The day of the week when you book, how you pay for a meal and where you choose to stay can all affect the cost of your trip, Which? research has revealed.
Our 30 tips cover everything from the most common holiday booking mistakes to how much to tip your waiter during a meal out. Follow them and you could save hundreds of pounds.
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1. Let your weekly shop pay for your holiday
Our grocery shop is costing more than ever, but those extra pounds could convert to a UK hotel break, a Eurostar ticket or even a flight to the Caribbean.
We compared four popular schemes from Avios, Nectar, Tesco Clubcard and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and found that collecting points for every pound spent – in supermarkets, online and for fuel — can be redeemed for holidays.
You’ll boost your balance further if you use an Avios credit card – the BA American Express Premium Plus gives you a 25,000 point sign-up bonus if you spend £3,000 in the first three months. Just be sure to pay off your card in full to avoid interest charges.
2. Time it right when booking
Booking last minute doesn’t guarantee a bargain. Research by Skyscanner found you generally get the best prices around six months in advance. And which day of the week you book and fly matters too.
According to the flight comparison website, Tuesdays are typically the cheapest days to fly while Saturdays are most expensive. Check Skyscanner’s ‘when to book’ tool for your next getaway.
Late cruise deals have dried up in recent years, so it often pays to book between 12 and 18 months in advance for the best rates.
3. Don’t wait for the January sales
We tracked more than 80 flights and holidays in 2021 and 2022 to see whether Black Friday or New Year promotions offered the lowest prices.
Around 80% of the deals were either the same price or cheaper on Black Friday than in January - with savings of more than £1,000. But bargains can be found any time of year.
Read the full report which includes our golden rules for booking during the Black Friday sales.
4. Use comparison sites to find cheap flights and hotels
With so many travel comparison websites, it’s hard to see which will find a genuine deal.
Google Flights, Kayak and Skyscannercame joint first in our survey, but Skyscanner had the edge during our snapshot price checks. It found the best airfares more times than any of its competitors. We were also impressed by its new hotel search tool.
Price comparison sites will help you find the lowest fares, but...
5. Book flights directly with the airline
Booking via an online travel agent (OTA) could inflate your airfare by more than £100, our research found. Their headline prices may look enticing, but by the time you've factored in luggage and other extras, that figure skyrockets.
For instance, when we looked at return flights from London to Orlando, eDreams initially came out cheapest at £556. Once we added hold luggage and a seat reservation, the price shot up to £814 (£100 more than BA).
By booking directly with the airline, you can also save the hassle of dealing with a third party if there’s a problem with your flight.
6. Don’t pay extra to sit together on the plane
When we checked in 2022, we found it could cost a family of four £192 to reserve standard seats together on a return flight with British Airways. But 95% of short-haul passengers who didn't pay extra told us they were seated together anyway.
BA and Jet2 told us they’ll always seat groups together if there's space. And easyJet said its 'sophisticated algorithm’ will ensure parties are seated together ‘more than 99% of the time'.
Only Ryanair passengers need worry. Of the four major airlines we looked at, the no-frills carrier was the most likely to split up passengers who didn't pay for an allocated seat.
7. Bag more legroom in economy for free
Airline seats are shrinking, but using Seatguru.com’s handy seat maps, we were able to find the airlines offering the most legroom - as well as the roomiest seats on the plane. For example, seats in front of a bulkhead or at the tail-end of the plane are generally a little more generous.
Short-haul carriers Jet2, KLM and Ryanair had the economy seats with the most legroom in our comparison. But even then, you’ll only get a knee-grazing 30 inches of legroom. If you’re flying long haul, Tui, Emirates and Singapore Airlines have the most space in economy. Still, you may consider upgrading to premium economy. We crunched the numbers on that too to help you decide when it’s worth the outlay.
8. Travel light
adding extra bags to your booking can more than double the cost of your flight, our research shows. If you can manage it, flying with hand luggage only will save you money and time at the airport.
Budget airlines are the stingiest for hand luggage allowance. To max out that overhead locker space, look to British Airways, easyJet and Which? Recommended Provider, Jet2.
9. Don’t overspend on a suitcase
We tested hard shell suitcasesfrom Samsonite, American Tourister, Tripp and more at prices ranging from £30 to £180.
At £44 less than the leading suitcase in our tests (American Tourister Soundbox, £139 for a large case), Tripp’s Holiday 6 range proved you don’t need to shell out (pun intended) to get reliable luggage.
10. Consider taking the train
Rail travel isn’t just more sustainable: it could potentially save families hundreds of pounds on trips to Europe.
Flights might seem a lot cheaper until you factor in the cost of baggage and an extra night’s accommodation. By taking a sleeper train, we found a family of four could save nearly £100, while a larger family could pocket more than £250.
11. Try our magic trick to book Disneyland for less
Brits are often charged a premium when booking holiday extras, such as Disneyland tickets and car hire, online. But by using another country’s website, you could save big.
