Give your wallet a break on holiday
From trawling the internet for flights and apartments to skipping dessert and splashing out on secret deals, here’s 10 ways to spend less on holiday
1 Real staycationing
We need to clear something up straight away. A staycation does not mean renting a cottage in Connemara and living off chowder and stout for a fortnight. That’s just a holiday.
A staycation means holidaying in your actual house which, unless you put some effort in, is as dull as it sounds. If you do put in the ground work and get lucky with the weather, it can be very pleasant and cheap as chips. The key is to suspend normal domestic chores for the duration – if you’re ironing, you’re not on holidays – and take advantage of all the tourist attractions in your area.
Ireland is well served with free stuff to do, with galleries and museums, in particular, open to the public at no cost. Another trick is sign up to online coupon services such as Living Social, Pigsback and Groupon. Do it now and keep an eye on restaurant and activity discounts. When you see a bargain, buy it (the sites offer up to 70 per cent off), stow it away and redeem it during your holiday.
2 Do it yourself
At the annual Holiday World convention in the RDS six weeks ago, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary took to a makeshift stage in the corner of the venue and told a large gathering, made up mostly of tour operators that the cheapest way to holiday was to snub tour operators and go it alone. “Don’t waste your time with tour operators and travel agents. Book your flights with us and your accommodation independently and you will save money,” he said. The tour operators bristled but could hardly contradict him. Say what you like about the airline, it has brought down the cost of flying throughout Europe dramatically. It is not alone – hardly a day goes by without Aer Lingus launching a new seat sale and it can prove to be even cheaper than its bitter rival and part-owner. If you do take the DIY route, only pay by credit card as it offers you a degree of financial protection and make sure you take out a gilt-edged travel insurance policy.
Do it yourself II
There are scores of websites offering to put you in touch with owners of houses and apartments. Here’s just three: villarenters.com, holidayhomes direct.ie and vrbo.com. The latter is particularly good for citybreaks – apartment living in any European city is more fun and much cheaper than a hotel. When you’re surfing for longer breaks, try resort towns which are less travelled for even better deals. Spain’s Costa de la Luz, for instance, is not popular among Irish, British, German and Dutch tourists and serves a mainly local market. Accommodation is cheap, it is easy to get to and has stunning beaches, great restaurants, cheap wine. And did we mention the absence of Irish, British, German and Dutch tourists?
3 Case closed
Checking in baggage costs a packet – a couple checking in two bags of up to 15kg on Ryanair will pay €60 for a round trip. Unless, that is, the couple own a Suitcase Coat. It is, the makers say, a “revolutionary new way to travel without the old hassles of using big, clumsy suitcases”. You can apparently carry a whole suitcase of clothes in said coat and no-one will look sideways at you.
We were taken by one testimonial on the site: “As my canoe sank into the turbulent Amazon River, and my bags were swept down river never to be seen, I swam smartly to the river bank before the piranha fish decided to lunch. To keep this nightmare at bay, I always travel with my Suitcase Coat. I enjoy a smooth departure from checked baggage with this ultimate flyer attire.”
These poacher coats have over 45 pockets so, if you pack each one carefully, you don’t need to bother with any kind of case at all. You will look ridiculous and probably sweat buckets but the strategy will save you money. See suitcasecoat.com.
4 Do you need it?
Renting a car for two weeks on the Continent can add the guts of €1,000 to the total cost of a holiday. Car hire in southern Europe in particular has climbed significantly since the recession hit, with many companies and franchises unable to source the finances to buy new fleets, leading to a reduced supply. A far more economical – and relaxed – idea is to go somewhere and just stay put, or if you fancy a day trip take public transport – there’s nothing quite like standing on a sweaty bus in central Naples to make you feel like you’ve really experienced the place. Public transport on the Continent is, generally speaking, efficient, comfortable and cheap. And if you need to visit a hypermarket, take a cab – it will cost a fraction of the cost of car rental.
5 Deserting dessert
At the risk of sounding really cheap, can we suggest you don’t bother with the dessert menu when eating out on holidays. Let’s say there’s five people eating out every night for a fortnight. The bill for their desserts will be at least €20 a day, which, spread out over a fortnight will cost €280. Five ice-cream cones eaten on the hoof once you leave will cost a grand total of €70 over the two weeks, allowing you to knock €210 off your holiday bill. And while we’re being really cheap, if you’re holidaying at home, fill up on petrol only – you don’t have to buy those €6 paninis and €3 coffees en route. Bring a packed lunch.
