1. Tunnel vision
Be open-minded. Visiting in off or shoulder season, flying to or from a smaller airport and being flexible about when you travel can save you money. Skyscanner’s “Explore Everywhere” function – for which you select specific dates or even a whole month – reveals the cheapest places to visit and some tempting wildcard options. Summer can be the cheapest time to visit parts of the Caribbean, for example, while May is a cost-effective month to head to Thailand.
2. Failing to check the issue and expiry date
British travellers must meet the following passport requirements for travel to the EU and Schengen Area: a) issued within the 10 years before the date you plan to enter the country; and b) be valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave the country. The two conditions are independent of one another. Other destinations may allow you to travel with a passport valid only for the duration of your stay or require additional time: check the rules and visa requirements before booking.
3. Paying for urgent renewals when it is not urgent
The five-week strike by Passport Office workers, from 3 April–6 May, led to a surge in applications for fast-track and premium services. Research carried out by Go Compare for i Money found that among people who needed a new passport, 37 per cent of those surveyed had opted to get their passport fast-tracked. This decision could set a family of four back £367. Fast-tracking could be a waste of money for those with a few weeks to spare: the average waiting time for an adult renewal is currently 13.9 days, according to passportwaitingtime.co.uk.
4. Not getting your passport stamped
Until the EU’s entry/exit system comes into force, passport stamps are used to ensure third-country nationals are not remaining within the EU or Schengen Area for more than 90 days within an 180-day period. Border officials may check you have relevant stamps when leaving the continent.
5. Not having a back-up
Ashley Quint, director at TravelTime World travel agency, says: “Always have a copy of your passport, either physical or stored in the cloud, just in case your original is lost or stolen – it’s much easier to get an emergency passport abroad if you have a copy.”
6. Not checking your children’s documentation
Travelling with your children or grandchildren if you have a different surname – particularly if the other parent or guardian is not present – can be problematic at border control. Take a copy of all the relevant paperwork to avoid problems, such as birth, adoption, marriage or divorce certificates.
7. Travel history
This can sometimes lead to refusal of entry at the border – a passport stamp demonstrating prior travel to a country that is deemed unfriendly by the one you are trying to enter might see you sent back home, such as an Israeli stamp when entering Pakistan. Travellers with a Cuban passport stamp dated since January 2021 will find they are unable to enter the US under the Esta visa waiver scheme, and will need to apply several months in advance for a B2 visitor visa.
8. Booking the cheapest flight you find
Flight comparison sites are a useful tool for finding the cheapest destinations and airlines. However, booking directly with an airline is the best route. When you buy a flight through a third party, you will likely need to pursue that party for assistance or compensation. Sometimes this can also lead to additional fees or, worse, scams.
9. Booking Eurostar at the last minute
Eurostar tickets go on sale up to 330 days in advance and i found London–Paris tickets for £57 one-way when booking for March 2024, while fares for this month were as much as £149. One-way tickets from London to Paris can be as little as £39 during a sale; sign up to Eurostar’s newsletter to receive alerts about its latest offers.
10. Not using rail cards
There are nine types of national rail card, which cost between £20 and £30 a year and can save a third of the fare on most tickets. Some are age-dependent, while the Two Together card brings savings of a third for two people travelling together and the Family and Friends card offers a third off for adults and 60 per cent for children.
11. Paying to sit together
The Civil Aviation Authority states that “young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults”. British Airways has a policy to seat all children under 12 with an accompanying adult; Virgin Atlantic will seat children within “arm’s reach” of an accompanying adult and Tui aims to sit parties together. On Ryanair, under-12s must be seated next to an adult they are travelling with; it waives the seat allocation cost for under-12s, but charges adults €4 (£3.55) to choose an allocated seat.
12. Forgetting points
Signing up to an airline or transport provider’s loyalty scheme costs nothing and over time you could collect enough points to pay for, or towards, a future trip. It’s also often possible to buy loyalty points or air miles, which can get you to an upgrade or reward flight more quickly – for example, Virgin Atlantic charges £15 for every 1,000 miles. Occasionally, promotions will add bonus points to purchases of up to 70 per cent.
