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Updated: 29 Nov 2021

Seven mistakes you’re making when booking a holiday cottage in the UK

These common pitfalls can make your holiday much pricier. Read our tips to save precious pounds while booking a UK stay
Which? Team
cottage with beautiful garden

Breaks in the UK, such as cottage stays, can be a decent money saver if you're on a budget for your 2022 holiday. But falling into certain booking traps can burn through your spending money We found that mistakes, like forgetting to compare listing sites or booking your cottage during a popular local event can ramp up the cost of your holiday by a significant amount. Through our research we've also debunked a number of common money-saving assumptions, finding that instead of sticking to hard and fast rules, flexibility is best when it comes to making your budget go further. Read on for our advice on booking your UK cottage accommodation.

Accidentally booking during a local event

It’s often a pleasant surprise to realise you’ve booked a cottage just down the road from a local festival, annual fair or sporting event. But that serendipity can come at a cost, and avoiding larger events is a great way to save money if you’re on a budget while booking a UK stay. If the event is particularly popular you may find yourself splashing out more, because demand is higher for nearby accommodation. As an example, during the Gold Cup horse race meeting in Cheltenham, we found that bedrooms can be almost six times more expensive than if you arrived a week later. We also spotted that a B&B in Milton Keynes was more than 60% cheaper for guests arriving just one week after the nearby Silverstone Grand Prix.

Read our holiday cottage company reviews to discover who and who not to book with

Settling for the first price you see 

couple booking using credit card on laptop

Found your dream cottage? Check it isn’t listed cheaper elsewhere. Holiday cottages often appear on multiple booking websites, for varied prices. In a matter of minutes, we found savings worth hundreds of pounds. 

A week's stay at the four-bed Lake District holiday home, Windsor Farm House, was £2,726 through Airbnb, but the same property was £136 cheaper via Booking.com at £2,590. No single site was consistently cheaper in our research. Skerryvore, a holiday home in Oban, Scotland, was listed for £980 via Booking.com, but it was nearly £300 cheaper at £700 when we phoned to book directly via Independent Cottages

Booking direct with a holiday cottage owner can save you money on third-party fees. Just make sure you find a cottage owner who accepts payment by credit card, rather than bank transfer, to protect yourself against fraud. Also be sure to ask them their cancellation policy upfront and get this in writing.

Falling for rip-off listings 

Booking eye surgery 483370

Booking directly can also leave you vulnerable to scams. The current demand for self-catered cottages means opportunistic criminals are likely to have their sights set on your next booking. Advertising non-existent properties is a common scam. 

Check that the property exists by looking up the address on Google Maps and using street view, if available. And check third-party review sites such as TripAdvisor, rather than just trusting the cottage’s website. For added peace of mind, use a listing site that does its own verification checks.

You can also be targeted when using cottage companies. Scammers can intercept emails you thought were going to the provider and convince you to pay them directly. If in doubt, call the company or owner to check.

Assuming a shorter stay will be cheaper 

family walking in woods

The longer you stay in a cottage, the lower the rate often works out per night. Investing in one long break can be cheaper than taking multiple mini-breaks. 

For example, Derwent Cottage in Keswick booked through Heart of the Lakes works out at £81 per night for three nights, £74 per night for four nights or £49 per night for seven nights.  We found that prices tend to bottom out after about six or seven nights, so there was very little difference in value between seven, 14 or 21-night stays.

Booking too far in advance

person putting feet up in front of a fire

Though getting organised and booking ahead of seasonal rush can sometimes save you money, it’s also possible to shave pounds off the price by checking late-availability listings on holiday cottage websites.

When booked two weeks in advance, we found a five-night stay at The National Trust's South Pilton Green Farmhouse in Wales was £53 cheaper, cut from £535 to £482. Just make sure you’re not being fooled by fake savings. Without tracking prices over time, it’s difficult to tell how much of a bargain you’re really getting. We tracked prices over a year-long period and in that time saw plenty of suspect-looking ‘discounts’ that were impossible to verify.

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Not experimenting with party size 

group of people at table in forest cottage holiday

Now that UK restrictions on mixing households have lifted, you may want to consider sharing your cottage with a group of friends or another couple or family. The more the merrier, it seems, when it comes to booking a cottage. We found that a couple can stay for four nights in a one-bed cabin in Bude, Cornwall, for £351 this May via Airbnb. But an apartment nearby, with the same star rating and sleeping four, was available for £567. That's just £284 per couple – a saving of £67 per household.

Booking during weekends and peak times

Though planning your stay across a weekend is easier on the annual leave allowance, you may find yourself stumping up a premium for the privilege. Swap a weekend break for a weekday getaway and you’ll find yourself with a longer trip for less. That rule won’t apply to every cottage, but it’s definitely worth a try if you can be flexible.

For example, Ancient House in Clare, Suffolk, via The Landmark Trust was £592 for a three-night stay from Friday to Monday in March. But when we switched to a four-night stay Monday to Friday, the same cottage was £90 cheaper (£502). Travelling during school term time can also make a huge difference. Some cottage listings are hundreds of pounds more expensive over the half-term breaks and Easter, and we found cottages that doubled in price in the summer holidays. The National Trust’s Dyffryn Mymbyr Cottage in Snowdonia, for example, costs £799 for 7 nights in March 2022, but jumps to £1099 by May.

If you’re looking for a bargain, Forest Holidays told us that you can find its lowest prices at the start of December, in mid-January and in mid-February.

There are some discrepancies between bank holiday dates across England and Wales versus Scotland and Ireland – you can sometimes use this to your advantage if booking a stay in a different UK nation.