Hooray for holidays! Especially when they’re cheap. Picture: Tor Johnson /Starwood
Hooray for holidays! Especially when they’re cheap. Picture: Tor Johnson /Starwood

No.1 mistake you’re making when booking a trip

"Oh, it's going to be huge - the best we've seen in years!" he booms enthusiastically.

"I think travellers will be really excited by what they discover."

Frier is discussing the annual January travel sales - a glorious period where travellers can secure half-price airfares, and air and land packages (with a healthy inclusions list) at up to 60 per cent off, allowing them to traverse the globe like a Rothschild for next to nix.

Those seeking longer-haul flights to Europe and mainland United States should be in luck come February, but the hottest deals of 2018 will largely revolve around Fiji, Maldives, Hawaii, Bali, Queensland and Thailand, while cruise companies will be motivated to fill up what is referred to as "home ports" such as ex-Sydney and ex-Brisbane.

"There will be 50 per cent off sales and heavy second passenger percentages, but we're also going to be seeing plenty of amazing discounts and value-adds on the Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to Dubai and Dubai sectors as well," Frier says, explaining that many liners will be offering trips for the next 12 to 18 months.

"Just today we published an all-inclusive 13-day cruise in the Yangtze, China, priced at $1399 per person, twin share and that's the sort of stuff you're going to be seeing during these sales."

So how do you go about making the most of these deals?

Taking on the speed and enthusiasm of a game show contestant would surely help, as does memorising the following expert tips.

 

PUT YOUR HAND UP

At the risk of sounding like a soccer mum, to receive the gift of competitive pricing, you need to be competitive in your approach, with experts recommending you sign up to newsletters and email distribution lists of your favourite travel providers so that you're alerted to the deals the second they're announced.

"If you're interested in Fiji in particular, then at an absolute minimum, I would recommend you sign up to the email distributions of airlines who fly that route such as Virgin Airlines and Fiji Airways as well as sites such as Webjet.com.au," says Paul Ryan, the CEO of Webjet Exclusives.

Following brands on social media is also advised, but if you prefer the old-school approach, your travel agent can also be a godsend, says Kath Williams, director of Helloworld Travel Rowville.

"Simply pop in to register your interest in a particular destination, outline your ideal holiday and price point, and your agent can advise you accordingly as deals come out."

Hands up who wants a cheap holiday?
Hands up who wants a cheap holiday?

TRIPLE-CHECK FLIGHTS

If Randall Deer, managing director of Ignite Travel, had a dollar for every occasion he gazed upon the shocked look of a traveller discovering it takes three flights to get to the resort they've already booked in the Maldives - or that a flight between Bangkok and Koh Samui can sometimes cost as much as a flight between Bangkok and Sydney - there's a good chance he'd no longer be in travel.

"I always tell people even if you think you've found the world's best accommodation deal, never, ever book it without checking flights to that destination first."

Instead, investigate accommodation and airfare in tandem and pay close attention to what is included in your airfare (baggage, entertainment etc), as well as connection times on your chosen path. Some low-cost airlines can have you sitting in airports for eight hours or more, which can make for a miserable start to your holiday - particularly if travelling with kids.

And should you be going cruising, consider buying both cruise and flight well ahead of schedule to avoid getting stung by steep airfares, advises Frier.

"There are many amazing deals for Asian cruises departing in January, for example, but if you leave booking flights until the very last minute, you could be affected by Chinese New Year pricing on airfares."

 

SNIFF OUT PACKAGE DEALS

Fancy a seven-night stay in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives for $2499 a person including flights, transfers, half-board lunches and breakfasts? It might sound like the stuff of unicorns and fairy dust, but Randall Deer says this is a prime example of what you can expect if you focus on snaring a package deal rather than looking to book accommodation and flights separately.

"We buy everything in bulk at low cost which allows us to bundle packages cheaply for our customers," he says. "Not only does this make for the most affordable kind of holiday, but also the most convenient."

Low prices aside, the benefits of package deals also include guaranteed flights and accommodation at the price and type of room you're after, organised transfers (usually), and in some cases, all-inclusive meals and drinks which can shave hundreds, if not thousands, off your bottom line.

Savvy travellers can snap up adds-ons like a Rocky Mountaineer journey.
Savvy travellers can snap up adds-ons like a Rocky Mountaineer journey.