6 Cash back
Online travel companies are two-a-penny these days and they can offer real savings, but there is also a way to make them pay cold hard cash. Fat cheese.ie is a free site which incentivises people to spend money by giving them money. You shop at any one of 800 online retailers via its portal and you can get up to 30 per cent or a fixed amount, up to a maximum of €120, back in cash. It has deals with airlines, online tour operators and hotel chains, so if you are going to book with one of them anyway, you may as well do it through these people and get some cash back.
7 Work swap
Okay, this is definitely not going to work for everyone, but if you’re prepared to put in a bit of graft while you’re away you can get yourself a very cheap, um, holiday.
Workaway.info is a site set up to promote work exchange between budget travellers, language learners and or culture seekers. It puts you in touch with families, individuals and organisations looking for help with a range of activities. You get free food and board in return for some work.
Right now, you can volunteer to help around a house in Hawaii, volunteer in Tuscany to look after hot air balloons and work on a turtle farm in Costa Rica. As we said, it won’t appeal to everyone but it is cheap.
8 Last minute mystery
One handy way of knocking as much as 50 per cent off the price of a hotel in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona or Manchester between now and Sunday week is to check out Lastminute.com’s “top secret hotel” offer. Here’s the deal: you pick a location and the number of stars you fancy and then cough up without getting sight of where you’re actually going to be sleeping. Once the booking is complete, the online booking engine sends you a mail telling you the name of your hotel.
We quite like the randomness of such an approach but the savings do seem to stack up – just so long as we’re not stuck on the Amsterdam equivalent of the M50, we’d be happy enough. And while we’re talking about Lastminute.com, it has a special one-day sale on March 10th and 11th in which it promises a 50 per cent discount on all online bookings.
9 Flexible flights
Finding cheap flights can take work but the savings are worth it. Always be flexible and always make sure to check flights over a number of days as prices can fluctuate wildly – the difference between a US-bound flight departing on a Friday and one leaving on a Thursday can be hundreds of euro.
Flight-specific search engines are useful, but also check with individual carriers and broaden your horizons so you’re not just checking those which leave from Ireland and Britain.
For long-haul flights, airlines departing from Schiphol and Frankfurt can offer excellent value for money. There are scores of specialist websites and travel-related discussion boards populated by planespotters who claim the best time to buy airline tickets is between midnight and 1am on a Wednesday morning, in the time zone of the airline’s home city. Net wisdom has it that this is when operators’ computer systems dump their reserved, but unbooked, cheaper seats. The worst time, meanwhile, is apparently any weekday between the prime booking hours of 1pm to 2pm and 6pm and 8pm when some canny airlines take advantage of people’s well-established surfing habits to up their prices.
Industry sources are sceptical that such pricing shifts really exist, but the knowledge can do you no harm. The bottom line is book early. There are also a number of sites worth visiting in the search for cheaper flights including skyscanner.net, momondo.com and kayak.co.uk.
10 Haggle at home
Four out of five calls to hotels from people interested in making a booking involve some class of haggling now. In many cases, people are turning their back on the web in favour of calling hotels directly as it’s hard to haggle with a website. There are big savings to be made as many hotels are willing to fill empty rooms by offering discounts.
Remember, if you are going to haggle, be polite, calm and accept refusals with good grace. Hotel owners are worn out with all the haggling. You can end up just aggravating the people who you want to look after you if you push them too far. If a hotel is not budging on price, change tack and ask is there anything they can throw in – for example, green fees or spa treatments.
Coining it: readers share their money-saving tips
Load up the credit card before you go and never, EVER use it to take out cash at an ATM – Sinead Ryan
Don’t automatically use the same airline for the return flights if you’re booking them yourself. Shop around – Christine Bohan
Don’t eat anywhere with a menu displayed in different languages, usually a rip-off and terrible! – Peter, Dublin
Never buy the travel insurance offered by the carrier – there will inevitably be cheaper options and annual cover is probably best – Eleanor Fitzsimons
In cities with expensive hotels (New York, London) pick an old hotel with the bathroom down the hall. Much more character and value – Natalie de Róiste
Pleading ignorance when the train/tram/bus inspectors ask for my ticket – Linda Leavy
Stay in a very nice apartment rather than paying the same money for a crappy hotel. We got an amazing central Florence apartment for our honeymoon – Urchinette
Day one, go to supermarket, stock up. It’ll encourage you to eat/drink in or to bring packed lunches – Sinead
When visiting the US, don’t tip – Nick McGivney
Buy beer in a supermarket, stock up the fridge. Bring cooler bag to beach. Save a packet – Brendan469