Money Mensch: Have yourself a cost-effective holiday

By Martin Lewis, June 17, 2010
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The pound is recovering against the euro or, more accurately, the euro is plummeting - making holidays to the continent a little cheaper for Brits. However, overseas holidays are still far from good value these days, which is why it has never been more important than to follow these ten key travel MoneySaving rules.

1. Get free Holiday Medical Cover

● The free EHIC card is a government scheme that entitles you to healthcare in all state-run hospitals in 31 European countries, as if you were a local. So in Spain it means free healthcare and in Cyprus you pay what locals pay. Everyone needs their own EHIC card, even children. If you have one, check it's still valid, because many only last three to five years. Most importantly, keep it with you. If you don't present it when you need treatment, you are not covered. To get one, go to www.ehic.org.uk or call 0845 606 2030.

2. Avoid debit cards from hell

● Shockingly, the very worst cards for spending abroad are some debit cards rather than credit cards (unless you don't pay off the credit card in full at the end of the month). That is because Lloyds, Halifax, RBS, Santander and NatWest cards don't just give poor exchange rates and charge for cash withdrawals overseas, they also charge a fee of up to £1.50 every time you spend. Thus buy something for £3 worth of euros or dollars and you'll pay £4.50 it. If you have one of these cards, at the very least, withdraw cash in one lump when abroad and spend that. Better still, switch to a different card.

3. Carry a specialist overseas card

● Almost every credit or debit card adds a 3 per cent 'load' to the exchange rate when you spend abroad, so spend £100 worth of euros and it will cost you £103 (and this isn't shown on your statement). Yet four specialist credit cards do not add this 'load', giving you near perfect exchange rates, so get one just for spending abroad, but ensure you repay it in full to reduce interest.

Top ones are Santander Zero and Saga (over 50s only) as they are load-free worldwide and give cheaper cash withdrawals. The Post Office and Nationwide are also excellent, although the latter charges 1 per cent load outside Europe. See www.moneysavingexpert.com/travelcards

4. Complain while you are there

● If things go wrong on a package holiday, ask for a complaint form there and then. If not, you could lose compensation rights, because the rules say that you must give them a chance to get it sorted at the time. Keep evidence and, when you return, contact the holiday company and clearly state what you want, whether it's a refund, compensation or just an apology.

5. Never pay in pounds

● If a retailer overseas offers to let you pay in pounds, reject it. It's called dynamic currency exchange, and is common in Spain. It means that the shop will be doing the currency conversion; and if you don't know the rate it's usually worse than your card.

6. Annual or single trip travel insurance?

● Go away three times or more in a year and an annual policy that covers the whole year's trips is usually cheapest, though if one of the trips is to the USA, it can be worth it if you do just one other trip.

If you get an annual family policy, it may only cover you if all the family travel together and not if one goes independently. However, usually if you call and notify them of this, they do then allow it.

Annual policies are available for as little as £15 for a year's travel in Europe for an individual, or £25 for a family.

7. Car hire can be cheaper than a cab

● Booking ahead can often get you car hire at a fraction of the price, perhaps £10 a day rather than £50 or £60 once you are there. This can work out well, for example, between Malaga airport and Marbella in Spain, where a taxi will cost you 50 euros (£44) each way, yet cars can often be hired for less. So you could get a week's worth of trips for the cost of one taxi journey. Use comparison sites www.kayak.co.uk or www.carrentals.co.uk

8. Boost travel cash rates by £70

● The worst place to get your travel money is at the airport or ferry port, because rates are inflated for captive customers. Bizarrely, even if you order cash online to be picked up at the
airport, you would get a better rate. See www.travelmoneymax.com

9. Halve the cost of airport parking

● Airport parking is never cheap, so, if possible, avoid it. But if you need it, slash the cost by reserving as early as possible for the cheapest rates. Many providers will let you cancel with no charge if your plans change. To find the cheapest on and offsite parking, try comparison sites like www.aph.com and www.holidayextras.co.uk.

Also consider booking a night in an airport hotel, as they often offer a week's parking with a night's stay, which is occasionally cheaper than parking alone elsewhere.

10. cut up to 15 per cent off late package deals

● Don't discount old fashioned packages.They can be super cheap.

Always remember holidays are created by tour operators and flogged by travel agents, so identical vacation packages are on offer at many agents. Once you know where you want to go, the challenge is find who'll sell it to you cheapest.

The best way is to simply telephone rival travel agents, including those who advertise in paper travel sections, and see if they'll beat the price.

    Last updated: 12:51pm, June 17 2010