Mal Rogers looks at how you can make traveling a little easier this summer.
BAG A BARGAIN
1. The cheapest time to go to sun resorts in North Africa and the Middle East (Sharm el-Sheikh, or Eilat for instance) is the first week in December.
The weather is good, the resorts will be sparsely populated, and a week with full board will probably cost you less than a weekend in London.
To give an example, the Royal Makadi Resort in Hurghada, Makadi Bay, Egypt is offering seven nights full board, flights from London Gatwick for £387 per person in the first week of December (with Thomas Cook).
2. If you’re a couple with grown up kids, or no kids, or a single wanderer travelling alone and not tied to holidaying at a specific time, don’t rush your booking. A better deal is probably just round the corner.
Constantly monitor the web, sign up for newsletters with the likes of Thompson or Irish Ferries, and do as much research as possible. Read the small ads in the newspapers, look in the window of your local travel agent. A few hours research could save you hundreds.
3. On the other hand, if you’re booking a family holiday, and are tied to school holiday times, book early. Last-minute deals are almost unknown for flights or package deals for families. Popular, child-friendly destinations — especially during July or August are likely to be booked way in advance.
Shop around. The web is your obvious starting off point — but don’t forget travel agents. Although the industry has been badly hit by the internet, those travel agents that have been left standing are usually lean and efficient and have some terrific deals.
With a travel agent you’ll know what you’re getting on a holiday, and what’s included. And if the holiday falls short for any reason, you’ll be protected by statute and compensation paid. Just make sure whoever you’re booking with belongs to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) the regulatory body for British Travel Agents. In Ireland it’s the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).
4. For long haul flights, London is one of the major hubs of the world. But it might just be worth casting your net wider — Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam have similar status and you can always pick up a budget flight there. Can be messy, but depending on your destination you could make substantial savings.
MAKING YOUR JOURNEY HASSLE-FREE
1. For hassle-free entry into the US, don’t forget that you can fly to Dublin from Britain and go through all immigration and visa checks at the US border — in Dublin Airport. Unique for anywhere outside North America, Ireland offers US pre-clearance before you even leave its shores. This means you’re processed by US immigration officials, visa and customs, before being shown the door that leads to the New World.
2. If you’ve to spend a long time at an airport it could be worth spending the £20 or so it costs to while away the time in a corporate lounge. These usually provide the following: a selection of free drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), snacks (the quality and quantity can vary) free newspapers and wifi. So if you normally spend a few quid on food or meals at an airport this is definitely worth considering.
3. Many people buy priority boarding in preference to allocated seating. It’s probably better the other way around. At many airports in Europe passengers are bussed to the plain, and the priority boarders don’t always get priority.
4. If you do go for allocated seating, the emergency exits provide substantially more leg room, and if you opt for the forward seats (there are two emergency rows) you won’t have anyone pressed up behind you.
5. Take a photocopy of your passport and keep it separate from your passport (even better take a smartphone photo of it). At Heathrow Airport alone 1,000 passports are lost or misplaced every year. Having details of it could save you quite a bit of hassle. Having said that, losing your passport isn’t quite as serious as it used to be. If you have the details they can be replaced fairly quickly.
The biggest consideration with passports is probably validity. Ensure you have at least a year of validity on your passport before departing anywhere outside the EU. If you don’t, check that your destination country will allow you in with less than a year to run. Some require only six months validity, but you need to check.
Ryanair has continued its policy of charging £70 at the airport if you haven’t checked in online. Flybe, easyjet and British Airways make no charge if you’ve forgotten to check in online; with Aer Lingus it’s optional.
The Ryanair charge is particularly significant given a new feature introduced. You can now pre-book seats on any Ryanair flight for £5 or £10 depending on where you choose to sit.
However, along with this facility they have introduced a hidden penalty. Ryanair has reduced the online check-in time for those without allocated seating from the 15 days prior to departure date to just seven days — on each leg of your journey. Those who have paid for seats have a 30 day window in which to check-in. Worth bearing in mind if you’re booking a long stay anywhere.
In preparation for a hassle free holiday, if you’re booking airline tickets online, check you’ve got all the details correct. Despite Ryanair’s efforts to become ‘more cuddly’ you’ve still only got 24 hours to change minor mistakes in the mis-spelling of names, incorrect routings/dates. After that, if a mistake isn’t rectified you could find yourself facing up to the cost of a new ticket.
Other airlines have different regimes, but largely speaking — make a mistake, and it’ll cost you.
Make absolutely sure names on the booking are spelt exactly the same as in passports, check you’ve got AM and PM correct, make sure you’re booking in the right direction — Glasgow to Belfast, and not Belfast to Glasgow type of thing.