We found a family of four heading to Disneyland Paris for a week with two-day park tickets could save £170 by booking through the French version of the website (disneylandparis.fr) instead of its British equivalent (disneylandparis.com). Likewise, hiring the same car through Hertz’s US site (hertz.com) rather than Hertz.co.uk saved us £220.
The best part? You don’t need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to book cheaper holidays. Just a simple tweak to the url will do the trick. Read our other Disney holiday saving hacks.
12. Go in shoulder season
It’s no secret prices soar during summer season, but you may be surprised just how much you can save by travelling a month earlier or later.
When we checked, a week’s four-star break to Zante with Which? Recommended Provider Jet2Holidays was £532 cheaper in mid-September compared to August. There’s other advantages to travelling in September too, such as fewer crowds and shorter queues at the airport.
13. Consider all-inclusive
An all-inclusive cruise may cost more upfront but it's likely to save money overall, according to Which? research. Low headline prices may lure you in, but costly add-ons - from drinks to wi-fi packages - soon mount up once you’re on board.
We found P&O passengers on a seven-night cruise can expect to fork out around £400 extra per week for a drinks package, a couple of speciality dinners and wi-fi.
Noble Caledonia, Saga and Viking - which include everything from wi-fi to excursions in the headline fare - were among the top-rated ocean cruise lines in our survey.
This isn’t only true of cruises. Research shows opting for an all-inclusive package holiday will save you money compared to doing it yourself.
14. Book your package holiday online, not the high street
If you’re booking a straightforward package holiday, don’t waste time schlepping to a high street travel agent. Our mystery shops revealed that store prices are often hundreds of pounds more than online - and we were only able to haggle them down half the time.
If you’re planning a big adventure with lots of moving parts, or you’re looking for tailor-made travel, it’s worth speaking to an expert face to face. But for a fly and flop holiday to Spain, book it from the comfort of your own home.
15. Travelling solo? Dodge the single supplement
A Which? Travel investigation found that solo travellers often pay more - even when booking a single occupancy hotel room or cruise cabin. So if you’re travelling by yourself, look for companies that don’t charge single supplements.
Those include Which? Recommended Providers Riviera Travel and HF Holidays, Leger Holidays and Great Rail Journeys.
16. Pick up the phone to save on your hotel
Online travel agents want the best prices for themselves and often prevent hotels advertising lower rates on their own websites. However, there's nothing to stop you emailing or calling the hotel directly to ask for a better offer. Even if they can't offer you a discount, the hotel might throw in a perk - like a bottle of wine or a free room upgrade.
Read our other money-saving tips for hotel bookings.
17. Stay in cheaper accommodation nearby
Whether you’re renting a cottage in Devon or island hopping in Greece, you could save money, dodge the crowds and get a more authentic experience by staying in the less obvious locations.
Bedding down in Dartmouth instead of pricey Salcombe (11 miles down the road) would save £59 a night, on average. Likewise, Tenby is £43 cheaper per night on average than Saundersfoot, three miles away.
The same is true abroad: Kefalonia and Lefkada are not only the cheapest Greek islands, but they’re two of the best to visit according to this year’s survey. In comparison, Santorini and Mykonos came bottom of the table with just two stars for value for money.
Looking for more inspiration? Here are the 10 countries where your money will stretch further, the best-value Caribbean islands and some of Europe’s cheapest summer stays.
18. Don’t assume an Airbnb will always be cheaper
Lots of holidaymakers have turned to Airbnb and Vrbo in the past decade, favouring a person’s home over an impersonal hotel room. It was often more affordable as well. But during the pandemic, the price gap between holiday rentals and other types of accommodation narrowed.
We compared the price of a one-bed Airbnb or Vrbo with a hotel room in London for February half-term in 2023. Holidaymakers who booked a hotel only paid £5 more on average - £132 per night. In Edinburgh, we found a hotel room in half-term typically cost £98, while a room with Airbnb or Vrbo averaged £90 a night - excluding the cleaning and service fee.
So if you don’t need a kitchen, hotels can be a good-value option - especially if breakfast is included.
19. Shop around for travel insurance
Decent cover doesn’t have to cost the earth. Search for travel insurance quotes on at least two price comparison sites, such as Confused.com. Remember to always read the policy documents to ensure you’re covered for every eventuality. Read our guide on what to look for in a good travel insurance policy for more advice.
20. Buy your currency on the high street
Always avoid the airport bureau de change. Our spot checks in 2022 found you could end up with an astonishing €115 less when changing £500 in the terminal vs the high street.
Eurochange came top for euros, US dollars and Australian dollars, while Tesco and M&S followed closely behind. Pre-order online or over the phone for the best deals: turn-up rates are generally lower.
Remember, only carry as much cash as your travel insurance covers in case it’s lost or stolen. If you pay for your currency with a credit card, you may be charged an extra fee. Compare rates and find companies’ FCA status on Travelmoneymax.com.
21. Take public transport to the airport
We’ve compared different methods of transport to Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports, among others, to help you save time and money getting to the airport.
