Our top holiday booking hacks

These tricks could get you a bargain vacation

If you’re ready to book your next getaway, there are plenty of ways you can save money doing so. We’ve pulled together some helpful hacks for booking your dream holiday at the best price.

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Booking a holiday in the January sales

From Boxing Day onwards, many tour operators and airlines begin to offer cut price getaways. In fact, The Telegraph called the post-Christmas booking boom the busiest period in the travel industry. So can you find a bargain if everyone else is booking at the same time?

There are lots of discounts and offers to entice you and if these can save you money on a holiday or flight, then booking now is a good time as availability is high. We’re not saying you won’t find a holiday cheaper or a bargain flight at a later date — something we can’t predict as it all depends on supply and demand — but if you find what you want and there’s a good discount, do the sums and if you can afford to, then January is a good time to book.

Top tip: many tour operators offer various price-match guarantees, although the terms and conditions differ greatly. If you do find your holiday cheaper at a later date, it is worth seeing if the travel provider will refund the difference.

Wait to the last minute

Alternatively, if you are flexible with dates or even destination, then booking a last minute package deal could save you pounds. Some tour operators drop prices massively eight weeks before departure. You can even book a last minute package deal just to get a flight cheaper and not even use the hotel, as leaving flight bookings to the last minute can be expensive.

Top tip: use a comparison site like Holiday Pirates to find last minute deals from ski holidays to cruises and everything in between. If you’re flexible about your holiday location, then just select ‘anywhere’ in the destination box for a page full of inspiration and bargains!

Take advantage of low deposits

Many tour operators offer low deposits and pay later incentives and you can take advantage of these. Just remember that you’re still entering into a contract to pay the full amount by a later date, so if you cancel your holiday, you are still liable to pay in full. 

Top tip: paying the deposit now and paying off the balance nearer to departure, means you have time to save up. Or, if you’ve already saved, then you can leave your money where it is gaining you some much needed interest. Read our guide on the best savings accounts.

Make your own package holiday

There is no correct answer whether a DIY holiday is cheaper than going for a package, so do your homework and look at both options. 

Don’t forget to take into account all the extras a package deal might give you such as transfers, baggage allowance, free child places etc. 

However there is one package holiday benefit you can get even if you book separately. ABTA protection is a useful extra to help mitigate against problems such as an airline or hotel going bust.

This comes with all packages but you can also get it if you book a stay and a form of transport from the same website within 24 hours.

Top tip: Did you know that if you find a flight you want on some airlines, BA is a great example, but don’t have the funds to pay for it now, you can search for the same flight as part of a BA package by adding a hotel or hire car for example (you can add just a night’s hotel stay). By changing the flight to a package allows you to only pay the deposit, so you have time to save up before the balance is due closer to the departure date.

Just to note you are still liable to pay the full amount so this hack doesn’t help with cancellations.

Use comparison sites to find accommodation

Different sites offer different prices so you’ll often find the same room on hotels.com at a different price on Booking.com for example. So using a site like Kayak or even Google (look at the side bar) will help you see the different prices (though there might be extra discounts when you sign in to the individual booking sites).

Hotels would prefer you to book directly with them so it is worth checking their own websites for prices, or even giving them a call, to see if they can beat the price offered by a site.

Top tip: booking for a family greater than four? Some booking sites and even some hotel chain websites, tend to try to give you two rooms when you request for more than four people, but if you read the small print or check the hotel details, it will often state that you can have more children in a room and sometimes just pay a small extra for a roll-away bed – far cheaper than booking two separate rooms.

Don’t discard the smaller airlines

Many people like to stick with the big airlines for reassurance when it comes to flight changes, delays etc, but smaller airlines can be just as good. I recently flew Norse airways to the US as the price of the flight (plus all the extras like luggage and golf clubs) was still cheaper than BA or Virgin.

I couldn’t fault the service, the flight times were perfect, the planes were my favourite Dreamliners and the only downside I could find was that the film selection wasn’t great but that’s not a deal breaker for me!

Top tip: if you like the premium experience, rather than paying for it when you book, take a gamble and hold out until a few days before your flight and put a bid in to upgrade. I managed to get five Premium Economy flights with Norse for an extra £150 each but if I had booked the Premium Economy at the time of booking it would have been just under £500 extra per person.

I’ve not won any bids I’ve done with Virgin in the past, but my success with Norse, travelling in peak time, gives me the incentive to try again, as who doesn’t like a bit of luxury for economy prices!

When to book a flight

Expedia’s air travel hacks are a great start when booking flights. They’ve done the research to show you:

  • The best day to book: Sunday
  • The best lead time for flights: two months in advance for domestic flights and four months in advance for international flights
  • The best day to depart: Saturday for domestic flights and Friday for international travel

Top tip: If you need to go away in the school holidays, then booking towards the end of the holiday, for example the last two weeks of August, is almost always cheaper.

Book your extras early

Booking airport parking on the day you book your holiday can save you a lot of money compared to booking it closer to your date of travel. Also, adding extra luggage is cheaper to do before you travel, so don’t wait to do it at the airport as you could end up paying more.

If you are planning to buy foreign currency then don’t leave it until you get to the airport as the rates they offer are never good. Even better, use a credit or debit card with no exchange fees and you’ll usually get a rate that usually beats the exchange rates offered for cash. Read our top guide for the best travel debit and credit cards available.

Booking hire cars can sometimes be more expensive when you book it in advance, but you can take advantage of the free cancellation that most hire car companies offer. Just keep checking on the prices right the way up to your travel date and if it comes down in price, cancel and rebook. I did this 3 times for my recent trip to the US and saved £400 and it took less than five minutes to do. 

This also works for hotel bookings so pick one that can be cancelled, and if the price drops, rebook or even book somewhere nicer for the same price.

Top tip: book your travel insurance early too, preferably when you book your holiday so you’re covered if anything prevents you from travelling. Learn more about travel insurance here.

Use cashback sites to book everything!

Don’t forget to use cashback sites like Quidco and TopCashBack to book your holidays, flights, airport parking, lounge access, hire cars, excursions, attraction tickets and anything else you may need for the perfect holiday. All that cashback will add up but just so you know, most will pay out after you’ve taken your trip, sometimes as much as six months later – but hey you can use that cashback for your next booking!

Top tip: It’s not always possible to stack cashback with other offers, but Hotels.com’s loyalty scheme offers a free night’s stay after 10 nights (based on the average amount paid over those stays). That’s effectively 10% back which can be combined with similar rates on Quidco and TopCashback.

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