Our scorching hot summer has prompted many of us to debate whether it’s actually worth dusting off the passport this year when a staycation is just as likely to leave us feeling invigorated and tanned.
But if soaking up the sun in your back garden or on a British beach isn’t your idea of a holiday, then now is the time to bag a real bargain.
As one of this newspaper’s travel experts (The Crafty Traveller), I’ve jetted off on lots of last-minute getaways for work – and there’s nothing I like more than a bargain when it comes to my own holidays.
In fact, by the time you read this, I’ll have whisked my wife Emily and sons Arthur and Edward off on a great-value getaway to Morocco.
Are there any bargains to be had in school holidays? Yes. Don’t think that bargains mean the deal or destination is in any way substandard – it’s all about supply and demand. You’ll be amazed at how many luxury villas are still available that you would have thought would have been snapped up earlier in the year.
Do you have to be sharp-elbowed to get a bargain? No. But you do need the best advice and insider knowledge. So read on and get booking…
FRED’S FIVE RULES
- Book as soon as possible. The England football team’s long run in the World Cup has delayed many bookings. The travel trade body ABTA is now predicting a flurry of bookings.
- If you don’t have school-age children, go away later in September, when virtually any holiday will be cheaper.
- You’ll find better availability and lower prices on flights and accommodation in late August than earlier in the school holidays.
- Many schools have set aside September 3 and 4 as teacher-training ‘inset’ days. If that’s the case with your children’s school, consider flying back then – the cost of the return flight is likely to be massively cheaper than a few days earlier.
- Don’t go long haul if you want to keep costs down. In school summer holidays, flights to popular destinations such as Florida and the Caribbean cost a small fortune, and in August the weather there can by iffy (very humid, with possible storms) and worse than in the Mediterranean.
SIZZLING SUN AND SAND PACKAGES
If you are after a resort-based holiday in southern Europe or the Med, for late bookings – and that now applies right across the school summer holidays – the best deals are flight-inclusive packages. Tour operators are trying to ensure the seats on planes and rooms in hotels they’ve committed to are filled, which means they’ll reduce prices if necessary.
I would recommend you browse the sites of the three biggest tour operators: Tui (tui.co.uk), Thomas Cook (thomascook.com), and Jet2holidays (jet2holidays.com). Free child places, even in August, can still be found with Tui and Jet2holidays.
Online travel agent loveholidays (loveholidays.com) is a good one-stop shop. My top destinations for deals are the Balearics (especially Majorca) and the Canaries, where operators have the biggest volume of packages to shift. Meanwhile, Turkey has seen a massive increase in holidays on offer this year, and supply is likely to outstrip demand. There has also been a big slump in the value of the Turkish lira against sterling, which means day-to-day costs in resorts such as Marmaris are looking much lower than last year. Tour operators are flagging up Greece as a good hunting ground for deals. Thomas Cook specifically suggests Zante, a very family-friendly island, with plenty of things to see and do for little ones.
My star buys: Tui is showing me a week-long self-catering break in early August at a selection of three-star properties in Turkish resorts for £350 to £400 per person, based on a family of four sharing and including flights. Alternatively, Thomas Cook has seven nights in Thassos, Greece (home to Marble Beach, our paradise picture on the cover), from £759 per person – with £100 off if you book online using code ONLINE100, staying at the four-star Sentido Thassos Imperial on half-board, leaving Gatwick on August 31.
LUXURY VILLA DEALS
Home and away: A stylish villa in Majorca
Good news for all those who want luxury – there is no shortage of villas for stays in the coming weeks. James Villa Holidays (jamesvillas.co.uk) has dozens of properties with private pools still available in Spain in late August. Many are discounted by several hundred pounds, such as a rural, two-bedroom Andalucian property priced at £1,082 a week. It’s reassuring to book with a company such as James, which inspects the villas on its books and offers protected packages with flights and car hire.
My star buy: Ionian & Aegean Island Holidays (ionianislandholidays.com) has lots of reduced-price stays in August in villas and in apartments with shared pools on Greek islands, especially on Kefalonia. For example, a week-long package with flights and car hire staying at Villa Eleni, near Fiskardo, which has three bedrooms with private pool, is reduced by more than £1,000, based on a family of four.
