Whether a Dan Brown or Danielle Steel devotee, we all know that some retailers flog beach reads at huge discounts.
The same goes for package holidays - many different travel agents sell the same tour-operator holiday at cheaper prices. So, as we move towards summer, where prices and supply drop, your aim should be to find the cheapest one then see if you can haggle down the price and save a further 10 per cent.
Which is cheaper: package holiday or do it yourself?
Many people opt to do it themselves online, but don't discount the good old-fashioned travel agent. A package holiday is an all-in-one, where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price. That means they are best suited for standard breaks of standard length.
As a rough rule of thumb, for seven, 10 or 14 days away in a traditional holiday destination, packages beat DIY. If you are going away for a different length, to a less visited spot, on a city break, or multi-stop holiday, you tend to be better off with a DIY break. See www.moneysavingexpert.com/holidays for full info on DIY.
Remember, the other package holiday boon is that they usually have added ATOL and ABTA consumer protection. This means if the holiday company fails, you either get a refund or, if you are away, can complete your trip. You don't get that with DIY bookings.
Late is great
With flights, early bookings are usually cheaper, but package holiday prices plummet the later you book. The other way to get discounts, though not as big, is to book very early, as much as nine months in advance.
You have missed early for this year, so if you just want something hot and cheap, hold your nerve and book fewer than eight to 10 weeks before departure. Choice shrinks too though so if crèche facilities or a specific hotel are a must, you may want to forget the extra discount and book asap to ensure availability.
Keep it cheap when you arrive
If you prefer to spend your time in the resort, the holiday price is key. Consider an all-inclusive deal or self-cater and buy all your food in supermarkets. Yet if you like to get out, eat out and explore, it is just as important to consider the price and exchange rate when you get there. The Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer 2011 found that Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are the best value short-haul destinations this year. In fact, Spanish prices at are a three-year low.
Cut the cost of your package holiday
Remember, tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell them, so the same operator's holiday may be sold by many agents. The aim is to locate a suitable holiday and grab all the details. Try Teletextholidays.co.uk or TravelSupermarket.co.uk or the classifieds to see lists of late-deal specialist agents. Never believe the advertised package price though. This is hype. You must call and check it is actually available.
Once you have found a break you want within your price range, ensure you write down as much info as you can. That means tour operator details, flight times, hotel destination (or minimum star if allocation on arrival) and whether transfers, meals and plane meals are included - everything.
Check it is a genuine package
A quick warning: brokers sell two types of trip. First there is the traditional package, where flights, transfers and hotels are all booked with one tour operator. Then there are holidays which the agent puts together, with separate flights, hotels and transfers. Giveaway words are 'dynamic', 'tailormade' and 'pyramid' hols.
While agents call these packages, many technically are not, which means you don't get the extra ATOL protection, so do ask the agent/broker: "Is there a tour operator, or is this a dynamic package?" Ensure you get the tour operator's name before you book.
Haggle on price
Once you have picked your holiday, try to get exactly the same package cheaper. This is the reason for my teletext bias, as you can simply search its site and scan for phone numbers of all your destination's specialist holiday companies.
Pick one and politely tell them you have been quoted a price, give them the details and ask if it can beat the price. Try to negotiate in price per person, not total cost.
Now call a few more, quoting the best price you have got and see who can beat it. Then call the tour operator's own direct booking arm. And finally, try and be fair, if a travel agent spent a lot of time with you to find the holiday in the first place, why not give them the chance to match the price to regain your custom.
I recently did this as a test for a week's self-catering in Barbados at a three star hotel, for two, leaving two weeks later. I managed to achieve a saving of £140 for two, with just a few phone calls.
There's a full step-by-step system at www.moneysavingexpert.com/packageholidays