Monday 25 September 2017

Holidays are affordable, if you do your homework

Illustration by Tom Halliday.
Illustration by Tom Halliday.
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Water charges will no doubt eat into our holiday budgets when we start paying them next year. Add to that the full whack of the property tax and we'll be lucky to have anything left in our holiday budgets.

It's no surprise then that more Irish people holidayed at home last year than did so in 2012. But are they really saving money in doing so? You can pay through the nose for an Irish staycation. During the peak summer months, you'll struggle to hire a holiday home for less than €700 a week. Some top-of-the-range holiday homes will set you back more than €1,000 a week. A glass of wine could cost €7.50 in a pub or restaurant – more than you'll pay for a bottle of wine in some foreign restaurants.

Of course sky-high prices aren't unique to Irish tourist traps. It's around this time last year that some British tourists were charged €64 for four ice-creams in Venice.

So what works out cheaper – an Irish staycation or a holiday in the sun?

Earlier this week, The Sunday Independent compared the cost of a two-week holiday in Kerry's jewel – Killarney – to a sun holiday. We checked the prices for a holiday that kicks off in the last weekend of June – shortly after the primary schools finish up.

This paper found that sun holidays can work out much cheaper and offer better value than an Irish staycation will – but only if you're travelling as a couple. Families, however, can save money by holidaying at home – as long as they do it right.

Couples

A couple could easily pay €1,400 to rent a holiday home in Killarney for two weeks from the end of June. Bed and breakfast in a three-star hotel for the same weeks could set the duo back €1,800 – particularly if the couple are only booking now. (Many three-stars in the town are already full for those dates.) The bill for a four-star hotel in Killarney could be as high as €2,200.

A sun holiday for those weeks, however, could be snapped up for about €1,100. Under one of the offers available from Sunway, two-weeks bed and breakfast in a two-star hotel in Tunisia cost €1,078. If the couple wanted three-star accommodation, they could have done so for about €1,400. Some of the holidays offered by Sunway which came with a €1,400 price tag were two weeks half-board (bed, breakfast and another meal) in a three-star hotel in Tunisia, and 14 nights bed and breakfast in a three-star hotel in Kusadasi, Turkey.

Sunway's prices included flights, transfers, accommodation – and a baggage allowance of 20kg per person.

At €1,400, the cost of staying in a three-star hotel in a sunny destination for two weeks worked out about €400 cheaper than staying in a similar hotel in Killarney.

Although the three-star sun holiday cost the same as the holiday home in Killarney, the sun holiday offered better value. Unlike the sun holiday, which included flights and breakfast, the €1,400 bill for the Killarney holiday home only covered the cost of hiring the property – breakfast is not included and neither is the cost of transport to the property.

Families

A family of two adults and two children could save about €1,000 or more by holidaying at home – as long as they choose a holiday home instead of a hotel.

Assuming the family heads off on their holiday at the last weekend of June, two weeks bed and breakfast in a three-star hotel in Tunisia could cost about €2,300. It could cost the family about €2,500 to hire a self-catering bungalow in Lanzarote for two weeks; while a three-star hotel in Kusadasi might set them back €2,796.

By comparison, the €1,400 bill for the hire of a holiday home in Killarney for two weeks worked out cheaper for the family. If the family travelled to a spot which isn't as thronged as Killarney, such as windswept Fanad in Co Donegal or Duncannon in Co Wexford, they could rent a holiday home in Ireland for two weeks for less than €1,000. This works out considerably cheaper than the sun holidays we examined – even allowing for the cost of fuel when driving to the holiday home.

Irish hotels, however, are not so kind to families – particularly if you're booking late. A family room in a three-star hotel in Killarney could cost €150 a night during the peak summer season. Two weeks in a four-star hotel in Killarney from late June could set a family back €2,850.

Curbing staycation costs

Even if you decide that it will cost you less to holiday at home than it will abroad, the bill can spiral out of control – if you're not careful where and when you spend your money.

"Ireland can be as expensive or as cheap as you like," said John Concannon, director of market development with Failte Ireland.

If you're a family, choose a holiday home rather than a hotel or bed and breakfast as this will usually work out cheaper. If you're determined to stay in a hotel, steer clear of well-trodden tourist routes. The same applies to holiday homes.

Book early as you will have a better chance of getting a cheaper price – as well as the holiday home or hotel you want.

Before booking, check if any special offers are available – and consider if it is worth your while planning your holiday for a cheaper time of the year. With Trident Holiday Homes, for example, you can get 30 per cent off the cost of a weekly stay in a number of holiday homes – if you book your holiday for particular weeks.

When shopping around for holiday homes, don't focus on websites which specialise in holiday home hire only – you could find a cheaper deal on the likes of daft.ie.

It could work out cheaper to stay in a caravan park than a holiday home – you could hire a two-bed mobile home in Wicklow for €475 a week during the peak summer months, for example.

Avoid holidaying in the midst of a major festival because accommodation will usually cost more if you do so. "If you're thinking of going to Fota Island in Cork, don't go when the Irish Open is on," said Concannon.

Organised tours can be expensive. Check if there are free local attractions – or activities planned for the area you're visiting. Some local councils run free events during the holidays. Coillte list family walking and cycling trails around the country.

"There's a huge amount of free things to do in Ireland, whether that be visiting beaches, national parks or museums," said Concannon.

If your holiday coincides with the first week of a month, it is free to visit Office of Public Works (OPW) sites on the first Wednesday of every month. If you plan to visit a number of sites it would be worth investing in the OPW's heritage card. The card costs €21 for an adult, €8 for a child, and gives free admission to OPW sites for an entire year.

Dining out will eat into your budget

Eating out in Ireland can burn a hole in your pocket. Although pubs and restaurants have brought down their prices since the recession hit, you could still pay €30 a head for a mediocre three-course meal in an Irish pub – or €60 a head in an upmarket restaurant.

It can be a lot cheaper to eat out abroad, depending on the country. In Tunisia, you can expect to pay €15 a head for a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant; the average cost of a three-course meal in Kusadasi, Turkey, is about €20 a head; and in Lanzarote, a typical three-course meal costs €25, according to Tanya Airey, managing director of Sunway Holidays.

It can be pricey to eat out in Italy, however – a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant typically costs about €40 a head in Sicily – or €47.50 in Sorrento.

If you're fond of a tipple, a bottle of wine costs about €5 in a restaurant in Tunisia; or €12 in a restaurant in Kusadasi, said Airey. In an Irish restaurant, you'll easily pay around €20 for a bottle of wine.

Beer too can cost a fraction of the price abroad. It costs €1.25 to buy a bottle of local beer in a Tunisian restaurant, €3 in Sorrento and Lanzarote, €3.30 in Kusadasi and €3.50 in Sicily, according to Airey. In Ireland, you'll typically pay about €5 for a bottle of beer in a restaurant.

Remember, the price of your foreign holiday will depend on the destination. Some countries cost a fortune to visit. Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries to visit in western Europe; Scandinavia too will burn a hole in your pocket. Travel around the Canadian Rockies and you'll usually pay through the nose for accommodation – unless you're happy to camp or stay in motels.

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