When it comes to holiday shopping it is all about the research; finding the best price, the best excursions, the best ways to travel. Here’s our tips on getting the most out of your trips:
A good starting point is to have somewhere in mind you want to go. I actually keep a bucket list of the places I want to visit/activities I want to do, so when it comes to picking a destination for the year, I’ve got it as a starting point- something I’d recommend you do too; consider the places you want to visit or once in a lifetime activities e.g. swim with dolphins and add them to a list you can continually refer to.
Further research on your desired destination: Once you’ve a rough idea on where you might like to go, look at the popular attractions and excursions on what might interest you. For city breaks, all/most attractions are relatively easy to access because they’re in a central location. In a more distinct destination such as Sri Lanka, to visit the most popular attractions staying in one resort isn’t really a viable option because some destinations can be 5-6 hours drive away (and drivers can’t do a round trip in one day)- finding out sooner rather than later could save you time and money. I’d also look for best times to go both for special events and weather- nothing like visiting a beach destination in storm season!
When picking a destination, see if there is anything else you can team it with. For example, when I was in New York recently I decided to fly to Chicago for a night to see the Bulls play- internal flights in the US are reasonable, and is an easy way to travel. Once I’ve made that long haul flight I may as well make the most of the trip and my visa.
Costing it up:
Once you’ve established the above, it’s time to move on to the cost research. For this aspect, there is one of two ways of doing this. You could either search for a rough price in advance and then follow it up by checking out the prices with your local travel agent or vice versa. I’d recommend you do both aspects though to get the best deal. See below:
If this is totally new to you, as a starting point I’d strongly recommend you visit a travel agent to get a further grasp of the destination and the expected costs. It gives you a benchmark and something to work with. There is also a chance they’ve been to the destination you’re looking at so can guide you further and make recommendations on what to do whilst there.
Benefits of using a travel agent:
- Benchmark for pricing
- Destination recommendations
- Plan all aspects of your travel from flight, hotel and transfers
- You’re fully protected by their regulations, however, travel insurance is still essential
- They’ve secured good deals for your favourite destinations in advance so some can be really competitive (see my breakdown below)
- Pay a deposit to secure the break and then pay in installments/before you go- making a costly holiday more manageable and realistic.
In terms of the travel agents you’ll find on the high street, I’ve broken down my particular experience with them and where their specialties lie. I would recommend Thomas Cook and Virgin as the preferred agents of mine but depending on your destination and/or occasion (birthday, anniversary, honeymoon etc.) you may want to consider Kuoni as well.
First Choice– vague knowledge of destinations/ability to offer recommendations (agents are usually very busy, I’d recommend scheduling an appointment), broad range of destinations including Europe and International. Prices vary between Thomas Cook and Thomson offering.
Kuoni- Luxury specialists, very knowledgeable on destinations as they send their agents around the world to best advise their customers, pay a bit more but get more for your money.
Thomas Cook– Often very busy so recommend scheduling an appointment, usually quite reasonable, great selection of destinations and can/do offer great destination advice.
TUI/Thomson– to be honest, I wouldn’t bother looking with these. On each opportunity I’ve given them to price up a holiday it has always been twice the price of where I can get it elsewhere (same flights and hotels!). They often use a 3rd party agent Hayes and Jarvis for their trips which is why it is so much more expensive.
Virgin Holidays– Excellent customer service, offer holidays for international destinations (USA, Caribbean, Mexico, Africa, Canada, Asia, Indian Ocean etc.), can make some travel recommendations or at least put you in touch with someone who can help further and actually can be quite reasonable (our recent one was with them, they had an incredible deal- even they couldn’t believe it!).
Now you’re more equipped with information on your desired location and a ballpark of costs, it’s worth seeing it you can beat it booking yourself, here’s how:
Starting with Flights:
Skyscanner is one of my favourite sites. Put in your preferred airport, your desired destination and search around the month (rather than specific dates) of when you’d like to go. It then brings up a grid with a baseline of prices. Play around to see what good deals you can get. Something to note about Skyscanner is that it advertises flight offers with every airline and travel agent (even some obscure ones you’ll not have heard of) so when you’ve found something you like, do a search on the company and airline that you’ll be using and what protection you’ll be getting or look to the airline directly. Trustpilot is very helpful for reviews as is a generic Google search.
Search with the airline directly; you can find out who flies to your desired destination either by looking at your preferred airline’s site directly or by looking at the destination airport for who flies into them. For long haul, I do like Virgin Atlantic for their customer service and comfy flights but if they fly to a destination frequently (e.g. New York they go there 4-5 times per day), they’ll be very reasonable compared to other airlines. A bonus is the larger companies for long haul include taxes and fees within their pricing so there is nothing hidden. Relatively new to the long haul game is Norwegian Air who offer European prices for long haul trips. But bear in mind this will exclude meal and entertainment options that you do get built in to your price with the bigger airlines. Baggage now, across most airlines is an optional extra so be sure to check what the price covers when you make your booking.
For European flights Easyjet is always a winner in my eyes. Their prices are competitive (though note they’ll add charges at the end- though not as bad as Ryanair) and actually the planes are not bad at all (again, not like Ryanair). Although I’ve ribbed on Ryanair a fair amount, if you really want budget, you can’t go wrong. The planes are really nothing special, the service is just fine but you really can get ridiculously cheap flights.
As for hotels:
Booking.com– are a preferred hotel agent of mine, mainly for the functionality (always search by 7+ review ratings) as it allows me to customise to my needs. Moreover, a lot of hotels offer free cancellation which is ideal in case plans change and/or you find a better deal elsewhere. I’ve also found them to be 9 times out of 10 cheaper than other providers.
Expedia– occasionally offer free cancellation and have a wide selection too. Additionally, you can also collect nectar points with them and even get cashback with TopCashback so worth factoring this into the hotel price against other agents.
Want to make a comparison? TripAdvisor is the best site. Not only will they compare the sites like Booking.com and Expedia for you but you can see some very honest reviews from people who’ve stayed there or had experiences there.
- Transfers from airport to hotel and vice versa
- Airport parking
For transfers and airport parking we’d recommend that you take a look at the airport website and find out who has service in the local area. Don’t hesitate to comment below either, we’ll do what we can to help!