Holiday for less: 21 ways to bag a cheaper time away
Strategies abound for bagging a cheaper time away – without an awful lot of effort
“If your holiday takes you to a big city in Europe, research the public transport options. They will almost certainly be better than anything you are used to in Ireland.” Photograph: Getty Images
Airport bag check in
The cost of checking in bags can be savage. If you are travelling to Spain, Italy or Greece with Aer Lingus this summer and check in a 15kg bag on both legs of the flight you will pay €70. If you are travelling to Europe’s furthest reaches you will pay €100. That means that a family of four who check in just one 15kg bag each going to Lanzarote will now spend €400 on top of the cost of the flights. Depending on the route and the date of flying, checking in bags with Ryanair costs between €10 and €40, so that will also be pretty pricey. The trick is to pack less to avoid the charges altogether. A family of four can easily go to a sun spot for a fortnight with just carry-on bags only. How? Lay out everything you think you need on your bed and then pack half of it. Roll your clothes to save space and prevent wrinkles. Buy sun screen, toiletries and towels overseas. It can easily be done: Pricewatch knows because it has done it.
A big mistake many of us make when looking for holidays is to limit our searches to Irish-based airlines and Irish airports. And if we are flying long-haul we tend to confine our airports of departure to Ireland and the UK. This is a mistake. Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Helsinki can offer great value. There are several specialised search engines dedicated to finding the cheapest flights. The biggest player is Google and its dedicated flight search allows you to search for a destination and a date to find out when and with which airline it is cheapest to fly. Other options are skyscanner.net and momondo.com. The former lets you filter search results so you can search just one airline flying to one destination at one time, or search for “anywhere in Italy” or “anywhere in southeast Asia” for less than a certain price point.
If you are flexible as to the day you travel, you might be able to save yourself hundreds of euro. We are all conditioned to start our holidays at the weekend, and while this is understandable – as most of us finish work on a Friday, have two weeks off and then start back on a Monday – it is foolhardy. Because that is what most of us do, that is where the highest prices are to be found. So if you travel on a Thursday to a Thursday or a Monday to a Monday, you will see prices fall by as much as 40 per cent.
It should almost go without saying, but people who are not tied in to the school year should never take their holidays in July or August, when demand is at its peak. Last week the cost of a two-week holiday with Falcon Travel in the Palmera Beach Hotel & Spa in the Cretan resort of Hersonissos in the middle of July was €1,310 per person. A two-week break booked in the same complex in the same resort in the first two weeks of June cost nearly €917. Two adults will save themselves €786 by travelling out four weeks earlier – and the weather will be a whole lot nicer too.
Never change money at airports, either at cash desks or at ATMs. If you do you will be ripped off and you will have no one else to blame.
Making significant savings on flights or the cost of a package, only to waste all your gains on parking, would be just thick. If you are driving to your departure airport, make sure you pay for parking in advance and online. If you book parking in Dublin Airport this way, you pay €25.95 per day. If you just drive up you will be hit with a daily rate of €40. And in the long-term car parks you could easily knock as much as €5 off the daily rate by booking in advance. Over the course of two weeks, being savvy could save you €70.
The reason most of us eat on planes is for the sake of distraction – and not because we are hungry or desperate to try the greasy, soggy breakfast concoction that costs a tenner. So, just say no to the in-flight catering. And if you are on a long flight or think you might actually get hungry, be a bit more organised and bring your own food. It’ll taste better and could save you a tenner per person.
If your holiday takes you to a big city in Europe, spend five minutes before you leave researching the public transport options. They will almost certainly be better than anything you are used to in Ireland and will be much cheaper than taxies. Quiet apart from anything else, learning how to use public transport in other countries is fun and allows you look down your nose at the people you meet at top tourist spots who have got there on the (always overpriced) open top buses. Go to wikivoyage.com and you will find out virtually everything you need to know about the transport options in your destination city.
Most of the great cities of Europe are surprisingly compact and if you plan a day of sightseeing properly, you will see more for less by walking. With the abolition of roaming charges in Europe from the middle of June, using the mapping apps on your phone mean you will never get lost or have to ask a haughty Parisian in Leaving Cert French, “Ou est le centre Georges Pompidou?” again.
