Brighten up your winter: Why now's the time to book a sun holiday
Travel tips & advice
Waiting until after Christmas to organise a trip abroad will cost a lot more, says Sinead Ryan.
There's nothing like the cold chill of the deepest winter to make you start thinking of sunnier climes. Amidst all the jingle bells and seasonal cheer, there's a bit of you just wishing you were lying on a beach in the sun, isn't there?
Well, it's not too late... to start planning, that is!
Mid-December to the end of February is the busiest time for foreign holiday bookings, but the savvy consumer isn't waiting until then - they're booking right now.
Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agent's Association (ITAA), says package holidays are well underway.
"All the post Leaving Cert students have already booked to get the cheapest air fares. These are introduced 330 days out and get snapped up. As they fill up, they get more expensive, so families have been booking with our members since August when the first 2017 brochures come out.
"It makes sense as it means they only pay a small deposit now, with the balance due 10 weeks before they go, which isn't until May. With Christmas coming up, that's a real incentive. If you book it all yourself, you have to pay up front in full."
Travel companies, anxious to get early deposits on their books, generally make their first round offers of holidays the previous summer. To entice customers, they offer discounts, free child and granny places or all inclusive deals. Always check the expiry dates on offers though, as you may find the balance of the holiday has to be paid early.
So, if you're sick and tired of all this cold, perhaps it's a good time to start the (beach) ball rolling. Here are my tips to getting a bargain:
1. DIY vs Agent
For many of us, the internet is the place to start.
A DIY holiday seems like the one where you have the most control but beware - your consumer rights lessen if you do it this way. If something goes wrong, like a cancelled or missed flight, or your four-star apartment turns out to be a grimy flat above a strip bar, you have fewer options to get redress.
Booking through a travel agent means you are covered whatever happens. And a travel agent can be cheaper, rather than more expensive, than doing it yourself as they block-buy rooms. It's also safer. DIY-style holidays fall outside the provisions of package holiday legislation.
2. Flying high
Consider flying from a regional airport. Dublin will invariably be expensive while Waterford, Knock, Limerick - if they are accessible to you - may be cheaper. With sterling currently languishing around €1.18, it is also a great idea to fly from Belfast. They have additional airlines like EasyJet, Wizz and Jet2, and Thomas Cook, Virgin and Thompson holidays fly from there too. If it's no more than a couple of hours' drive, you may find you get a better price on your trip by booking (and paying) now in sterling.
3. Travel Tuesday
Flying at the weekend is far more expensive than a midweek flight. Tuesday or Wednesday can be cheaper, if you can manipulate your work leave that way. Flying early in the morning is also cutting the price (you can sleep on the plane, after all!).
4. The Early bird gets the worm
Although booking now means you can avail of your choice of resort and any early-bird discounts available, if you are more flexible, or don't have children to cater for, booking at the last minute is also a way to garner the left over rooms that hotels need to sell off.
If you simply want heat, Spain has, by a long mile, the greatest capacity. It is still Ireland's favourite destination abroad and there will always be a multitude of apartments and hotel rooms at the last moment.
The notion of 'stars' to denote quality isn't consistent across Europe. So it is worth investigating if going 'up' a star rating might actually be worth it. Many websites allow you to filter your choice based on the star rating, and you may think you can only afford, say, a 3-star.
But if you're looking at holidays in Italy, Croatia, Turkey etc, go up to 4-star - they're often only marginally different in price for far better value.
6. Child's play
Bringing children on holiday is a bit of a nightmare, but planning properly means you can all enjoy it rather than returning home in a frazzled mess, vowing to never go again.
When booking, acknowledge your time as a free and easy singleton is over. It will return, but in the meantime, it's kids clubs, resorts and dinner at 5pm. You will be surrounded by other families in exactly the same position, so get over it. This is why French campsites are so popular - there are no time-controlled meals, dress code or having to be out of your room so the cleaner can get in.
Eurocamp, Hello France and Europarcs are popular booking sites and you will meet other Irish families there... if that's what you want, of course! But book early, the top sites with the most amenities get booked up, often from the previous summer.
7. Money, money, money
Using your debit card abroad is just the same as here. There should not be extra charges in EU countries for transactions or cash withdrawals.
The same is not always true of credit cards, so always check if there's a fee. Never, ever take out cash using a credit card at an ATM - you will be charged interest immediately and possibly a cash withdrawal fee.
When paying for restaurant meals, don't allow your card out of your sight - this is the most common way to get skimmed and your bank account emptied.