BE CLEAR ON INCLUSIONS

Some companies such as Webjet Exclusives are focusing on including value-adds to their packages this month.

"We'll have everything from accommodation upgrades to inclusions such as a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer in our trips to Canada and Alaska," Paul Ryan reveals. But remember, a strong inclusions list works only if you know exactly what the products are and whether you would have spent money on them yourself in the first place.

Interested in a particular deal?

Call the travel provider and ask them to outline everything for you and then take the time to research the individual price of each inclusion to help determine how the package stands up as a deal.

Out on the seas, on-board credit (a value you can spend on board a cruise liner that isn't coming out of your own pocket) is worth its weight in gold and should be sought, but Carl Frier recommends also paying attention to what's included in the pre- and post- cruise elements to a package deal. "They're bookends that can add or detract from your overall memory of the trip," he says.

 

GO CSI ON ADVERTISEMENTS

While most travel companies are transparent with their deals, there are still those who could win a Pulitzer for their creative wording, and unfortunately it's up to you to make sense of what's what.

Pay close attention to ads that don't specify the hotel or airline you'll be flying with, Deer warns.

"It could be that the flights include a 20-hour layover, or that the hotel in Venice is so far from the action that you might as well not be in Venice at all," he says, advising you ask for written confirmation of both before you book.

Keep an eye on "valued up to" prices by conducting your own price checks on sites such as Expedia, and note how pricing is worded within an advertisement.

Although the ACCC has been clamping down on drip pricing (the practice of incrementally disclosing additional fees and charges in a booking process which misleads consumers not aware of such charges at the start of the transaction), you can usually expect additional charges any time you see "from $xx" or "base fare".

And of course, be sure to read all fine print carefully, paying particular attention to when the product needs to be booked and paid for, which dates the deal is valid for and any associated blockout dates (dates for which it's not valid).

While refund and cancellation policies should always be double-checked, don't forget to also inquire about their variations policy - some companies can charge up to $250 a person breakage fee for changes made to bookings.

Do your research before you book a family trip. Picture: Princess Cruises
Do your research before you book a family trip. Picture: Princess Cruises

BECOME A SUPER SLEUTH

Dreaming of taking your young family to a resort which closely resembles an episode of Geordie Shore? We thought not, but it's for this very real possibility that Joe Araullo, the CEO of Hoot Holidays, recommends doing a little research to ensure a resort is the right choice for you.

"A family with young children, for example, may want a resort with connecting rooms, kids' club and babysitting facilities, while couples may prefer an adults-only pool, plenty of dining options plus activities outside the resort," he says, emphasising the difference between a great price and a great deal.

If you've got a product in mind - be it resort or cruise, speak with your travel agent about its reputation and product type (some hotels are geared towards group touring, for example, while some cruises may attract squealing children - hardly relaxing if you're expecting a luxurious "suit and tie" to dinner vessel) and check fellow travellers' reviews on TripAdvisor.

This works best if you zero in on the reviews of those whose family dynamic matches your own.

 

LEARN CRUISING LINGO

Don't know your "last cabin" from your "shorex"? Learning some cruising jargon can help make sense of the terms and conditions outlined in deals. Shorex, for example, is the abbreviated term for shore excursion; a single supplement is a fee solo travellers will be charged for their booking (cruise fares are based on double occupancy); stateroom is another word for cabin (with porthole or no windows) and last cabins - a term you'll often see - is one that's perhaps most confused of all, says Frier.

"By that, they often mean cabins at that price point or cabin type, not necessarily the last cabins available on that particular cruise."

It could only cost an extra $100 to upgrade to the next category so Frier recommends asking the following question before booking any cruise, "I appreciate that's your lead-in price, but how much for your next category up?"

Get in quick ... January is a hot month for holiday deals.
Get in quick ... January is a hot month for holiday deals.

ACT QUICKLY

If you're flexible with your time and you've got the funds ready to go, you're in the box seat to score big on the deals - but only if you act quickly, warns Ryan. "A lot of the January sale fares will be across limited dates and in limited numbers so while it's important to do your research, if what you see inspires you, you need to act before everybody else does."

And should you miss out on "The One", try not to fret; the whole pricing structure of these deals works on demand equals pricing, with second and third waves of activity expected in the coming weeks.

It might be $100 to $200 more expensive than what you can find this week, but as Frier tells it, you will be excited.



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