Avoid school holiday price hikes

It's not just parents who face higher prices. Those without children have the same problem if they want to travel in late July or August. Mark-ups of as much as 70% can add hundreds of pounds to holiday.

A study by Morgan Stanley looked at ten destinations and assessed the average cost of a fortnight, half board, for a family holiday for four, in August, compared to the same holiday in term time. The average mark-up for families in the South was just over a quarter. It was around the same for those in the North-West and a fifth for the Scots. The survey found those in the North-West were generally charged more for holidays than those in the South or Scotland.

The biggest mark-ups appear to be on holidays to Orlando in Florida, the home of Disney World. A South of England family taking a holiday during the school break pay an average of £3,109, a mark-up of 71% or £1,292 on the figure charged during term time. A family from Manchester taking a similar holiday would pay £4,259, which is 45% or £1,499 higher than term time.

But you don't have to go abroad to get stung this summer. The survey found a similar pattern with holidays in this country, specifically in the Lake District and a seaside holiday camp. The holiday camp price jumped by more than half to an average of £2,216, while a break in the Lake District was 12% higher at £3,644.

Tour operators say that many of the packages they sell outside the school holidays are sold at a loss and so they are just trying to even out their balance sheets. They compare this to the cost of red roses going up on Valentine's Day. Others claim that hotel owners bump their prices up first, forcing the operators to follow, rather like getting up earlier and earlier to get a towel on your sunbed.

10 Top tips to help you save

1. Book early. Planning and saving ahead can give you greater flexibility. It may take the spontaneity out of your hols but booking flights as early as January should help you bag the best deals. Early birds also get greater choice of flight timings and the chance of free places for children. Negotiate with hotels and get confirmation of rates in writing to avoid paying more if the price goes up as peak season approaches.

2. Book late. At the opposite end of the scale is the more risky option of booking late. This can pay off if you have some flexibility about when you can travel and where you want to go. Unsold airline seats and hotel rooms make for last minute bargains but this may not appeal if you are potentially letting down your whole family.

3. Travel late. The last two weeks of the summer holidays at the end of August are usually significantly cheaper than the late-July to mid-August peak. You could save as much as a fifth. It's worth finding out when the school holidays are in your destination country - many European countries have completely different term times to the UK.

4. Check out cheaper destinations. Prices in some parts of Europe have risen sharply in recent years but France is still offering great deals. Ferry fares are also lower. Greece was once great value but entry to the euro caused inflation to rise and since the Olympics and European football success it has become a holiday hot-spot, with prices to match. Neighbouring Turkey is a much cheaper option.

5. Depart midweek. If you can get away mid-week then departing on pretty much any day other than a Friday or Saturday will deliver savings. Many airline websites provide a 'cheapest flight' search option to help.

6. Fly from the cheapest airport. Although regional airports may be more convenient they also attract the highest supplements for charter flights at peak times. The exceptions are flights with no-frills airlines which have a programme of regional fares.

7. Use price comparison websites. Research, compare and book from the comfort of your home or library. There are also several excellent hotel and holiday review sites which can provide ideas and recommendations and reveal facts and tips about destination that you wont find in a brochure. You can then contact hotels direct and negotiate on price. Haggling by phone or e-mail is much easier. Also, look out for specialist sites such as mousesavers.com which details every type of discount available at Disney resorts.

8. Research packages. Once you have done your homework on costs for booking direct, it is worth talking to a travel agent to double-check that you are getting value for money. For instance, if you are booking flights, accommodation and a hire car, an agent may be able to package deals together to get a discount. And if not, then at least you can feel smug about saving money by booking direct.

9. Consider trains and ferries. Competition has made cross-Channel ferries much more reasonable and many charge a flat rate per vehicle. Booking ahead also pays off. The cheapest railway tickets go on sale 28 days or more in advance but are often available eight or nine weeks in advance of Christmas and Easter. Expect to pay as much as three or four times more if you buy tickets less than a fortnight before departure.

10. Get the best travel insurance deal. I cannot say this often enough. It's not the most exciting part of planning your trip and so it's easy to forget or leave until the last minute. But if that means you end up panic-buying cover through a travel agent then you can kiss goodbye to some of the cash you have saved elsewhere. Annual insurance policies are great value for money if you go abroad more than once a year and researching and buying online has never been easier.

Latest Threads