Summer Holidays: Are January sales offers the real deal?
Just as in the shops, the sales season for the holiday market is in full swing. Despite all the trends to book later and later, January is still the month when most summer holidays are sold, and tour operators do their level best to tempt us to book.
But how tempting are the offers and incentives they promote?
The reality is that most should be treated with great caution. With very few exceptions, the price of holidays and most types of travel is no longer fixed.
There may be a 'brochure' price, but there is no guarantee how many holidays have been sold at that rate -- it can be changed without notice, and it may drop substantially as the departure date approaches.
However, if you want to be sure of booking a particular hotel or event, or want to travel in the school holidays or in peak season generally, early deals can be a good opportunity to secure your holiday at a competitive price.
If you want to travel at other times, don't be tempted to rush into booking unless you are sure you are getting a good deal.
The only price that matters is the one on the bottom line. Make sure you are happy with that, rather than be distracted by an apparent discount or incentive.
One way of tempting customers is the low deposit. This is a classic way of luring you to commit to a holiday. It can be helpful -- you secure the deal you want, while forking out less than you thought you might have to initially.
But you are still committing fully to buying the holiday. And if you go ahead, you're likely to have to pay the full balance months before departure. So, if you're booking for July, you could be paying the full price in March.
In reality, a low deposit doesn't buy you much breathing space and is not worth having on its own account. The overall price you will pay is much more important.
Free child places, however, can make a real difference to the cost of a family holiday and amount to a considerable saving on the overall price.
As a rule, you are effectively saving on the child's airfare and meals, because to get the deal, children will be expected to share their parents' room.
But watch out for the small print. Often children are still charged full deposits, insurance premiums, and flight, room and board supplements.
Tread carefully, too, with 'free night' offers. These are couched in lots of different ways -- from two weeks for the price of one, to three nights for the price of two and so on.
This is a promising time of year for such offers, but watch out for excluded dates: Friday and Saturday nights are often not part of the deal.
One area where it is relatively easy to spot a deal is the regular round of offers on air fares. These are usually confined to low season, when airlines struggle to fill all their seats, but the fares are often exceptionally attractive -- as long as you make sure taxes and charges are included.
Because fares tend to rise the nearer you get to the departure date, it is worth snapping them up.
The best thing to do is to sign up to distribution lists on airline websites, so that you get early notice.