The 7 best ways to save money on holidays abroad

Holidays are great for the spirit but can be tough on the bank balance. To help, we’ve focused on the easiest travel-saving tips that you save the biggest chunks of change. Better still, many of them are one-hit wonders — or at least once-a-year wonders. Take action now and you’ll save on every trip for a year with no extra effort on your part. 

Main photo: Breakfast with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro (Getty Images)

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Curve is a payment app which incorporates all your cards in one (Alamy)

1. Get the all-in-one card

Debit and credit card fees for spending and withdrawals abroad can be absurdly high — often a flat fee of £1-2 plus a percentage fee of 3-4 per cent on each transaction. Spend £500 on a trip and you could easily be paying £20 to the bank for the privilege.

But you can still use these cards — including earning any rewards you’d get with them — while avoiding the fees with a magic piece of plastic.

The trick is to “load” all of your existing cards onto the Curve card. Despite looking and acting like an ordinary Mastercard, it’s neither a debit nor credit card.

Curve is simply a “blank,” similar to Google Pay or Apple Wallet. You download the Curve app, apply for the card — free to use, but there’s a £5 one-off delivery fee — then load all of your existing Mastercards and Visas onto it (it doesn’t work with Amex). 

You’ll get a physical card in the post soon after, and then can use it anywhere in the world that Mastercard debit is accepted. 

When you use it abroad, it removes all of your foreign-exchange fees while giving you the best exchange rate, too. But there are limits to this perk. With the free card, it’s £500 of spending and £200 of withdrawals per month. The premium Curve cards have higher limits plus other travel perks, too, such as travel and car-hire insurance.

Need to know Curve Mastercard isn’t covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, but it comes with its own similar Curve Customer Protection.

Travel agents Trailfinders (Alamy)

2. Always use flight-comparison sites

The major flight-comparison sites have tools that constantly scan prices at thousands of websites all the time. They can compare prices from thousands of websites in seconds, finding you the best prices for your flight, anywhere on earth.

Sometimes your airline will have its own flights at the cheapest price, but many times, they’re cheaper through online travel agents (OTA). These OTAs, such as Expedia, Trailfinders, Dialaflight, can buy flights at better prices than you or me can, through special deals they have with the airlines. They can then either pocket the difference or offer the flights at different prices — sometimes lower, sometimes higher. 

The flight-comparison sites check flight prices from thousands of OTAs — and from the airlines themselves — so you can be sure you’re always finding the best deal for the flight you want. However, if you need a refund or exchange for any reason, you will need to contact the OTA, rather than the airline.

The best flight comparison sites are Skyscanner, Kayak, Momondo and Google Flights.

Need to know You cannot book flights directly with comparison sites. If you click a link on the site that takes you to a booking page, what it’s actually doing is taking you to another website for the booking — so make sure you’re happy with that company before making the booking. Scam websites will occasionally briefly appear on comparison sites, sometimes mimicking the real airline or travel agent, so remember to never pay for your flights by bank transfer.

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3. Book directly with the hotel or B&B

Just as with flights, it is always worth comparing hotels. You can use some of the comparison sites above, and also check the hotel-comparison specialist Trivago

But before you hit “book” with any of these, always check with the hotel itself. If the rate on the hotel’s own website isn’t as good as you’ve seen elsewhere, then give them a call or email, or hop on the online chat. They will almost always meet or beat the price you’ve seen.

Best of all, if you book direct, just as with flights, you’ll be first in line for any potential room upgrades, and they will often also throw in extra perks, too, such as free breakfasts or wi-fi. You pay the same price — or even less — but significantly increase your chance of perks. Plus that’s more money in the pocket of the accommodation provider, many of whom are small, independent businesses.

Need to know Some small hoteliers and guesthouses will only accept direct bookings if you send a deposit by bank transfer or cheque. Unless you are sure this is a property you can trust, in this case, it might be safer to book through a third-party booking site. 

Shop around for travel insurance (Getty Images)

4. Sort your travel insurance immediately

You have two main options when it comes to insuring your travels: single-trip or annual. Theoretically, you should calculate the value and days of all of your trips for the year ahead, then multiply that times the cost of single-trip policies versus an annual policy.

