10 ways to bag a holiday bargain over the Easter break
Deals & Steals
Easter stretches to almost three weeks this year, and the scramble for sun holidays is on. Here's how to beat the crowds - without breaking the bank.
Mulchy weather. Early darkness. Post-festive penny-pinching.
It's little wonder January is the peak travel sales period in Ireland - with punters flocking to put deposits down on dreams of sun, sea and sand.
But summer isn't the only holiday to look forward to this year. A glitch in Ireland's calendrical Matrix means the Easter holidays extend from Saint Patrick's Day through to April 4th in 2016. That's almost three weeks - a whopping stretch, and a tantalising window for a family holiday.
There is a problem, however. Recent events have pushed Egypt and Tunisia off the brochures, and many Mediterranean destinations won't have warmed up enough in March to break out the beachwear. The laws of supply and demand are kicking in. Holidays are already selling like hotcakes.
Here's how to beat the crowds without breaking the bank…
1. Think outside the box
Think of a package holiday and seven-day, Saturday-to-Saturday sunshine springs to mind. It doesn't have to be that way. More and more travel agents are packaging accommodation with scheduled (as opposed to charter) flights, giving a huge amount of flexibility. Why not travel for four or five days instead of seven? Try clickandgo.com, lowcostholidays.ie and gohop.ie for starters.
2. Take the indirect route
Aer Lingus has a summer sale running to midnight on January 18, with one-way transatlantic fares starting from €255. You'll be lucky to get those prices during holiday periods, however - going to press, I couldn't find return flights to Orlando for less than €780pp over the Easter hols.
By contrast, American Holidays (americanholidays.com) has a package to Orlando, including flights and 14 nights accommodation, from €858pp. Why? Because demand is huge for direct flights, but tour operators like this, Sunway and Tour America use US carriers flying via London, New York or Atlanta. The trip is a few hours longer, but the total bill is a heck of a lot lower.
3. Hit the city
Much as the idea of a sun holiday appeals in wet weather, few European destinations are hot enough to get you splashing about in the Med come March. So why not do a city break in the cool temperatures instead?
By travelling midweek, you get to combine off-peak airfares with cheaper hotel accommodation. Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie) has three nights in Barcelona or Rome from as little as €215pp in late March, for example.
4. Skip the Canaries
Winter sun packages are soaring in the Canary Islands, particularly in quality four and five-star resorts. That's due to the fact that Irish and Northern European holidaymakers are looking for alternatives to North Africa, and the relative lack of competing destinations on the Med at this time if year. My tip? Step down a star rating to save money, or skip the archipelago entirely. By summertime, capacity and competition should see prices drop again.
5. Check your passport
Yes, this is Travel 101. If a single passport is out of date, however, your whole family risks losing its holiday. The Irish Passport Service processed over 600,000 new passports last year, but January is a good time to apply for a replacement (and certainly a lot better than June or July).
We don't handle passports often, and they're not required to book flights, so this is an easy one to let slip. And it's not just the expiry date - some countries, including Turkey, Thailand and Dubai, require six months validity.
An Post's Passport Express (dfa.ie) programme costs €80 for adults and €26.50 for kids, plus postage. Renewals take about 10 days.
6. Pick your moment
In my experience, it's cheaper to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. My logic is that most travellers jet off on Thursdays and Fridays, returning home on Sundays. Those flying against the traffic stand to make savings.
Recent research shows that Friday could be the most expensive day of the week to buy a plane ticket, with flights on average 13pc dearer than those booked on Sundays. Airlines never reveal this information - for obvious reasons.
Whatever day you book, shop around using websites like skyscanner.ie or kayak.com. Booking flights at the last minute - especially for families - is the absolute worst thing you can do. And it's stressful, too.
7. Hit Holiday World for deals
This year's Holiday World Show at the RDS in Dublin (holidayworldshow.com; Jan 22-24) offers the chance to talk to more than 1,000 travel and tourism professionals and enjoy a heap of show-only deals.
Yes, that sounds exhausting. But if you do your homework, go early and target stands of genuine interest, you could leave the RDS with a bargain.
8. Pick a posh-tel...
Luxury hostels are very much on-trend in 2016, so why not free yourself from hotel thinking and take a look? Generator Hostels (generatorhostels.com) or U Hostels in Madrid (en.uhostels.com) do family rooms, and they've got bars, restaurants and organised events too. The result is both classy and cheap. Generator's hostel in Berlin Mitte, for example, has private rooms sleeping four from €20.70 per person per night over the Easter break.
9. Shop around
We've all spent hours online trying to save a fiver on a flight or a hotel break. Is it worth it? If you're travelling with a family, why not go old-school and give your local travel agent or tour operator a call. They'll know the range of available resorts, and they can bundle flights, accommodation and transfers in one price.
Failing that, log on to itaa.ie/offers - where members of the Irish Travel Agents' Association (ITAA) members post their weekly special offers. You may still spend hours online. But you'll save more than a fiver.
10. April is the kindest month
If an Easter escape proves too expensive, consider travelling in April instead. Granted, this will pose a problem for families with kids in school - but that's the point. With the holidays over, and airline summer schedules in full flight, a real sweet spot for travel will open up. Expect deals aplenty.
6 of the best: Easter Travel deals
1. Away to the Algarve
Going to press, Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) had seven-day holidays in the Algarve from €859 for a family of three (two adults and one child) over Easter, with prices in Majorca from €945 and the Costa del Sol from €979.
2. Bella Italia
Topflight (topflight.ie) has lead-in prices at Bella Italia (pictured top), a hugely popular family resort on Lake Garda, from €399pp. The price is based on two adults and two children sharing a March 26 departure, and includes resort transfers.
3. Ferry good Haven deals
You don't have to fly away this Easter. Irish Ferries has packages with UK Haven Holiday Parks (irishferries.com/haven) starting from €452 for a family of four - including three nights in a holiday home with return ferry crossing.
4. Hit the slopes
Fancy a little snow? Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie) has 3-star, self-catering packages in Alpe d'Huez from €592pp departing March 26. Meanwhile, DirectSki.com has seven-day packages in Austria's Zell am See from €499pp departing March 26 (based on two adults and two children sharing).
5. Sunshine State: Orlando
Sunway (sunway.ie) has a week's holiday in Orlando, including flights and accommodation at the 3-star Rosen Inn at Pointe, from €710pp. The trip is based on two adults and two children sharing.
6. Splash out in Lanzarote
Falcon's Splashworld resorts (falconholidays.ie) combine waterparks with all-inclusive family accommodation, and it has seven nights for a family of four at the 3-star Lanzasur Splashworld in Playa Blanca from €3,310 for two adults and one child, or €4,329 for a family of four. All meals and drinks included.
For the best hotel breaks this Easter, see hotels.independent.ie.
NB: All prices subject to availability