Bask in autumn bargains
Holiday prices have dived with the return of our children to school. For families with pre-school kids and singletons, now is the time to fly. Eoghan Corry on how to get the best deals
First, the good news. The big return to school has had its annual impact on holiday prices, with the big savings reflected mostly in air fares - the price of a flight can tumble to a third of a peak-season price.
Further good news is that airlines who started bringing flights to a halt in mid or end September around 2010 are extending them to Hallowe'en, as was the case in pre-2009 Tigerland.
Air fare savings are most apparent when the seat sales kick into action, two or three months in advance of travel. Sign up for the email alerts from the big airlines to ensure you won't miss these.
To add to the excitement, Michael O'Leary has promised the "father and mother" of a price war in Dublin this winter as he goes head-to-head with Aer Lingus. Price wars are more likely to be to Gatwick and Brussels than to Tenerife but keep an eye on Barcelona and Madrid where we could get a lot of extra flights at short notice, beginning in October.
When the prices go down, so do our options. Nearly half of Dublin Airport's 167 routes are seasonal. Ryanair cut 27 of their routes in winter, Aer Lingus 17 (plus one of their trans-Atlantic routes). The biggest impact is on Spain, where non-Canaries destinations grind to a halt. Even Majorca and key walking destinations like Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela are inaccessible in winter.
Accommodation and package prices behave in strange and unpredictable ways.
Apartment prices are more likely to be affected by children being at school than hotels. The Irish market, unlike the British or mainland Europeans, loves self-catering and our holiday makers enjoy a bigger discount in September than most of our neighbours.
The savings cannot always be counted in euro. Watch out for free upgrades and other benefits such as bigger places to stay for the same money. If you have small children, the child-friendly hotels which are always first to sell in January, are easier to find in September.
Beware of school holiday arrangements elsewhere, which can drive prices up unexpectedly.
In Italy, prices will only drop around now because their lucky children are only going back to school next week.
Schools have less of an impact on five-star properties, but there are bargains to be had here too. Prices in September can go up rather than down, as high spend couples and those with no children take advantage of decreased air fares to buy more expensive hotels. Americans like Europe in September, so anything with a golf course or spa facility is as expensive now as ever.
Come October and November, that tends to change very dramatically.
There are other ways to save. This year Shannon prices were running at €20-€30 lower than Dublin's (it has been the reverse in recent years).
Check with your travel agent. They have access to more information and better deals than you have - even if you trawled the web for five hours, the best prices are never going to show up there.
Some of the package prices from Clickandgo and from Club Travel for some destinations in October using Aer Lingus flights are cheaper than if you book the flight only with Aer Lingus.
Falcon, who were offering seat-only fares to Kos for €189 on September 19, say they are well sold into September. "At the moment prices are looking at anything in the €269-€349 range," says Falcon's Charlotte Brenner.
"It's a great time for families with non-school-going children to travel as temperatures cool off; resorts/restaurants/beaches less crowded. I used to love it myself."
Clem Walshe of Lowcostbeds warned while there is value in family areas like Algarve, Majorca, Costas Dorada, Blanca and Brava, flights tend to reduce when the school term kicks in.
"The upside is resorts are less busy so it's a good time to go for families with smaller kids as they'll not only get the value, but less queuing about the place as well. It is also a lot more bearable temperature wise."
"Mid-week is still the best time to fly for comfort and value and there are some great all-inclusive deals to be had in some of the better hotels."
Three hot holiday tips
If you go in the first two weeks in December you are travelling in the cheapest week for the holiday market - prices, accommodation, car hire and transfers all reach their low point for the season, and that applies to ski holidays as well.
Especially think long haul
The horn of Africa has opened up because of our direct flights to Addis Ababa and we have two flights a day to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to open up over 100 Asian destinations beyond.
For next year...
Watch the last week in August. The return to school is getting earlier by the year. First-year students were back at the end of August. The traditional first Monday in September return is no longer standard and it is playing havoc with the planners in the airlines and holiday companies.
The best holiday deals
If you want guaranteed sunshine, it has to be the Canaries. There are some savings here but only because the Canaries was very expensive this summer, events in north Africa having sent many of the big European markets scurrying for an alternative. Fuerteventura is down to €549 in November.
Save €300 It takes two flights but the savings when you get there are worthwhile. Lowcostbeds has three star B&B on the beach in Negril, Jamaica, from €27 per night.
Save €200... (Or more into October and November), Sunway have a Norwegian Epic cruise from Barcelona from €599pp including flights ex Dublin and drinks package, depart December 9.
Always a strong September seller, interesting that it has not seen any late bargains because of the currency crisis but keep an eye on Kos, a new destination from Dublin this summer, especially for seat-only prices.
Save €150 Lisbon flights continue through the winter opening up the Lisbon coast. Accommodation prices are 40pc down on peak and car hire is also down by nearly as much, if you want to take a drive to the Algarve.
Save €150 No end to the options here. The big saving is accommodation, Spain in autumn offers some of the cheapest four-star accommodation in the world. Flights to the regional airports continue until Hallowe'en and even when they stop, the new high-speed train service has made the Costa accessible from Madrid in two hours. Book online and save your train fare and, if you time it properly, you can get an upgrade to business class for the price of a bottle of good wine.
Prices for late September departures are around €469 for three star and €749 for five-star accommodation. Falcon have a seven-night cruise for €839pp.