If you are booking online, it is important to shop around. This is even if you know what hotel you want to stay at—some hotels are starting to promise that the best prices can be obtained through their website. You should also check a couple of the best hotel booking websites, such as booking.com and hotelscombined.com.
If the online rate is better than that advertised by the hotel, it is always worth phoning or emailing them to see if they can beat it. And don’t just think in money terms. If you’re speaking with the hotel, see whether they can throw in free breakfast (if it isn’t included) or a room upgrade or some other perk (eg a slightly larger room, or one with a better view, or one at the end of a corridor—which will be quieter than a room next to a lift).
If you arrive in a city without a booking, don’t worry – this can be a great time to get a deal. If you are travelling with a companion, leave them in a coffee shop with the luggage and go and check out the options. Remember to ask to see the room that you are being offered before agreeing to stay. And try to haggle, in the ways suggested above.
Here’s some general advice on getting the best deals.
As with hotels, it is a good idea to shop around. Start with the best comparison websites: we recommend skyscanner.com and airfarewatchdog.com. But don’t assume that they will include flights from all budget operators, so check these separately.
Once you’ve found the cheapest fare, double-check it against the airline’s own website. They may have a sale on or be offering an upgraded cabin for not much more (on occasion, we’ve found that first class BA seats are offered for nearly the same price as those in business class).
Here are some tips on getting the best fares:
Timing is everything. Airline tickets go on sale 11 months before departure, but fares only tend to start to change in price about 5 months (150 days) out. From there on in, ticket prices will fluctuate but will tend to rise (especially in the 28 days before departure). So book early, especially if you're travelling during a holiday period.
Be flexible. A little flexibility on your departure and return dates and times can have an enormous impact on cost. So check out flight prices for the 2 days before and after your preferred travel date, and consider travelling at an anti-social hour (late on Friday evening seems to be a good bet for cheap flights).
Check with your agent. Some travel agents are still able to beat online prices—so check whether they can better the deals you have researched.
Spending abroad is a complicated business. Should you take foreign currency with you or withdraw money from cash machines? Should you use your debit or credit card? Should you choose to pay in the local currency?
Dealing with cash first, there are a couple of absolute rules. First, don’t change money at the airport – you will be offered bad rates, particularly if you haven’t pre-ordered. Secondly, if you are withdrawing cash from an overseas ATM, always choose to pay in the local currency. This way, it will be your bank and not the foreign bank whose ATM you are using that will decide the exchange rate to be applied.
In addition, choose your bank carefully: the charges levied when using overseas cash machines vary greatly (the worst UK providers charge 'non-sterling transaction' and 'cash withdrawal' fees that amount to 6% of the sum withdrawn).
Spending on cards
As a general rule, you should use your credit card when making substantial purchases abroad. This is because many states have legislation that make the credit card company liable for any breach of contract committed by the vendor (in the UK the protection is contained in s. 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974). This is important: imagine trying to get money out of the vendor of a Persian rug purchased from a Turkish bazaar. Again, charges applied by credit card companies vary greatly, so it is sensible to shop around before you leave for a long trip.
Do you know when your passport expires? If not, you should probably check. It must be awful to arrive at the airport for a much-anticipated trip only to be told that you can’t travel because your passport is out of date.
Some countries require that passports have six months left on them before they grant entry (typically if you are travelling on a passport issued by a less developed country). In any event, better safe than sorry: so check your passport and the the foreign travel advice website of your destination state.
Another thing to check is whether you need a visa. This may be the case even if you are travelling from a developed country, with visas (or ESTA visa waivers) required for virtually all travellers to the US.
Best to check the website operated by the government of your destination country and avoid third-party visa providers (many of which are scams aimed at fleecing you of your money and/or identity).
David Phillips, also known as the Pudding Guy, found a way to exploit a travel reward program: he bought thousands of puddings for the airmiles that the purchases generated, donating the food to charity so that he could claim a tax credit, and travelling the world for free. He inspired the movie Punch-Drunk Love in the process!
Whilst we don’t suggest you go this far, you should definitely make the most of rewards that are on offer.
In the UK a great way of doing this is to sign up for an American Express Avios credit card. Whilst you’ll have to pay an annual fee (so this won’t be suitable for everyone), you get 1.5 Avios points for each £1 spent (and 3 points for each £1 spent on British Airways). 14,000 points will get you a standard return trip from London to Paris on Eurostar. Plus, you will receive 18,000 points if you spend £3,000 in your first three months and a ‘companion voucher’ if you spend more than £10,000 in a year (meaning that a companion can travel for free if you book your own ticket using the points that you have collected).
Many hotels offer decent rewards programs too. The Marriott Hotels reward card tends to receive very positive reviews. Remember to pay for your room on your reward-generating credit card!
A couple final tips: check your account balance regularly to make sure that reward points have been added after they have been earned; and read the fine print—some programs suspend or delete accounts which have been dormant for a year or so.
No matter how exquisite the destination, your health and safety must be of paramount importance. We suggest following these five rules: