When is the cheapest time to book flights? Should you book one way or return? Are package holidays better value? My top travel tips for booking holidays and flights has all the answers!
I am often asked what are my top travel tips for booking holidays, and while I don’t have a crystal ball, I do have some tricks and tips up my sleeve! There are times of year where prices are always high, but there are also traditionally ‘cheap’ times to travel.
However, sometimes the cheapest price isn’t necessarily the best value… Do you want to spend an extra three hours on a plane to save €50, is checked baggage included in the cost, what happens if something goes wrong, and what are the cancellation policies? These are all things to watch out for when booking holidays.
It is also important to check exact locations – you don’t want to spend a fortune on an airport transfer, or find you have to get a taxi to the beach. I have lots more tips for booking holidays below, I hope you will find them useful and they help you with your travel plans.
1. Compare prices before you book.
When comparing package holidays with holidays you design yourself, make sure you include baggage charges, airport transfers and local taxes. Many tour operators and travel agents offer packages with transfers and baggage included, so make sure the ‘deal’ you think you have is really as good as it seems. Bear in mind a 20kg checked bag can cost up to €110 to Europe in peak season…
Usually long haul travel specialist agencies will be able to offer cheaper holidays than if you bought a flight and hotel separately. They usually have discounted airfares, and contracts with hotels with meals included. They may also include checked baggage and meals on the plane – some of the cheapest online airfares don’t include these.
Prices can also vary considerably when checking hotel sites. I price hotels every week for my travel deals and I am always amazed at the difference in prices. Booking.com may be cheaper than Expedia for some hotels, and vice versa, while UK travel agency Love Holidays are now offering discounted holidays in Ireland.
One of the top tips for booking hotels is to use comparison websites such as Trivago, HotelsCombined and TripAdvisor. These search numerous websites for the same property and you may find significant savings.
2. Book with a reputable travel company.
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After you have made you price comparison, check the reviews online to make sure the company is reputable. Many household names like On the Beach, eDreams and Lastminute.com are registered overseas, and may not covered by the same EU regulations, or as easily reached by phone as local travel agencies.
Ryanair have publicly announced that they have no agreements in place with many online travel companies, and securing refunds proved very difficult for many last summer. Which? published its annual ‘Best and Worst Package Holiday Providers‘ list recently, and while many of these companies are UK based, you can spot some household names in there.
3. Choose the cheapest time to book flights
I have worked in the travel industry for over 30 years and have noticed the following trends each year.
- January, late April (after Easter), May, late September, early October, and early – mid December are usually the cheapest times to travel. You may get a bargain if you left it late to book – although this is not always the case. There are exceptions to watch out for, mid December is popular for people travelling long haul for Christmas, and Christmas market breaks will bring prices up to city breaks etc.
- Travel midweek, and if looking for a weekend break, travel Saturday – Monday instead of Friday to Sunday.
- Don’t restrict yourself to 7 or 14 night holidays – you may find flights for 8 nights are cheaper than 7.
Tips for booking holidays and flights in July or August and peak times:
- Book as early as possible. Flights usually go on sale 11 months in advance, so Christmas 2023 scheduled flights will be on sale shortly, and many package holidays, cruises and ski holidays are already on sale. TUI have summer holidays on sale for 2024 already!
- If you have to travel during July or August, try to travel late August, some schools do not start back until September – you will see a massive difference in airfares.
- People tend to book annual leave in the first or last two weeks of a month. Choose the alternative weeks or the last week in July and first week in August for lower airfares.
- School holidays are not as long in other European countries. Some holidays start mid July, others not until August, this means that accommodation prices early July are usually cheaper in holiday resorts compared to late July or August.
4. Subscribe to newsletters and loyalty clubs
Many hotel chains, booking sites and airlines offer discounts and loyalty points for members. These can translate into an immediate discount, or discounts on future bookings.
Subscribe to travel newsletters (including mine 😉) and be the first to learn about route announcements, seat sales and discounts.
