With ‘Blue Monday’ out of the way, the first pay packet of 2023 in the bank and the anticipation of spring in the air, many people’s thoughts are turning to a summer holiday.
The bad news is that air fares have increased, likely for the foreseeable future. Forbes reports global airline inflation up a massive 42.9pc, five times the rate of consumer inflation. This is because Russia’s war in Ukraine has driven up fuel costs and the strong rebound in post-Covid travel at a time of constricted supply as many airlines are still recovering.
So, if you’re booking, where offers the best value and how can you keep your costs under control?
Paul Hackett, President of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says 2023 represents a ‘back to normal’ year for travel, “so the early booker will get the deal”.
The most popular sun spot yet again is Spain. “It’s like 20 destinations in one”, says Mr Hackett. “The Canaries, Balearics, the Costas and the cities.”
Greece has more direct flights than ever and cruises are “booming” with 28 new ships launched this year with “value for money” the main reason for the all-inclusive trend. For long-haul travel, Mexico and the Caribbean are proving popular.
Package v DIY
The law has not fully caught up with the way modern tourists book holidays. Most of us tap into Aer Lingus, Ryanair or Skyscanner.ie, having selected a destination, and get the flights booked for our preferred dates.
Then, we might scan Airbnb or Booking.com for accommodation. This is a DIY holiday, rather than a package. Unfortunately, it carries fewer rights if something goes wrong.
According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), booking a package deal through a tour operator or travel agent still affords the best protection. A bonded travel agent is the safest, as you are covered if the company goes bust, the hotel is a dump or the flight is delayed.
It’s always a good idea to keep everything in writing
In addition, says Mr Hackett: “You pay one low deposit for the entire holiday and not multiple payments on your credit card, and there’s one point of contact if anything changes or goes wrong.”
It’s always a good idea to keep everything in writing, read the T&Cs and book in Europe, where at least there is a regulatory option – eccireland.ie – for holiday disasters.
Your money abroad
In the eurozone, you might think money isn’t an issue, but beware extra charges for transactions in shops, or taking cash at ATMs. Banks in mainland Europe are allowed to charge a flat fee or percentage on withdrawals.
Your bank here is allowed charge you for foreign currency, like sterling or Swiss francs, on top of the exchange rate. Buying in local currency is always better than opting for a euro conversion, as most businesses add on a ‘cushion’ against currency fluctuations. Taking the local currency means your bank will base it on the actual rate on the day.
Bringing some local currency for tips and taxis is a good idea, although never buy it at the airport or on street kiosks, even the ones that are “commission free”. Who needs commission when they’re giving you a terrible exchange rate?
Order it in your bank, post office or credit union before you leave.
Let your bank know you’ll be abroad, to avoid them freezing the card because they suspect fraudulent activity.
Download an app like XE, MyCurrencyConverter or Revolut which automatically converts foreign currency from euro to keep an eye on price tags abroad.
If you’re bringing kids, offer them a set amount each day for treats
Set a daily spending limit to budget better. If you’re bringing kids, offer them a set amount each day for treats.
Visit the local tourist office; many offer discount cards or booklets for local attractions.
Consider using public transport rather than expensive taxis or car hire – which has become extremely expensive. You can buy an integrated travel pass in most countries which will give you freedom of movement for far less spend.
Be aware of roaming charges. While roam-like-at-home legislation in the EU was enacted in 2017, most phone operators have a fair-use limit while abroad. Go over it, and you could end up with a bill, especially if you are a pay-as-you-go customer.
Beware when travelling by ferry, or along non-EU borders; you could come a cropper on roaming if your signal is inadvertently picked up on a local transmitter outside EU borders. If in doubt, call your provider before you go and take out a roaming bundle or avoid using data unless you have wifi.
Covid taught us that insurance is a must-have. Check if your credit card or bank offers a basic policy and if it is enough. If not, you can buy enough for a family of four in Europe for €50-€100 for the year. If you have private health cover you’ll get a discount.
The important bit is to buy your insurance when you book, not when you travel. Most claims are made before the holiday as illness, or problems arise. If you’re not insured when the event occurs, you won’t be covered.
Reasons to book early
Booking now for a trip in the summer may seem like a long wait, but hotels and airlines are eager to get early birds in. Many discounts end on 31 January, so do your homework sooner rather than later.
Early bookers generally won’t have to pay in one go – you can ask for stage payments and just put down a deposit now. Click & Go has offers secured for just €1 with Aer Lingus flights, but do note the dates the subsequent tranches of cash will be needed.
Note the dates the subsequent tranches of cash will be needed
You’ll get a wider choice of accommodation booking early rather than last minute for, say, two-bed self-catering units. Industry experts agree the vast majority of Covid-delayed travel has now either taken place, or been refunded, so 2023 is the first ‘back to normal’ year.
Booking through an online travel agent (OTA) can cause a whole heap of problems. It is the collective name given to agents who do not have an Irish street presence and may not be bonded by the Irish Travel Agents Association, or its home country counterparts.
You’ll often find them as a click through from skyscanner, or popping up on your social media feed and they can seem like a bargain.
But if something goes wrong, you can find yourself on the wrong end of an endless email or phone loop to get it rectified.
Where Ryanair flights are booked via OTAs, any refunds due to go them, as booker, rather than you, as traveller.