Some burning questions and answers to help you make the most of summer

Pricewatch: From the best suncreams and sunglasses to barbecues, cheap flights and hidden hotels, here’s how to have a good time at a reasonable price

Summer is unequivocally here and while we will have to hope that the spell of exam weather just past will not be it for warm, sun-kissed days, soon all schools will have shut, traffic will have eased and moods for many should have lifted as they plan holidays at home or abroad. With that in mind, we thought we’d devote the page to the season in the sun and answer some of the burning questions you might have.

Can I use the sun cream I bought last year?

There’s a good chance it’s absolutely fine but you will need to check the label to be sure. What you are looking for is an icon of small jar and a number – 3, 6, 12 – followed by an M. That tells you how many months after opening your sun cream will last. Bear in mind that it is not definitive as its longevity will depend to a certain degree on how you have treated the sun cream. Just like you, it can be damaged by the sun – or at least by the heat – and it may not last as long as the label assures you it will. The only way you will find out if it is working is if you lash it on and go out in the sun. But learning that your sun screen isn’t as good as it is supposed to be by getting burned is pretty dense, so if in doubt, chuck it out.

How does sun screen work anyway?

At the simplest level – and we can’t stress enough how simple – creams or oils shield our skin from some of the sun’s burning rays by using compounds such as zinc to scatter ultraviolet light or other chemicals to absorb the UV light so our skin doesn’t have to. There are two types of UV at play: UVA ages the skin while UVB does the burning. That is why SPF is not the be all and end all. It measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging your skin.

And how does SPF work?

It works a little bit like a Junior Cert maths question. If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start going red, an SPF of 15 sunscreen should stop you burning for 15 times 20 minutes, or about five hours. SPFs can also be viewed through a percentage prism. So SPF 15 filters out 93 per cent of UVB, 30 keeps out 97 per cent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 per cent. To gauge a sun screen’s UVA ability to protect you, you will need to check the star rating. A one-star cream offers “minimum” protection while five-star cream provides “ultra” cover.


How should I apply it and how much do I need?

You should really consider applying sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming – even if it is supposed to be water-resistant. It is also important to apply sun cream 20 minutes before going into the sun, as that gives it time to bond with the skin. Repeated studies over many years have shown that most of us apply only 20-50 per cent of the recommended amount of sunscreen and get a lot less protection than we think. It should be applied thickly and evenly, with an amount about the size of a golf ball in your hand for use over your entire body. A better way of looking at it might be teaspoons. You should apply a teaspoon for the face, each arm, each leg, the front of the body and the back.

And how much do I need to spend?

If you apply the right amount at the right intervals using a fairly well-known brand, an average-sized adult will probably have to spend about €35 over the course of a week. If you use an expensive brand found in a high-end department store, the same coverage will cost closer to €100, while if you go own-brand and stock up in Aldi, Lidl or Tesco, a seven-day supply will cost no more than €15.

And is dearer better?

No. British consumer group Which? frequently tests sunscreens and has repeatedly said good things about much cheaper own-brand options, while some high priced alternatives have been found wanting.

What’s the difference between polarised and non-polarised sunglasses?

By our reckoning around 50 quid. If you buy a pair of non-polaroid Ray-Ban aviators, you will pay around €145 while the pair with the little p after the name on the lens are currently priced at €195 Polarised sunglasses have a filter that blocks out glare by allowing only vertical light waves through and not the horizontal light waves – the ones that typically cause glare. They definitely enhance colour and clarity when you are in the sun but whether or not you want to spend more to get that colour and clarity probably depends on how much you use them and in what circumstances. If you spend a lot of time outdoors or do a lot of driving in glaring conditions then they probably represent good value for money but if you are only wearing your glasses to look cool as you wander to the pool or beach on holiday, regular sunglasses are probably grand.

What’s been happening to our Flakes this summer?

They are too flaky. Or at least that was the flaking news coming out of the UK last month with ice cream vendors reporting that the crumbliest flakiest chocolate was just crumbly and was effectively falling apart on ice cream cones. One ice cream man told the BBC that the Flakes had arrived as a box of shards. “You can’t give someone a 99 with a broken flake,” John Taylor, the owner of C&M Creamery Ices, said. “It’s embarrassing for an ice-cream man.”

People were quick to point the finger at Cadbury’s parent company Mondalez for relocating the production of the chocolate to Egypt in recent years. The US multinational stressed that its recipe was the same as it ever was. “Cadbury Flake 99 is a naturally delicate and crumbly product. We are aware that recently some customers have received a product which does not meet our usual high standards. This has been addressed following recent improvements to our production processes, although some prior stock may remain in circulation. We are in the process of liaising with our customers (wholesalers) to support those potentially impacted.”

And why is it called a 99?

We’re glad you asked us that question because it allows us to show off a most useless piece of trivia. We can thank the Italians for our 99s. And the good people at Cadbury. For a long time up until the last century, Italy – like most of Europe – had monarchs, and the royals were always assigned an elite guard made up of 99 soldiers. So, in Italy, if things were super swanky, they were known as 99s. Fast forward to the 1930s, when Cadbury launched a little Flake especially for ice-cream cones. The ice-cream business was dominated by expat Italians and, to appeal to those key buyers and to make their notion seem super swanky, Cadbury called its innovation a 99. And here we are today, still asking for 99s.

