Cheap holidays: top tips for getting a good deal
There will be people who tell you that when money is a bit tighter than normal, a holiday is the kind of luxury that you can do without. Clearly those people are wrong. When money is tight, we just have to find ways of getting exactly the same holiday at a fraction of the price.
So here are ten of the best ways to have a holiday on the cheap.
1. Use a cheap flight search engine
You don't need to check every airline for the best deal, because there are flight scraping sites which do it for you. They bring together all the flight prices, so you can just search on sites like Skyscanner.net and kayak.co.uk and then book through the airline's website.
2. Check if a package is cheaper than a flight
If you are travelling to a traditional holiday destination during school holidays, then a package can work out cheaper than doing it yourself - although it pays to check. You can even call travel agents and try to haggle down the price.
In some instances you can actually get a package for less than the price of the flight, so you can take the flight, and then stay in your own accommodation. This is well worth checking - especially if you are booking close to your departure date.
3. Consider breaking your flight
Look at the route, particularly long-haul, and consider your options for stop-overs. It'll take a while to research, but you can save as much as 20 per cent on your flight by choosing the cheapest place to break your journey. On a flight to Florida in peak season, for example, you could spend £636 and stop over in Houston with Air Canada, or go direct for £938.
4. Book at the right time
Recent research from Skyscanner found that the best time to book a flight depends on your destination, but that on average the best time is five weeks before you travel. For Greece the best time to book is three weeks in advance, for Cyprus it's four weeks, for Spanish and Portuguese trips five weeks is the optimal time, for Italy, France and Croatia it's six weeks, for Germany it's nine weeks, for Turkey it's 13 weeks, and for the US it's 21 weeks. Of course, you run the risk that the flights you want will sell out, or will prove so popular that no discounts are necessary. If you cannot risk waiting, then you need to book as early as possible - at least nine weeks in advance.
5. Be as flexible as you can
It isn't always easy, but if you can be more flexible about when you travel, you can save a substantial amount of cash. Check for flights early in the morning or last thing at night - although check you can get to the airport in time if you're using public transport. It almost goes without saying that if you can travel outside of school holidays you'll at least halve the cost of your holiday in one move.
6. Do a house swap
This isn't for everyone, but if you are prepared to consider the option, you could save hundreds of pounds on accommodation. Sites like UKHolidaySwapShop.co.uk and Intervac.co.uk will let you contact people and offer a house swap - where you each stay in each other's houses and don't have to pay a penny for accommodation. You will need to spend some time getting to know the people you are swapping with, lock away any precious valuables, and talk to your insurer, but it's well worth considering.
7. Book a secret hotel
Lastminute.com will offer you a discount if you are prepared to book a hotel on the basis of the number of stars and the approximate location - known as a secret hotel. You're taking a bit of a risk, but you can do a bit of sleuthing and check out all the hotels of this type in the area, to make sure you'll be happy with whatever you book.
8. Bid on a hotel room
Priceline.com is well-known in the US, but is available in the UK too. It's a clever site that lets you bid on a hotel at whatever price you fancy. It has a 'name your price' button, and you can pick an area and a star level and then name your price. If the hotel is desperate to shift rooms you can get 60% or more off the usual price. However, you're only allowed to bid once a day, so it's worth working with a partner on this to double your chances of a deal.
9. Couch surf
This is another freebie that isn't for everyone, but will be a huge money-saver for those who like the idea. Sites like couchsurfing.org let you search for people offering a free night on their couch (or spare room) in the destination. Then you send a request to the host and see if it's available. It's worth bearing in mind that this is more than just a free bed, you will also be expected to spend some time with your host in their home, so you'll need to choose carefully.
10. Find bargains at your destination
Before you go, it's worth researching the destination to see how it compares pricewise. Do you know, for example, which are the cheapest holiday destinations for Brits at the moment? Consider too the big attractions you want to visit. Most will offer discounts if you book online in advance, some will offer discounts if you book a number of attractions together, and many will also offer vouchers you can take advantage of. You can easily save 10 per cent to 20 per cent on each of these attractions with a bit of forward-planning.
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