13. Not paying attention to your airline’s luggage rules
Increasingly, airlines are turning to add-ons to increase their profitability, and this includes luggage. A basic airfare often includes only one cabin bag that should fit under the seat in front. Realising you’ve exceeded this too late (at check-in, say) means you’ll be hit with the highest fees to add bigger bags, so work out well in advance what you need. For example, adding a large cabin bag to an easyJet booking costs £5.99 per person in advance, but it charges £39.99 at the airport if a small cabin bag exceeds its stated dimensions.
14. Keeping hold of your luggage
If you arrive at your destination before your check-in opens or have a late flight home, ask to leave your bags at the hotel. Those staying at an Airbnb or other accommodation without a secure area might consider paying for the luggage storage facilities typically found around city centres or at train stations. Some airlines also offer day-before bag drops at the airport for early-morning flights.
15. Not checking driving requirements abroad
Make sure your car meets the relevant country’s requirements. For example, displaying a UK sticker (not GB) in the EU and adhering to low emission zones in and around cities that implement them. If you lease a car in the UK, you may not be allowed to drive it abroad. The RAC and AA both list up-to-date country-specific driving requirements.
16. Eating at the airport
Buying breakfast, snacks and, if you are on a short-haul or budget flight, a meal for the plane, can quickly notch up holiday spending. The average UK family of four spends £100 on pre-flight snacks and meals, according to research in 2022 by Holiday Extras. You can take solid foods through security at UK airports, though it’s worth checking exceptions – since Brexit, UK travellers are not permitted to bring meat or dairy products into the EU, for example.
17. Bypassing the lounge
Airline lounge access is typically a perk offered to first- or business-class customers. However, third parties such as No1 and Escape also operate lounges that are accessible to all passengers, for a fee. These will typically offer buffet-style food, hot drinks, comfortable seating and charging points. Access can start from as little as £15 per adult and can be especially welcome during flight delays
18. Getting picked up or dropped off
Many airports now charge a fee for cars to enter terminal drop-off areas – Stansted charges £7 for 15 minutes, while Gatwick and Luton charge £5 for 10 minutes and Heathrow a flat fee of £5. Manchester charges £5 for just five minutes. Failure to pay the fee can result in a fine, including £80 at Heathrow, while staying at Stansted for more than 15 minutes costs £25.
19. Not checking security times
Frequent travellers may be tempted to keep time at the airport to a minimum. But just because you’ve made it through security and to your gate within 45 minutes before doesn’t guarantee swift passage the next time. Most UK airports offer an estimated security waiting time on their websites, and sometimes via their Twitter feed: review potential delays on your day of travel.
20. Arriving too early
Airports design infrastructure and staffing around capacity, such as the number of take-off and landing slots per hour. More people arriving at security than expected can create gridlock.
21. Not knowing your rights
Disruption can cost passengers money as well as time. If a flight is delayed by more than two hours, even if the delay is beyond your airline’s control, the carrier should offer assistance, including: food and drink (often provided in the form of vouchers); a means for you to communicate (such as refunding the cost of your calls); accommodation if you are delayed overnight; and transport to and from the accommodation. If you have to pay yourself, keep the receipts and claim back the costs.
22. Failing to claim compensation
Passengers travelling from the UK or the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland with any airline; arriving in the UK with a UK or EU airline or arriving in the UK with an EU airline have a right to compensation when a flight is more than three hours late and it is the airline’s fault. The amount of compensation due will depend on the length of delay and the length of the flight. You can also claim for a cancelled flight if the cancellation causes a delay to your arrival of two or more hours and your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure. You should claim directly from your airline.
Most UK train companies are part of the Delay Repay scheme for compensation for delayed services. If a service is delayed and you choose not to travel, you may be entitled to a full refund from the retailer of your ticket (nationalrail.co.uk/compensation).
23. Sitting tight if your flight is overbooked
If you have time on your side, you can volunteer to be put on the next available flight (including with another carrier) if your flight has been overbooked. Under the Denied Boarding Regulation, passengers can negotiate compensation, though normally the airline will make an announcement offering compensation in cash or vouchers. If you are “bumped” involuntarily, you are guaranteed compensation between £110 and £520.
24. Forgetting the rules for travelling with a pet
If you are taking a pet, you need an Animal Health Certificate that is issued no more than 10 days before travel to the EU or Nothern Ireland. To secure a certificate, the animal must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies with a wait of at least 21 days after primary vaccination before travel and dogs must be treated for tapeworm. Different rules apply for taking pets to destinations outside of the EU or Northern Ireland. UK airlines don’t allow pets in passenger cabins.
