If you choose to book each part of your holiday separately, you can make substantial savings. However, there are a few clever tips you need to know for each element when it comes to getting the best deals.
Here is our advice on DIY holidays and getting the best price for all the different aspects of your holiday….
Get a cheap flight
When it comes to getting the best-value flights, it’s definitely the early bird who catches the worm, particularly when flying long haul. Unlike package deals, flight prices often rise sharply as the departure date draws nearer. Over a matter of weeks or sometimes even days, prices can change dramatically.
The way it works is that planes, trains and buses all have a quota of seats they will sell for the lowest price and then prices just increase in order to make up the losses from other unsold seats. This is why it’s important to get in as early as possible so that you can get the good, cheap seats before they all go and shopping around for the best deal is the name of the game. If you’re willing to travel at unsociable hours and on a weekday rather than the weekend you can immediately cut costs.
While it might take a bit of extra time and effort, you will also find that prices vary from site to site so you could miss out on the best price if you settle for the first quote you get:
- Flightmapping is a good place to start. This site shows you which airlines fly where and from which airport, with links to the appropriate travel provider. This tool is mainly useful for those flying to long haul destinations that may not be served by all UK airports.
- Momondo and Skyscanner are also handy sites when looking at destinations closer to home. They give live prices so you can check them as they’re updated. It is a bit of a slog to look at all the sites, but it’s the best way to get the best deal. Compare flight prices by using the Moneymagpie comparison tool.
- Kayak is also handy and shows prices with taxes and fees included. Its toolbar allows you to filter out results quickly so you can exclude particular airports, flight times and airlines to find the perfect flight for you.
- For far-flung destinations, cheap flight deals will almost certainly be found on the bigger consolidator sites such as Travel Bag, Trailfinders and Expedia. They buy their seats in bulk and thus drive down the individual seat price. Expedia also has a nifty ‘Fare Alert’ tool so you can stay up to date on the best rates without clogging up your inbox.
- You should also check out Opodo, in particular its clever ‘AirTools’ feature. There are five tools to choose from, including:
- CombiFlight, which allows you to compare prices by using a different airline to and from a destination;
- EscapeMap, to give you some inspiration on where to go based on your budget;
- CheckFlight, which finds the cheapest flights to the most popular destinations to save you time;
- MyAirline,to show you the cheapest dates to travel with your favourite airline;
- FlexiFlight,which shows you how much money you could save by being flexible with departure dates and flight times.
Get a free flight!
Avios are loyalty points which you can earn with either your special credit card, or through shopping on the Avios website. The Lloyds TSB Duo Avios credit card is probably the quickest and easiest way to collect Avios. First off, you get one Avios per £1 spent on the American Express Card. The other, MasterCard, only offers one Avios per £5 spent, but this is more widely accepted than Amex.
Then, once you’ve built up enough Avios, they can be exchanged for flights, hotels, activities and day trips. To make it easy, there is a special map separating the world into zones – the further you travel, the more Avios you will use to get there. To get an idea, 9,000 Avios will allow you to fly to destinations in the UK and Ireland, as well as Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, but if you have 15,000 Avios, you can travel to the likes of Barcelona, Prague and Rome.
Once you’ve chosen your destination, you can pay fully with Avios or top them up with cash if you haven’t got enough Avios to cover the whole cost. See our full Avios guide here.
Get a secret flight!
Although not quite as exciting as a free flight, secret flights are still pretty impressive. Head to Lastminute.com and search through the top secret flight deals which tell you only which city your flight leaves from and arrives at, and how long it will take.
Only once you’ve booked do you finally get the name of the airline, airport and departure times, the idea being that airlines can offer low prices to you without having to put their name to it which could affect their direct trade.
If you don’t know where you want to go, or what kind of hotel you want, then check out the usual sites; Lastminute.com, Expedia, Laterooms and Hotels.com which are all competitive and give you a useful price reference to work from. Keep your eyes peeled for special offers and flash sales by signing up to their newsletters.
For specific destinations, check on comparison sites such as TripAdvisor, Traveljungle and HotelsComparison. These have a more detailed search system, a better selection of hotels and will show you roughly the sort of prices to expect. Using this info, you can make a booking appropriate to what you can afford. Also, these sites help you avoid endless searching for prices that don’t exist, or paying more than you need to. If you know exactly what you want to pay but are flexible on where you go, Priceline let you name your price and destination and they will find accommodation that fits your budget and requirements.
If you find a hotel using a search engine, always check directly with the hotel to see if they can offer you a better price. Often the lowest prices will only be available direct from the hotel. You could suggest they take off some of the commission they would have paid the website and together you split the difference.
It’s always worth checking TripAdvisor for customer reviews and ratings for hotels all over the world before you book. It’s all very well getting a fantastic price for your stay, but if the hotel’s a dive, it’s not really money well spent!
Get an extra night for free!
Hotels.com also has a rewards scheme offering a free night’s stay when you book a total of ten nights at one of the eligible hotels in its global network (look out for the Welcome Rewards symbol). Those ten nights can be taken at once or separately and each time you book a room, you receive a credit which lasts for three years. Booking more than one room (for a family, for example) counts as extra points. Once you’ve got ten credits, you get your free night. Sign up for a Hotels.com account to join the scheme and read all about how it works.
Top secret hotels
In the same way that Lastminute.com offers top secret flight deals, you can find the same promotion with its top secret hotels. Special discounts are available on four and five star hotel rooms as long as you can accept not knowing which hotel it is until after you’ve booked it. This way, the top class hotels can fill their rooms without having to reveal to their regular patrons that they are willing to drop their rates and you secure yourself a room in a classy hotel for a fraction of the price.
If you’re still nervous, remember you do know where the hotel is, its star rating and a basic description of facilities so you can often guess which one it is anyway and if you need any help try Secrethotelsrevealed.co.uk.
Other ‘secret’ hotel deals can be found on Hotwire and Travelocity.