Have a cheap holiday

07 December 2010

Find out how to cut the cost of your flights, get discounts, tip correctly, spend wisely, get cashback and most importantly, cut the cost of your holiday.

Get organised

Make a checklist
To ensure the smoothest trip possible, make a checklist of all the things you need to do before going away.

Order your EHIC
Make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to free or subsidised medical costs in any European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.

You can apply for the card online, over the telephone (0845 606 2030) or by picking up a form at the Post Office. Once active, cards are valid for up to five years. Find out more about EHICs.

Just be aware that the EHIC only covers basic medical costs, and won't pay for extras such as repatriation costs or an air ambulance. As a result, you will still need to take out travel insurance. Whether you already have travel insurance in place, or you're looking to buy a new policy, make sure it definitely includes winter sports cover – don't just assume it comes as standard.

Avoid airport rip-offs
Buying food and other essentials at the airport is likely to cost you a small fortune. So eat before you leave, or pack sandwiches to bring with you if you're flying on a budget airline, where food costs an arm and a leg.

Just be careful when it comes to bringing drinks as you won't be able to take liquids over 100ml through airport security. Don't forget to bring your own sealable clear plastic bag for these liquids – otherwise you might be forced to pay for one!

Consider how you’ll get to the airport
Avoid using services such as Gatwick Express and Heathrow Express if you can – you will find it cheaper to simply use national rail services and the tube.

Of course, the downside to this is that it can take a lot longer and if you have a lot of luggage, travelling on the tube can be a nightmare. So it’s also worth considering taking a pre-booked taxi.

Alternatively, consider taking the coach, such as National Express. You can get some great deals if you book in advance.

And if you’re driving, check out websites such as Purple Parking, parking4less and aph.com which help you to search for the best priced parking spaces near the airport.

Get stuff for free!
If you're off to Europe, it's worth remembering that several museums across Europe offer free entry on the first Sunday of each month. So, if it’s a family holiday you’re planning, time it well, and you could avoid paying entrance fees altogether.

Travel for less

Shop around
Unless you’re going on a package holiday, one of the first things you’ll need to find is a flight. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, sites such as Skyscanner and kayak.co.uk search the best fares for you, which you can then book through a selected agent or from the airline’s official website.

Watch out for hidden costs
Budget airlines aim to cut the costs of flying, but by the time you add baggage and credit card fees it can end up making being anything but cheap.

A Visa Electron card will solve many of your card fee problems. However, of the big five banks, only Lloyds, Barclays and Halifax issue them – and even then you may not be able to get one. Read Budget airlines aren’t always cheaper to find out more.

It’s also worth remembering that budget airlines often require you to travel at awkward times – perhaps early in the morning. So if you’re planning to travel to the airport by public transport, you may find the only public transport available at that time is a pricey taxi. So don’t forget to take these costs into consideration.

Get free flights
If you’re a frequent flier, why not maximise your travel power by joining an airline rewards scheme? With so many bonus incentives available, you could clock up enough miles for a free flight in no time.

Consider a courier ticket
If you’re willing to act as a courier, British Airways has one seat available per flight at a discounted rate. Seats cost at least half the regular fare, and are sometimes even (but rarely) free. For further information, contact British Airways on 0870 320 0301.

Go native
When booking train fares abroad, also check the native language version of the site you’re booking on. Consumer magazine Which? found fares 60% cheaper on the Spanish version of www.renfe.es than the English version, and though we’re not expecting you to learn a new language, it always pays to double check.

Look for age-related discounts
If you’re a student, or under 26, it’s worth checking out STA Travel for cheap flights and accommodation. Not only will they help you tailor your journey, but they also have fares especially for younger travellers.

Consider all your options
Travel is becoming more convenient, so you may think jumping on the Eurostar for short-haul journeys is the way forward - but not necessarily. With e-tickets and online check-in becoming more common-place, if you don’t need to check in any luggage, flying could still prove quicker and cheaper. So make sure you explore all avenues before booking.

Choose your accommodation wisely

Be adventurous
When was the last time you went camping? Why not brave the outdoors and go camping or caravanning? This will be far cheaper than a hotel and can be a lot of fun – particularly if you have kids.

Alternatively, stay at a youth hostel! Many hostels provide rooms suitable for families and couples – as well as traditional dormitory-style accommodation. Check out the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) website for more information.

Go self-catering
Rent out a villa or a cottage instead of paying for a hotel room and you could save lots! You’ll no longer have to pay for expensive meals out and instead can cook in the comfort of your own ‘home’!  Check out Holiday-rentals.co.uk to locate self-catering accommodation across the globe.

Live a life of luxury
Alternatively, maybe you’re looking for a swanky hotel room but don’t fancy paying the upmarket price tag. Then why not look into booking a top secret hotel room? Although you won’t be told exactly where you’re staying when you book, smart Sherlocks can still figure it out with a few extra clicks of a button. And, at nearly half the normal asking price, you could pick up a real bargain.

Book last minute
While booking in advance can be a great way to bag a bargain, booking last minute could save you even more. So if you’re fairly flexible about when and where you want to go, check out websites such as Lastminute.com or Teletext Holidays for some great deals.

Listen to fellow travellers
When choosing a place to stay, it always helps to get a better (and more realistic) picture of where you’re staying. So check out Tripadvisor which provides hundreds of candid reviews of hotels and popular attractions around the world  – as well as user photos.

House swap!
If you fancy trying something a little different, why not swap your home for someone else’s for the duration of the holiday! Check out websites such as UKHolidaySwapShop, Intervac, Homelink and Geenee.

Choose the right travel money

Protect your payment
While a debit card can save you on card fees, a credit card can offer extra protection. If your flight costs over £100, you may prefer to book your holiday with a credit card, however. This ensures you are protected if the airline goes bust.