Some websites such as Skyscanner offer price alerts. If you know the dates you want to travel and register for price alerts, they will notify you if the price goes up or down – this is one of the top tips for booking holidays and flights.
5. Check the cancellation policy.
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Most hotels and accommodation booking sites offer rooms with free cancellation policies. In some cases they may be more expensive, but they do provide peace of mind, should you need to cancel at the last minute.
However, don’t rule out booking your dream apartment because there is a small deposit payable. If the cancellation fee is nominal, it might a good idea to pay it, especially if it is to secure the property you want during peak times.
Be careful of companies offering very low booking deposits. The initial €1 or €25 deposit is likely to come with a further deposit payment due a few weeks after booking. You could be legally obliged to pay the remainder of the deposit, even if you decide to cancel.
TOP TIP: Ryanair’s new deposit option for families offers great flexibility. You can pay 50% of the flight cost at the time of booking, and the remainder 60% before departure. But that’s not all…. if you don’t pay the balance, and your booking is cancelled, the deposit you have paid will be added to your Ryanair wallet to use within 12 months of the issue date!
6. Check passports, visas and all country entry requirements before you book.
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Check your passport is in date, and check the country you are travelling to does not require it to be valid for 6 months after your arrival date. Check if visas are required. If travelling to the USA you need to ensure you have filled out an ESTA online.
It is vital you check the entry requirements for the country you are travelling to, particularly if you are not fully vaccinated and travelling outside the EU. Currently only vaccinated people are allowed enter the US – this will be in place until April 10th 2023, at least.
7. Check historical weather.
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As we all know our climate is changing rapidly and temperatures are warmer overall. However, there is a reason that there are special offers to the Caribbean in September – it is hurricane season! Likewise the Algarve is always fantastic value in the winter, but remember to pack your umbrella…
If you are looking for a sun holiday, make sure there will be sun! Weather sites such as Wunderground have a historical tab so you can see what the weather was like in previous years, at the time you wish to travel.
8. Check hotel reviews and locations.
I can’t stress the importance of checking reviews. I have seen properties that are considered close to the beach on some websites, which was in fact a five minute drive!
I suggest taking the overall review score, rather than one specific review, as this could be tainted for many reasons. Ideally choose accommodation with many reviews. In some cases you could see a property rated as Excellent or 10/10, but there may only be a few reviews that determines this score.
Many hotel sites use their own ratings, so a four-star rating with Booking.com does not necessarily mean it is a four-star hotel. Location is extremely important with city breaks too, as some hotels can be miles from the centre of town.
9. Use Skyscanner to check the best flight times and availability.
When booking a flight use Skyscanner to check availability and price. There may be an airline that is flying the route you want to go to that you hadn’t thought of, Iberia Express to Madrid for instance, or Vueling to Barcelona.
You may also find it is cheaper to fly out with one airline and home with another. This can also be useful for good flight times or price, one airline may have better times or price on the outward journey and another on the return – this is one of my top tips for booking flights.
Skycanner will combine all airlines so you can automatically find the best airfares, and quite often the lowest priced journey will be with two different carriers. However, if flying indirect, check the overall flight time. It might be better to fly direct if the cost isn’t much more.
While Skyscanner is excellent for search, I always recommend booking flights directly on the airlines website and not via a third party site.
10. Take out travel insurance at the time of booking
It is important to take out travel insurance at the time of booking. Not only will this mean you are covered for cancellation, but you should have cover in place in case any travel restrictions are introduced at a later stage. Moratoriums are usually in place for 7 -14 days before you travel, so if you take out insurance at the last minute and are unable to travel, you may not be covered.
I have used Multitrip travel insurance for years and have always been happy with the service. AA Travel Insurance is offering a FREE Virtual Doctor to all its policy holders, and they have 30% off annual multi-trip policies at the moment. It is worthwhile comparing both before you book.
I hope my top tips for booking holidays and flights will help you with your travel plans. Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.