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Don't let your guard down when it comes to planning holidays


HOLIDAYS: Fly off if you like, but keep soaring costs in check

HOLIDAYS: Fly off if you like, but keep soaring costs in check

HOLIDAYS: Fly off if you like, but keep soaring costs in check

With the first summer bank holiday weekend of the year now upon us, you could be busy planning your big holiday for the year. It's important not to break the bank when doing so, however. Here are 10 tips which should help you keep the cost of your summer vacation in check.

* If you haven't yet booked, don't worry. Some of the best bargains are last minute, as long as you're flexible on location and dates.

There are over 200 daily deals published on discount sites every day. I like GrabOne, Pigsback (who have a new app) and LivingSocial. Follow Ryanair on Twitter for flash sales. Lidl-breaks.ie also offers great value.

* Book mid-week flights. Wednesday is best. If you're prepared to get up at ridiculous o'clock and sleep on the plane, you'll save more.

It can be cheaper to get a package where you fly out of Belfast Airport. EasyJet, Thomson and Thomas Cook all depart from there. Use Skyscanner.ie to compare airlines – it can be cheaper to fly one outbound, another inbound.

* Airport parking is expensive. You'll pay for proximity so leaving a bit of extra time can ensure cheaper prices.

The Dublin Airport Authority operates two long-term car parks from €4.95 to €9.50 a day depending where and how you book. Quickpark is €3 - €8.50 a day depending on length of stay. Both have excellent shuttles 24/7. Consider Bewley's, Carlton and Premier Inn hotels' parking services but check how often the shuttle departs, and use the trawler web site Parksmart.ie.

* Car hire is a great way to get around, but fraught with added expense. If the car is damaged in an accident, you could have to cover the first €1,350 of damage before the car hire company's insurance kicks in – even if you're not at fault for the damage. All car hire companies will insist on credit card bookings to recover this money if they need to.

None I saw took cash or a debit card. I found Budget (budget.ie) easiest to navigate. Consider booking a car via American sites – the value can be better. Ebookers.ie is a great car hire trawl site.

Download destination maps and bring your own SatNav – hiring one can cost up to €20 a day. Find out if you need to return the car with the tank full or empty – there can be a 20 per cent 'service fee' if you get it wrong.

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* Travel insurance is a necessary evil, but never go without it. If you have private health insurance, you are covered while abroad, but only for hospitalisation. It won't cover lost bags, delayed flights or dodgy accommodation.

Buy annual, multi-trip insurance – it's far cheaper than individual. Blue Insurance, under various guises, corners the market, but try comparetravelinsuranceireland.com for options.

Always bring your EHIC card (ehic.ie) when travelling in the EU to avail of medical services. Invariably you will end up over-insured but better safe than sorry.

* If you're staycationing, avail of the benefits foreigners enjoy. The OPW Heritage card, €21 (adults), €16 (OAPs) €8 (kids), offers free access to dozens of sites around the country (heritageireland.ie). And Irish Rail's Trekker pass offers four days unlimited travel for €110.

Bring your own lunch to avoid expensive restaurants at top attractions. Picnics are the very essence of holidays. If driving, fill up at the cheapest garage en route (use pumps.ie for up-to-date information).

* The new Visa Debit cards are streamlining banking across Europe. If you haven't got yours yet, contact your bank and swap your old Laser card. It can be used online and worldwide wherever the Visa symbol is displayed and you're only spending your own money.

If you're bringing a credit card, load it up before you go, rather than face a bill afterwards. Never use it to withdraw cash abroad – you'll be charged a 'cash advance fee' of up to 2.75 per cent.

* The euro has made foreign currency hassles almost a thing of the past.

An Post offers commission-free sterling and dollars, but do check the rate offered against the one you'll get in a bank to be sure you're actually getting a good deal. Never buy currency at the airport or in your hotel.

Try the xe.com app for quick currency conversions. Break your spending money into a daily budget. It's easy to spend at the beginning of a holiday only to find yourself living on bread rolls and paint-stripper vino towards the end.

* So, you've arrived but it's a disaster. You've been stricken by missed flights, crumbling hotels and cockroach infestation. Know your rights.

Under the Montreal Convention, you have specific rights on delayed/cancelled flights and lost luggage with which your airline must assist. See aviationreg.ie.

Accommodation is trickier. If it's a package, ask the rep firmly for a transfer, or the hotel manager for a refund. If they're reluctant, threaten a complaint to the local tourist office; hotels rely on them for business. Take photos. On return, complain in writing within 28 days, asking for a resolution within 14. Be specific. Having a "terrible time" is not grounds for a refund. Contact other aggrieved guests; if there aren't any, perhaps you should have another Sangria and chill.

Consider taking a case through the Small Claims Court (csol.ie) if all else fails. I successfully got a full refund on one disastrous holiday, but despite over 100 fellow holidaymakers complaining, only three of us pursued the company all the way. It costs €25 and you don't need a solicitor.

* You didn't do any of the above and you're in financial doo-doo when you get home.

Switch your credit card debt to a low-interest balance card for six months and pay it off. Or see if you can get a short-term credit union loan to repay it.

Then budget for next year. Open an online deposit account (for free) to transfer to. Name it "holiday account" to avoid temptation.

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