25. Booking a hotel on a third-party site
These types of sites typically charge a commission fee; hotels may offer a better rate if you book directly. The hotel will have access to more information on room allocation and, if the property is part of a chain, you are unlikely to earn loyalty points unless you book directly.
26. Not researching the location
When you search for hotels, a third-party booking site may show options both in that destination and nearby. If you book a room in Paris, without checking its location, for example, you could end up on the city’s outskirts.
27. Not checking terms
“If you book ‘accommodation only’, make sure this is financially protected and that you book with an organiser that acts as a principal under UK law so that, should anything go wrong, you do not have to deal with an overseas supplier which comes under a separate overseas jurisdiction,” says Noel Josephides, chairman of Sunvil Holidays.
28. Not factoring in resort fees and tourist taxes
In the US, “resort fees” are common in locations such as Las Vegas and Florida, and can add as much as $90 (£75) per night to a room rate to cover facilities such as Wi-Fi and pool access. President Joe Biden has vowed to outlaw “surprise resort fees … at hotels that aren’t even resorts” but changes remain to be seen.
Tourist taxes have also been implemented in a range of destinations that typically suffer the burden of tourism stresses, such as Honolulu (£42 per night), San Francisco and Los Angeles (on average £24 per night) and Amsterdam (around £10 per night).
29. Accepting the room
You’ve turned up at the hotel you’ve booked, but the room does not meet your expectations – the view you’d been promised, the access, the layout, or perhaps external noise keeps you awake at night. Most guests put it down to experience, but those who do request to be moved might find themselves in a better situation, or even upgraded.
30. Paying a single supplement
Solo travellers are being charged up to 87 per cent more than those taking a holiday as a pair, according to a study by Which? published in January. Package, cruise and coach holidays are among the culprits. A handful of tour operators and cruise lines consistently waive single supplements; others have offer periods. Compare prices before you book.
31. Leaving it late
Car rental prices have risen sharply in the past two years and leaving a booking to the last minute is likely to mean you’ll pay dearly. Check prices on comparison sites such as TravelSupermarket.com, Kayak, HolidayAutos or Skyscanner, and compare not only the prices but the terms and conditions.
Returning the car later than agreed can also incur extra charges. If you’re held up, stay in contact with your rental provider – they might waive the charges.
32. Not standing your ground at the rental desk
Car insurance excess charges can be as much as £2,000 before an accident policy kicks in. Chris Rowles, chairman of Aito, The Specialist Travel Association, says: “Use third-party excess waiver insurance, which are easy to find online: it’s much cheaper than the hire company’s own insurance. Also, do a walk-round video of the car when collecting – it can avoid any disputes about damage on return.”
Don’t get talked into buying extras or upgrading if you don’t need them. Taking your own child car seats, while cumbersome, can save hundreds, and you might be able to download maps to use offline on your phone rather than paying an average £10 a day for sat-nav.
A “full-empty” fuel policy means you will be hit with a bill for a full tank of petrol as soon as you have collected the car, which you may not end up using. Aim for a fair fuel policy such as “full-full – if you don’t use a whole tank, you’ll only need to top it up before drop-off.
33. Using a credit or debit card that charges overseas fees
Most banks charge extra for payments or cash point withdrawals overseas with a standard card. There are several credit and debit card options geared towards travellers that won’t charge for transactions abroad. Prepaid travel money cards offer an alternative. You preload money onto the card in your chosen currency. Revolut, Wise, the Post Office and EasyFX have options. Check exchange rate fees before you choose. Some banks now offer add-ons to allow you to use your debit card abroad without fees: Lloyds Bank’s Travel Smart service costs £7 a week, for example.
34. Paying in pounds
“If you use a bank card when abroad, make sure you pay in the local currency; the exchange rate will always be better than paying in pounds,” says Quint.
35. Panic buying currency
Martyn Sumners, executive director of Aito, says: “Never buy at a UK airport. Rates are far worse than at a bank, post office or exchange bureau in your town.”
36. Using a provider that charges extra in Europe
O2 doesn’t charge extra for using your data allowance in the EU. Neither do iD Mobile or Lebara. Most other operators have a fixed daily fee or start charging after a fixed data amount. In some cases, those whose contract started before a certain date are not affected.
