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Planning a holiday abroad? Martin Lewis on his ten things to know before you go
Let your wallet take a holiday when you go abroad. If you're planning a trip away, act now to avoid pain in Spain, getting hustled in Brussels, or breaking the banka in Sri Lanka. If you wait till you go, it'll be too late – and the costs can rocket.
Here are my 10 must-knows if you are heading abroad.
1. Cut the cost of car hire by sorting it out well before you leave home
Don’t imagine you’ll get the best deal by leaving it until you arrive at your destination – often that can more than double your costs.
As a simple start point, use comparison sites www.carrentals.co.uk and www.kayak.co.uk to find the cheapest deal. In some locations it's possible to get a car for under £10 a day. Yet when you try to collect the car, the hire firm will try a hard sell based on additional "excess insurance". The problem is, this kind of insurance can be worth it - have a scratch and they’ll be likely to charge the whole lot. So if you want it, plan ahead and get a standalone excess policy for a fraction of the cost via the comparison site www.moneymaxim.co.uk.
2. Get the best deal on your holiday spending by getting the right card for the job
Choose the best plastic and the rates are unbeatable. The cheapest way to spend abroad is to use a specialist overseas credit card that you only use when abroad. Though you must repay it in full each month, preferably by direct debit, so there’s no interest or that more than wipes out any gain.
Most plastic adds a 3% ‘load’, so spend £100 of euros and it costs £103. Yet these top cards smash bureaux de change with near-perfect rates, as they are ‘load’ free worldwide. The cards include Halifax Clarity, Post Office, Saga (over 50s) and, for Nationwide FlexAccount holders ONLY, its Select card. Even poor credit scorers can get them too via the Aqua card. To find the best for you, read http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/spendingoverseas Fail to pay these in full and you’ll pay 11.9-34.9% representative APR.
3. Urgently check if your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is valid
These give access to EU state-run hospitals and GPs on the same basis as locals. If they pay nothing, nor do you. Four million of these cards will expire this year, so check you are not one of them and renew it now.
Don't leave it at home, as it's only valid if you show it. If you need to renew it, don’t Google it is as you’ll end up looking at scam sites that charge £15. You never have to pay to get or renew an EHIC. Ignore any ‘pay for fast-track scams’ – it's always free. Go via www.ehic.org.uk
4. Don’t pay the earth for travel insurance
Getting insurance with your holiday is usually expensive, yet it's still important to get it at the same time for holiday or you’re not covered for cancellations. If you go away twice a year, including weekends, even if they’re in pre-booked accommodation in the UK, an annual policy is usually cheapest.
If you just want cheap do-the-job type policies covering medical and lost luggage rather than big compensation in the event of volcanoes, prices can be very cheap – as little as £16 for an individual in Europe up to £42 for a family worldwide. Full help to find the cheapest, including over 65s, at www.mse.me/travelinsurance
5. For the cheapest deals, book flights early and package deals late
With flights, early booking's usually cheaper – leave it late and you compete with business folk willing to pay big bucks. Use comparison sites such as skyscanner.net, travelsupermarket.com and kayak.co.uk to hone down prices. With packages, booking less than eight weeks before departure will get you the hottest bargains, provided you're flexible.
6. Don’t wait till the airport to get travel cash
They know you're a captive customer, so they give a shocking deal. If you must get it from the airport, at least pre-order for airport pick-up. To show the difference on the day I checked, it cost £270 to get €300 at the airport, but the same company only charged £250 for pre-ordered pick up. For the very hottest rates, do a comparison using tools like my www.travelmoneymax.com - though even this doesn’t beat the best travel cards (see point 2).
7. Always pre-book airport parking
If you need to drive (public transport's often cheaper), cut costs by booking early – don’t just turn up. There are a range of comparison sites which help such as skyparksecure.com, aph.com and fhr-net.co.uk. Local knowledge can sometimes trump this with much cheaper just off-site deals. Sometimes airport hotels have inclusive parking and occasionally that can undercut the parking itself.
8. Going to the USA? You need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation)
Most UK citizens holidaying in the US must pay $14 for an ESTA before they go. They last two years or until your passport expires, so you don't need one if you've been recently, though double-check your status. Beware applying via spam sites, as you'll be charged more.
9. Posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts
The start point is comparison sites like Trivago.co.uk and Travelsupermarket.com. Yet bigger discounts are possible with a raft of tricks such as uncovering top secret Lastminute.com hotels by playing detective with anonymous 3-5 star rooms (cut and paste the description into Google and it's often revealed).
This is just the start though, for a lesson in cheap hotel tricks go to www.mse.me/cheaphotels
10. Don't pay to pay for budget airlines
Some budget airlines charge up to £12 PER PERSON return to pay for their flights. They get away with this by often having one no-cost niche payment system, so all others are 'added extras'. So tool up to avoid these. For Ryanair, outrageously, the only option is its prepaid Mastercard. With BMI Baby and Jet2 you need a Visa Electron.