From secret deals to cheap tickets, the money-saving tips you need to know when booking a holiday

LifestyleTravel

i's travel editor shares her top tips on how to save on your next trip abroad

Friday, 14th February 2020, 7:00 am Updated Saturday, 15th February 2020, 8:42 pm Shop around before you take the plunge when buying a holiday (photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Most of us know the basics of saving money when booking a holiday: avoid peak season (school holidays and Christmas/New Year), shop around for the best deals, try to book ahead. But what else should consumers bear in mind when booking travel? From airfares to hotels, car hire to shopping, there are many ways to ensure you're paying the lowest possible price, giving you the flexibility to spend more once you've arrived at your destination.

But as technology broadens our horizons, so too does it learn to predict what we want and extract more from our purchase journey.

Man vs machine

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Since the advent of no-frills flying, seat prices have fluctuated as part of a "dynamic pricing" system - the more demand there is for a flight, the more an airline can charge for seats on it; on the flip side, prices can also be cut to stimulate demand. Now, hyper-dynamic pricing is coming into play, not only taking into account demand, but also predicting consumer behaviour by looking at weather forecasts, news, cultural and historic events, search trends and more.

Artificial intelligence and human programming combined outweigh even the most cunning search tactics (note that clearing your browser's cookies is unlikely to impact prices), but there are sites dedicated to trawling the web for the cheapest airfares. These include Jack's Flight Club. Sign up to the newsletter or app for one alert per week; for a paid subscription (from GBP3.25 per month), you can receive up to four per week.

A recent offer has included Birmingham to Costa Rica for GBP319 return. Occasionally, offers include fabled "error fares" - these typos are released to sales agents and can be as much as half the intended cost of the flight, but are usually quickly revoked and sometimes also dishonoured.

Search around...

Travel booking app Hopper uses algorithms to predict how airfares and hotel rates will change, up to a year in advance, and therefore when the cheapest booking window will be. We found return flights from London to New York Newark via Brussels for GBP251 in March (however, flying indirect has a more significant carbon footprint than non-stop routes). Comparison sites such as Momondo which is part of Kayak stake similar claims, as does Google Flights, with features such as searching for the best time to book individual flight routes and the cheapest months to travel.

Compare flight prices before booking (Photo: Skyscanner) Skyscanner is a good tool for comparing flight prices for specific dates; you can also set alerts for to be notified when prices fall - or rise. The site also identifies the cheapest months to fly on individual routes.

... then book direct

A note of caution - with so many flight comparison and fare prediction sites now in operation, it's worth using them to shop around. Once you have found the flights you want, consider booking directly with the airline to avoid hidden fees that can follow when booking through third-party sites.

Some carriers release all their seasonal flights on certain dates, so it can be worth monitoring websites to find out when they are about to go on sale - you'll be in with a chance of being at the front of the queue with the lowest fares on as-yet empty planes (unless demand is low). The same applies for train seats - these are usually released 12 weeks in advance in the UK; sign up to alerts on thetrainline.com (but note the site adds a booking fee). However, in the UK, cheaper "advance" seats go on sale several weeks later - usually eight to 10 weeks prior to departure, so it's worth holding out.

Time to split

The website trainsplit.com searches for the best fares, letting you know whether a "split ticket" is a more economical option. This is a point A-C journey, with the fare split A-B and B-C on the journey (it takes a small percentage of the saving if you decide to book).

Raileurope sells tickets for train travel across the Continent, including France's SNCF trains (Photo: Getty) Split-ticketing is also a feature on Raileurope.co.uk, the official agent for train and bus ticketing in the UK and eight countries in Europe. It also announces country-specific and Europe-wide seat sales, for which you can sign up for alerts.

The whole package

If you plan to book accommodation in addition to flights, it's worth considering IT, or inclusive tour fares. These are "unpublished" or wholesale fares bulk-bought by consolidators at a cheaper price than "published" fares, since they are bundled with accommodation or another element.

It can be considerably cheaper to take advantage of these lower fares that aren't released to the public, sometimes cheaper than the flight alone. You can book through online tour operators (OTAs) such as Expedia and Opodo.

Secret agents

Traditional travel agents also have access to these favourable fares as well as the expertise to look at value elsewhere. Travel agents can help negotiate on price (Photo: Barrhead Travel) Colin Burns, a branch manager at Hays Travel says: "Have a holiday wish list (type of accommodation, resort type, must-have facilities etc), with a budget in mind, although it's always worth being open to alternative suggestions from the travel agent.

Trust in them to offer you the best deal. Use an independent travel agent as they will have a much wider choice of holidays by searching all tour operators and airlines to get the best deals on the day - there can be big cost differences even for the same holiday."

Read More

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How to avoid holiday booking scams, from fake listings to pop-up deals

Market forces

To add more complexity, travel can be priced according to the intended market.

For example, search for a hotel room or domestic flight in India from the UK and you will be quoted one price, then look at domestic travel search sites such as Make My Trip or Ixigo and you might find the prices are lower. The marketplace is growing rapidly, with sites such as Voopter in Brazil, Vntrip in Vietnam and WAmazing in Japan.

Use age to your advantage

Finally, don't forget that age can be advantageous. Under-twos don't require an airline seat; carriers usually charge for an "infant" ticket. It can be cheaper to book an adult seat for the infant, if fares are lower than the fee.

On trains, children under four usually travel free when sharing an adult's seat; under-12s are free with Interrail passes.

For trains, senior railcards, as well as 16-17, 16-25 and 26-30 options (all costing GBP30 per year), confer discounts for UK travel.

See railcard.co.uk, myinterrail.co.uk

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