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Managing my award programs just got a lot easier!

I am often asked to endorse sites but rarely do because most I simply don’t use myself, but there is an exception in which I recently signed up for myself. Its fantastic for managing all your award balances in one place and even emails me weekly with my updated balances so I can easily check all my points from a recent trip were awarded correctly.

What I learned whilst I was away

I am back from my trip to the other side of the world, still a bit jet lagged so apologies if this post isn’t the most entertaining! I haven’t had a chance to figure out exactly how much I spent on holiday yet but early indications are that I am under budget 🙂

If you are off on holiday soon then here are a few tips that I learnt from this trip:

1) Make sure the local tourist information centre is the first place you visit as they are not only a great source of information but many of their leaflets contain vouchers that can save you hundreds of pounds. We were very lucky this time and found plenty of ‘buy one get one free’ vouchers for things we planned to do any way.

2) Eating out gets very expensive and in Australia this was particularly true. Avoiding restaurants for a couple of nights can significantly reduce the total cost of your holiday. If you are staying by the beach then I reckon there are few restaurants in the world that can beat eating Fish & Chips sitting on the beach, and it’s far cheaper too! Also if you are in big cities look for food courts which often offer a great range of food at reasonable prices.

3) If you are away for a while then you will soon get bored of hotel breakfasts so it is well worth investing in a box of cereal and some milk (can be kept in the mini bar). This will not only save you pounds in your wallet but also pounds on your stomach if you would otherwise be having a cooked breakfast every day!

4) Make sure you have a good credit or debit card with you whilst you are away as most charge an extra 2.75% on all foreign transactions which you won’t even notice on your statement as it’s not broken out. The only two major card providers that do not currently have this charge are the Post Office and Nationwide.

And finally if you are going away for a while make sure the debit card you pay your bills with doesn’t expire whilst you are away. I learned that lesson this time the hard way when I returned to lots of overdue bills. Fortunately no harm done, but not the sort of welcome you want when you return from holiday!

The hidden costs of car hire

Car hire can look very cheap with prices for a medium-sized car costing as little £75 per week. But have you ever stopped to think about how they can afford to offer such low prices? Just think that car costs them £15,000 to buy so at that price it would take them almost 4 years to recoup their initial outlay and that’s before you even consider the costs of maintaining the car and running the business. Yet most rental cars don’t even make it to their first birthday with many of the large car rental companies replacing their cars every 6-9 months. So how do these companies make their money?

Basically what is happening is the car hire companies are offering the cars at a loss to entice customers in, then they make their money by selling a bewildering range of insurance policies and extras. By now they have already hooked you on the idea of hiring a car and use your fear of the worst to sell. Here are just a few of the most common types of insurance:

Collision damage waiver (CDW). This is the basic cover and it reduces your liability in the event of an accident. Without it, you could be forced to pay for the replacement cost of the vehicle.

Theft waiver (TW). The equivalent of CDW but protects against theft. Also known as theft protection.

Super collision damage waiver (SCDW). Reduces your liability to zero and covers tyres, roofs and windscreens.

Personal insurance (PI). Pays out if you kill or injure yourself or a passenger, usually covered on regular travel insurance.

Personal effects cover (PEC). Pays out if your property is stolen from a vehicle, usually covered on travel insurance.

To make matters worse the car hire companies have developed lots of fancy names to help market these insurance products making it virtually impossible for anyone without a legal degree to easily compare one companies offering with another. The first thing to do is check what cover if any you already have on your existing travel insurance policy as there is no point paying twice for the same cover. The next thing to check is what is included in the price, it’s usually just the bare minimum required by law so leaves a lot of things uncovered.

You’ll probably want some additional insurance (especially if your standard excess is very high) over and above what is included in the price but don’t just opt for cover from the car hire company. If you search around you’ll find standalone cover is substantially cheaper, often by as much as 70% which on a 2 week hire could easily save you over £100. If you are just hiring a car for a couple of days then the savings may not be worth the effort, but if you do this a couple of times a year then the savings on an annual policy are probably worth looking into.

Next they will try and sell you extras such as child seats, sat-navs. If you need a child seat then you may find it’s well worth packing to take with you and if you have a sat-nav in the UK you may find its a lot cheaper to buy overseas maps rather than hire this when you get there. In fact with many car hire companies charging in excess of £10 per day for having sat-nav in the car you could even buy your own for less than hiring it for 2 weeks!

