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A budgeter’s guide to booking ahead

You’ve booked the best deal on your flights and hotel, and the excitement is brimming… now what? Here are seven ways a little pre-holiday planning can save you money and have you breezing past the queues.

1. Book the essentials

Photo credit: Austin Neill

These are the items you can’t get around without, but are often left to the last minute, like travel insurance, airport transfers and car hire. Book them early on for the best deals, and you’ll be smugly sorted when your mum asks the week before you fly.

  • Book your travel insurance. It’s simple: the earlier you are insured, the sooner you’ll be covered for cancellations. If you’re a regular traveller, you’ll save money with an annual multi-trip insurance policy or if you’re planning a one-off holiday, you can grab a single-trip cover deal to suit your needs.
  • Investigate airport transfers. Some all-inclusive hotels will include an airport transfer for free, while others come at an extra surcharge. We recommend checking local transport links including high-speed city trains, buses and coaches for an efficient and budget-friendly way into town. If you’re arriving after public transport stops or are staying outside of the major towns and cities, look into shared airport transfers – you’ll stop at various hotels en route but it’ll be the next cheapest option. Just avoid the taxi rank at the airport – that’s guaranteed to be expensive all day long.
  • If you’re after a little bit more freedom, car hire may be the most economical option for you, especially if you’re travelling in a small group. Compare with Skyscanner’s car hire search to grab the best deal. Just don’t forget your driving licence, or international driving permit, if required.
  • If you’ve got a night or two where you haven’t quite organised your hotel yet, take advantage of the Fly Stay Save deal on Skyscanner. As soon as you book your flights, you’ll unlock hotel discounts of up to 30% across Skyscanner – just keep an eye out for the Fly + Save icon.

2. It’s time to research

Photo credit: rawpixels 

Now for the exciting bit: what will you do? Where’s the best place to eat? Researching ahead of time will make walking out of the hotel on your first morning a breeze. Here’s what to look out for: 

  • If you’re off on a city break, your destination is probably jam-packed with Insta-worthy landmarks. But they don’t all have to be expensive to visit. Take Paris – a trip up the Eiffel Tower can cost €16, but the view from the Champ de Mars park in front? Absolutely free.
  • It’s hard to know which attractions are worth visiting (and paying for) and this is where Skyscanner’s review feature comes into play. Read reviews on the sights, activities and restaurants on offer – you’ll get on-the-ground insights from tourists and locals alike.
  • Research the best (or best value for money) restaurants before you end up walking around hangry. Cafés and restaurants close to landmarks and on main pedestrianised routes will come with a premium price. Instead, research places a little more off the beaten track for tasty food at a more reasonable price.
  • Even the most expensive cities will have free activities, if you know where to look – hike a nearby trail, stroll through a local market or picnic in the park. Many big cities will also have free-entry art galleries or museums (or some that are free on certain days of the week or month).

3. Book in advance

Photo credit: Caleb Miller

Popular landmarks are busy, especially during peak season – after all, they’re famous for a reason. But if you commit and book ahead, you’ll often receive a benefit in the form of a discount, or by simply avoiding the ticket queues.

  • Some landmarks are limited to online-only reservations. For example, you can only climb the Statue of Liberty with an advanced ticket. While you can buy on-the-day tickets to access Liberty Island, a limited number of crown tickets are issued and normally sell out two weeks before the intended climb date. Even in the land of the free you need to be organised.
  • Other landmarks may offer a priority lane for those with pre-booked tickets, usually with a specific time you can enter. In New York, you can buy an express ticket online to climb the Empire State Building without queuing. For London, bypass the two-hour queue to ride the London Eye with a skip-the-line ticket. In Italy, The Vatican’s queuing time can be reduced with a priority access ticket.
  • If you’re planning to pack as many landmarks into your trip as possible, a city tourist travel pass may just be the thing. The New York Pass, The Singapore Pass, The London Pass (you get the idea), all give entry to popular landmarks across consecutive days within their price. You’ll save money on each individual attraction, get priority access at selected landmarks and local travel is included too – win win. 
  • Once you’ve got a few attractions booked, it’s time to use your research from before and plan a rough itinerary. You don’t need to plan your days minute-by-minute, but by grouping attractions that are close together you’ll save time and money on transport.
  • Leave time to get lost. Sure, planning ahead can save money, but there’s a lot of joy in stumbling across a sun-soaked terrace, a hidden beach or a mind-blowing street performance. This is where you’ll find the authentic hidden treasures of a destination. 