You could save £127 on travel to Luton from central London by picking up the National Express coach instead of taking a taxi. It’s a no brainer - even with the extra half hour journey time.
By opting for the bus over a black cab to Birmingham Airport, you save time and money. A 34-minute ride on the X1 or X2 bus will set you back £2.40 while a taxi typically costs £48 and takes an extra five minutes.
Public transport could even be cheaper than getting a lift from a loved one. If you're flying from Heathrow, it could cost them £17.50 to drop you at the terminal.
22. Compare airport parking options
You don’t need to leave your car in a muddy field half an hour from the airport to get cheap parking. In fact,parking on-site could cost less.
That’s because many airports have now introduced a budget’ parking option to counter off-site competition. Edinburgh has ‘Plane Parking’, while London Stansted has ‘Jetparks’. Prices will fluctuate throughout the year, but past research found it was cheaper to park at both Edinburgh and Stansted airports than the cheapest off-site option.
Always pre-book online to get the best rates.
23. Weigh up if an airport lounge is worth it
Pay-to-enter airport lounges offer free drinks, food, magazines and newspapers and an escape from the crowds in the main terminal. But depending on the airport, your experience can vary dramatically.
In our recent survey, just one in 10 Birmingham Airport passengers said they were ‘very satisfied’ with the upgrade. In comparison, No1 Lounge at Heathrow’s T3 and Manchester’s T3 1903 impressed us when we last visited in 2020.
It might be worth paying for one of the better lounges if you plan to eat your main meal there and enjoy a drink or two (check the menu online first). Before forking out between £25 and £40 for entry, use our survey results to decide if you would get your money’s worth.
24. Don't waste money on fast-track security
If you were caught up in the airport chaos of summer 2022, you might be tempted to splurge on fast-track. But don’t assume paying your way to the front of the queue will always be quicker.
According to data from the CAA and individual airports, the average wait time at security is between five and seven-and-a-half minutes. This increases to eight to 10 minutes at the busiest times. These statistics don’t consider seasonal fluctuations, such as the hectic school holidays - but you’re most likely to benefit when travelling at peak times, before 10am. If you’re flying after 10am, you could just be wasting your money.
25. Shop when you fly
Our spot checks show you can make significant savings on perfumes, cosmetics and alcohol if you buy them in the airport or on the plane rather than the high street.
One bottle of men’s fragrance was 38% cheaper at World Duty Free than at Boots. A bottle of Estée Lauder anti-ageing serum cost 24% less on a British Airways flight, compared to the high street.
26. Avoid pricey car hire add-ons
From insurance to expensive extras such as sat nav, car hire companies have a number of ways to part you with your cash.
You’re better off getting insurance from a third party and you can download free GPS apps for your smartphone to save on expensive hire. Need a car seat? Our research found it could be cheaper to fly with your own than hire one with the car.
27. Pay in local currency, with the right card
Whenusing your card abroad, there are two golden rules to avoid hidden fees:
- Pay in the local currency to avoid foreign transaction fees of up to 3% (a charge from your bank for the conversion).
- Use a fee-free card to dodge charges of up to 3% on cash withdrawals and spending abroad. The Halifax Clarity is one of the best travel credit cards and Which? Recommended Provider Starling Bank’s current account offers the best debit card for travel.
Another option is to use aprepaid debit card, which is handy if you’re sticking to a budget. But as with credit and debit cards, there are pros and cons - so do your homework first.
28. Use public transport abroad
Cut costs and enrich your experience by seeing the sights like a local. Many European countries such as Spain, France and Italy have well-connected, affordable public transport options thanks to their heavily-subsidised fares. Even better, all public transport is free in Luxembourg and Estonia’s capital Tallinn.
29. Think twice about a tourist pass
Tourist passes get you free entry into dozens of top sights. But how many attractions are you realistically going to see without running yourself ragged? A quick price check online could reveal it’s cheaper to pay as you go.
Tourist passes are generally better value for large groups of people. If you’ve got young children who get a discounted rate, you may end up paying more. Look out for discounts too, such as free entry to the Vatican on the last Sunday of the month.
When we researched various city passes and trust memberships, we found the Omnia Rome and Vatican City Card does save you money if you tick off two sights a day. On the other hand, the Edinburgh City Pass doesn't include some of the biggest attractions, meaning you’ll likely fork out extra.
30. Tip appropriately
Ever found yourself puzzling over what to give a waiter or tour guide? The social custom of tipping varies so much from country to country even seasoned travellers can find themselves scratching their heads.
If you leave a tip after your meal in Japan, you’ll likely be chased by your waitress trying to return your ‘lost money’ - while in Poland, saying ‘thank you’ to your waiter before receiving your change signals you’re happy for them to keep it all (potentially an expensive mistake). In many European countries, 10% of your restaurant bill is a respectable tip - but in the States, that’s an insult.
So, from the taxi driver in Athens to your safari guide in South Africa, we reveal how much to tip, and when you should keep your hand firmly in your pocket.