Good holiday money-saving is all about timing. The key to minimum cost and maximum holiday enjoyment is pre-planning. Here are my top 10 need-to-know-nows if you are heading abroad:
● You need insurance in place when you book
Otherwise if something goes wrong, you won't be covered for cancellation.
Annual policies are cheaper if you go away more than twice a year but don't buy it from the travel agent. European policies can be as little as £17 a year or £31 for a family, rising to £25 and £35 for worldwide. Full info at www.moneysavingexpert.com/travelinsurance.
● Check your EHIC
Over four million European Health Insurance Cards run out this year. Free EHIC cards get you treatment in state-run EU hospitals at the same price as locals. Cards expires after five years so check the date on all family members' cards and renew. Go to www.ehic.org.uk.
● Get specialist overseas cards for better rates
The cheapest way to spend abroad is on the right plastic. The best thing is to apply now for one of the specialist cheap cards and only use it abroad. Spend abroad and most credit and debit cards add a hidden three per cent load. Yet if you have a decent credit score, there are specialist load-free credit cards just for overseas use: Halifax Clarity, Post Office and, for the over-50s, Saga. Or for Nationwide FlexAccount holders, there is the Select card.
As with any credit card you should set up a direct debit to fully repay or the 11.9 per cent-to-16.9 per cent representative APRs dwindles the gain. These cards smash bureaux de change, but if you prefer foreign currency www.travelmoneymax.accom shows the cheapest for each country.
● Not all flight comparisons are the same
With scheduled flights, booking early usually saves cash as closer to departure day business travellers who need to go are less worried about cost.
The first type of comparison is for when you have specified a date and destination. Try a few of my top three: Skyscanner.net (for ease), Kayak.co.uk (for gizmos) and Travelsupermarket.com (for breadth).
To find when (or even where) to go to get dirt-cheap budget European flights, use www.flightchecker.co.uk. Enter a wide date range and it finds all flights under a certain value. Finally, for charter flights to popular tourist destinations, try Flightsdirect.com and Avro.co.uk.
● Book car hire early and it can be under £10 a day
Do not leave it until you land. Usually early booking using comparison sites Kayak.co.uk and Carrentals.co.uk can slash up to 70 per cent off the price.
Don't fall for car hire firms "excess" insurance.
Hire firms put the frighteners on you by saying: "have a scratch and you pay £500 excess" to sell their £10 or more daily additional "no excess" policies. You can do it up to 90 per cent cheaper via the Moneymaxim.co.uk comparison site, which sells standalone excess policies. And book airport parking before you go. Leaving a car at the airport can cost more than a holiday. If you have no choice, booking early cuts costs.
Try specialist comparison sites like Skyparksecure.com and Aph.com, plus see the list of extra promotional discounts at www.moneysavingexpert.com/airportparking.
● Don't be dazzled by a hotel star ratings
There are no standardised star systems nationally, never mind internationally.
Many are based on a hotel's facilities and not their quality. Horrid hotels can be rated five-star as they have conference facilities and stunning boutiques might be rated two-star because they only have gorgeous rooms. You could use Tripadvisor.co.uk and similar sites for feedback on hotels. Then use the cost-cutting techniques at www.moneysavingexpert.com/cheaphotel.
● Travel agents may beat the web for hot and cheap
Don't assume the web always wins. Package holidays can still smash it on price, especially for seven, 10 or 14 days in traditional resorts.
If you are getting a package and need specific facilities, book as soon as you can for this summer to get early discounts. However if you are flexible, wait until a few weeks before to grab a late bargain. And remember, tour operators make holidays, travel agents sell them. So if you are getting a package from a big chain operator, different agents may sell it at different prices.
● Don't turn your nose up at hostels
Hostels may be cheap but they are not necessarily dirty.
We are not talking smelly dorms. Many are clean, have private rooms and for around £10 per person per night will include breakfast.
You could even stay at a real Scottish castle. Find good options via hostelbookers.com and Hostelworld.com.