Tuesday 25 July 2017

Go the extra miles and bag a long-haul holiday bargain this summer

A holiday to Thailand or the Caribbean may not cost much more than the Canaries - but watch out for on-the-ground costs

Krabi in Thailand
Krabi in Thailand
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

The price of holidays to European hotspots has shot up so much that it can now cost almost as much to visit Spain or Portugal this summer as it does to travel to some far-flung destinations, such as Thailand and the Caribbean. Recent terror attacks have pushed Egypt and Tunisia off the holiday brochures and demand for holidays in the Canary Islands and Algarve has shot up as a result - along with their prices.

This means that holidays to certain long-haul destinations are only costing a couple of hundred euro more than holidays to popular parts of Spain or Portugal and may even be slightly cheaper - particularly if you have left it until the last minute to book. Luxury holidays to some long-haul destinations can even cost the same as one in Europe.

"If you're only booking your summer holiday now, you could get a holiday to the likes of Thailand or the Dominican Republic for only a couple of hundred euro more than the price of Spain or Portugal," said Eoghan Corry, editor of the travel publication, Travel Extra.

Earlier this month for example, Sunway quoted €1,698 for a couple staying in a four-star hotel (including breakfast) in Gran Canaria in late August. A week in a three-star hotel (including buffet breakfast) in the Thai island of Phuket in mid-August was available from the travel agent for €1,938 per couple - €240 more than the price of the holiday in Gran Canaria.

Trailfinders quoted €2,198 for 10 days in Thailand in late August - for a couple staying in four-star hotels (including breakfast).

"Long-haul holidays may be better value this summer," said Sarah Slattery, founder of the travel website, thetravelexpert.ie. "If you don't mind the heat, there's great value on trips to the Middle East." Earlier this month, Trailfinders quoted €1,998 for a couple staying for a week in a five-star hotel (including breakfast) in Abu Dhabi in late August - €300 more than Sunway's four-star holiday in Gran Canaria.

Choice of flights

"This will be the year that long haul comes within the reach of families - because of the sheer number of flights," said Corry.

There has been a big increase in the number of long-haul flights out of Ireland in recent years.

Since last summer, it has been possible to fly direct from Dublin to Mexico and Jamaica (on charter flights operated by Falcon Holidays and Thomson), and direct from Dublin to Vancouver (with Air Canada Rouge).

In 2014, Aer Lingus launched its first flight to Toronto and resumed flights from Dublin to San Francisco. Aer Lingus also resumed direct flights from Dublin to Los Angeles last summer and launched one-way flights from Dublin to Hartford in Connecticut last September.

Delta Air Lines launched a new Dublin to Boston flight - which runs daily over the summer - last month. The Icelandic airline, Wow Air, started year-round flights from Cork to Reykjavik last month too. Wow also flies from Cork via Reykjavik to 10 destinations across North America, including Chicago, Montreal and San Francisco.

Ethiopian Airlines has been flying from Dublin to Los Angeles, and Dublin to Addis Ababa for about two years. Emirates has been flying from Dublin to Dubai since 2012 while Etihad Airways has been doing so for 10 years.

New flights are also in the pipeline. Qatar Airways will begin daily flights from Dublin to the Qatari capital Doha tomorrow. Norwegian Air International will begin a number of new flights from Irish airports to the US east coast in July, including Providence, Rhode Island from Dublin, Cork and Shannon. Aer Lingus will launch direct flights from Dublin to Miami in September.

"With all the extra direct flights from Ireland to North America, other airlines -such as British Airways - are responding by offering discounts on flights out of Britain," said Corry. "They're trying to entice Irish customers away from Aer Lingus and other airlines offering direct flights out of Ireland."

Finding a deal

To find some of the best long-haul deals, consider flying on a route just launched by an airline, advised Corry.

Qatar Airways, for example, is due to launch flights from Doha to Chiang Mai in Thailand this October. This, combined with its flight from Dublin to Doha, could be a good deal for Irish people seeking to fly to Thailand this autumn, according to Corry.

