Increasing mortgage rates, higher taxes and NI, soaring energy costs and spiralling petrol prices – we are in the middle of a perfect storm of financial pressures. The recent prediction that the average household will face an annual cost-of-living increase of £1,200 from next month is beginning to look optimistic. Even if the Chancellor offers some help in today’s Spring Statement most of us are facing a serious financial blow and, given that many people spend more on travel than anything else each year, it threatens to undermine our plans to make the most of our holidays in 2022.
But it doesn’t have to. There are ways of adapting your holiday plans to compensate. We have identified three strategies that reduce your holiday bill by £1,200 or more this summer – without shortening the length or compromising on the standard of accommodation. And we’ve also come up with 20 other ways of reducing some of the booking and other costs that could save the savvy traveller hundreds more.
Three ways to save £1,200 on your next holiday
You want a villa with a pool? Who doesn’t? It makes for one of the best kinds of holiday. You have space and flexibility. You can eat in or eat out, relax or party and the pool and the sun loungers are always there for you – and only you. Private villas aren’t cheap of course, but the price is hugely dependent on the destination you choose. If you are used, for example, to taking your summer break in Provence, you will certainly be able to reduce the cost sharply by trying a less expensive destination – without sacrificing the comfort or quality of the villa.
I asked Vintage Travel (vintagetravel.co.uk) for an example from its own selection which would deliver a £1,200 saving for a week’s rental in peak season. It pointed me to the Villa des Artistes, which is a three bedroom, three bathroom house in the hilly hinterland north of Vence in the South of France. It has a 9.5x3.5m pool and terraced gardens and a week’s rental costs £3,298 from July 16.
But if you were to instead try Galicia, in northern Spain, you could rent La Pintoresca, a similar size house set in secluded gardens. It has a slightly smaller pool (7x3m) and only two bathrooms, but comes with the huge advantage of being only two minutes’ walk from the lovely white-sand beach of Limens. The cost? £1,990 for the same July week. That’s a saving of £1,308 over the option in the south of France. And if you enjoy eating out, you’ll find the – generally excellent – Galician restaurants are a lot cheaper than their French counterparts.
Tip: Spain and Portugal generally offer the best value and the biggest choice of villas with pools – compared with, say, France, Italy and Greece. And generally airfares and car hire are cheaper too.
We all know that prices are affected by peak demand. And if you have flexibility as to when you can travel, you will always be able to cherry-pick the best times to make the most of the lower costs – both for fights and for hotels and villas. For families, who are most likely to be hit by the £1,200 hike in living costs and who are restricted to the school holidays, it’s much harder.
But it can be done. I did some research on prices for family holidays being offered by Tui (tui.co.uk) this year. Take the example of a two-week stay in the four-star Hotel Miramar in the lovely family resort of Puerto Pollensa in northern Mallorca. It’s perfect for a classic, family sun and sand holiday and during the main school summer holidays a two-week stay will cost you a total of £4,691 for a family of four staying in two rooms including B&B and flights from London.
However, you can slice a big chunk off that price by making a last-minute decision to travel in the Easter holidays instead. For the same holiday departing on April 1 – the day most schools break up – the price is £2,131. That’s a saving of £2,560 on the peak summer rate.
Of course, weather-wise, Majorca in April is not the same as Majorca in July. You will find average daily highs of about 18C rather than 28C. But there is still lots of sunshine – seven hours a day – and the lower temperatures might actually be something of a relief if you have younger children. Active families, who don’t restrict themselves to the beach will also find that the milder temperatures are great for getting out and exploring the island on foot or by bike.
Tip: If you want to travel during the school summer holidays, prices are usually lower towards the end of August than they are when the schools first break up in late July. It will be hard to save £1,200, but you might be able to knock a few hundred off the bill.
The biggest element of most holidays is the cost of accommodation. Erase that and you will save your £1,200 easily, probably even in a single week in summer. And to do so, you don’t have to swap a hotel or a holiday cottage for a tent in a field. You just have to swap your own house. Several agencies offer websites allowing you to make matches with like-minded owners in other countries. There is always a fee – from about £80 to £120 a year – for the introductions. You’ll have to be flexible to match both dates and destinations – and it works best, obviously, if you own a nice house in a desirable area.
Home-swapping is not for everyone. You may not want to let your house out to strangers and you may not want to stay in a private home (as opposed to one specifically designed for holidays). But if you find something that works, it’s an extremely good-value option. Be sure to use a reputable agency and talk to your house insurer before going ahead.
Tip: You can save even more by – insurance permitting – agreeing to exchange your car during the swap.
Subtler savings: 20 other ways to cut your holiday costs
1. Pick times as well as dates
When booking flights, be sure to think about timings as well as the dates. Those departing at less sociable times can be far cheaper and may suit you perfectly well. Take easyJet fares from Gatwick to Malaga on Saturday July 23. Depart at 8.40am and you will pay £229 for the outbound leg. Leave at 6.35pm and the fare is £139. For a family of four, that’s a saving of £360 on one flight alone.
2. Forgo the pool
Private pools add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a villa. Book one within walking distance of the beach – the Greek islands and northern Spain are great locations for finding these – and while you may miss out on the privacy, you will have the sea on your doorstep.
3. Think laterally
Costs can be deceptive. For example, rental cottages in northern France are generally much cheaper than in Cornwall or Devon. And they are also cheaper than a mobile home on a French campsite. In high season one of these big enough for a family of four is likely to cost at least £1,200 for a week on a big site in the Vendée. A two-bedroomed gîte in Normandy could be as little as £500 – both prices including the cost of the ferry fare.
