It’s getting to that time of the year when the weather can start to make you feel a little crazy. It never stops raining, the trees look like skeletons, and the days start and end in darkness. To help you through the cold months that stand between now and spring, here is my best advice on how to get a great summer holiday. Just having a plan or a date on the calendar to look forward to makes it feel sunnier outside.
Pounce On Early Summer Offers
The travel industry has to stay a season ahead of its consumers, because most big holidays are planned a season ahead of schedule. If you're on the hunt for an affordable, all-inclusive summer deal, like a cruise, don't wait around for a better price to come along - it's as good as it gets right now. In fact two months ago would have been even better. While everyone is concerning themselves with ski-reports and getting ready for winter holidays, tour operators, cruise companies and resorts are promoting their cheapest summer deals for the months ahead, in order to boost their pre-season sales. All the great packages being advertised this month (especially ones that include flights) will get more expensive as it gets closer to summer. When the demand for seats and comfy beds increases, so will the price. If you're going to pounce, do it now or…
Book At The Last Minute
In spite of everything I said above, some of the best deals can sneak up on you at the last minute. If you’re not scared of last-minute plans and have a schedule that allows you to be flexible, there’s a case to be made for not booking until the week/day/hour before your departure time. When resorts and hotels can’t fill a bed, giving accommodation away at rock bottom prices is better for them than not making any money at all.
Work With The Calendar
The official summer season starts on 21 June and ends on 21 September. Unless you’re booking ahead of schedule, you can be sure that everything from accommodation to equipment rental will be at its most expensive during those four months. If you book on the other side of 'peak season', you'll get cheaper rates and more of the beach to yourself. There is the risk of your seaside holiday getting rained out, but dealing with the weather is always a gamble. As we've seen in recent years, it can also be sunny in December and freezing in July. For whatever reason (global warming, El Nino or a global conspiracy), the seasons are starting to become less finite and more of a general indicator of when it will be predominantly warm and cold. I'd say it's worth rolling the dice.
Embrace Social Media
Travel companies are all the over social media scene. With over a billion users on Facebook and hundreds of millions of tweeters tapping away every day, it makes sense for them to utilise these two free platforms - there is no magazine in the world that can offer a business advert with those viewing numbers. Cruise companies, resorts and package providers are promoting some of their best deals via these two networks.
With Facebook, all you need to do is “like” the pages of your favourite airline, hotel, resort and cruise companies, and you’ll get updates from them in your news-feed. I know it’s annoying to have travel ads mixed in with all those riveting daily statuses from people at the gym, but if you pay attention to them before scrolling past, you’ll often see great deals being advertised.
With Twitter things are a bit easier. You can make a list of all the travel related companies you know, and simply keep an eye on them when you’re looking for a holiday special. Also follow the travel hashtags (especially when you’re researching holiday deals). Some of the best ones to keep an eye on include: #TT (Travel Tuesday), #LuxChat (Luxury Travel Chat), #Travel and #Traveldeals.
Subscribe To Newsletters
Okay, I know what you’re thinking - newsletters are just glorified spam. But if you like flying a particular airline or staying at a certain hotel or resort, by subscribing to their newsletter you’ll be privy to press releases. More often than not, there will be early-bird-deals included in the e-mails that wind up in your e-mail inbox every week or so. You have to be on the ball though. By the time you've finished reading the e-mail, everybody interested in the deal has already picked up the phone.
Cast Your Net Wide - Build Your Own Holiday
Scour the Internet for deals - with all the price comparison websites and search tools available, you have plenty of reading to do. But don't be scared of countering your own research with a visit to the travel agency, or at least a simple phone call to one. The great thing about planning a trip today is being able to 'build' your own holiday. Say, for example, you've found a flight to Spain for next to nothing, but can't find reasonable accommodation - ask a travel agent if they can help. Maybe they're handling the account for a resort in the exact region you're looking at.
Travel agents are magicians when it comes to sourcing the lowest rates on packages; the “brochure prices” on package holidays are actually fluid rates that can be dropped or raised at any time. The people who can help you get those rates are the travel agents of the world, so cast your net wide. A good way to push for the lowest rates available is to get quotes from a handful of travel agents and let them all know that you’re shopping around. The competition will make them dance for your business.
Remember, a travel agent doesn’t need to handle your entire booking. If you’re going to a theme park like Euro Disney or Thorpe Park, book your attraction tickets online - you won’t find cheaper rates anywhere else. The same goes for just about every travel extra you can imagine - travel insurance, airport hotels, car hire insurance and airport lounge tickets.
Credit cards can be the devil's sickle when you don't keep them in the check. But if you do, and you know how to play the game, they can be pretty handy. The avios scheme makes it fairly straight-forward to earn points, which can be redeemed as flights. Remember - you have to pay it off each month to get the points, or you’re only racking up a nice tab that comes with interest - not so fancy anymore. Find out everything you need to know about earning, collecting and spending avios.
Pick A Quality Budget Destination
This leads back to earlier points during the planning stages of your summer holiday. While you are doing your research and speaking to different travel agents, be open (if you can) to a destination that is on the rise or offering a good deal. Some of the highest value budget destinations for 2013 include South Korea, Mauritius, Georgia (the country) and Ecuador. The perfect summer holiday might not be on your original short-list, but if you open yourself up to new experiences, you'll be pleasantly amazed by the value-for-money options.
Villa or Country House vs. Hotel or Resort vs. Camping
One of the biggest costs of any holiday is accommodation. For couples and families with older children, staying at a resort makes sense. It's convenient, romantic and full of perks - like an open bar, all-you-can-eat buffets, sports facilities and plunge pools. But for a family of five with young kids, it gets expensive to pay for everyone, plus those flashy extras can be a bit like feeding strawberries to a donkey (kids will generally pick hotdogs over lobster tails). If you desperately want to take the kids to the south of France or to Greece, or even the Cornish countryside, consider camping as an option. The total cost of your accommodation will probably be the same as one or two nights at a hotel, and it will be a wonder for the kids.
If you're not a camping person, consider renting a house or villa. Again, it's cheaper than a resort and works out at a fraction of the price, especially if you club in with one or two other families. The self-catering option allows you to buy your own groceries, so you're saving cash and can cater to your specific tastes. For the cost of two plates at a fancy restaurant, you can feed the whole family.
Last Updated: January 2013