Stopping over in a location where some people are reluctant to travel to could also save you money - but be sure you're not taking too much of a risk in doing so.

For example, should you wish to holiday in Thailand, Turkish Airlines could work out as one of the cheaper airlines to fly with, according to Corry. It flies direct from Dublin to Istanbul - and direct from Istanbul to Bangkok and Phuket. "People are reluctant to go through Istanbul [due to the threat of terror attacks] and the only weapon which the airline has to fight that reluctance is price," said Corry.

Going through a travel agent - rather than directly with an airline - could save you money on long haul. "You'd nearly get a package of flights and accommodation from a travel agent for the same price as you'd pay for a flight if you go direct to an airline," said Slattery, who advised holiday hunters to check offers from Sunway, Tropical Sky, clickandgo.ie, Teletext Holidays, loveholidays.ie, and Alpharooms.

It's also worth checking thetravelexpert.ie every Tuesday for details of the latest travel deals.

Although you are likely to struggle to get a good holiday deal for June and July at this stage, you could still get a good price if you travel in August - particularly late August. "Most long- haul airlines drop their prices around August 23," said Jonathan Bridge, a spokesman for the travel agents, Trailfinders.

On the ground costs

Before choosing a long-haul destination, keep on-the-ground costs in mind - some countries will be very cheap to holiday in while others will be very expensive. "South Africa is very reasonable," said Slattery. "Thailand is very cheap. The cost of living is quite high in America so on-the-ground costs can be high. Iceland is expensive."

One of the inconveniences of long-haul travel is that you will be outside the eurozone - so you will need to buy some of the local currency of the country you're travelling to. Avoiding countries where your euro has weakened in value against the local currency can make your holiday easier on your pocket. The more of the local currency that your euro can buy, the better - though as holidays are typically booked in advance, it can be hard to guard against swings in foreign exchange.

Buy some of the local currency in your bank in advance of travel -otherwise, you could be hit with higher foreign exchange charges abroad.

There are certain currencies which you will struggle to order in advance of travel, particularly if you are travelling off the beaten track. Most Irish banks do not sell Argentine, Chilean and Colombian pesos; Icelandic kronas; Indonesian rupiahs; Venezuelan bolivars; Brazilian reals; Afghanistan Afghanis; Egyptian pounds; Tunisian dinars; Zimbabwe dollars; and Russian rubles. Only Ulster Bank said that it sold some of these currencies: the Chilean and Colombian pesos; Indonesian rupiahs; and Brazilian reals.

Once you arrive in your destination, you can typically buy more of the local currency in a bank or hotel there - or use your bank or credit card to withdraw money. Get up to speed on - and do your best to limit - the charges you will face for using your card abroad though.

In certain countries, you may have little choice but to change your money on the black market because there are either no banks nearby - or the poor exchange rate offered by the banks could see you quickly running out of money. This is particularly true of Venezuela.

"ATMs are available in cities and larger towns in South America, and they're almost always the most economical, reliable and convenient way of getting cash," said MaSovaida Morgan, destination editor for South America with the travel guidebooks, Lonely Planet. "Venezuela is the exception, as ATM and credit card transactions cost twice as much as exchanging cash on the black market. Venezuela is the only country where it's essential to use the black market in order to be able to afford travel there. Unfortunately even paying for a bus or taxi in Venezuela without black market rates is prohibitively expensive. Outside of Venezuela, the only time that a traveller may have to use the black market in South America is when crossing remote and isolated borders where a regulated, official exchange facility isn't nearby."

Before changing any money on the black market in Venezuela or anywhere else, do your research so that you know the value of currency being exchanged, advised Morgan. "Be vigilant of scammers or counterfeit bills," said Morgan. "Be aware that if you are exchanging money this way, you will have no back-up from local police and do so at your own risk."

Allow plenty of time to change money as it is often hard to find a bank in remote areas. Being organised with your finances is just as important on holiday as it is at home.

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