LA BELLE FRANCE ON A BUDGET
How’s this for a bargain? Dover to Calais ferry crossings at civilised times of the day in August are available for about £120 return with P&O Ferries (poferries.com) and DFDS (dfdsseaways.co.uk) – and that covers the car, all the family and luggage. Keep accommodation costs to a minimum by camping, which I know from years of experience with my family, is so much more enjoyable on the continent than in the UK. Alternatively, Eurocamp (eurocamp.co.uk) is offering reductions of up to 30 per cent at some of its French parks in the second half of August, with a week in a two-bedroom static home for well under £500.
I CHOOSE MY ROOM… BEFORE I GO
Travel presenter Amanda Lamb says: ‘I love being able to choose my room before I leave for holiday – even if it’s a last-minute getaway. I use Thomas Cook’s Choose Your Room service (thomascook.com/holidays/choose-your-room/) where you get to pick your room using a floorplan of the resort, six days before you leave. My two little girls want to be as close to the action as possible, so we always try for one near the pool.’
My star buy: Pitch your own tent on a superb site in the grounds of a chateau with every imaginable facility for about £300-£400 a week for a family of four with camping-castels.co.uk.
GET MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
According to the Post Office Family Holiday Report, prices for things such as meals, drinks, and day-to-day sundries have fallen since last July in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, the Balearics, the South of France and Italy. This is due to a drop in local prices coupled with a small year-on rise in the value of the pound against the euro and other European currencies. For example, in Corfu, prices are down an astonishing 24 per cent, so a three-course meal for four with wine will cost about £73, and a Magnum ice cream is priced at £1.80.
SMART CITY BREAKS
Flights to some European cities in the peak summer months are very affordable. With short city breaks, you can travel light and avoid the often extortionate costs for checking in bags. Think about more northerly cities in cooler climes. I’ve enjoyed successful summer breaks with my boys in Prague and Amsterdam. Best-value accommodation for families are apartments on airbnb.co.uk.
My star buy: Flying from Stansted with Ryanair in the week of August 20, I’m looking at return fares from under £75 to Prague. Family-friendly apartments in the old centre on airbnb.co.uk can costs as little as £60 a night.
… AND IF YOU WANT TO STAY AT HOME
Picturesque: The still waters of Windermere
Thanks to the hot weather, it looks like a bumper year for staycations. Unearthing a five-star property by a beach may be pushing it, but I recommend you take a look at cottages.com, which has 15,000 UK properties on its books and lots of availability in August.
The website is showing me availability for more than 150 Lake District cottages sleeping four or more in the last week in August, many with discounts of about £100. To save hours of searching, also turn to lovecottages.co.uk, a single source of availability across the portfolios of some 50 regional agencies.
My star buy: For an adrenaline-filled activity break, PGL (pgl.co.uk) has some enticing late deals this summer. On family multi-activity trips, up to two children go free per full-paying adult when sharing a family room – saving as much as £409 per child. For summer camps for unaccompanied children, ‘first timer weeks’ have up to 60 per cent off, with prices from as little as £226.
LISA SNOWDEN’S BEACH ESSENTIALS
Lisa Snowdon pictured above
A last-minute break provides a great excuse to update your wardrobe. There are some fab bargains to be had, so here’s my pick of the bunch…
Gingham halterneck bikini top was £15, now £7.50, and high-waisted briefs £8.50 uk.accessorize.com
This retro bikini is the ultimate in 1950s glamour.
Snakeprint bandeau bikini, was £194, now £78 theoutnet.com
Gorgeous snakeprint design with removable padding. Ideal for serious sunbathers.
£7 cat eye glasses
Aviator-style silver-tone sunglasses, was £415, now £199 theoutnet.com
A designer bargain at more than 50 per cent off, these rose-gold glasses feature a slightly mirrored lens, making them a bold accessory.
Asos Cat eye sunglasses, were £12, now £7 asos.com
These are bang on trend – a great choice for style slaves.
Straw beach hat with pom poms, was £45, now £22 asos.com
Protect your head from UV rays and look stylish with the help of this cute straw hat complete with colourful pom poms. Perfect for sunbathing and sightseeing – and it won’t take up excess space in your suitcase.
Rag and Bone Frayed denim-trimmed straw hat, was £245, now £134 outnet.com
This wide-brimmed straw hat with denim detailing is available in both black and ecru – the lighter colour with a monochrome trim is £32 cheaper, so it’s a tough decision to make.