Car rental or taxis
And speaking of transport alternatives, a question you might ask yourself is whether or not you really need to rent a car while you are away. We have all been there. We rent a car when we are organising our holiday without thinking all that much about it. Then we pick it up at the airport, drive it to wherever we are going and leave it there, save for a few jaunts to out-of-the-way beaches and maybe the odd supermarket trip. The thing is, if you rent a family car for two weeks it will add at least €500 to the cost of a holiday. But if you pick a destination where car hire is not strictly necessary and use public transport, that expense disappears. And ordering taxies has never been easier. The MyTaxi app – which has replaced Hailo in Ireland – works all over Europe.
Car rental insurance
If you do rent a car, do not take out super collision damage waiver insurance when you picking it up. It’s almost always spectacularly bad value for money and such a policy could easily set you back as much as £300 for a two-week rental.
Airbnb is all the rage and it is not hard to see why. Two adults and children can say in a two-bedroom penthouse in Paris for a week for less than €700. Two hotel rooms giving you all that space will cost you at least twice that amount. The system is easy to use and pretty foolproof, although do take a little bit of care. Read the reviews of other people who have booked the accommodation you are considering. And never, ever pay for Airbnb accommodation outside of the platform. Scam artists have taken to listing properties on the site and then contacting people who book with them offering substantial discounts if they transfer the money directly either to a bank account or using a wire transfer service. No matter how tempted you are, just say no. You will be ripped off.
If you are paying to stay in a hotel in a European city, do not pay for a hotel breakfast. You will almost always be able to get better food for much less in a nearby cafe or bar.
An easy thing to forget is the practice in many European cities – such as Paris and Rome – to charge a premium if you have the temerity to sit at a table. A coffee that costs €1 at the bar might cost €3 if you sit five feet away, so never do that, unless you are absolutely dead on your feet.
We all know that minibars are never good value for money. Even cheap hotels can change scandalous prices for just bottled water, and unless you’re staying on a remote Icelandic glacier – or in Connemara – you will be able to find a supermarket near your hotel to stock up on basics.
One of the nicest things about holidays is eating out. If you have your big meals in the afternoon you will cut the costs in half, particularly if you are in a country where the plat du jour or menu del dia are popular. If you do it right you will get to spend your afternoon wandering around in a mellow haze of good food and nice wine.
When ordering wine or beer, go for local offerings. A while back, Pricewatch found itself in China with a group of Irish people we had never met before. We were bemused by how many went in search of Carlsberg and Heineken when they were in bars, rather than going for the local beers – which were a quarter of the price. Price aside, do you really want to be the person who travels half-way around the world only to order Guinness?
The best and best-value restaurants are always off the beaten track – and that does not mean you have to walk miles to find them. A terrible meal on La Rambla in Barcelona or in the shadow of the Vatican’s walls will cost you €40. A lovely meal 100m down almost any side street will cost half that.
It has never been easier to find nice restaurants that represent great value for money. Trip Advisor is a go-to website when it comes to finding hotels, not necessarily to book but to find out what other people think of the places you are considering. It also has a great restaurant finder that uses your phone’s geo-location software to identify the best places to eat near exactly where you are standing and then guide you to them. We have used this on multiple occasions and it has never let us down.
We have all grown a bit tired of the deal sites, right? There are only so many offers of STI testing, teeth whitening and yoga classes a person can get without growing weary. That is not to say they don’t have a place at home. They do, and some great bargains can be found on them. But they can also save you money when going on holidays. Sign up to online coupon services for the places you are planning to go. Do it well ahead of time and watch for all the restaurant and activity discounts that come in. When you see a bargain, buy it, stow it away and redeem it during your holiday. For the sake of full disclosure, we have never actually tried this but we have come across others who have and they do swear by it.
If you are travelling within Europe, it is important to remember to get – and bring with you – a European Health Insurance Card. These are free, and should allow you access to public hospitals across the EU at no cost. Even if you are leaving tomorrow, apply online now at ehic.ie – if you don’t yet have it, but have applied, the details can be faxed to your hospital of choice. It will not cover lost baggage, cancelled flights or transport home in an air ambulance. So while it is good to have, it should not be considered a replacement for insurance.