My month in money #7: Holiday plans, bad eggs and cheap family activities

What I’ve actually done this month to be clever with my cash.

There are a couple of thoughts behind this feature. Often there are small things I’m doing that don’t warrant a whole article so this can bring them together! Plus, it’s a great way to show that I “walk the walk” and really do follow my own advice!

So here are the key money matters from my own life in July 2022.

You can also listen to me talk about this month on my Cash Chats podcast

Careful car hire

We’re planning a holiday for later this year, and it was a good time to reacquaint myself with some neglected booking tricks.

With car hire, I shopped around on a few different comparison sites – Holiday Autos, Kayak and xx. Broadly they returned the same results from the same hire company and third parties, but I did manage to pay £50 less eventually for the exact same car from the same hire company.

Be careful of the extras they’ll try to flog you, especially collision waiver cover. This can be pretty pricey direct from the hire company, but it’s available for much less from third parties. It might even be included in other cover you’ve got, so check. 

And though they’ll probably give us a choice at the desk, it’s worth using a credit card when paying upfront in case they also use it for security hold. Often the money is just ring fenced, but if they do actually take the money out it and you use a debit card it can deplete your bank balance in an instant.

Since Becky is the main driver I also made sure I used the credit card in her name rather than mine to avoid any potential issues when we pick the car up. 

Paying attention to hotel bookings

We’ve also been booking hotels, and again wherever possible I’ve gone for ones with free cancellation, though I nearly got caught out with one Booking.com purchase.

I used the Metro offer I mentioned in my deals a while ago which will hopefully get me a £65 Amazon voucher (yes I know I don’t use Amazon, but I can either make an exception or sell it), and planned to also combine it with a recent Amex/PayPal promotion that would knock another £20 off. 

But before I clicked pay I realised the amount was in US dollars rather than pounds. What’s the problem there? Well my Amex isn’t fee-free to use in foreign currencies. In fact it has a 2.95% transaction fee. 

So yes I’d have got £20 credit from the offer, but it would have been reduced by the £11 ish fee I’d have been charged.

This isn’t anything new, I’d just forgotten about it after years without travel. And though I spotted it I do think it should have been clearer. So watch out!

I made the call that I’d have other opportunities to use the PayPal promo, and switched to my Chase debit card. Fee free and 1% cashback.

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Cat sitting beats hotel stay

Sticking with travel, this time domestic, I headed down to London for a friend’s 40th birthday and coincidentally another friend needed a cat sitter for the same weekend.

Sid is a stunner (here’s his Insta), so I thought it would be a fun thing to do, as well as save me three nights of a hotel. Winning!

It prompted me to look at a few cat sitting websites for our holiday, but I didn’t find anything to sit our destination or dates. Still I’d be keen to hear your experiences of this.

New train ticket savings

I also had some mixed train experiences. Heading to Leeds with Becky and buying two tickets at the station machine worked out cheaper than two advance individual tickets. Though not every operator offers these “duo” tickets, it’s worth checking!

Meanwhile, I found I was able to change my advance ticket to London (for the cat sitting) to an earlier train to allow for an event that popped in the diary for earlier that day.

I hadn’t realised this flexibility was an option – albeit for the difference in price. Sadly the train I needed to take only had first class seats available so it was another £50. And since it was the start of school holidays and the day after the strikes I didn’t get the peaceful journey I hoped for! 

Entertaining kids

Obviously the school holidays are in force to I was really happy that my sister, niece and nephew came to visit. But entertaining kids even for a few days isn’t cheap! 

If you’re a parent you really have my sympathy. It’s absolutely going to be harder this summer to avoid creeping costs.

We managed to save on all our activities though. I took out a 45 days Kids Pass trial for £1, getting me 30% off “on the door” prices for tickets to the Flamingo Land theme park. It was still pricey at £33 each – even for a seven year old.

Other savings were bigger. We also used a free National Trust pass deal from earlier in the summer to get free entrance to the local Fountains Abbey, saving £42.50, and took out a free trial of Lucky Voice home karaoke.

I’ve obviously cancelled both the Kids Pass and Lucky Voice to avoid charges when the trials end.

Sport means no streaming

I’m often going on about ditching and switching streaming services as you can never get full value from more than one in any month.

Well July was a great example of when you can ditch them all – as long as you like sports.

I’ve mainly been watching Wimbledon, the Athletics World Championship and Women’s Euros, and in the last few days the Commonwealth Games too. All on the BBC so covered by the TV Licence!

Bad eggs and bad service

I had a couple of poor customer service experiences. One, at a brunch with a friend, her poached eggs were practically soft boiled eggs. This was a place that specialised in eggs!

She did what I’d do and politely sent it back. The replacement (which took 20 minutes to arrive – a long time for eggs on toast) had exactly the same issue! 

Now, you’d expect some kind of apology, perhaps the offer to comp the meal or part of it. Sadly not.  Everyone had an attitude.

We asked for the meal to be taken off the bill, and it begrudgingly was, but the service as a whole was so appalling I was tempted to not tip either.

But that has become even more complicated and potentially confrontational now we always pay with cards and have no cash.

I’d much rather there’s the option to type in your own tip level than have it automatically added to the bill.

Incidentally, if I pay with a voucher or other offer I make sure the tip reflects what the full bill should have been.

Virgin Media’s low “Volt”-customer service

My other customer service nightmare was with Virgin Media. Months back I activated the Volt offer that’s available if you also have a SIM with O2. Most of the features were activated such as free worldwide roaming and I even got 12 months free Amazon Prime Video (it should only have been three months).

But what didn’t take was the speed increase on my broadband. So I got in touch on live chat. As has been the case for years now, you get shifted to What’s App and are told you’d be contacted later that day. Well it took more than 24 hours before I got hold of a person.

And then it took AN HOUR to get the situation resolved. Essentially the customer service agent had a severe case of “computersaynoitis” and refused to believe that I wasn’t already on an increased speed.

They offered me the opportunity to pay more for the increase, and even the chance to get a Virgin Media Stream box for £30. Neither of these were what I wanted – a good reminder to stick to your guns rather than get fobbed off by extras you don’t need. 

Eventually thanks to screen shots and persistence I got the increase added with no extra charge.

And the rest…

I can’t remember everything but a few extras in brief…

  • I used my Santander 123 Lite debit card so it would get renewed – that could be handy if I ever need to use it for switching
  • I cleared out my Quidco and TopCashback accounts rather than leave the money sitting there
  • I managed to beat the crowds and get a new fan delivered before they sold out, using one of the 20% off John Lewis gift cards I nabbed from the monthly Monese special offer
  • I took full advantage of my £1 Telegraph Extras subscription with a £10 bottle of gin and free book box (both of which came with lots of extra treats), as well as using the free Child rental to watch Parallel Mothers
  • I only used my Odeon freebie from O2 once, to see the new Thor movie. The half price theatre off returned 
  • I stacked a TopCashback bonus (£2) with the Amex/PayPal deal (£15) and a £20 off voucher on Space NK to get £100 of toiletries for £63
  • I renewed my Halifax Reward current account reward – more on this in my next Current Account update article

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