January 27, 2016
Travel companies are constantly vying for our attention, in what is a very crowded market, by offering various incentives in their marketing messages. You can save on holiday costs with early-bird booking savings, stay/pay deals ‘giving away’ free room nights, straightforward percentage discounts, and even the ubiquitous retail industry favourite – BOGOF (buy one get one free) – are all tried and tested propositions to encourage us to book. But are they genuine offers or is there another sure-fire way of securing a saving, or at least a method for ensuring value for money, especially if you are travelling during peak periods?
Speaking from my professional experience I can, hand on heart, say yes, most of the time the offers are genuine. Indeed, by the Consumer Protection code of practice, overseen by Trading Standards, they have to be. From my practical experience, however, I also know that the majority of deals apply to travel during the low or shoulder seasons.
So here are my top tips for finding the best available deals, which generally apply regardless of when you travel.
If you see an offer that’s right for you, don’t procrastinate – deals and promotions can be withdrawn with little or no notice. Always check the details of the offer, making sure you’re not giving up on your holiday ideals for the sake of saving a few pounds – your holiday is, after all, probably one of the most important times in the year to relax and spend quality time with family and friends.
Sign up to receive marketing emails from your favourite travel companies – it’s one of the main methods businesses use for communicating their offers. Setting up a dedicated email address for receiving marketing emails is a great way to manage what could end up being a large number of emails in your inbox.
Quite simply, if you don’t ask, you don’t get – but do be realistic. If you’re purchasing a flight-only, chances are your travel company will have no room to discount the price. However, if you’re buying a holiday which includes accommodation, tours, flights, car hire and so on, there’s a good chance you could receive an extra discount – especially if you are willing to pay up front for your trip.
Some travel companies may not be able to further discount their price, but instead they may be able to include some ‘added value’, in the form of a complimentary room upgrade, airport lounge pass or a city sightseeing tour, for example. It’s always worth asking if the price quoted is the best price that can be offered and, at the very least, ask if they will cover the additional cost usually levied for paying by credit card.
This is not only relevant for buying flights and hotels, but could also save you money on cruises, tours and even package holidays. Use comparison websites, or ‘metasearch’ websites, which are particularly useful when looking at long-haul flight prices (Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Kayak are all examples of metasearch websites). These websites compare prices of flights, usually in real time, from a number of travel companies and airlines at once, which can make it very easy to find the best price.
It’s also worth checking flight prices directly on the airline’s website. This also works for some package holidays*. You have the choice then of booking directly, or with your preferred travel company, knowing the price you should be paying (and asking for a discount to match that price!).
Finally, don’t forget to take up an offer to ‘match’ or ‘beat’ a competitor’s price if this guarantee is being advertised as a marketing message.
‘When is the best time to book?’ is a question I’m often asked. The answer is not straightforward. Tailor-made holiday prices are mainly influenced by the cost of the flight, whereas accommodation prices can fluctuate but generally remain static, aligned to seasonal booking trends. So, it’s the flight element of your holiday that should be the focus for finding a deal (except if you’re booking a package* holiday).
Most airlines release seats for sale 331 days prior to the departure date and there will be a set number of ‘cheap’ seats available to buy at that time. The dilemma, though, is whether to buy at that point or wait for a sale in the hope prices will drop. Sales are usually determined by load factors on any specific flight. If a flight isn’t selling well, an airline will likely drop prices for a short period to stimulate the market, but there are never any guarantees.
Generally speaking, long-haul flights are cheaper when booked well in advance (purportedly at least five months in advance). Short-haul flights, similarly to long-haul ones, will only get more expensive the closer you book to the departure date, and optimal booking times are around three to four months in advance.
Charter flights (and package holidays which use them) can sometimes be discounted a few weeks before travel, and this also applies to cruises. Airlines may discount long-haul flights a month or two before departure but, if they do, there’ll be a limited number of seats and travel dates available.
Set up email and twitter alerts from comparison sites to monitor prices on your particular route, at least then you have a barometer as to how market prices are changing.
If you know where you want to go though, and you have to travel in peak season, then book as much in advance as you can. The chances are you will pay a better price than if you were to leave it last minute, plus you will avoid the unnecessary stress of worrying about flight availability, or your preferred hotel having vacancies. If you are open to where you go on holiday and when, there are opportunities to save money on a last-minute deal, or during big sales periods, such as January.
If you can, be flexible with your plans then there’s a good chance you can get better value for money when booking your travel.
Flexibility with your travel dates, in particular, could save you hundreds of pounds. The pricing structure which airlines implement for long-haul flights means that by shifting your departure or return date, by even just a day or two, to a flight which is less busy, means that your ticket price will be cheaper.
Certain days of the week are more popular to fly on specific routes so, for example, flying out on a Monday versus a Sunday could be a less expensive option. The start of the school holidays, Christmas and New Year are all good examples of where flexibility with travel dates can be very rewarding to your wallet.
Finally, considering your options for departure and arrival airports may provide cheaper flight alternatives. However, don’t forget to weigh up the costs of travel to and from the airport, parking charges and any difference in transfer times or car hire costs.
Is flying via another destination always the cheaper option? If you’re short of time, then the most direct route can potentially outweigh any savings made by flying indirectly. It also has to be said that indirect flights are not always cheaper than direct ones; carriers have been forced to become more competitive. But, generally speaking, flights with smaller airlines, which have to fly via a hub, will work out cheaper than the direct alternative.
Demand for specific holiday dates (I’m thinking particularly of school holidays) dictates holiday cost. By being a little creative, or trying a new style of holiday or destination, your holiday budget could stretch much further.
For example, holidaying in Asia during the UK’s summer months may, at first glance, appear expensive. The long-haul flights will eat up a large chunk of your budget but accommodation, tours and sundries – including eating out and souvenirs – are far cheaper than holidaying closer to home. Overall, the cost of a holiday to Asia will be comparable to that of a peak season break in Europe, yet it may offer a more exotic experience, and the quality of accommodation may be superior, making it better value for money.
Other money-saving options include taking the ferry and your own car and driving into Europe to stay in a self-catering holiday cottage, joining up with friends to hire a large apartment and sharing the costs, buying a modern tent and camping on the continent, or saving up frequent flyer points over the year to use towards the costs of your peak season trip.
Not all flights are created equal. As well as different classes of travel and the costs of tickets within each class, airlines also sell different types of tickets. These include child tickets, one-way cruise fares, around-the-world flights and fares specific to oil and gas workers.
One very useful fare is what is known as an IT fare (or Inclusive Tour fare). These are tickets which must be sold in conjunction with accommodation, a tour, car hire or a cruise, and can generate substantial savings when compared with booking your holiday components separately. Ask your travel agent about them.
That leads us neatly to the topic of our next blog, on the many benefits of booking a package holiday, whether via a travel agent or directly with a tour operator. Watch this space.
*NB: If you book flights directly rather than as part of a package, you’ll lose the very valuable protection of the Package Travel Regulations.