Your car hire bill will still soar as you move closer towards booking as they’ll add compulsory taxes, airport pick-up fees, different location drop-off fees, young driver surcharges, additional drives fees and many more. Be sure to include the prices of these extras when comparing different car hire companies as they’ll often cost far more than the actual cost of hiring a car and most of these charges can’t be avoided.

Before you rush to book car hire for your next holiday make sure you consider whether you really need it. If it’s really only for getting to and from the airport and a few short journeys once you get to your destination you may find public transport is a much better option, or you may even find that taxis are cheaper.

How to find the cheapest hotel prices

Before you even start searching for hotels research the areas you want to stay in, this is particularly important if you are staying in a city as there is likely to be hundreds of hotels to choose from. This will ensure you focus your search and don’t get bogged down trawling through lots of unsuitable option. Once you have a rough idea where you want to stay then it’s time to hit the comparison sites.

Firstly start with the big name travel brokers such as Expedia,, Ebookers, Lastminute and Travelocity. You’ll often find these come back with very competitive rates that are hard to beat elsewhere. You’ll quickly notice that the number of stars hotels has varies by website so don’t pay too much attention to them as it’s a flawed system of rating hotels online. Instead check reviews on Tripadvisor which is a site that allows past guests to rate and review hotels. If there are plenty of good reviews then you have probably found a good hotel, but its worth remembering that everyone has a different view of what makes a good hotel. For example if you are looking at European hotels you will probably find plenty of Americans complaining about small room sizes, it’s not that the rooms are particularly small but more often just a case of them being used to far larger hotel rooms back at home.

Once you have found a couple of good hotels it’s time to see just how low you can get the nightly rate. I always start by looking at last minute prices as if I was going in the next week as these are usually the lowest possible prices you’ll ever be able to get. Armed with this information it is worth contacting the hotels reservation manager direct asking if they would let you book a room at this rate for the particular dates you want. Unless you are going at a particularly busy time then you’ll usually be able to negotiate the nightly rate down close to the lowest rates you have found for other dates as the reservations manager is normally authorised to go to this level.

If the hotel is not willing to negotiate the price you pay then ask for a free room upgrade or breakfast to be included etc. The value of this to you is far more than they pay for it and if it gets them a booking they’ll normally agree. Remember if you have found several suitable hotels then each individual hotel needs your booking more than you need them!

Finally if you are on a tight budget then consider staying in hostels as they may not have all the facilities of a hotel but they are usually well located and are a great option if you just need a bed to sleep in every night.

How to find the cheapest flight

When it comes to finding the cheapest flight the internet really is essential as it enables you to quickly compare many different airlines along with the many flight-broker website’s to find the best prices. Assuming you know where you want to go and have a rough idea when you want to go then you could do a lot worse than by starting with the easy to use Kayak website which searches all the main airlines. It’s real advantage over other similar sites is once you get the results back it allows you to filter them by number of stops, airline, flight times, stop over time and price to find the best flight for you. It also enables you to filter by a particular flight for part of your journey, so if for example you have found the perfect return flight time then it will only show you outbound flights with that particular return flight. I am not aware of any other comparison site that allows you to do this (although I am sure many others will copy this feature in the near future).

I am yet to find a more powerful comparison site than Kayak but it’s one downside is that it only searches the main airlines and therefore does not cover the budget airlines. So alongside your Kayak search I suggest you use Travelsupermarket which includes most budget airlines along with many flight brokers. It’s not quite as user friendly as Kayak but will search deeper for the best bargains. There are loads of other flight comparison sites you can use such as Skyscanner, Kelkoo, Cheapflights etc but searching just Kayak and Travelsupermarket should be enough to cover most of the market.

If you really want to be sure you have found the best deal then you need to check prices with Flightbrokers as these may sometimes have special offers with certain airlines. I would suggest you try Expedia, Ebookers, Travelocity, Lastminute and Opodo (which tends to undercut a lot of other sites as it’s owned by nine of the major airlines!). Also don’t forget to check the airlines website’s as they sometimes advertise special deals which the comparison sites fail to pickup, this is particularly true if you are booking a multi-destination flight.

Having exhausted the internet and still wanting to find a cheaper deal than call your local travel agent and see if they can beat your best price. Many of them wont even try but some will be able to get you the same price you have seen online and share their commission with you to reduce the price you pay them for the flight. It can also be worth calling the airlines as sometimes their staff know about special offers that are coming up in the future so it may be worth delaying your booking for a couple of weeks (although be careful as if flights get booked up then prices tend to go up).