Expert Maggie O'Sullivan on how to be a savvy traveller - before you even leave the country
Expert Maggie O’Sullivan tells us how to be a savvy traveller – before you even leave the country. Flick through for her top tips…
Luxe it up for less
Airport lounge All of the larger UK airports now have lounges that anyone can use for a fee. The cost is around £25 per person, with food and non-alcoholic drinks included in the price, though if you’re not travelling at a busy time and intend to hit the shops, your money might be better spent on a seafood platter and a glass of champagne in the main terminal lounge. Book lounges direct with the airport or try www.no1traveller.com
Spa treatments Heathrow Terminal 3 and Gatwick North terminal both provide spas where a mani-pedi, for example, costs around £35. But for free treatments, head for Jo Malone in Gatwick or Heathrow T3 and T4, where you can have a complimentary hand-and-arm massage and a non-alcoholic drink while you check out the products. There is no obligation to buy. www.jomalone.co.uk
VIP Departure Service For a fee of around £25 per person, you can arrange to queue jump at check-in and bag drop, then FastTrack through security. Expensive if you’re travelling with the family but an affordable treat if you’re on your own, especially at peak times.
There are two cardinal rules: always prebook your space, preferably online, and never use the eye-wateringly expensive short-stay car park for anything other than dropping off or picking up.
The joy of prebooking The long-stay car park at Gatwick Airport, for example, charges £20 for the first day and £15 per day thereafter – a total of £110 for seven days’ parking. You can save up to 30 per cent by booking several weeks in advance – and you'll save a few pounds even if you only remember to book the day before – though you'll get less of a discount in peak holiday months. Also look out for flash sales’ and seasonal deals at airport car parks.
Park & Ride You can reduce costs further by opting for a Park & Ride’ deal through specialist travel company www.HolidayExtras.co.uk. This means your car will be parked in a cheaper but secure off-airport car park. The trade-off is usually less-frequent airport transfers.
Meet & Greet Drop your car off at Departures and pick it up at Arrivals. The service costs around £118 for a week, including parking fees, but it cuts out all that trailing around the car park trying to remember where you left the car. This is available in all of the larger UK airports. Try HolidayExtras or www.purpleparking.com
Sleep, Park, Fly
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you can cut your parking costs (and stress levels) by staying at a hotel the night before you travel. At Manchester’s Premier Inn North, for example, you could pay as little as £77 for overnight accommodation for two, including eight days’ secured parking and free airport transfers. Just one caveat: door-banging at an airport hotel starts just after dawn, as guests head out for early flights, so pack your earplugs.
If you’ve already made savings by sidestepping all those sneaky airline extras, such as checked baggage, speedy boarding and seat selection, don’t blow them by using the most expensive method of buying currency.
You’ll pay most for currency at the airport so if you opt for this method, at least order online to get a better rate. You can then pick up your cash at the airport or have it delivered to your home or office (free for orders over a certain amount). ICE has an online price match guarantee – they will match the best rate you can find online with a minimum order of £1,000.
The best place to buy foreign currency used to be a high street bank or the Post Office. Now everyone is getting in on the act, with many of the big supermarkets, as well as John Lewis, Debenhams, and Marks & Spencer, selling foreign currency in store and online. Check who is offering the best rates at www.compareholidaymoney.com and www.travelmoneymax.com
Look out for flash’ deals, where exchange providers offer better rates or special discounts for a limited period. Asda, for example, regularly runs flash deals on selected currencies.
Use a debit rather than credit card to pay for your currency. Credit card companies will levy a cash withdrawal fee’ of around £3 then charge interest until the whole amount is paid off. The same applies to withdrawing cash from an ATM overseas – if you use your debit card, you will still have to pay a fee and might not get a great rate, but at least you won’t be charged daily interest.
Prepaid cards, such as my Travel Cash and FAIRFX, are a great way of making sure you stick to your budget. You simply load them with currency before you travel, then use to pay for goods or withdraw cash at an ATM. But they do have their disadvantages: fees can be high, with some providers even levying a charge for not using the card. Also, because you buy currency at whatever interest rate the provider is charging on the day you load your card, you will lose out if the pound strengthens while you’re away (of course, the opposite is true, too).
Duty-FreeDuty’ refers to the excise tax on spirits and tobacco and you can only buy duty-free items if you’re travelling outside the EU. Within the EU, the items you buy in the Duty-Free are tax-free’, meaning minus the 20 per cent VAT payable on most goods. For more information, see www.worlddutyfree.com
Check the labels
For even greater airport discounts, look out for items marked with a coloured label: green for travel outside the EU and blue within the EU. Find out more at www.heathrow-airport-guide.co.uk/dutyfree.html
This is where you’ll find the greatest bargains. A Bric’s trolley bag selling for £435 on the High Street, for example, currently costs £362.51 at Case in Heathrow Terminal 2, a healthy saving of £72.49. And even if you only get 20 per cent off a £1,000 ring from Tiffany & Co in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 or Terminal 3, that’s still a respectable £200. Not flying from T5 or 3? Cal Tiffany a few days in advance and see if they will bring specific items to you in another terminal. And don’t forget to haggle on high-ticket items.
Shop & Collect
Provided you’re travelling within the EU, this free service saves lugging your purchases to your destination and back. You simply pay for your items in the normal way and collect them on your return, or have them delivered to your home (free when you spend £500 or more).
Reserve & Collect
Alternatively, you can reserve items online, then pay at the airport. Not all the designer stores participate in the Click & Collect scheme while others, such as Mulberry, require you to telephone the store to check what stock is available. Further details at www.worlddutyfree.com
Personal shopper If you’re flying from Gatwick or Heathrow, you can save time and a lot of hassle by booking a personal shopper. The service is free and as your personal shopper will know where to find the airport’s best bargains, it could save you money. Further details at www.worlddutyfree.com
How To Get A Refund
Flight delays/cancelations The EU rules state that if your EU-regulated flight is cancelled for reasons within the airline’s control (including mechanical defects), or you arrive at your destination three hours late or more, you are entitled to compensation. You can also backdate claims up to six years. Further information at www.MoneySavingExpert.com
Damaged luggage If your suitcase is badly damaged on a scheduled flight, you might be able to get it repaired or replaced free of charge. Enquire at the appropriate airline desk in the baggage area.
Insurance Travel insurance is not just for medical emergencies – it can save you a fortune if your luggage is lost or delayed. But read the small print carefully: you might, for example, have £1,500 baggage cover with a £300 single item limit. In other words, if you lose that gorgeous Tiffany ring you bought at the airport, you won’t be fully covered.