I love to travel and I have done since I was a student. But as a student, money was tight, so I had to learn how and where to find the best deals and make my money stretch as far as possible. It can be a long and frustrating process, but if you can make the time and have the patience you can sit back and smile knowing that you have bagged a bargain break. Over the years, I have applied the lessons I've learned and although I've made mistakes along the way, I can definitely say I have enjoyed some amazing travels, at discount prices.
Throughout the year, there are obviously dates that are more popular to travel on or around. These generally include national holidays and school vacations, but there are also seasonal peaks, depending on the destinations' climate. For example, most of Europe enjoys warmer temperatures between May-September and as a result, the demand for holidays during this period is higher and air fares and accommodation prices reflect this. Likewise, South East Asian countries, such as Malaysia, enjoy high temperatures all year, but have very pronounced seasons - including a wet one! Therefore, beach resorts in these regions often massively lower their pricing during the wetter months as they are less popular with tourists. Depending on what you want from your trip, you may find that you can quite happily take advantage of these reduced prices - although it might mean less time sunbathing and more time spent absorbing the local culture. Be careful though, as some predominantly tourist populated areas can completely shut down in the less popular months. As an example, we travelled to Skiathos in Greece in 2016, at the end of the season, and although we did get the trip at a bargain price, we were very aware that the season was coming to an end - shops and restaurants were boarding up, hotels were beginning their winter maintenance and the visible number of people on the island reduced each day we were there, with far fewer flights arriving. For us, it was fine, but if we had wanted a livelier experience, we may have been disappointed.
Package deal vs independent travel
I always presumed that by putting a trip together myself it would make it cheaper - WRONG! Although this can be the case, always check and compare prices. Sometimes, tour operators have access to deals that an independent traveller does not. Discounts on hotel chains and insight in to airline pricing can be benefits not available to an every day consumer. I always start my search by looking on some of the big tour operator sites such as Thomas Cook and Thompson. I take advantage of their resort reports, weather forecasts and day trip ideas. I look at the standard of accommodation available and the flight times. I start to build up a picture of what my trip could look like. Then I go straight to skyscanner and check out flights. If you can be flexible with dates, skyscanner allows you literally "scan" flights on a month-by-month basis and see which days offer cheaper flights. I generally have an idea about when I want to fly, but if I can see a flight selling at half the price, I will try to modify my plans to go with the cheaper option. I make notes on the flight options and save them to be used when I calculate the full holiday cost. One thing to consider when booking flights independently is that extras such as booking fees, credit card fees, seat allocation, transfers and baggage all have to be added onto the price of the flight. Next, I take a look at websites including Trivago, which compare hotels and booking agent pricing. This cuts down time scanning through endless booking websites. It then re-directs you to the cheapest agent to book with them directly. I always book the flight first, because it is the largest expense of the trip and is liable to massive pricing fluctuations. Accommodation is generally more stable, in my experience and even if prices do change, they won't be as significant as the flights. As soon as you're sure - BOOK!
As soon as I have an idea about a destination and a rough idea of dates, I set up price alerts. skyscanner is great for this. Once you've searched for a flight, it gives you the option of adding an alert which will let you know by email (and within the app, if you've downloaded it) if the price goes up or down. By monitoring the prices over a couple of weeks, you can soon establish a "benchmark" and when it drops below that point - BOOK IT!
Do your research
Just because a hotel looks like a bargain and the reviews are good, ask yourself if it is actually suitable for what you're planning to do whilst you are away. I've made the mistake of booking a hotel that was having a massive sale, with 5 star reviews, only to find out when I arrived that it was 10 miles outside the city I wanted to be in and I then proceeded to spend hundreds of pounds over the course of my break in taxi fares. If you want a city break, check how far the accommodation is from all the main attractions. If you have to take public transport to get around, calculate the approximate cost and factor that into the cost of the accommodation. It might ultimately work out cheaper to stay closer to the city .
Sign up to mailing lists
I am subscribed to loads of mailing lists that tell me about sales and offer voucher codes. I have saved a small fortune over the years taking advantage of these emails and alerts and for very little investment in time and effort. Some of the best ones that I use are: