Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Conor Pope is a consumer journalist and broadcaster. He writes the Pricewatch page in The Irish Times (and has a weekly consumer slot on the Ray Darcy Show on Today FM). He was the co-presenter of the consumer lifestyle programme, Living Lightly on RTE last autumn and is the author of the best selling book Stop Wasting Your Money. http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/pricewatch/
With the country in an unprecedented deflationary spiral, should we all expect to find cheaper holidays this year?
The bad news is probably not. The package holiday market contracted significantly after Budget Travel's closure in November - 20 per cent of the packages we automatically taken out of the market and the diminished supply will keep prices higher than they might otherwise have been.
Although some of deals the operators shout about seem pretty extraordinary and grab headlines and I have some of them to talk about, they are mostly low-season offerings and prices in July and August have remained largely untouched by the downturn.
Anyone hoping to bag a deal in a top resort in July or August can forget about it. Falcon Holidays have week long holidays in Greece for €309 per person. Sounds good but they are for May when all tour operators struggle to sell holidays.
There are some deals available in high season. Carrots that that the tour operators are dangling in front of consumers include free child places, web-only discounts and tiny booking fees. Both Sunway and Falcon, two of the biggest operators are accepting bookings now and all you have to do is pay €50.
Now that means you have to pay more later on but in January and February when money is at its tightest for most people, the low deposits have a certain appeal.
Falcon is offering -free child places available on a first come first served basis, Free Grandparent places Free places for people in groups. These offers won't necessarily make the holiday cheap but they can take the sting out of some of the prices.
I was speaking to Falcon and they told me that all inclusive deals were growing in popularity. Not for everyone but they can suit some people and if you pick carefully and have all your cocktails, food, ice cream between meals and whatever snorkelling paid for in advance, it can work out quite economically.
The price you pay really does depend on the dates but right now the US is available for nothing and you will not get it any cheaper if you leave it later, Sunway is selling four-night packages to Las Vegas including hotels, flights and charges for around €589 and business is booming.
It has three nights in New York for just €565 and four nights in San Francisco €585 - all these prices are for this month. I have to say the represent amazing value for money. To get to Vegas for that kind of money is ridiculous - four nights in Galway would cost you nearly as much and it wouldn't be half as much fun.
Sunway is also selling week-long family holidays to Orlando in March from €464 per person based on two adults and two children under 12 sharing.
It also has a 3 Bed house with a Private Pool near Disney plus inclusive mid-size car hire for seven nights from €539 per person.
Other deals which leapt out at me from Sunway included:
Five nights in a four star hotel in Dubai for €680 in June
On the other side of the world they have a week on the Caribbean island of St Lucia in a four star resort for €795 - that's for travel between May and June.
And the one that took my fancy was an all-inclusive week in a five star resort in the Dominican Republic for €1035 per person.
When it comes to high season, however, it is an entirely different story. Finding a week-long sun holiday for two adults and two children for anywhere close to €1,000 is not possible.
At risk of annoying teachers all over the country, maybe that is exactly what people should do, at least those with children in primary school - the financial imperative is certainly there. Two weeks for a family of four in the Janelas do Mar apartments on the Algarve from May 8th with Falcon Travel costs €1,784 while a fortnight in the same resort in the middle of July with the same operator is €2,963, a price difference of nearly €1,200.
Best Location in Europe:
In terms of other locations where value is to be found, I think the most happening city is Lisbon. It's been described as the new Barcelona - whatever about that is a laid-back version of old Europe and has terrific weather most of the year.
I have been to Lisbon - just the once - and I loved it. But the reason that I think it should be mentioned is because Lisbon is cheap - according to some statistics, it's Europe's cheapest capital, with a cost of living that is roughly half that of Dublin. So not only will you be able to find cheap hotels - the most amazing boutique hotels can be found for not much more than €100pppn, eating and drinking out will be cheap as chips.
There are other ways of finding cheaper deals. The internet has transformed the holiday landscape over the past decade and people no longer have to throw themselves at the mercy of travel agents and hope they don't get sent to some half-built kip and can now trawl online picture galleries and get detailed, first-hand accounts of all but the least-visited destinations.
Depending on where and when you go and how much time you have to research deals, a DIY holiday can knock more than 25 per cent off the price of an identical package being offered by a tour operator - although, to be fair, it is impossible sometimes to match the travel agents' deals, especially at the lower end of the market.
If you are travelling without children and are going point-to-point it's grand but if you are travelling with young children, what the package gives you that nothing else can is total confidence. There are airport transfers, reps on site and people you can talk to when you get back home if there is a problem.
The other important point is that the tour operators are all completely bonded so the consumer is afforded greater protection. Money is tight for most people now and, if they are spending €2,000 on their summer holidays, they want to have confidence that they are getting good value for money.
Top Tips To Spend Less:
1. Take your time: If you're flying alone or as part of a chilled out couple to a place well served by many carriers, book late as a better deal is probably just around the corner. If not, you can always go the following week. Online booking services, such as www.skyscanner.net and www.travelocity.com, have fare alert systems which allow you to specify a flight and your price, and they will notify you if the price ever drops below that rate.
2. Hurry up: If you're booking a family holiday, book early! Last-minute deals at peak times are almost unheard of for flights or packages for families to popular, child-friendly destinations, particularly in July and August or during midterm breaks.
3. Broaden your horizons: Don't rely exclusively on Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and always check out other airlines that fly into and out of Ireland in search of bargains. You can occasionally find deals with online agents, such as Ebookers.ie, Expedia.co.uk and Lastminute.com.
4. Go north: Package deals with well known tour operators which depart from Belfast can work out significantly cheaper than identical packages which go from Cork or Dublin.
5. For long-haul flights, don't confine searches to the UK hubs. Flights to South America, Asia and Africa can be cheaper from Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt.
House swapping - The Websites:
www.1sthomeexchange.com - This website was offering the first year free when we first registered. When we renewed this year there was an offer of two years for the price of one, meaning that for $75 (€56) we got membership for 24 months.
www.homexchangevacation.com. This website has members from a wider range of countries. We've had interest from families in Italy, Spain and Malta through it. It costs $29 (€22) for three months.
www.homeexchange.com - This website featured in The Holiday, the film with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. So if you are property rich and cash restricted, go for it. You could be swapping with beach houses in NZ or penthouse apartments in NY. It costs $99.95 (€75.35) for 12 months.
www.intervac.com - The original of the species and on the go since the 1950s. Before the internet era, Intervac published a book each year with details and photos of houses