It’s your postcode that counts in the City

By Martin Lewis, July 13, 2012
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If you are planning a trip away, act now to avoid pain in Spain, getting hustled in Brussels, or breaking the banka in Sri Lanka. If you wait until you go, it will be too late - and the costs can rocket.

Here are my 10 must-knows if you are heading abroad.

1. Cut the cost of car hire by sorting it out well before you leave home

Don't imagine you will get the best deal by leaving it until you arrive at your destination –- often that can more than double your costs.

As a simple starting point, use comparison sites www.carrentals.co.uk and www.kayak.co.uk to find the cheapest deal. In some locations it is possible to get a car for under £10 a day. Yet when you try to collect the car, the hire firm will try a hard sell based on additional "excess insurance."

The problem is, this kind of insurance can be worth it - have a scratch and they will be likely to charge the whole lot. So if you want it, plan ahead and get a standalone excess policy for a fraction of the cost via the comparison site www.moneymaxim.co.uk.

2. Get the best deal on your holiday spending by getting the right card

Choose the best plastic and the rates are unbeatable. The cheapest way to spend abroad is to use a specialist overseas credit card that you only use when abroad. Though you must repay it in full each month, preferably by direct debit, so there is no interest or that more than wipes out any gain.

Most plastic adds a three per cent "load", so spend £100 of euros and it costs £103. Yet these top cards smash bureaux de change with near-perfect rates, as they are "load-free" worldwide. The cards include Halifax Clarity, Post Office, Saga (over 50s) and, for Nationwide FlexAccount holders only, its Select card. Even poor credit scorers can get them too via the Aqua card. See http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/spendingoverseas. Fail to pay these in full and you will pay 11.9-34.9 per cent representative APR.

3. check if your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is valid

These give access to EU state-run hospitals and GPs on the same basis as locals. If they pay nothing, nor do you. Four million of these cards will expire this year, so check you are not one of them and renew it now.

Don't leave it at home, as it is only valid if you show it. If you need to renew it, don't Google it is as you will end up looking at scam sites that charge £15. You never have to pay to get or renew an EHIC. Ignore any "pay for fast-track scams" - it is always free. Use www.ehic.org.uk.

4. Don't pay the earth for travel insurance

Getting insurance with your holiday is usually expensive, yet it is still important to get it at the same time for holiday or you are not covered for cancellations. If you go away twice a year, including weekends, even if they are in pre-booked accommodation in the UK, an annual policy is usually cheapest.

If you just want cheap do-the-job type policies covering medical and lost luggage rather than big compensation in the event of volcanoes, prices can be very cheap - as little as £16 for an individual in Europe up to £42 for a family worldwide. Full help to find the cheapest, including over 65s, at www.mse.me/travelinsurance.

5. book flights early and package deals late

With flights, early booking is usually cheaper. Leave it late and you compete with business folk willing to pay big bucks.

Use comparison sites such as skyscanner.net, travelsupermarket.com and kayak.co.uk. With packages, booking less than eight weeks before departure will get you the hottest bargains, provided you are flexible.

6. Don't wait until the airport to get travel cash

They know you are a captive customer, so they give a shocking deal. If you must get it from the airport, at least pre-order for airport pick-up. To show the difference, on the day I checked, it cost £270 to get €300 at the airport, but the same company only charged £250 for pre-ordered pick up.

For the very best rates, use a comparison tool such as www.travelmoneymax.com - though even this doesn't beat the best travel cards (see point 2).

7. make sure you pre-book your airport parking

If you need to drive (public transport is often cheaper), cut costs by booking early. Don't just turn up. There are a range of comparison sites which help such as skyparksecure.com, aph.com and fhr-net.co.uk.

Local knowledge can sometimes trump this with much cheaper just off-site deals. Sometimes airport hotels have inclusive parking and occasionally that can undercut the parking itself.

8. Going to the USA? You need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation)

Most UK citizens holidaying in the US must pay $14 for an ESTA before they go. They last two years or until your passport expires, so you don't need one if you have been recently, though double-check your status. Beware applying via spam sites, as you will be charged more.

9. Posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts

The start point is comparison sites like Trivago.co.uk and Travelsupermarket.com. Yet bigger discounts are possible with a raft of tricks such as uncovering top secret Lastminute.com hotels by playing detective with anonymous 3-5 star rooms (if you cut and paste the description into Google it is often revealed).

This is just the start though, for a lesson in cheap hotel tricks go to www.mse.me/cheaphotels.

10. Don't pay to pay for budget airlines

Some budget airlines charge up to £12 per person return to pay for their flights. They get away with this by often having one no-cost niche payment system, so all others are "added extras."

So tool up to avoid these. For Ryanair, outrageously, the only option is its prepaid Mastercard. With BMI Baby and Jet2, you need a Visa Electron.

    Last updated: 10:03am, July 13 2012