How to save money on holiday - expert tips for holidaymakers

Knowing how to save money on holiday, both before you go and while you’re there, is key to keeping costs under control

Family walking on beach at sunset
(Image credit: Getty images)

If you’re planning on getting away, then understanding how to save money on holiday will ensure you avoid spending unnecessarily. 

Rising costs, on everything from food to energy, have dented most families’ spending budgets, which means we’re all looking for ways to save money (opens in new tab). And finding the best deals and avoiding hidden cost dangers when it comes to holidays has never been more important. 

Julian House (opens in new tab), Managing Director at My Favourite Voucher Codes (opens in new tab), says: “From pre-planning to blagging, getting that ever-elusive upgrade to not being bankrupt by airport parking, nobody wants to be paying more than they have to on their summer getaway.”

Here are our best money saving tips and tricks you should know to save money on your holiday, whether it’s how to find the cheapest flights (opens in new tab), or cheap airport parking (opens in new tab), or answering the question around whether shopping in duty free is actually cheaper (opens in new tab) than buying online or on the high street. 

How to save money when booking your holiday

Find cheap flights

There are various tricks and hacks you can use to find the cheapest flights. Signing up for the latest deals from free flight alert site Jack’s Flight Club (opens in new tab) and searching Skyscanner (opens in new tab) and KAYAK (opens in new tab), as well as budget airline sites, for deals is a great start. You should also try to be as flexible as possible in terms of the date and time you fly, as well as which airport you fly from to get the best deal. 

Evan Day (opens in new tab), UK Country Manager at travel site KAYAK, says: “Book six weeks in advance for international flights and set up price alerts. Opting for midweek travel can be up to 60% cheaper on short haul, and up to 30% cheaper for longer haul flights.”

You could also try to cut the cost of your flight with stopovers.  KAYAK’s Evan Day, continues: “It may seem like a lot of hassle but an extra couple of hours on a long journey could save you hundreds – and in some cases be could be enough to pay for a hotel room in another city so you can extend your break for no extra cost”.

While you may have snapped up a cheap ticket, you should make sure to also check baggage rules. Bags in the hold may be included on long haul ticket prices, but with budget airlines you may have to pay more – even for larger cabin bags. Check sizes and weight limits with your airline.

Get the cheapest accommodation

Booking your accommodation directly can get you the cheapest price.  If you spot a deal on a site like Booking.com (opens in new tab), always check the rate back with the hotel or apartment rental company directly, as some may beat it to save on commission charges.

With Airbnb (opens in new tab) you can set a budget for searches - but do check service and cleaning fees when working out the overall price.   

If you’re booking flights with a travel agent, ask about accommodation too.  They often have deals and promotions with access to discounts you won’t get booking as an individual.

Save when booking your hire car

Booking in advance, opting for the smallest car suitable and sorting your own excess protection insurance are key ways to save on the cost of your holiday car hire (opens in new tab) and keep fees as low as possible. 

The cost of a week’s holiday hire car in Europe has doubled since 2019 – to an average of £455 a week according to iCarhireinsurance.com (opens in new tab) and added extras, such as an additional driver or child’s car seat,  can triple the cost. 

Basic insurance is usually included when hiring a car abroad, but if you have a minor prang, you could be clobbered with an excess of up to around £2,000. Always buy your excess protection insurance yourself before you go on holiday. Buying your own excess protection cover could cost you less than £3 a day, while buying it through your holiday car hire provider could cost around £190.

Save on airport parking

Always pre-book rather than paying the gate rate to save around 60% on airport parking.

Julian House, MD at My Favourite Voucher Codes, warns: “The average cost of a four-day stay in a UK airport carpark is a staggering £75 – a frankly insidious add-on cost to your planned break away, particularly if, like many, parking was the last thing on your mind when weighing up your holiday expenses.”

Booking parking through cashback sites, such as TopCashback, can help you to save around 50% with Holiday Extras (opens in new tab) and up to 45% with Airparks (opens in new tab).

Protect your trip with travel insurance

Wondering if you need travel insurance (opens in new tab)? You’re not alone. According to research by GoCompare, 40% of holidaymakers don’t plan on buying travel insurance (opens in new tab).  But travel insurance is essential for peace of mind should your holiday be cancelled before you go, or if you fall ill or lose your luggage while abroad. 

It’s always worth buying your travel insurance as soon as you book your trip. This will mean you get cancellation cover and could get a large chunk of your money back if you, or a close family member, fall ill and you can’t go on your holiday. But you will only be covered if you have insurance in place at the time the event that causes you to to cancel happens. 

Packing your Global Health Insurance Card (opens in new tab), (or European Health Insurance Card if yours is still valid) is a great addition to your holiday wallet, but no substitute for a travel insurance policy. 

You can compare prices for travel insurance at GoCompare (opens in new tab).

Check your passport

This might sound obvious but always check that your passport is still valid before you book your holiday. With the Passport Office facing unprecedented volumes of applications, how long it takes to get a passport (opens in new tab) is probably longer than you think. Should your new or renewed passport not arrive in time, you will find yourself unable to travel, and even if you have travel insurance in place, you may not get your money back. 

