Booking a holiday, and getting the best deal while doing so, can seem like a dark and mysterious art. Personal Travel Consultant Paul Johnston has worked in the holiday industry for fifteen year’s and has visited more than 30 countries. He arranges getaways for the travel firm Destinology and has patiently helped me sort out some fantastic breaks in the past few years.
Hi Paul, what is January like for you? Busy presumably….
Spot on Helen, it’s crazy. Tour operations, hotels, and airlines are all putting their money and energy into promotions. It also always seems that, psychologically, people are starting to think about their plans for the year. Generally, whilst staring at the rain outside of the window! So it is hands down my busiest month.
Does that make it a bad time to get a good deal on a holiday?
Not at all. It’s an excellent time to get a good deal. Mind you, when it comes to booking the most popular resorts and boutique hotels in high-season, it can be a rat race. So if that’s you, get on with it. If you are looking for holidays for May half term, school summer holidays or later in the year, then this is a great time to get them booked.
Where is looking popular for summer 2018?
Europe, for ‘flop and drop’ beach holidays, and Mediterranean cruises are looking popular too. However, there’s also a strong trend for people willing to tackle the heat of the Middle East, since it is great value for money during the summer period (Mid-May to the end of September). For long-haul or multi-centre holidays, Indonesia is popular in the summer (its good weather-wise). We are also getting lots of interest in the USA and South Pacific Region as a whole.
For your money, which destinations represent the best value if you’re booking a family holiday? Or any holiday for that matter?
Let’s just talk about the summer here….I’ve already mentioned the Middle East is great value, if you can take the heat. So areas such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah etc. Another good tip, that I always suggest to my clients, is Koh Samui in Thailand. Summer is the rainy season in mainland Thailand, but Samui’s location on the Gulf gives it a different climate, so it’s enjoying one of its driest periods. But they still have great offers on.
I like that idea Paul, I went to Koh Samui on honeymoon and would totally recommend it, any more tips for value?
Well, I’d have to say that out of all the types of holiday I’ve enjoyed over the years, I always feel you struggle to get more value for money than on a cruise. Also, consider South Africa, where you can eat and drink extremely well on a relatively low budget. The British Pound is pretty strong against the Rand.
So how about worst value?
I have to be a bit tactful here, we look to provide value for money to all our customers on all of our holidays! I’d probably just say that in the post-Brexit climate, people are considering the issue of ‘spending money’ a bit more than they were before. So, in areas where it’s expensive to eat and drink (maybe areas where everything is imported, or you are restricted to a resort), the all-inclusive option is becoming more popular.
Is there such a thing as the elusive “last minute deal”
In my opinion, it’s a wee bit of an urban myth. Generally, holidays are more expensive last minute. Operators will work hard to shout about offers on packages and resorts that are available late in the day, and relative to everything else that is available at that point, they will look like a good deal. It’s a lot more common for offers to be geared towards early booking discounts.
If you are restricted to the school holidays in the summer. Which are the best weeks to go away, price wise?
I don’t have any empirical data to draw on here, but I generally find that the best rates tend to be in the earlier part of July (good if your school breaks up on the early side) or the very tail-end of August. If you can extend your holiday into early September rates tend to drop. The middle of holidays is most popular with families, so the low fares go quickly. I always ask my clients to try and be flexible with dates. It helps me to search out the best deal.
Take us off the beaten track a bit, suggest somewhere unusual to go this year…
Ok, why not fly into Nashville, and drive on through Memphis and New Orleans? The scenery is beautiful, the music and food cultures are immense, and all of the areas come to life at night. You don’t have to be a massive rock and roll, or country music buff to enjoy this part of the States. Driving between points is super easy. Perhaps just break up the Memphis to New Orleans drive and you’ll really feel like you’ve seen the country!
When is the best time to look for and book a summer holiday?
My personal tip would be to check the end of December…
Oh dear, I’ll try and remember that for next time!
While it is common knowledge that there are sales promotions running in January. Most people aren’t aware that they are generally available towards the end of the year. So get in there first.
Are there any no-go areas, safety wise, at the moment?
We’ve taken our holidays to Egypt off sale. Sadly they’ve had a challenging few years for tourism, and we feel it’s just too unstable. Perhaps in a few years, we might revisit that decision. Hopefully, the worst is now behind them as I’ve enjoyed great holidays myself there over the years.
I’ve got a few questions for you now from the good people of Instagram…
@carolinegratrixs_viva would like you to suggest somewhere unusual to explore with active children?
How about a 3 centre holiday in Thailand? Start with sight-seeing in Bangkok, then travel to Chaing Mai to experience the wildlife of rural Thailand. Because we are British, you’d have to round it off with a few days at the beach in Phuket or Krabi.
@debbiedavies1972 would like ideas for a resort for families with active kids?
Have a look at the new Ikos resort in Corfu, Dassia. As it is opening this year, the prices should be about 20% cheaper than they will be next year.
@craftykits would like to know how to get the best prices on flights?
That really depends on where you are going and which operator. It can be worth staying up until midnight with some operators, like BA, to get the best deal as soon as they become available. With others, it’s best to wait for their promotional Sales. If you want to guarantee the best price, take some advice from an expert, like me!
@looks_library would like to know ‘What is the best time of year to visit Venice?’
Well, the Italians would say anytime, but my gut feeling is early May. The weather won’t be too hot (think British summer time) and the flight prices and hotels should still be reasonably priced. Peak season starts in late May.
@the_little adventurer says ‘what is the best holiday you have ever been on?’
That’s a really difficult one, but I am going to say safari in South Africa. It was less of a holiday and more of a life experience, and a dream holiday for my wife Anna, which was fantastic to share with her.
Finally, Paul, why use a travel agent? Obviously, you are going to be biased about this.
If you search for all of the different bits of your holiday for the through the cheapest channels you may well save a nominal amount, but it doesn’t give you the safety and protection of an ATOL-licensed operator. Imagine those customers who booked with Monarch a few months ago. When the airline went into liquidation, if you hadn’t booked through an agent, you were left to resolve the situation on your own.
But that’s a pretty unusual situation….
Tour operators do get commercial rates with airlines and hotels, so our prices should be competitive. Ask yourself how much is your time really worth? I can hand on heart say that I would not be bothered trying to save a few pounds by jigsaw-piecing my holiday together. By the time you have spent all of that time researching everything, you may well have lost the original price anyway.
Paul Johnston is Personal Travel Consultant with luxury travel specialists Destinology. I have no connection with Destinology, nor interest in promoting their brand, but Paul has booked several holidays for my family and friends. We have found him to be a thoroughly decent bloke.
Are you a genius at finding great holidays at a great price? Please share your secrets in the comments section below.