Compare credit cards with lovemoney.com

Get a 0% purchases card
If you know you won't be able to pay off your credit card balance in full, sign up for a 0% purchases credit card! That way you won't have to pay any interest on your credit card.

Just remember to either pay off the balance when the interest-free period expires, or move the debt onto a 0% balance transfer card.

Compare credit cards with lovemoney.com

Get cashback
Once you’ve found your dream hotel and are ready to make a booking, it's well worth checking out websites such as Quidco, TopCashback and GreasyPalm for cashback deals.

Every time you buy from a retailer via one of these sites, your purchase is tracked, and a commission is paid to the cashback website – that commission is then passed back to you.

What's more, if you know you'll be able to pay off your credit card balance in full each month, use a cashback credit card and you'll earn cash back for every £1 you spend!

Compare cashback credit cards with lovemoney.com

Sort out your holiday money online
Make sure you get the best rate of exchange on your sterling. Online is always better than from a physical bureau de change, while you should also consider going for a pre-paid currency card. You can find out more about the top pre-paid currency cards in The best prepaid cards for spending abroad.

Save money on car hire

Shop around
Hiring a car on holiday can be very expensive so make sure you do your research. Brokers and comparison sites such as Holiday Autos, ebookers and Expedia can help you find and book the cheapest deal.

Check insurance and excesses
It can be a good idea to take out excess reimbursement insurance before you travel. This is because you can side-step the excess-waiver you'll be offered by your car hire company, which can cost as much as £10 a day.

Taking out your own insurance will work out much cheaper and will cover your excess if you damage the hire car. Carhireexcess.com offers comprehensive cover from as little as £1.99 per day in Europe, while insurance4carhire.com offers an annual European policy for £49.

Check the car for damage
When collecting your car, check there's no damage that hasn't already been noted. If there's even a tiny scratch, let the company know.

On returning the car, wait while staff inspect it, then ask for a copy of the final report. If there's nobody there to inspect it or they don't have time, note this on the rental agreement.

Go skiing for less

Choose the right time
Choosing the right date to go on your holiday can make a big difference to your wallet. Christmas, Easter and February half-term are popular dates to travel and are therefore more expensive. As a result, they are well worth avoiding.

For cheaper options, you might want to consider going a couple of weeks before Christmas, and in the last few weeks of January/start of February. 

Go last minute
If you're fairly flexible about when you can go on holiday, it might be worth plumping for a last minute deal. We find uk.travelzoo.com and alpineanswers.co.uk are good websites to check out for last minute bargains.

And if you're booking through a tour operator and you're feeling brave, it might also be worth trying a spot of haggling to see whether you can knock any more off the price!

Choose the right destination
Right now, while the pound is so weak against the Euro, heading to the Eurozone is going to cost you a fair bit. So why not consider visiting countries outside the Eurozone, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia? You'll get much more for your money!

Go catered
When choosing your accommodation, it's worth considering going for half-board or bed and breakfast as these deals are usually good value for money. This can save you spending a fortune in expensive restaurants and most of these offers include a decent breakfast, afternoon tea, dinner and sometimes free wine.

Although in theory, self-catering might work out to be slightly cheaper, don't forget, when you've been out skiing all day, the last thing you'll probably want to do is cook up a meal each night. So even if you have the best intentions, you might find yourself resorting to the local restaurants and spending more than you'd planned.

Go with the right airline
It's well worth checking airline terms and conditions before you book your flights so you know whether you'll be charged for bringing ski equipment with you.  So make sure you shop around and take these fees into consideration before choosing who to fly with.

Bargain clothing
When buying clothes for your ski trip, it's a bit of a toss-up between quality and price. If you don't want to spend much, have a browse in shops such as TK Maxx, Matalan, and Primark. Littlewoods Direct is also worth a look and of course, trusty ebay.

Just be aware that the lower the price you pay, the poorer the quality is likely to be. And while this might be acceptable for a jacket, make sure you don't scrimp when it comes to safety equipment such as a helmet or wrist protector – you do need to make sure yours are of good quality.

Of course, don't forget to have a good shop around on the internet before buying to compare prices, so you know you're definitely getting the best price possible.

Finally, if you're planning to hire your skis or snowboard, take a look at Ski Set and Snow Rental and book what you need online. This will often work out cheaper than hiring when you arrive through your holiday company.

Travel insurance
If you don't have travel insurance and you end up having an accident on the slopes, you could end up forking out thousands of pounds for treatment. So whatever you do, make sure you're sufficiently covered.

The first step is to make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to free or subsidised medical costs in any European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.

You can apply for the card online, over the telephone (0845 606 2030) or by picking up a form at the Post Office. Once active, cards are valid for up to five years. Find out more about EHICs.

Just be aware that the EHIC only covers basic medical costs, and won't pay for extras such as repatriation costs or an air ambulance. As a result, you will still need to take out travel insurance. Whether you already have travel insurance in place, or you're looking to buy a new policy, make sure it definitely includes winter sports cover – don't just assume it comes as standard.

If you're planning to take part in activities off the regular ski runs, it's important you check which activities are covered under your policy and contact your insurer if you're unsure. Off-piste or cross-country skiing might be covered as standard, for example, but only with a qualified guide or on recognised routes.

Similarly, if you're planning to go bobsleighing or ski jumping, it's also worth checking your policy to see if you'll be covered.

Finally, remember to check the small print carefully for restrictions and exclusions. For example, you might find that if you've had a drink or two, your policy will be invalidated.

Ensuring you're completely covered for your trip may cost you a little more, but it'll be well worth should the worst happen.

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