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17 Oct 2019

9 essential half-term holiday tips: from last-minute deals to Ryanair rip-offs

Save on car hire, hotels and holidays this half-term

From where to find a last-minute package holiday to not being ripped-off by Ryanair's currency exchange, we've pulled together essential tips from our recent investigations and reviews to help you save on your half-term holiday.

We regularly investigate the worst travel rip-offs and scams, as well as which websites and firms really have the best deals on everything from car hire to flights. Below we reveal how to pay less on everything from taking money out abroad to your next UK hotel break.

From fake reviews and dodgy deals to advice on the best hotels, cruise lines and car hire companies, find out more about Which? Travel.

1. There is still time to find a half-term holiday deal

Haven't booked anything? The good news is that package holidays tend to get sold off in the week or two before travel, as operators try to fill seats. You won't have as much choice about the destination or hotel, but if you're willing to be flexible now is a good time to bag a deal.

Deals websites are a good place to start, but some are better than others. Lastminute.com, for example, was rated the worst site to book your hotel, and Gotogate was rated the worst place for buying a flight in our customer satisfaction surveys. Find out about Secret Escapes, Travelzoo and some of the best places to find a deal in our full review of hotel and flight booking sites.

2. Don't pay 6% extra on Ryanair flights

If you're booking a one-way flight from a European city back to the UK with Ryanair, you're almost certainly paying too much for your ticket. While Ryanair advertises these fares in euros, at the time of payment it automatically switches the currency to pounds for UK customers. Our research found this exchange rate is almost always worse than if you paid in euros, and let your card issuer or bank do the exchange rate conversion.

On average, we found Ryanair's rip off exchange rates were costing customers 6% extra.

3. Buy travel insurance when you book, not when you travel

Many holidaymakers book their travel insurance for the day the holiday starts. That's a mistake, because it means you aren't covered for cancellations or disruption prior to departure. This could leave you thousands of pounds out of pocket.

The best policies will cover you if you're ill and can't travel or if the airline or travel agent goes bust. Read our travel insurance reviews to find out which policy is best for you.

4. Make sure you take your Ehic with you

The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) provides free or discounted emergency health care across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

It's still unclear what will happen to the Ehic when the UK leaves the European Union. If there is a deal, some or all of its benefits may remain. If the UK leaves without a deal the Ehic card will no longer be valid. But today, and for this half-term it's still in use and could save you from a hefty bill if you fall ill abroad.

5. Save 3% on your holiday spending by using the right card

Using the wrong card credit card or debit card when abroad can add between 2-3% to the cost of everything you buy, and even the money you withdraw from an ATM. Some debit card providers - such as Halifax, RBS, NatWest, Santander and Lloyds TSB - add an additional 'penalty fee'. In short, the wrong card could cost you a fortune.

Use our overseas credit card spending tables to make sure you are taking a card that charges 0% when spending abroad.

6. Don't be bullied into a bad deal by booking websites

With just days to go before the half-term break, you might be desperate to find somewhere to stay - but don't let hotel booking websites, such as Booking.com, pressure you into buying before you've found the best deal.

Our research has repeatedly found that claims on hotel booking websites that there is 'only 1 room left on our site' to be false. These prompts are used to try and convince customers to rush into paying. Our snapshot research found five out of 10 of Booking.com's 'only X room left on our site' claims failed to give an accurate picture of availability.

7. Or by your car hire company

Many car hire companies like to advertise rates that almost give the car away, but then claw back profits by charging for extras - that includes trying to pressure sell overpriced and inferior insurance at the desk, when customers come to collect their car.

Never buy insurance from the car hire rental firm. Our mystery shop found that it was five times more expensive than buying it from a third party, and often less comprehensive. We found car hire companies, such as Avis, Europcar and Enterprise, charging an average of £110 for a week's insurance in Spain. But the average price from the best online excess insurance companies for the same period was just £21.

8. Never check into a Britannia hotel

The Britannia chain of hotels rated the worst in the UK by guests; four in 10 guests had a problem with their stay, a third of which were related to cleanliness. For that rock bottom quality you might expect rock bottom prices. Don't.

Guests told us they paid an average of £82 a night. That's a higher average room rate than at several other hotel chains in our survey, including the brand rated best hotel chain in Britain.

9. Book cheap flights for the next school holiday

While it might be too late to bag any bargain flights for this half-term, you can start planning for the next one. We crunched the numbers on millions of flight fares over two years to work out how far in advance you needed to book to get the best price.

For the summer school holidays we estimate six months in advance is when you are likely to find the best fare, while flights for Easter are best booked around Christmas time. Use our complete guide on when to book to get the best deal on your next flight.