The alternative is a last minute dash to the Passport Office and paying over the odds for a new passport. And that’s if you can even get an appointment before you go. 

Make a list so you remember to pack the essentials

Check you’ve got everything before leaving home.  Julian House from My Favourite Voucher Codes, says: “One in three adults spend an extra £75 while they’re away simply because they forget to pack essentials.”

This can be something as simple as a travel adapter plug that you can buy for under £2 in places like Wilko (opens in new tab) or much more if you wait till the airport or have to scrabble around finding one in a small local souvenir shop in your resort. 

How to save money at the airport

Save with an airport lounge pass

Buying an airport lounge pass may sound pricey, but prices actually start from just £13.50. 

But as you can get free food and drink in an airport lounge, it can work out cheaper than the cost of coffees, drinks and a meal in an airport restaurant.

Our sister site The Money Edit explains the tips and tricks to bag free or cheap airport lounge passes (opens in new tab).

Mother and child walking through airport holding hands

(Image credit: Getty images)

Sitting together on the plane for free

When travelling as a family, you’ll understandably want to make sure you can all sit together on the plane (opens in new tab) - without having to pay extra. 

With budget airlines, if you want to sit together you’ll pay for the privilege, unless you’re prepared to take a chance and see what seats you’re given when online check-in opens. 

Airline policies on how hard they try to seat smaller children with at least one adult in the party varies – so check the rules with your airline if you don’t want to take a chance.  And if you’re going to have sleepless nights worrying – it’s worth paying to book seats in advance – which can be up to £12.99 per person with easyJet.

Be wise when shopping in duty free

Historically, buying luxuries in duty free was a great way to bag a bargain, but it pays to know that duty free isn’t always cheaper (opens in new tab), and you may actually get your chosen item for less by buying it online. 

If you do plan on making some duty free purchases, do a little research online and check that it’s the cheapest way to buy before you commit. 

How to save money while on holiday

Look out for free or public transport

If you don’t have a car, ask if your hotel has a free shuttle bus, as some run free or cheap trips to local waterparks, the nearest town or another beach.  Some local attractions, like waterparks, may even run free buses to get tourists through the doors. 

You should also check out local bus or metro routes and see whether you can buy a week’s season ticket rather than paying per trip. Some cities have discounted travel at weekends so it’s worth saving big trips for these days. In Sydney, for example, with an Opal Card (opens in new tab) you can travel on the buses, trains and ferries for around £4 a day at the weekend. 

Save on eating out

Booking an all inclusive holiday can help you budget as once there all your food and drink is covered. But if you’re booked an apartment and want to go out - lunch menus are often cheaper than the dinner version so it’s worth eating out earlier if you can. And check if you’ll be charged a cover charge for extras like bread – some restaurants do this while in others it’s free.

Opting for set-price menu deals will also be cheaper than a la carte menus, but it may mean eating at off peak times and may not be offered on every day of the week. 

If your accommodation has a kitchen or kitchenette, you could make significant savings by finding a local supermarket and preparing your own food. This can be especially useful when it comes to day trips - you can pack a lunch before you go.

Mother and daughter playing in swimming pool

(Image credit: Getty images)

Avoid roaming charges

During our time in the EU, we’ve been able to use our phones across Europe, safe in the knowledge that any calls, texts or internet usage would come out of our inclusive package. Post-Brexit, this is not necessarily the case anymore and holiday makers could find themselves facing hefty roaming charges abroad (opens in new tab) without realising it. 

Check with your provider before you leave home whether you are likely to be charged any roaming fees, and if you are, there are ways to avoid them. Before you leave home, download any flight information, maps, TV shows or music you may need on your holiday, so that you can access them without using your data. 

You can also turn roaming off on your phone so you can’t accidentally incur charges. 

If your accommodation offers free Wifi, then make sure you use that if you want to check or post on social media, or call anyone. 

Check any debit and credit card fees

Over one in three of us don’t check the charges on our credit cards while abroad according to credit card booster company Tymit (opens in new tab). Most standard debit and credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee – typically between 2.75 and 2.99%.  This means for every £100 you spend on your debit or credit card, you may pay an extra £3 in fees. Check any charges attached to your debit or credit card using this calculator on MoneySavingExpert.com (opens in new tab)

Always pay in the local currency rather than pounds

Always pay in the local currency to save money, even if you are offered the option of converting into pounds. Dynamic Currency Conversion, as it’s known, can ramp up your bill by around 5%. While it may not sound much on a smaller amount, if you’re paying that on every purchase, it’ll soon tot up. It could make the difference between having enough cash to see you through or needing to take out more to tide you over on the last few days of your trip. .

Jo Bullard, Director of Bank Accounts at Metro Bank (opens in new tab), says: “When using your card abroad it’s increasingly common for shops, restaurants and ATMs to let you convert payments into sterling on the spot. This can take the hassle out of working out how much things will cost but it’s always worth being mindful that the exchange rate being used may not be as competitive as the exchange rate offered by your bank.”

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound. Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!