, and good at what they do.
If it’s something more adventurous, speak to a specialist travel agent for the destination, and consider booking various elements separately. Do some research on standard prices, and set your budget accordingly. Skyscanner and booking.com are great places to get a sense of what's available, and at what price.
It’s always worth speaking to the hotel directly to secure the best price, and we love the option on Skyscanner to view flight prices across a whole month.
Q When is the best time to book?
A The pandemic has thrown all the usual holiday rules up in the air, but booking early is still generally the best idea if you have a particular place you’re set on, and/or you’re restricted to specific dates (school holidays, eh?).
Saying that, the one rule that still seems to be holding true is book early. Find out when flights are released to the destination you plan to visit; for the trains, Eurostar now sells tickets up to 330 days in advance of travel (it was previously 90), and bookmark those dates.
The same applies for car hire – book as soon as you know what you need. However, it's worth checking back nearer the time as prices fluctuate and with many firms now offering free cancellation, it’s easy to cancel and rebook a cheaper deal.
Q I've got my heart set on going to the Maldives, how do I make sure I'm getting the best price and a good deal?
A It’s easy to spend a crazy amount of money on a dream holiday to the Maldives. Book an over-the-water villa at the Kardashians’ fave the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort and you’re easily going to spend over £2,000 a night.
If you have your heart set on some uber luxury, consider travelling off season (high season is December to April). Visit between May and November and you’ll still experience temperatures of at least 25º and a warm sea but short sharp tropical showers are more likely. And as with other destinations, book early.
For a more affordable way to visit the Maldives and still experience the beauty of the islands, consider staying at what are referred to as local islands, where you’ll find guesthouses and resorts that aren’t run by huge international corporations. The price per night is significantly less, and it offers a much more authentic Maldives experience.
Q What small print do I need to be aware of?
A The main thing to consider is what are your rights around cancelling, and how flexible is the booking - when is the latest you can make an amend without it costing you anything? Since the pandemic, booking conditions have become more favourable for customers and greater flexibility is becoming more normal. For example, Eurostar tickets can be amended up to seven days ahead of travel with no additional fee and free cancellation before 24 hours is now fairly standard for car hire.
Q How do I easily compare flight prices, when they don't always include eg hold luggage and seat reservations?
A This is a tricky one to do independently and unfortunately there is no easy way. Skyscanner is great in many ways, but the prices it shows don’t include any extras and these can vary wildly from airline to airline.
The easiest way is to book through a travel agent. They will be able to shop around and will present you with the option that offers the best value for you. For example, some people are happy to take a flight first thing in the morning if it saves some money, others would prefer a mid day flight, regardless of the cost.
Q Is it always best to book flights as far in advance as possible?
Q What are your go-to tips and tricks to help make holidays cheaper?
A Ask the people who live there for tips – if you’re travelling in the UK, seek out the local Girl About Ambassador and follow her on Instagram. Our Blog Squad are often sharing money-saving ideas for free and cheap things to do.
For travel further afield, useful tips include:
- eat well at lunch (set menus are often great value, compared to dinner);
- check which days museums and galleries are free or discounted (eg the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is free on the first Sunday of every month; the Prado in Madrid has free openings on some evenings);
- ditch the star rating system! As great as some five-star hotels can be, take the star rating system with a pinch of salt (we have a blog post all about this), and there are plenty of incredible places to stay around the £100 a night mark that will still tick a lot of your boxes. In the Holiday Insiders’ Club we have a few accommodation directories with great suggestions, or if you’re doing a city break, there’s a growing amount of chic budget chains, such as the Moxy, Hyatt Place and the Parador group in Spain, to book.
Q What's the secret to finding a cheap hotel room in a popular place?
A Use the usual comparison sites to check availability then call the hotel directly to see if they’ll beat the price or perhaps offer a three-for-two night deal.
Alternatively, if you’re not fussy on the exact hotel you stay in, it’s worth looking at the various ‘secret’ hotel sites. Offering bargain prices, you can search via star rating and location, but the name is only revealed once you’ve confirmed your booking. Options include Priceline, Hotwire and Secret Escapes.
Alternatively, book somewhere with free cancellation and keep an eye on it to see if the price drops before you travel. If so, cancel your original booking and rebook at the lower price.
Q I'm tied to school holidays, how can I give my family fabulous holidays without breaking the bank?
A This is another tricky one unfortunately. Popular places such as Centre Parcs are notorious for being two to three times as expensive during school holidays, yet visit Centre Parcs in France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and a stay during school holidays can be significantly cheaper, even once you’ve factored in the additional travel costs (and further slash the cost by booking via that country’s own site, rather than .eu).
The main way to save money on holidays during the school holidays is to travel to the less obvious places. Consider Montenegro and Slovenia instead of Croatia, northern Portugal rather than the Algarve, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion in Wales rather than Cornwall, and the Pyrenees rather than the Alps in France.
Q I really want to take the family to Disney – do you have any money-saving tips?
A There’s no easy way to say this – booking a Disney holiday can be a complete minefield! We highly recommend speaking to an expert, as there are so many options and extras to consider it’s more than mere mortals can deal with.
Our Holiday Insiders’ Club Disney expert recommends approaching a Disney holiday not from the point of view of how much money can I save on this, but what’s the amount I’m comfortable spending on this? Then working out what your essentials are and what you’re happy to compromise on, and going from there.
For example, on first look Disney’s own resort accommodation can seem expensive when compared to staying off site, but it’ll include lots of extras (including exclusive park time) that just aren’t available if you’re staying elsewhere.
Q How can I save on things like car hire, travel insurance, airport parking etc?
A In the Holiday Insiders’ Club we offer our members discounts with Holiday Extras, so that gives a saving on car hire, airport lounges, airport parking and airport hotels (so hint hint, join the Club!). If the Club isn't for you, keep an eye out for deals with, for example, Taste card often has 241 deals on No1 Lounges. Take out a £1 trial for the card, and then don't forget to cancel it!
Q Any other tips to share?
- Either the Starling or Halifax Clarity credit cards are our top picks for spending and cash withdrawals abroad – neither charge any fees on transactions;
- If offered the choice, always choose to pay in the local currency, not convert the transaction to GBP;
- O2 has continued to provide free calls and roaming within the EU; if you’re not with O2, check your contract and provider before assuming you’ve got free roaming in the EU;
- If you go away more than once a year, annual travel insurance is usually better value than a single policy, plus it’ll likely cover for you for UK breaks too (check your policy);
- If you have under 12s and over 18s on a multi-room booking, consider splitting the booking to take advantage of free children’s places;
- If you’re booking a holiday to a typical beach destination, look at flights to nearby cities instead. This works well for the Greek Islands – flights to Athens can be fairly reasonable