1. Booking too late or too early
Brits missed out on more than £46m in flight savings last year by booking flights at the wrong time. Crunching the numbers on two years’ worth of Skyscanner data, we found that travellers could have saved up to 29% if they’d booked at the right moment. On a £350 flight, that’s more than £100 – enough for a night in a hotel abroad.
So next time you fly, make sure you don’t pay over the odds: our interactive Best Time to Book tool not only indicates the ideal moment to book your tickets for hundreds of destinations, but also reveals the cheapest months to travel. If you’re flexible about when and where you travel, booking late can pay off with some cracking deals.
You can also use Skyscanner’s Everywhere destination option to reveal the cheapest destinations to fly to at short notice. This tends to work better for city breaks than long-haul holidays, but if you’re prepared to play holiday roulette and wait, you could land a last-minute bargain.
2. Skipping insurance
Travel insurance can cost less than a Toblerone Party Bag at Duty Free, yet millions of us Brits jet off without cover, risking £1,000s if things goes wrong. While you might only have to fork out £200-£500 to replace a lost passport, if you pick up an ear infection in the USA, you could face a £2,000 bill for treatment. Meanwhile, an air ambulance for a fractured hip in Thailand could cost £80,000. Even worse, some hospitals may refuse to treat you if you don’t have insurance or enough funds to cover treatment.
Skip the insurance offered by your airline or tour operator – a standalone policy will be cheaper. And buy one as soon as you’ve booked your holiday, or you’ve no cover for cancellation or anything else that might go wrong before you travel. Some packaged bank accounts offer travel insurance as a ‘free perk’ but check the cover is suitable before relying on it. They’ll sometimes exclude winter sports or cruise breaks, for example, so read the small print carefully.
Bonus tip: If you’re travelling in Europe, remember to take your European Health Insurance Card. But don’t rely on it as a substitute for travel insurance. It entitles you to state medical care at the same rate (not always free) as the locals in the country you’re in, but it won’t cover all your costs, including bringing you back to the UK, if required. From Spain, an air ambulance can cost £25,000.
3. Paying on the spot for airport parking
Imagine your airport parking space costing £190 less simply by booking online a few hours ahead. It’s not a fantasy – you’ll save £100s by paying for your spot in advance rather than rolling up and forking out on the day (£385 for a week in Gatwick South’s Premium short-stay car park versus £195 booked the previous day). You could save even more by booking with an approved off-site parking provider – try APH or Purple Parking. Or check into one of the on-site hotels the day before you fly – you can get great deals that cost less than airport parking alone. For example, on the day we checked, the roll-up cost for a week’s valet parking was actually £100 more than the price for a night’s stay at Bloc Gatwick, including eight days’ valet parking and fast-track access through airport security.
Or how about checking all your options in one place? Airport-parking comparison site, Skypark Secure, gives you official, off-site and hotel parking options at 28 airports.
4. Exchanging currency at the airport
With sterling weaker than baby’s bicep, it’s more important than ever to get maximum value from your money. And that means pre-ordering your currency, rather than exchanging it at the airport. If you’ve two or more days until departure, search online for the best deals at Travelmoneymax. Some online providers charge a fee for home delivery on smaller amounts – typically £500 or less – but you can bypass this by collecting it yourself. If you’ve left it to the last minute, order cash from the likes of Travelex, ICE and Moneycorp online, and pick it up at your departure airport. On a transaction of €500, you could save as much as £45 – enough for a meal out on holiday.
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5. Flying direct
Changing planes mid-journey might seem like a hassle, but a pitstop en route can land you big savings. To see how much, deselect the ‘direct flights only’ option on Skyscanner’s flight search tool, which will reveal the cheapest routes and carriers.
Don’t fancy hanging around in the airport? Many airlines – especially Middle East and Asian carriers – offer free stopovers of a night or more in their hub airports, giving you the chance to see two destinations for the price of one, or even less. At the time of writing, we searched on Skyscanner for the cheapest direct route from Heathrow to Bangkok and found return flights with Thai Airways from £1,198. But if you flew on the same dates with Emirates, you could bag a fare of just £717 return, including a two-night stopover in the airline’s hub city, Dubai. That’s a saving of £481 – more than enough for a hotel stay. So you could add a destination to your holiday and still save money.
6. Using your everyday plastic abroad
Your flexible friend could be costing you a packet overseas. Most standard credit and debit cards charge a non-sterling transaction fee of 2.5%-5% on foreign transactions, so spending £100 could cost £105. Then there’s the typical £1.50-£3 fee for cash withdrawals abroad and, in some cases, a charge every time you spend.
But there are specialist overseas credit cards that don’t carry these fees, making them ideal for using on holiday (though be sure to pay off the balance in full every month). The Halifax Clarity Mastercard, for example, has no charges on worldwide spending or cash withdrawals. Or consider a travel-friendly debit card: app-only bank Starling won’t sting you with any fees when you use its card abroad and doesn’t add interest (unlike credit cards).
Another option – and a useful budgeting tool – is a pre-paid travel card. You load it with cash and use it to buy things or withdraw money from ATMs abroad. But check the terms: some contain sneaky fees (a charge for cash withdrawals or card delivery, for example).
Bonus tip: If a retailer overseas offers to let you pay in pounds, politely refuse. The shop will be doing the currency conversion, and it’ll usually be worse than your card. Pay in the local currency instead.
7. Buying guidebooks and maps
Photo: © Lonely Planet
A smartphone is the only guide you need these days. Worried about data costs? Even beyond EU countries (where roaming charges have been abolished), there are some great free apps that work offline and can save you forking out for (and lugging around) a chunky book – and are likely to be more up-to-date. Guides by Lonely Planet (free, Android & iOS) includes some of the best content from the company’s famous guide books, and covers 175+ cities, from Barcelona to Beijing, with downloadable maps and advice from on-the-ground experts. Or swerve the obvious city sights with G Spotting (free, Android & iOS) – the sleek offshoot from Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website. Meanwhile, for data-free directions, download the Google Maps area for your destination before you go (check out Google Support for details). You’ll find that it all works offline, driving directions included.
Published February 2018. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.