4. Documents

This one feels easy, you just need your passport, right? While your passport will get you out of the UK, it’s worth organising all your paperwork (including e-tickets), and visas in advance.

  • Apply for visas well in advance. Keep an eye on the website you go through as some tricksters like to charge you an admin fee on top of the cost of the visa. Your safest bet? Go through the links at the Foreign Office to ensure you’re on the official site.
  • Find out if you need any travel immunisations or travel medications, ideally eight weeks before you go – this way, you’ll have time to book in available jabs on the NHS, rather than paying privately. Use the NHS Fit for Travel website and check out our travel vaccines blog for all the info. Keep copies of any immunisation records, especially if you require a yellow fever certificate to enter a country.
  • If you’re heading off on your honeymoon remember that the name on your passport and on your ticket must match. It can take at least three weeks to change your name on your passport, although it’s possible to pay extra for a one-week fast track service. Maybe it’s best to double-barrel your name after the honeymoon…
  • And finally, have a paper and digital copy of all your travel details: hotel bookings, car hire details, booked activities and a copy of your passport and visa. Top tip: save everything into an email holiday folder or upload onto a Google doc. It’ll save a ton of stress when you can prove your bookings. Paper copies may be old school, but they’re good to have on hand when you’re off grid or the WiFi’s patchy.

5. Money money money

Photo credit: sm-ekb2005

As the ABBA song goes – it’s a rich man’s world. And it certainly feels that way when you’re trying to travel on a budget. Here’s how you can be cash savvy with a little research.

  • Keep an eye on the exchange rate before you travel to see how the trends move. Shop around too, as the exchange rate will fluctuate with difference providers (and will always be most expensive at airports).
  • In this digital age, you’ll also need a credit or debit card on hand: the Halifax Clarity credit card and Monzo debit cards won’t charge you a foreign transaction fee for using your card abroad. Just make sure you read all the terms and conditions thoroughly before you sign up. When making a transaction on your card, be sure to choose the local currency when paying.
  • If you’re planning on using your bank card when you’re away, let your bank know so they don’t block any payments. You can usually do this via internet banking or mobile apps.
  • Check how your phone provider will charge you for using your phone abroad. Savvy folk will be able to get along with free WiFi (in your hotel, at restaurants etc.). Or, see if your phone provider has any special travel deals or credit you can buy as an add-on. Three has Go Roam: 71 destinations around the world where you can use your phone’s data and call allowance to UK numbers for free.
  • For all your travel money questions: check out the 10 ways to get the best deal on your travel money.

6. Pack your bags

Photo credit: Leszek Czerwonka

You’ve planned where you’re going and what you’re doing… now it’s time to decide what you’re bringing with you.

  • First things first, check your luggage allowance. Be especially clear with low budget airlines and check their latest guidelines before travelling. They’re particularly strict with cabin baggage, and fees for oversized items can be eye-watering at the gate.
  • Check the weather forecast just in case that dreamy 30ºC weather is closer to 16ºC. For a rough guide, check out the best time to visit these popular destinations.
  • If you’ve planned a few day trips or activities, pack any specific gear you’ll need: we’re talking insect repellent, water shoes, ski goggles, swim wear etc. They’ll be far more expensive to pick up while you’re on holiday.
  • Then, if you’re travelling in a group or with a partner, try and pack some of your belongings in their case (and vice versa) in the unlikely event your suitcase doesn’t arrive with you.
  • Finally, triple check your packing list. It’s cheaper than paying premium prices for sun cream and swimwear at the hotel shop.
  • For a more specific list, check out Skyscanner’s essential packing list (we’ve done all the hard work for you).

7. Final preparations

Photo credit: Xavier Arnau
  • All that’s left to do is check in online. This can open any time from one month to 24 hours before you fly. Double check passport details, dates and airports, and decide on any added extras like checked luggage and priority seating, as this will be cheaper now than at the airport on the day.

Ready to start planning in advance and save? Compare car hire, hotel and flight prices now.

All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 15 July 2019.

Visa information correct as of 15 July 2019, obtained from Please always check the latest guidance at  before booking a trip.