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With the national lockdown still in place, and uncertainty over when and where restrictions will be lifted, booking a British holiday is still a risky prospect. But if you’re tempted to secure a UK cottage break and you’re after a bargain, it’s worth remembering that cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful.
Last year we surveyed more than 6,500 holiday cottage customers about their experiences with 19 of the best-known companies.
Ten of the companies offered cheaper rates of less than £40 per person per night on average, but most of those received lower ratings overall, and many had terrible refund policies when the pandemic began.
Why cheap holiday cottages are rarely a good deal
Two well-known companies offering cheaper rates are Sykes and Cottages.com. In the early stages of the pandemic, we heard that both Cottages.com and Sykes left thousands of customers without cash refunds for bookings they were unable to fulfil due to national lockdown restrictions, until the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) stepped in.
Lakelovers, Heart of the Lakes, Cornish Cottage Holidays and Coast and Country Cottages are all part of the Sykes Holiday Cottages family. Cottages.com is owned by Vacation Rentals, which has English Country Cottages under its umbrella. All of these companies offer accommodation for less than £40 per person per night.
While Sykes Holiday Cottages and Vacation Rentals now offer refunds if government restrictions mean it’s illegal to travel, there were companies that refunded consumers without the need for CMA undertakings, such as Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) National Trust and Forest Holidays.
Coast and Country Cottages and Toad Hall Cottages both offer lodgings for a bargain £38 per person per night on average, so it’s slightly concerning they only scored three out of five for value for money in our annual survey.
Lower prices don’t always mean bad value though. Independent Cottages performed well in our survey and offers properties for £35 per person per night on average.
Independent Cottages is, however, just a listing site. You can use it to find suitable cottages, but must then liaise directly with the owner. Therefore everything from customer service to refund policies depends on each individual owner. If you’re thinking of booking, quiz the owner on their COVID-19 refund policies before paying out for accommodation.
Why it pays to look beyond the price
National Trust and Landmark Trust’s holiday homes are more expensive than many others in our survey at £44 and £47 per person per night respectively, but the fees you pay go to charity.
Money paid for accommodation will help save and preserve historically, culturally or architecturally important buildings for future generations to enjoy – so there’s a feel-good factor with choosing to book with these charities. Plus, they both scored highly in our survey all-round.
Forest Holidays is the most expensive cottage holiday company at £56 per per person per night. But every lodge comes with a hot tub, so it’s perhaps no surprise prices are higher.
While it’s wise to choose a well-rated accommodation provider, the coronavirus crisis has highlighted just how important good refund policies are too.
A UK trip is probably your best option this year, but it will still depend on government regulations at the time of the holiday. It will pay to be cautious and choose a company that will definitely refund if you’re placed under government restrictions.
Our WRPs National Trust and Forest Holidays are both well-rated and flexible and will refund you if you’re placed under local restrictions at the time of your trip. They’ll also refund you if you fall ill with COVID-19 or are asked to isolate by NHS Test and Trace. Find out more companies with flexible booking policies.