Travel Helpdesk: How can I save money when booking a mini-break?

In the first of a new series answering readers’ travel queries, Conor Pope shares his top tips for finding the best value short holidays

Make sure you know the airline’s baggage policies and don’t assume carry-on is free. File photograph: Getty Images

Travel is back in a big way and we’re here to help you make the most of your experiences, whatever your budget. So if you’re looking for tips on good breaks, better packing or the best value insurance, we’ll have you covered. Have a question or topic you’d like us to feature? Email

Avoid weekends: The appeal of the Friday to Sunday mini-break is clear, but the cost of accommodation and flights climbs by as much as 50 per cent. If you can engineer a Tuesday to Friday break, you will save money, avoid the worst of the tourist traffic, secure tables in restaurants more easily, and when you come home there’s a weekend to recover.

Be open-minded with destinations: Travel-specific search engines allow you to search for the cheapest flights and accommodation anywhere in the world on set dates. At the time of writing, we were offered flights to Milan for €31 each way, with a hotel costing €51 a night. So three nights for two was €277. Check Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo, and the airlines too. And — if you are booking last minute — check travel agents, as they might have deals they need to shift.

Consider satellite towns and cities: Tarragona is cheaper than Barcelona, for instance, and is nicely laid-back. The bigger city can be reached in not much more than an hour on decent public transport. Rather than Amsterdam, choose Haarlem or Zandvoort which are 30 minutes away. They’re cheaper and offer a bit of a breather from the bigger smoke.


The internet is your friend: Mystery booking site has a simple premise — select a location and dates and it finds available hotels at a substantial discount. The catch is you don’t know exact details until you pay and only get the rough location and star rating. But if you pick a high star rating you’ll be grand. and Trivago are worth visiting as a guideline and always check directly with hotels before booking. It’s worth considering upmarket hostels too. You might think you have aged past them but they’re frequently great value and better than you think.

Pack like a ninja: One single 10kg bag is enough but make sure you know the airline’s baggage policies and don’t assume carry-on is free. Aer Lingus charges for carry-on luggage but checks in 10kg bags at no cost. With Ryanair, it might be cheaper to check in a bag than pay priority just to carry on bags. If you’re struggling for space, buy toiletries in the airport, wear your bulkiest clothes — you can always strip off on the plane — and carry stuff in your coat pockets. Is it elegant? No. But it’ll save you money

Do your research, work out what you want to do and if it can be done for free: A simple “free things to do in …” search will throw up decent ideas. Check Groupon and Living Social type deals for your destination — Google Translate will overcome any language barrier — and lock them in well before departure. And work out how to use your destination’s public transport — chances are it’ll be better than home, cheaper, and it will make you feel like a local too.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor