Grab yourself a bargain winter holiday
The crisp chill of a winter morning and the romantic darkness that descends across our land every day before the clock strikes five – isn't winter a beautiful time of year?
Unfortunately, our fair isle does not always want to play ball and five months of wind, rain and gloom with only rare sightings of the sun is much closer to reality. But there's no need to suffer in silence.
Winter sun holidays serve a very defined purpose: to get you and your family away from the dreary damp of Britain and boost your vitamin D levels in a location more used to celebrating Christmas in shorts and T-shirts.
They are also a great opportunity to break the mould of summer holidays and try something different, jetting off to countries and resorts that don't normally make the shortlist for traditional August getaways.
But first let's look at winter sun getaways for beginners. The Canary Islands is one of the most popular locations for Brits after some winter sun. According to hotel comparison site Trivago, six out of the 10 most sought-after winter destinations are in the Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa – in Tenerife or Lanzarote, with trips to Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria just outside the top 10.
Denise Bartlett, spokesperson for Trivago, explains that the Canary Islands are always popular as they are only around four hours' flight away and offer warm temperatures all year round – Lanzarote has average February temperatures of 18oC – and caters for a range of budgets. Tenerife is one of the cheapest islands, she says. "One night in Puerto de la Cruz will cost an average of £52 a night."
At the time of writing, a family of four could book a week-long break departing on Saturday 14 March 2015 to Diverhotel Tenerife Spa & Garden in Puerto de la Cruz, including flights, for less than £500 each. The deal from lowcostholidays.com, including flights from Nottingham (East Midlands) airport and a 10% online booking discount, totalled £1,944.92. Transfers and upgrading to half board would have added another £118 and £95.23 respectively, taking the total to £2,158.15.
The additional benefit of selecting a holiday in the eurozone is that the pound is currently experiencing a resurgence so drinks, food and other purchases made abroad will not cripple your wallet in the same way they might have done a few years ago.
For more ambitious sunseekers, destinations traditionally include long-haul flights to the likes of Costa Rica, Thailand, or Miami. A recent survey by the Post Office shows that holidaymakers can reap the rewards of pre-booking research as the cost of tourist staples fluctuate greatly year on-year and can amount to an enviable saving or an additional hit on the wallet.
The report highlights Bali and Cape Town as two of the best value destinations, with the Post Office's barometer made up of drinks, food, suncream and other essentials, coming in at £40 for Bali, less than a third of the cost of some of the most expensive resorts like Singapore and Dubai.
Rianne Ojeh, spokesperson for Travelbag, which carried out the research for the Post Office, says the strength of the pound has a very real effect on where holidaymakers decide to go. "We have seen a big rise in demand for destinations such as Sri Lanka, Mauritius and St Lucia, where sterling is strong and the cost of living is low," she says.
"The biggest year-on-year increase is for Japan as consumers recognise that the country is now much better value than in recent years. Rising prices in Vietnam, Antigua and Dubai haven't yet impacted on demand as there are still great value packages available for these destinations," she adds.
One of the destinations that comes in mid-table in the Post Office report is Jamaica. Caribbean specialist Jakes has put together a December getaway designed for families, with accommodation in a cottage and activities including cooking workshops, fishing, pizza making and kids' clubs.
The seven-night stay at Treasure Beach on the island's south coast is £1,785 for a family of four and includes flights and transfers - that's almost £160 cheaper than the cost of the Tenerife trip.
Clearly, there are savings to be made when booking. Alistair Daly, of online travel agent On the Beach, says all-inclusive holidays are a great way to keep costs down. "The cost of the holiday may be slightly higher than going self-catering but you will not need to spend in resort so keeping costs down abroad will be much easier," he says.
How prices compare for typical holiday items in different parts of the world
|Cape Town||Phuket||Tokyo||Cancun||New York||Vancouver||Darwin||Sharm-el-Sheikh||Jumeirah|
|Cup of filter coffee||£0.97||£1.02||£2.15||£1.73||£1.14||£1.31||£2.45||£1.23||£4.39|
|Bottle of local lager||£1.17||£1.42||£3.17||£1.98||£3.18||£3.92||£4.03||£2.74||£7.90|
|Bottle/can of Coca-Cola||£0.56||£0.55||£1.21||£1.48||£1.27||£1.13||£2.30||£0.95||£2.63|
|Glass of wine||£1.61||£3.05||£3.20||£4.94||£5.73||£4.79||£4.03||£3.78||£8.78|
|Small chocolate bar||£0.53||£0.49||£0.92||£.0.84||£0.50||£0.90||£1.73||£1.13||£3.51|
|Bottle of mineral water (1.5l)||£0.70||£0.39||£1.23||£0.44||£0.69||£1.54||£1.01||£0.66||£2.63|
|Three-course meal for two inc. bottle of wine||£27.81||£40.71||£42.31||£46.20||£50.96||£67.36||£72.56||£91.98||£99.17|
|% rise/fall over 2013||-6%||+1%||-36%||+25%||-4%||-5%||-12%||n/a||+64%|
Source: The Post Office
How to find bargain breaks on the ski slopes
Who needs sun when you have snow? That said, on the mountains you're as likely to have to apply sunscreen as you are on the beach. Thanks to extras such as lift passes, ski hire and a small number of incredibly popular peak weeks, a trip to the mountains generally costs double what a trip to the beach might.
As with winter sun, the best deals for a ski holiday are to be had by booking early – but that's not to say a bargain can't be found by an alternative route.The trick is to look out for offers that include added value such as half-price lift passes or free childcare.
A spokesperson for the Tirol Tourist Board in Austria says: "Sometimes it's the cost of the extras that bump up the overall price – it's best to look at the tourist board packages as they offer competitive accommodation deals with added value, often including ski passes and resort guest cards." A guest card often offers discounts across a range of hire shops, bars or restaurants around the resort.
If possible – although difficult when travelling with children – avoid the peak weeks of Christmas, February half term and Easter. By hitting the slopes outside these times you can save hundreds of pounds – however, you face a fine from your local authority if taking children out of school.
As for where to go, Austria is experiencing a resurgence in popularity among British skiers and snowboarders as we're put off by the prices of French resorts and the weakness of the pound against the Swiss franc. Plus, the country's ski resorts are often good for deals.
This season, the Wilder Kaiser resorts of Söll, Ellmau, Scheffau and Going are offering 25% off the cost of an entire holiday during their SuperSki Weeks in December and March including accommodation, lift passes, equipment hire and lessons. This deal is perfect for beginners or less adventurous skiers.
Another way to keep costs down is by opting for self-catering: this way you can avoid costly dinners out in the evening and save by taking packed lunches: lunch on the hill can be one of the most extravagant meals when you go above 2,000 metres.
With the cash you save, why not do self-catering in luxury – Ski Collection (skicollection.co.uk) is offering four-star accommodation in Les Arcs during the peak week of February half term for £603 per person, based on four sharing an apartment, and including Eurotunnel crossings for a self-driving holiday.
At the other end of the spectrum is all- inclusive. As is the case for an all-in beach holiday, splash the cash from your living room then leave your wallet at home for the trip.
Club Med (clubmed.co.uk), which has resorts around the world including ski resorts and has a particular focus on families, offers a number of options at European sites, including its new flagship resort at Val Thorens in France.
Alternatively, head to the French resort of Avoriaz for the three-Trident (Club Med's three-star equivalent) from £1,119 per person and £969 per child, including Gatwick flights on 9 April, transfers, all meals (including lunch on the mountain), lift passes and equipment hire, and children under four stay free.