How to get your dream holiday on a tight budget

2012-10-27 12:08

Travelling during off-peak periods, booking in advance, and taking advantage of discounts and special packages is a great way to afford the holiday of a lifetime, writes Liziwe Ndalana.

Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to explore new and exciting places, experience different cultures and come back with great memories.

In order to make it a stress-free holiday, make sure you have made your plans in advance.

It is not only cheaper to book in advance, but it also allows you to spread the cost of the holiday over several months.

Best time to book flights
Flights as a general rule are cheaper when booked in advance.

To get the best rate and the best value for your money, it is always recommended you book international flights up to nine months and domestic flights up to four months in advance.

Airlines work on a dynamic pricing model and as the plane books up for a particular flight, the price increases. The only major exception to this rule is last-minute flights.

Last-minute specials may come up when airlines have sold and pre-allocated a number of seats to a tour operator and the tour operator has then not been able to sell their packages.

They then release these seats at a discount to recoup their costs.

Be aware that this is not normal in the local flight market so don’t depend on it.

Air fares vary considerably, depending on the time of day of the flights, availability and specials. A travel agent would be able to help you source cheaper flights or you can do your own homework online.

Often, though, it may be cheaper to book your holiday as a package that includes accommodation and flights.

Operators who sell package holidays locally will try and negotiate better prices with their suppliers based on bulk buying from a particular hotel, airline and tour operator.

If they manage to negotiate good deals based on volume, then the price of the package would be better for you than booking flights and accommodation separately.

But just booking well in advance is almost always the best option.

Travel seasons and special packages
The so-called “low-season” periods depend on the destination and the time of year.

Off-peak season rates can be a good option, but this is usually because when a destination is out of season so the weather of the region you are visiting may not be at its best.

It may, however, be quieter and less crowded and, depending on your preferences, this may
suit you and your family.

Generally, there are special packages on the market, especially from innovative suppliers, and there is competition among many of the local and international destinations that travellers can take advantage of.

Many of the airlines, tour operators and other suppliers have Easter and Christmas specials, as well as spring and winter savers among other great deals, so it is always good to research your options with your travel agent, if you have one.

For very popular destinations such as Mauritius or Thailand, booking a package is usually the best option.

“We have a lot of experience in Mauritius, for example, and booking in advance is almost always cheaper.

The air-ticket prices increase as the flights book up and as the entry-level rooms fill up, only more expensive options remain available,” says Den Ashbolt of RES Africa online travel.

“This is particularly true for busy periods such as December and school holidays, when getting flights and accommodation at the last minute becomes not only more expensive, but also difficult due to the lack of availability.”

Ashbolt adds that travel packages to Mauritius between May and August are always good value for money.

Using your local travel agent
“A good travel agent should offer various options and, ultimately, we trust that the travelling experience you and your family dream of is delivered.

We believe that as the travel agent has access to a central reservation system, we are the best search engine for holiday options,” says Jacqui McKnight, professional programme manager at the Association of SA Travel Agents (Asata), who says that the professional agent should work with you on your preferences, consider your budget, and give you options and suggestions.

“Travellers of course have the choice to book online. However, with every complex booking, you may find that you are doing hours of research and you could book in the wrong place and end up in the wrong place,” says McKnight, who adds that it is important to only use trusted sites. With the advanced technology available, many travel agents have an online presence.

“Always look for the Asata logo. Having booked through a professional agent, in the case of emergency, changes or a crisis, you would have someone to turn to,” says McKnight.

An agent has relationships with airlines and should there be any problems with your flights, you always have your agent to contact.

It’s different online. You have to go back and try to contact an airline directly, which is a hassle. You need a travel agent.

Says Deanne Grove of Flight Centre: “Flight Centre offers airline failure protection on all international flights. Because agents have relationships with airlines, they have access to suppliers and better prices.”

Online booking
In general, the internet business has resulted in the reduction of costs. Internet businesses traditionally have lower overheads compared with their bricks and mortar rivals.

The travel industry is no different and you will usually find booking online is a cheaper option.

However, price is not the real benefit of booking online. Rather, it is the convenience, choice, fun and all of these combined with a greater sense of empowerment for online traveller shoppers.

Online websites offer things that the “walk-in” or traditional travel agencies would not otherwise offer.

“We offer thousands of accommodation options showing live availability, reviews from past customers and in many instances virtual tours of the establishments.

“It is also worth noting that booking online doesn’t always mean that you are not dealing with a travel agent or given advice.

“Many online travel websites correspond directly with you as if you were a ‘walk-in’, but they are able to offer better service with a combination of online, phone and email advice.

“These types of boutique online travel agencies are able to specialise in certain destinations and become experts in those areas, whereas traditional travel agents are required to be more general as they deal with ‘walk-in’ clients and sell a variety of destinations,” says Den Ashbolt of Res Africa, an online travel agent.

If you are considering booking your own holiday, try, which provides independent accommodation reviews by customers and alerts you to specials on offer.

What to do when you want to cancel
Cancellation policies vary, depending on the travel product purchased. There are often no refunds
on air tickets, but full refunds for accommodation.

In most instances, there are cancellation policies that become more severe the closer to the arrival date you cancel.

You generally get what you pay for. The accommodation provider that charges more normally offers better service.

Prices differ significantly between different towns and provinces, and you can’t necessarily expect the same services and prices when comparing hotels based on previous experiences.

If you have booked well ahead of time to take advantage of a good price or discount, then find you have to cancel only a few days before your holidays, there will often be a cancellation fee.

To guard against this unforeseen eventuality, it is always advisable to have insurance in place.

Remember the reason for your cancellation could help to avoid penalties: if, for example, there are unforeseen circumstances such as illness, an accident or a death in the family, the traveller has the right to cancel, but simply not wanting to travel would not be deemed an acceptable excuse.

Not all companies will be willing to listen to your reasons either and a fee could be automatically levied.

With the new Consumer Protection Act in place, the supplier is allowed to take a reasonable cancellation fee, but clause 17 of the act refers to consumers’ right to cancel advance reservations.

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