Many of us are looking forward to a holiday, especially now that restrictions on travel have eased. But as everyone rushes to book after years without getting away, prices might come as a shock.
Your accommodation is likely to be one of the biggest outlays for any trip, so getting a great deal can slash overall costs. Of course, you want to make sure you’re cutting the price, not the quality.
Here are our top tips for finding cheap hotels, bagging exclusive deals and protecting yourself from cancellation charges.
People say “you get what you pay for” – but this can be a trap. In fact, you’ll often find that the same hotel can cost wildly different prices depending on how and when you book.
There are also poor hotels that are super expensive because they spend so much money on advertising, and cheaper rates where the accommodation quality is much higher.
Do your research carefully and make sure you shop around. Check what’s included in the rate, such as food, view and size of room.
If you can, try to be flexible as shifting your holiday by a couple of days can make a huge difference on price. Also check cancellation policies carefully, as restrictions are still fluid and countries are changing travel requirements regularly.
Make sure you take full advantage of comparison sites to get the best possible price on a hotel.
First decide on location and when you want to go away, then see what is out there. Use a couple of different sites, as they will all have different deals on offer.
Once you’ve found the hotel you want, do an internet search to see if you can find the same accommodation more cheaply.
It’s also worth ringing the hotel direct, as some will offer discounts if you go through them rather than a third-party site. Let them know the price you’ve found and see if they will beat it.
You can also ask if there are any upgrades on offer and see if they’ll throw extras in, such as free breakfast or Wi-Fi.
One factor to consider is cancellation policies. In part, this is important because of the uncertain nature of travel in the current climate. But it can also be a good way to save cash.
Often prices will change throughout the year as hotels consider demand. If your booking includes free cancellation, you can rebook to take advantage when prices drop.
Make sure you’ve read the terms carefully, and that free really does mean free. Check when the last date for cancellation is and look for hidden fees and charges.
Some booking sites including Booking.com and EBookers offer a free price promise, so if you can find the same accommodation more cheaply, they’ll refund the difference.
Hotels.com suggests cancelling and rebooking for free if prices drop, but if your booking is non-refundable, you can claim the difference in vouchers.
Make sure you’ve carefully checked all the fine print and you know what’s included in your deal.
Some of the main things to consider are:
Cancellation policy – is it free and when is the latest you can cancel?
Is breakfast included – and is it worth it? (If you’re not a morning person or you like to explore it may be a hidden extra)
All-inclusive restrictions – there’s nothing worse than shelling out for all-inclusive and then realising that you only get bottom tier drinks or limited restaurant meals
Location, location, location – look on Google Maps to see exactly where the hotel is. Sometimes ‘near’ isn’t as close as you think
Amenities and added costs – how many pools are there, how much does the spa cost, are there good places to eat nearby, can you book trips?
Skiing specific – how close are you to lifts? Can you get a discount on lift passes? What is the boot room like?
Room inclusions – what view will you have, how big are the beds, is there a bathtub or just a shower?
Trips and excursions – what is on offer and how much does it cost?
Transfers – are these included and how much will they cost?
Look at reviews carefully, and not just the ones the hotel shows you. Check TripAdvisor and Google reviews.
See what the most common complaints are and take note of how good the hotel’s response is.
Of course, people are more likely to complain than leave a good review, but it’s important to understand what the general consensus is.
You may also find reviews from newspapers and magazines, which can give extra insight - but it’s also important to make sure they’re recent.
The hotel could well have made improvements since some older reviews were left, or, equally, the stunning view of the bay could now be obscured by a construction site.
Think carefully about what you actually need, and what might be a false economy.
If you know you love variety and want to explore, then full-board is unlikely to be right for you. Equally, if you often skip breakfast then it’s not worth paying extra for it. On the other hand, if all inclusive costs just £10 a day, then you might find yourself getting excellent value from dinner and a couple of drinks on its own.
Are you a swimmer? City hotels with a pool often come at a premium that’s not worth paying if you won’t take advantage.
Think about what you’ll use and make sure you’re not paying for amenities you won’t use, disguised as a good deal.
The most important tip is to shop around using comparison sites and then compare the cost of going direct, but there are other things you can do.
One great tip is to check cashback sites before you book. Sometimes, the likes of Quidco or TopCashback will give you as much as 15% back on certain booking sites.
Cashback is never guaranteed, so this shouldn’t be the primary factor in choosing a deal, but before you hit confirm it’s worth checking what you can get.
Keep an eye out for brand new hotels too, as many will offer great deals to build up word of mouth. It’s also worth signing up for emails from your favourite booking sites and hotels as many will offer discount codes at certain times of year.
Look at loyalty programs too. As long as they are free to join, you can rack up points that cut the cost of travel. Check your supermarket loyalty schemes - sometimes you can use your hard-earned Nectar or Tesco Clubcard points to slash the cost of flights and travel.
Finally, be smart about when you book. Avoiding peak teams, and choosing to travel mid-week can save you hundreds of pounds.
Package holidays are typically cheaper than booking flights and hotels separately, and you have extra ABTA protection when something goes wrong.
And while travel agents are seen as costly, they take the stress out of booking and should have the knowhow and connections to get you a good deal.
If you do decide to go with a travel agent, do some basic research first. And check if you can beat the price they give you, before you book anything.
If your holiday company goes bust, you want to make sure you’re protected. The highest levels of protection come with package holidays.
If you’ve booked flights and accommodation in the same transaction, you should have ATOL protection built in. This means that if the worst should happen you get a refund or an alternative holiday and transportation.
If you’re going on a holiday that doesn’t include flights, make sure you have ABTA protection. Look out for the logo to make sure you’re covered.
Like ATOL, this gives you options if the company goes bust. All UK travel agents should have ABTA protection.
If you’re organising the holiday yourself, and you book flights and accommodation separately, you’re unlikely to be covered.
This means it’s really important to sort out insurance before you pay. Many people wait to book insurance until right before they travel, but this means you’re not covered if anything goes wrong in the meantime.
Booking with a credit card also gives you an extra layer of protection as long as your holiday components cost between £100 and £30,000. Section 75 laws mean you can get a full refund if a supplier goes bust or something is faulty or not as described.
It won’t work if you’re ATOL protected (as you’re expected to use that scheme) but it’s an important consideration if you’re booking yourself.
You don’t have to put the whole lot on a credit card either, even if you just use it for the deposit, the whole cost is covered. Make sure you pay the card off immediately, so you’re not stung with hefty interest fees.
Use comparison sites to see what is available and compare costs
Consider going to a hotel direct to see if you can get a better deal
Check terms and conditions carefully, to see what is included and whether it’s worth it
Look at cancellation policies and try to make sure you can change your booking for free
Read reviews to see if there are any common complaints
Check if you can get money back with a cashback site
Use reward points and discount codes to cut costs
Make sure that your holiday is ATOL or ABTA protected
Get insurance from the moment you book, not when you’re due to fly
Use a credit card for extra protection