How you and your family can fly to the sun – without getting burned
Aideen Sheehan on why the holiday of your dreams doesn't have to break the bank
Holiday dreams and planning are the way many of us get through dreary February days, but with money too tight to mention, how can consumers be sure they'll get the best deal on a yearly break?
We looked at when the best time to book is and highlight some key ways consumers can save money.
While consumers can always hope for a great last-minute deal, these have been few and far between in recent years due to the massive reduction in package holidays down from 1.2 million in 2007 to just 225,000 this year.
Pat Dawson of the Irish Travel Agents Association said airfares had risen by 15-20pc in the last year, meaning the days of ultracheap flights were over, but things had bottomed out for the travel industry with thousands of families already booked for next summer.
Many tour operators are offering discounts if you book early.
Don't assume the DIY option is always cheapest. While most of us now book our own accommodation and flights online, sometimes it's cheaper to go with a package.
Travel agents also generally allow you to pay by instalment, meaning you can spread the cost of your trip, while you'll be covered if there's a problem like ash clouds.
Check out charter flights
We're accustomed to thinking that so-called "low cost" airlines will always offer the cheapest flights, but while that's often true, during the peak summer period it frequently isn't.
Charter flights can be cheaper and usually include a baggage allowance – and there's more chance of getting a late bargain.
Buy car hire excess insurance
Car rental firms are notorious for imposing hefty bills for the tiniest scratch which isn't usually covered by your main insurance with them as it falls under the minimum "excess" level which you have to pay for yourself.
However, buying a separate insurance policy to cover such claims could save you hundreds of euro in the event of minor damage and give peace of mind.
Travel outside school holidays
Irish primary schools close down at the end of June, meaning many families are tied to July and August when the rest of Europe is also on holidays, sending hotel costs soaring.
For anyone free of school constraints, booking a holiday in off-peak months nearly always works out cheaper.
It's also worth noting that the British school holidays run from July 19 or 26 – meaning if you can squeeze in your break before those dates, you'll often avoid the price hikes seen in destinations such as Brittany when UK holidaymakers descend.
Buy currency in advance
Airport kiosks generally offer the worst rates, and that's particularly true in some arrivals areas where they've got a captive market.
Get your money at home or use your debit card abroad to withdraw cash.
Pay by debit card
Ryanair has been forced by the Office of Fair Trade in the UK to stop charging hefty fees for using your debit card to pay, meaning now there's no extra charge.
However, if you use your credit card Ryanair now also charges 2pc on top of the total costs.
Aer Lingus is still charging a €6 per person per flight administration fee on at the end of the booking process.