10 cost-cutting holiday hacks

16 March 2016

With Easter this month and summer a not too distant prospect, a cheap getaway is on many of our minds.

To help ensure you bag bargains on everything from flights to travel money and suncream, Moneywise has put together 10 tips for a money-saving break.

1. Book flights at the best time

Being crafty about when you book flights can help you save. Travel comparison site Skyscanner. net says just how many weeks in advance you should book varies depending on your destination. Check out the table below, which details the best times to book if you’re heading to holiday hotspots in Europe and further afield.

If you’re heading to Europe, flying out on a Tuesday and Wednesday could also cut costs, according to the latest data from travel comparison site Kayak. co.uk. For those flying outside Europe, travelling on a different out and inbound weekday works better.

Kayak.co.uk adds that the time of day you book can also impact prices. Its research suggests booking around 4am for low-cost travel in summer, while those booking a flight for spring should aim for 11am. Meanwhile, trips for autumn and winter should be booked in the afternoon.

For the cheapest flights, use online travel comparison sites such as Expedia.co.uk, Kayak.co.uk and Skyscanner.net.

Click the table below to see an enlarged version:


Read Flying on the cheap for more airborne cost-cutting tips.

2. Consider secret hotels or AirBnB

Travel price comparison sites, such as the ones mentioned above, are also a good bet for finding the cheapest hotels. You can also search by price on review website Tripadvisor.co.uk, which is handy for combining holidaymakers’ feedback alongside cost.

But for the more adventurous, Lastminute.com’s ‘secret hotels’ can be a way to cut the cost of staying at hotels that could be up to five-star rated if you’re willing to take a risk.

Here, you’re given a description and rough location of the hotel, but aren’t told the name until you’ve booked. The e-tailer says you can save up to 35% by using it to book a secret hotel.

Yet some sleuthing before you book, such as typing the hotel description into your search engine or looking on websites including Hotelsrevealed.co.uk, can mean you’re able to narrow down the hotel and check you’re actually getting a good deal.

However, hotels aren’t the only option for travellers. Renting someone’s home through Airbnb.co.uk can be a good way to stay in places that may not otherwise be affordable.

Whether it’s a flat for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month – you simply rent the accommodation, often while the owner is away.

3. Buy travel insurance when you book, not when you go

Many holidaymakers don’t realise that travel insurance isn’t just there to protect you when you’re abroad; it also covers problems arising between booking and travelling.

Ross Penstone-Smith, general insurance policy adviser at the Association of British Insurers, says: “Taking out travel insurance as soon as your trip is booked is strongly recommended to protect you against unforeseen events, such as a major illness or bereavement, that may mean you have to cancel your trip.”

He adds: “There is a range of travel insurance policies available so you should make sure your policy covers your individual needs, which includes declaring any medical conditions you may have to help ensure you are appropriately covered.”

Compare travel insurance prices on websites such as MoneySuperMarket.com, Comparethemarket.com and Confused.com.


4. Going to Europe? Get a free EHIC

If you’re heading somewhere in the European Economic Area, or to Switzerland, make sure you get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) on top of your travel insurance.

This ensures you’re able to access state-provided healthcare at the same price as locals. So if they pay, you pay, but if they get it for free, then so do you – handy if your travel insurance requires a hefty excess fee to claim.

Some travel insurers may also stipulate that you need the card, otherwise your policy may not be valid.

Just be sure to get your EHIC from the free NHS website Ehic.org.uk – don’t be tricked into paying an ‘admin fee’ from an unofficial vendor.

5. Don't fall for copycat websites

Check the Foreign Office website at Gov.uk for information on entry requirements to the country you’re visiting. British citizens need a visa to enter Turkey or Australia, for example, or an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to visit the USA. Some countries also require you to have a certain number of months left on your passport.

But while there is probably a fee for getting a visa or a new passport, only buy from the official sellers and be wary of copycat websites that will often charge you more.

6. Don't leave car hire until you arrive at the airport

Bob Atkinson, TravelSupermarket’s travel expert, says: “Wherever you are planning to travel, whether abroad or in the UK, it always makes sense to book your car hire as soon as you can, to secure availability on the car type you want and to get the best price.

“Vehicles rarely go down in price closer to the date and are nearly always more expensive to rent on arrival at your destination, particularly during school holidays, which are the dates of peak demand.

Research has shown that leaving it until you arrive is likely to see you seriously out of pocket.”

The table below highlights the vast difference in costs between booking in advance and buying on the day (click to enlarge):

7. Card is king

Using a specialist overseas credit card is usually the cheapest way to spend abroad and it’s safer than walking around with wads of cash.

Our top picks at the time of writing are the MBNA Everyday Plus card, the Everyday card from Creation, and the Halifax Clarity.

There are no fees when you spend on these cards abroad, but if you withdraw cash overseas you will be charged interest from the moment you withdraw the cash until you repay the balance in full.

MBNA charges 7.4% representative APR, Creation charges 12.9% and Halifax charges 18.9%. However, MBNA Everyday Plus is an American Express card, so it won’t be as widely accepted worldwide on purchases as our other two picks.

So assuming you get these interest rates (only 51% of applicants are guaranteed the headline rate), and you withdraw £100 from a cash point overseas, you’ll pay interest of about 60p a month with MBNA Everyday Plus, £1 a month with Creation’s Everyday Card and £1.50 a month with Halifax Clarity.

8. Avoid airport cash

Use Travelmoneymax.com to compare exchange rates to ensure you get the cheapest deal.

At the time of writing, I could pick up ¤500 for £381.53 at the cheapest currency exchange provider listed on the tool, compared to £398.41 at the most expensive – nearly a £17 difference.

You should also never buy money at airports or ferry terminals because you’ll be a captive customer and they’ll usually charge you much more.

If you have to do it, at least pre-order online for collection and you should get slightly better rates – although be aware that cash held with a currency bureau won’t be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if it were to go bust.

9. Stock up on bargain bucket suncream

If you’re heading somewhere hot, stay safe and slap on suncream. Poundland says it will be selling Malibu Factor 30 and Factor 50 suncream for £1 a bottle later this year (most likely from April), while other retailers often discount suncreams before or after summer.

Plus, just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it won’t work. Matthew Gass, spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, says: “Spending more doesn’t equate to better protection.

It might mean that the texture or fragrance is nicer, but this is subjective anyway. The most important thing is to make sure it screens against both UVA and UVB rays to a high level.”

Be careful if you’re planning on digging out an old suncream to save on buying a new one. Mr Gass advises: “When using old sunscreens, it’s important to check the shelf life before you use it – most have a shelf life of two to five years.

This is because, over time the protection offered by sunscreen reduces, particularly in chemical creams.”

10. Use online forums to glean top tips for having fun abroad

The TripAdvisor.co.uk forum is a good place to start for holiday tips, as is MoneySavingExpert.com’s forum.

Here, you can glean information, such as the cheapest way to get from the airport to your hotel, and chat to people who’ve already been to places you may be considering.

It can also help you uncover ways to save on having fun abroad. For example, I found out that I didn’t need to pay to see the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Instead, people recommended the free Staten Island Ferry, which sails straight past (but doesn’t stop at) the iconic landmark.