37. Racking up data charges
If your phone contract charges for data roaming in the EU, it is best to turn off the function while you’re travelling in Europe (costs can be higher if you’re travelling outside the EU). Use Wi-Fi where possible and download any essential documents before you travel.
38. Answering a call or receiving a voicemail
Some operators will charge you for both when outside the EU. Sending a text message outside Europe can also be costly. If you have Wi-Fi access, you can make calls via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple Facetime or similar without incurring an extra charge.
39. Ignoring the small print
Check the policy will cover your needs, says Louise Clark, Association of British Insurers policy adviser, general insurance. “Answer all questions – especially about pre-existing conditions – fully and honestly. Reading your policy documents carefully is also essential so that you’re aware of any limitations.”
40. Leaving it late
“Purchasing insurance when you book your holiday can help ensure you’re covered if you need to cancel your trip at the last minute,” explains Clark.
41. Not carrying a health insurance card
UK holidaymakers travelling in the EU or Switzerland can use a Global Health Insurance Card or a European Health Insurance Card – just check it’s still in date. This gives you access to treatment at state-run EU hospitals and GPs for the same price as residents, including if it is free.
42. Buying the cheapest policy
“This can leave you in hot water,” says Alan Dean, managing director of award-winning travel insurance brands, CoverForYou and Cedar Tree. “Make sure your policy covers everything you know you’ll do, and importantly what you might do while you’re away, such as extreme sports,” he adds. “Be aware that standard travel insurance policies don’t include cover for your gadgets. If you don’t already have gadget insurance, it’s definitely worth considering adding this type of cover to your policy.”
Don’t think you can’t afford travel insurance. “You can’t afford not to,” says Dean. “If something goes horribly wrong, medical costs can easily mount up to eye-watering levels.” Policies can cost as little as £6 for a short break.
43. Choosing a high excess
“When you choose a travel insurance policy, you’ll choose an excess from £0 to £150 per person, per claim,” says Dean. “Bear in mind that if you choose a £150 excess and you are travelling as a family of four, this will mean a deduction of £600 if there is a cancellation claim.”
Food and Drink
44. Herd mentality
Choosing tourist-trap restaurants in busy resorts is not only likely to mean you will eat average food, but will pay more for it. In Tenerife, for example, go off-piste and you’re likely to find a guachinche – a temporary eatery that serves traditional, cheap dishes with local produce as well as affordable wines. In Spain and France, the “menu del dia” and “menu du jour” is usually an affordable two- or three-course menu of local dishes served at lunchtime that can cost around €15pp.
TravelTenerife restaurants serve local wine and multi-course feasts for as little as £12pp
45. Paying for the hotel breakfast
If you are staying on a room-only basis swap a bland buffet for a local café and you could halve the cost of your morning meal – and drink better coffee.
46. Raiding the mini bar
Prices are not always clearly marked and are usually inflated. A quick spot check found mini-bar beers in New York average around $10 (£8). But they can vary widely: in January, an Australian traveller reported water in a Las Vegas mini bar going for $31 (£25) a bottle. Some mini bars are charged based on sensors, so even if you move a snack, you could find the cost added to your bill.
47. Not checking the rate and rules
When you need to get somewhere in an unfamiliar destination, you are vulnerable to being overcharged. A scam has emerged in Paris recently where passengers are charged a “flat fare” of up to €60 (£53) for journeys of 15 minutes. By law, Parisian taxis must have a meter to calculate the price (and it must be used in almost all cases).
48. Not considering public transport
Shuttle buses and regular trains can be cheaper than taxis to and from the airport. It costs, for example, £12.80 to take the Elizabeth Line to Heathrow from, or travelling through, Zone 1 in London.
Shopping and entertainment
49. Always going duty-free
Alcohol and cigarettes are both typically cheaper when bought duty free at the airport compared with the average retail price in the UK. However, while make-up or chocolate might cost less than in your local shops, online searches can yield better offers.
50. Forgoing discounts, entry passes or freebies
TravelHow to avoid peak prices and crowds for cheap family holidays this year – even in summer
City tourist passes are not always worthwhile but may suit your needs. While major museums charge for entry, smaller options may be free. In Rome, there are city-run institutions, such as Villa di Massenzio, with no admission fee. Other favourites have free entry days: the Vatican Museum is usually free from 9am–2pm on every last Sunday of the month; in Paris, the Pompidou Centre is among the attractions that are free on the first Sunday of each month.