4. Travel light
In recent years airlines have unfortunately become ever more scrooge-like on baggage allowances and the charges for hold – and some cabin – bags are now very significant. A return from London to Corfu with Ryanair (July 24-31) costs £237.98 with a small under-seat bag (40 x 20 x 25cm). Including 20kg of checked in luggage, the fare per person is £337.96.
5. Cross cleverly
If you are booking your car on a short Channel crossing, timing your trip can make a significant difference in the fare. I checked Eurotunnel’s rates (eurotunnel.com) for a two-week return between Folkestone and Calais departing July 23 and could reduce the cost for a return from £258 to £184 by opting for an outbound crossing at 6pm rather than 6am and returning at 9am rather than 6pm. As prices rise nearer the departure date, potential savings are likely to increase.
6. Strike a deal
The travel industry has had an incredibly hard time over the last two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, but you may face financial pressures of your own. So if you are booking by phone or in person with an operator or agent, don’t be shy about trying to negotiate for a better deal – especially if you are including several elements such as flights, car hire and accommodation in your arrangements.
Save: Potentially £100s
Trimming the extras
7. Park smart
It will always be cheaper to pay in advance than when you turn up at the airport car park. For example, the summer rate at Stansted Long Stay is £23.50 a day – so eight days would cost £188. Booked in advance through the airport (stanstedairport.com/parking) it will cost you about £53. Websites such as Holidayextras.co.uk or Parkbcp.co.uk offer deals which also include overnight stays at airport hotels.
8. Be sandwich savvy
Preparing sandwiches before you leave for the airport will save you a small fortune. Sandwiches and soft drinks for a family of four will set you back at least £25 on a plane or at the airport. You can’t take liquids through security so fill empty bottles in departures.
9. Rent better
Car rental costs have risen significantly since the Covid crisis as companies have reduced their fleets. But the high cost of additional charges – especially insurance – which are made on pick up continue to be an issue. Research carefully, book in advance, compare bottom-line rather than headline prices, check what insurance is included and consider booking cheaper insurance from a separate agent such as Icarhireinsurance.com, Insurance4carhire.com, Questor-insurance.co.uk and Worldwideinsure.com.
10. Play your cards right
Now that most people pay for most things by card rather than cash, make sure you are getting the best value when you use your bank card abroad. I have just invested in opening a Nationwide Flex Plus account, which offers a debit card with no fees for overseas usage (nationwide.co.uk). There is a monthly charge for the account but it also includes annual travel insurance and other extras. I also have a Monzo card (monzo.com) which allows you to take out up to £200 in cash every 30 days from ATMs in most of Europe without paying fees.
11. Invest in Insurance
Even the most basic price comparison exercise is likely to save you money on travel insurance. But buy the wrong policy and it may cost you more if you have to claim. Check our guide first and take out the insurance as soon as you book the travel – or you lose out on free cover. Annual policies save money for many who do more than three trips a year.
Save: Potentially £100s on claims
12. Get a GHIC
If you are travelling in Europe, a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) may well save you money if you need emergency medical treatment. It works in a similar way to the old EHIC and means you will get treatment on the same basis and cost as local people. That may save you making a medical insurance claim altogether, or it may save you paying the excess on your travel insurance policy. See more on this here.
13. Roam free
Brexit means charges are being introduced by this summer for UK customers who use their phones in Europe. Virgin Media O2 is the only major network to continue to offer free roaming. Check that you know when and if you will be affected and how much it will now cost you to use your phone on holiday.
Eating and drinking
14. Skip breakfast
At least in the hotel restaurant. If you can’t negotiate a decent B&B rate, then you will pay a lot less each morning if you nip out to the nearest café for a coffee and a croissant, rather than queue up at the hotel buffet. You can save even more if you eat at the bar rather than installing yourself at a table.
15. Munch at lunch
You are on holiday. You can afford to sleep for the afternoon. So if you are keen to try some special restaurants, but worried about the cost, book for lunchtime. Menus are always far cheaper than in the evening and you’ll probably drink a little less too and so keep the wine bill down.
16. Master the menu
It is weird how we have adapted the word menu to be used as a full list of dishes available in a restaurant. The French would call that the “carte”. The word menu in Europe – menu del día (Spain), menu (France), menu fisso (Italy) – means the fixed-price two or three course meal and it is nearly always better value than selecting from the carte.
17. Choose local wines
This one comes from our wine correspondent, Victoria Moore: “Whether you are in Piedmont or Provence, the best match for traditional local cooking is usually a locally produced wine – they have been developed to complement each other over generations. And in most restaurants the local list is far better value than wines imported from elsewhere.” Insisting on tap water rather than bottled is also an obvious saver.
18. Drink draught
Draught beer is half the price of bottled beer in many bars. Ask for une pression in French; birra alla spina in Italian; cerveza de barril in Spanish). And, like coffee, it will be cheaper if you drink it standing at the bar.
19. Don’t double tip
I’d hate to do a waiter out of a well-deserved bonus, but it’s worth remembering that service charges are now included in most restaurant bills on the continent. For confirmation, look for servis compris in France, servizio incluso, in Italy and servicio incluido in Spain.
20. Walk around the corner
Restaurants and cafés away from the big sights or the seafront – those that are more likely to be used by locals – are not only invariably cheaper, but in my experience generally better than those whose main trade comes from tourists. A 10-minute walk can slash your bill and get you a much better meal.
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