But realistically, who knows all of that information a year ahead? The easy answer — if you’re likely to go on holiday three or more times a year, an annual policy is usually cheaper. 

The exception is if you have serious pre-existing medical conditions or are over 70, when it can often be cheaper to arrange single-trip policies. Try the leading specialist comparison site Medical Travel Compared, plus MoneySuperMarket, CompareTheMarket, GoCompare and Confused.com.

Crucially, take it out as soon as your book your holiday for the important “pre-trip” coverage these policies include, such as cancellations caused by an illness or the death of a close family member. For an annual policy, that means you need to set the “start” of the policy to today as opposed to the first date of the trip, but for single-trip, this pre-trip cover starts the day you take out your policy, even if your trip is a year away.

Need to know If you get a serious illness between the day you take out your policy and the start of your trip, you must inform your insurer. They can then decide to either pay the cancellation costs of your trip or will confirm that you will still be covered. If you don’t inform them, then you get seriously ill on holiday, your cover could be voided in the same way as if you’d failed to inform them of pre-existing conditions before taking out the policy in the first place. 

Arrange car-hire excess insurance before your trip (Alamy)

5. Always buy car-hire insurance separately

You get to the car-hire desk and they always try to upsell you onto their insanely expensive add-on insurance. Otherwise, they say, you’ll pay through the nose for the merest whisper of a scratch — and that’s true. Yet the top-up insurance sold directly by car-hire companies is almost always overpriced.

There’s another, much cheaper way to get the same cover for a fraction of the price — often 50-75 per cent less. Simply arrange your own car-hire excess insurance from the UK with a separate insurance company. You can get single-trip cover, but if you hire cars three or more times a year, opt for an annual policy.

Deals vary all the time, but look on Google for “car-hire excess insurance”. You can also find it on some comparison sites, including Confused.com and TravelSupermarket.com. But before buying, just double-check your credit, debit and specialist cards and bank accounts because it’s sometimes included in packaged or premium accounts.

Need to know If you arrange your own car-hire excess insurance policy and there’s damage to the car, you will have to pay the excess to the car-hire company, then claim it back separately from your insurer, so make sure to get all the paperwork, photos and evidence.

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6. The power of packages

Most of us build DIY trips at least some of the time, cobbling together our own flights and accommodation, but there’s a reason travel agents still exist. Find a good agency and they can create brilliant trips for you with little to no effort on your part — and often for much less money than if you pieced the trip together yourself.

But even if you flit from one travel agent to another in search of the best deal, there is one key benefit that many people have recently realised is vital — Atol protection. 

If your airline or travel agent goes bust and you had booked a “flight-plus” trip — which means a flight, plus either accommodation, car hire or a cruise — the Atol scheme will either refund the cost of the trip or, if you’re abroad, help get you home. As the travel industry is still struggling, the unfortunately reality is that more travel agents and airlines will go bust, so this extra protection is worth having.

Unfortunately, most travel insurance doesn’t include this type of cover as standard, so if this happens to you when you’re abroad, you could have to spend a small fortune to get back home. 

Need to know Atol is not the same as travel insurance. It does only one thing — helps you if your airline or travel agent goes bust. But remember it doesn’t cover most flight-only bookings, so for those, make sure your insurance includes either Airline Failure or End Supplier Failure cover.

7. The freebie you should never forget

Even though we’re not in the EU any more, the UK is still part of a European-wide health-cover scheme. It used to be called EHIC, but now for the UK, it’s GHIC.

It’s not a replacement for travel insurance, but it does offer you medical cover at the same rate as locals pay in many European countries — and this vital cover is free. In France, for example, with your GHIC card, if you need to go to hospital in an emergency, you’ll typically find 80 per cent of your stay (sometimes 100 pet cent) covered by the card. Without it, you could end up owing the hospital thousands of pounds for even a minor injury.

Get your GHIC here — and beware of the many scam websites that try to make you think you have to pay for this. Both the application and the card are completely free.

But even if you do have travel insurance, you should also provide your GHIC card to the hospital; do this, and in many cases, your travel insurer will waive your excess on any fees you’d still have to pay.

Need to know GHICs don’t offer the same level of cover as travel insurance, and in many countries, such as Spain, even emergency cases are routinely sent to private hospitals, where the GHIC is unlikely to cover you.

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