Tighter finances have meant that a lot of us are forgoing our annual holiday this year but limited spare cash does not necessarily mean that you cannot afford a trip away. While last- minute deals are no longer as cheap as they were, they still represent good value and could be just the ticket if you are feeling the pinch.
The €99 last-minute Mediterranean holiday is a thing of the past. Those deals were down to overenthusiastic tour operators booking charter flights and making deals with resorts in the belief that they could fill both but who then found themselves selling well below cost price. This year, operators have cut capacity, meaning the chances for last-minute deals are more limited, says Juan Cullen, managing director of latedeals.ie.
"In 2008, when everything went belly-up and the likes of XL went bust, you were seeing a crazy amount of deals on the market and you were getting the €99 holiday to Mediterranean destinations. This year, the operators have been a lot more cautious and cut capacity but still the prices have to reduce because people are definitely leaving it until later to book," he says.
Seven nights away in a self-catering apartment in southern Europe booked at the last minute is now going to cost at least €200, with most places in the €300 bracket. However, in many cases, that will still represent a saving of 30% to 40% relative to the time of year. Holidays to Cyprus are very cheap this year and if you are willing to start your journey in the north, Turkey represents very real savings.
"Northern Irish tour operators have not cut capacity as much as they have in the south so they are trying to shift distressed inventory at a big reduction through us. You can save up to 30% by going through Belfast or Derry," says Cullen.
Operators offering last-minute deals include GoHop.ie, budgettravel.ie, and directholidays.ie. Make sure that you research the accommodation before committing (www.tripadvisor.com) rather than end up in a hellhole.
Deals need not necessarily mean last-minute travel either. If you are willing to wait a few months, there are good deals to be had in the long-haul market, says Stephen McKenna, commercial director with GoHop.ie.
"There has probably never been a better time to go on that special long-haul holiday because there is exceptional value there. We have San Francisco for six nights for €599 – you couldn't stay in a decent hotel in Ireland for six days at that price," he says.
A recent Fáilte Ireland survey found that 80% of families plan on taking a holiday in Ireland this year. Most of those families will book their accommodation within 10 days of their holiday, making Ireland one of the biggest last-minute destinations for Irish people. There has been a huge shift in business in the last five years, says John Concannon, director of marketing development with Fáilte Ireland.
"In earlier years, hotels would have had a very clear idea about bookings three or four weeks out whereas now two weeks out people are not sure what is going to happen. The market is there but people are leaving it very late to book," he says.
That domestic market is very important to the Irish tourism industry – Irish people account for 75% of all bed nights here. Unlike last-minute trips abroad, consumers opting to stay in Ireland are taking multiple short trips rather than spending a week or two in one place. The good news is that you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to take a break here – the cost of accommodation has dropped by an average of 20% over the last 18 months and hotels are competing for business with attractive deals. Boxing clever when it comes to booking time off can save you cash, says Concannon.
"The best deals are available outside of the peak time. Travelling mid-week means that you can get some fantastic value. Be aware that if there's a major event on somewhere prices will be higher so visit another time," he says.
Fáilte Ireland carries a comprehensive guide to Ireland's festivals on its website, discoverireland.ie, where a special offers section also includes deals available throughout the country. The Irish Hotels Federation's website – www.irelandhotels.com – also features a value breaks section, with offers for accommodation ranging from two to five stars. You should also check out international sites like lastminute.ie, hotels.com and expedia.ie for local deals.
Even if you are taking off at the last minute, you should give some thought to how much you are going to spend while overseas. The National Consumer Agency has issued a number of tips for holiday makers – www.itsyourmoney.ie/topholidaytips – and advises consumers to budget in advance to ensure that they don't end up footing a huge bill on their return home.
In the last-minute rush, you may forget to take out travel insurance. If you don't already have a multi-trip policy and have no need of one, get on the internet and check out a single-trip policy. Check out getcover.ie, justcover.ie or travelcoverquote.com.
Bear in mind as well that if you leave the euro-zone – Turkey is a very popular last-minute destination, for instance – you will pay currency conversion fees as well as incur ATM charges. Avoid taking cash out on your credit card – you will end up paying interest immediately and add considerably to the cost of your holiday.