Are barbecues a good idea?

No, they are a great idea. The key thing, though, is not to poison yourself or others when cooking on a barbecue. As it does every year, Ireland’s food safety watchdog Safefood, issued a helpful guide on how not to give yourself this food poisoning this summer. It has research that suggests that almost half of us have burned barbecued meat on the outside while leaving it just a bit – or a lot – raw in the middle. What can you do to keep yourself safe this summer? Use a meat thermometer and don’t be worrying about all that “if the juices run clear” business. You can buy one for less than a fiver and you just stick it into the centre of the meat and if it reaches 75 degrees Celsius you should be good to go.

Can I get a cheap holiday at the last minute?

07/09/2015 Aer  Lingus
 Aer Lingus aircraft at Dublin Airport
.Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES 
Stock Photographs Up to date Aer Lingus Logo


Maybe but you will need to be very flexible about where you go and when you go there. All the most popular family friendly destinations tend to get booked early but if you are travelling solo or as part of a hardy couple you can make savings by leaving it late. The trick is to use, or indeed any other flight comparison website, to find the cheapest flights out of Ireland and then a hidden hotel website like to find the cheapest hotel.

What do they do?

Skyscanner allows you to search for flights from Ireland to anywhere in the world over a set period and then rank them in price from cheapest to dearest. Pick the cheapest and then go on to to find a cheap place to stay. The catch is, you won’t know the name of your hotel or what it even looks like until you pay. You will know the location and the number of stars it has, which might be all that matters. We checked flights to Spain and were offered return flights to Asturias, with one leg transferring through Gatwick, for €280 for two, and then found a three-star hotel in the Aviles region of the province for a total of €575, taking the total cost of a random week in a gorgeous and not so well travelled part of Spain to less than €900 for two people, which isn’t too shabby.

Can I get an upgrade on a plane?

Obviously not if you are flying short haul – those days have long since gone. An upgrade on a long-haul flight is a bit of a stretch too, to be honest, and most airline experts say it’s not likely. The perceived wisdom is. that in the 21st century, all the ruses we think might land an upgrade – wearing uncomfortable business suits, pretending to be just married or just engaged, buying a cheap doctorate online so you can put the prefix Dr before your name, feigning illness or pregnancy – are useless. Most upgrades, if they are happening, are decided at least 24 hours before a flight leaves by an algorithm that doesn’t care if you are in love or in a suit.

So there is no chance?

Ah, there is always a chance. If a flight is overbooked, airlines look for frequent flyers first. If the computer says you fly with an airline a lot, you’re in with a shout. The price of your ticket matters too and those who pay for more flexible tickets will be first in line. If you are a solo flyer then you might get lucky as an airline might bump up one person but they’re not going to upgrade you and all your family.

Why is it that I spend so much money in the airport?

It’s not just you. Airports are designed to get us to spend money and have all manner of tricks up their sleeves from the curves of the walkways to the positioning of the shops and duty free immediately after you get through security and the delay in announcing boarding gates to keep you shopping for longer.

Why am I asked for my boarding card when I am buying a miniature bodhrán and paying full price for it?

The only time you really need to show your boarding card is when you are buying duty free but airport shops routinely ask for it both for market research purposes and to make more money. Retailers who operate in international airports can maximise their profits by scanning boarding passes and using the information to claim VAT back from passengers who travel outside of the EU even though they do not have to pass rebates back to customers. Under EU law retailers can claim back VAT on sales to those leaving the EU but they have to process boarding cards in order to claim it.

Are airport shops always cheaper?

The short answer is no. There are some bargains in airports but you would be wrong to assume that just because the pair of sunglasses you have your eye on are on selling in an airport concourse they must be cheaper than the ones in Brown Thomas. The easiest thing to do is do a price comparison using your phone. You should be able to work out if something is good or bad value in a matter of seconds. Electronics are rarely good value for money, and the souvenirs and vacuum packed food items are often spectacularly bad value for money.

Is car hire going to be expensive this summer?

Well, according to the good people at Which? Magazine in the UK, the cost of car hire in popular tourist locations around Europe is set to be a bit cheaper than last year but substantially dearer than 2019. That means a modest family car for two weeks in July or August could cost anywhere between €700 and well in excess of €1,500 depending on the destination and the demand at any particular time.

And how can I save money?

Before you do anything else, check to see if the place you are going has a decent supply of taxis and public transport. If you do a bit of research and learn how to use public transport in other countries, you might not need to hire a car at all. Don’t just go to the big companies whose names you recognise. Check aggregators that can search dozens of car hire companies as well as brokers and travel agents and allow you to filter the search results based on fuel policy, air conditioning, transmission, pickup and car size. Avoid companies with a full-to-empty fuel policy if at all possible. Think hard before taking out super collision damage waiver insurance. It can be very expensive, so instead of buying super collision damage waiver insurance in an airport, take out an annual policy at home that offers full cover with an Irish insurance company, which is much, much cheaper.

And what about returning the car?

Return the car when the rental company is open and have it inspected by an employee who looks competent. If you have to return the car outside working hours, take pictures of the car when it has been parked in the designated area. Mail the pictures to yourself. And remember to keep an eye on your credit card to ensure that no sneaky charges are added in the days and weeks after you get home.