I sometimes wonder if Bank Holidays were invented so smug singletons with no kids like me get to experience the rip-offs families regularly suffer over school holidays.
I mention this because I often hear from friends and readers about the jaw-dropping price hikes that occur during the school holidays. Top tip – if you want to know when kids are off school, have a look at the cost of booking a one week break at some of our more popular family-focused holiday venues in the UK. The stellar rise in costs mirrors the fall of the school holidays to the day. I think this ‘family tax’ is despicable. But I only get to experience it for myself when I try to arrange something on a Bank Holiday.
Bank Holiday cost increases are ubiquitous and inevitable. While you can’t usually negotiate down the cost of things like a hotel room, there are other ways you can cut costs. Here’s my guide.
How to save some cash on the Easter Bank Holidays 2023
Making the most of a Bank Holiday depends on your personal circumstances. If you’ve not got kids and have a flexible job, then you can find some major holiday bargains on the last-minute booking websites. If you have a family then being spontaneous is a bit more challenging – but there are other options.
Family railcards and free transport
It’s the additional costs that get you in the end. The food and drink at theme parks. The parking charges in cities and the price of petrol. Even souvenir stands can catch out an unwary visitor.
If you are having a day out this Bank Holiday, then give yourself 15 minutes to identify all of these potential costs in advance. You can avoid the pricey concession stand bills by bringing in your own food and drink, for example. It’s even better if this isn’t allowed – some rules are worth breaking. Most places will be too busy to police your dinner.
Transport is one of the biggest budget breakers when it comes to days out. The car might seem like a good option, but with busy roads, ongoing roadworks, service station breaks and diesel costs, you might want to consider leaving it at home.
Public transport has had a torrid time of late, with some frankly shocking price hikes on the trains. But you can beat those with a railcard. Over 20 million people in the UK qualify for one of these cards though loads of people forget that they exist. A Friends and Family railcard can save the average family £150 a year. The card entitles you a third off rail fares for up to four adults and a whopping 60% for up to four kids between five and 15 years old.
Even if you don’t qualify for a student, young person or older person’s railcard, then you could get a ‘Two Together’ railcard with your partner or a friend for just £30 a year – getting a third off in the process. I have a Two Together card with my best mate – it paid for itself within two trips.
I mentioned in my column last week that I jumped on a plane to Iceland just after its economy tanked, due to a combination of bank collapses and Gordon Brown picking an unnecessary fight with the Icelandic Government. Yes, I did have to pretend not to be British for a week (using a terrible ‘Allo Allo’ French accent) but I finally got to see a country that was out of my price range for years.
This is known as ‘misery tourism’ – a slight hyperbolic way of describing how one country’s misfortunes can benefit a traveller. In simple terms, when a country’s economy is experiencing a problem a bargain trip can be had. It goes without saying that visiting an unstable country is a total false economy so check the travel guidance on the Foreign Office website and read the news. But good deals are out there – and you are supporting that country by spending your money there too.
The Times highlighted that Egypt is one of the biggest draws for tourists at the moment after the Egyptian pound plummeted, falling by 43% in just six months. This reduces your holiday costs all round by 17.5% in comparison to last year – and prices were already at historic lows for travellers.
Other countries, like Turkey, are also experiencing some challenging currency times, which make trips abroad more attractive there for all-round costs. Alternatively, a country doesn’t have to be in crisis to offer good value. Portugal continually tops the list of the cheapest European destinations for most aspects of your holiday. It’s stunning too.
Forgot your vouchers?
The impact of the pandemic is still being felt in many sectors. But one thing that many of us have forgotten about is the vouchers that we were issued for things that we couldn’t do.
Once again, travel vouchers are where the big money is lurking. An estimated £643 million in unclaimed vouchers are waiting to be used with BA and EasyJet alone. IAG, which owns five airlines reputedly has £533 million in unclaimed vouchers too. And that’s before we get to hotels and holiday camps. These vouchers have been repeatedly extended but you may have to use them before they expire. Some voucher T&Cs may state that you have to take the holiday by the date on them too, so check with the business.
You’ll need to do quite a bit of ‘email fishing’ to find the vouchers though. Businesses didn’t exactly make it easy to locate the notifications of your credit or when they extended the expiry dates. Other companies have introduced some unnecessary and complicated rules about redeeming them too. For example, one airline would not let me use more than one travel voucher per booking, despite the two vouchers I had originating with one single trip. If in doubt, call up and argue the toss.
In addition, you may have spa vouchers, experience days and gift cards that need claiming. If the expiry date has passed but it wasn’t clear or you didn’t get sufficient notice, make a complaint. Millions are lost every year in unclaimed gift vouchers. Put your complaint in writing and be willing to compromise. You could get a good day out, off the back of a successful appeal.
A judicious bit of searching online should reveal a ton of free events, festivals and activities for you and the whole family in your local area. Our national parks, forests and woodlands have loads of Easter activities planned that are fun and free, though you might need to sign up or subscribe to confirm a place for some of the more popular events. Take a picnic and a brolly for the full April experience!
A big draw for kids is the Easter Egg hunt. There are loads of free egg hunts bookable right now all around the UK. My very rough count revealed at least 200. Do book though – these are often the most oversubscribed events during the Bank holidays.
If you are visiting a city and you’re making a long weekend of it, have a look at the various city passes and price up whether it’s worth getting one. Most cities have these discount cards which can be a bargain if you are planning on visiting a number of attractions. You usually have to be quite motivated to get the most out of them though. So price up the admission costs of the things you want to and compare with the price of the card to see if it’s cost effective.
Not everything makes it online, so if you are staying local, pop to your library or community centre to have a look at the options right by where you live that you might have missed. You can also use local community groups on social media or WhatsApp to get a feel for things that are taking place close by.
Finally, you might find that admissions to various attractions late in the day are a little cheaper. Yes, you don’t get to see everything you might want, but if you’re up for a whistlestop tour around a theme park or an attraction, it can be a fun way to save some cash, just as everyone else has ‘tourist fatigue’.
Have a special sign-up email
From dining discounts to free tickets and special events, there are loads of vouchers, freebies and discounts available in return for you subscribing to a website or social media page. The downside, as I’m sure you’ll have experienced, is ending up with 14,452 emails blocking your inbox that you’ll never read.
So set up a separate email address just for offers and sign-up deals. Make sure you use a different password to your other ones. These websites do sometimes get hacked and you don’t want to give scammers the digital keys to important services.
By having a dedicated email address for offers, you can easily filter the results for ‘offers’, ‘discounts’, ‘dining’ and ‘free events’ if you pop those terms in to the search drive. You can also delete the emails en masse every few months too.
My email address for offers currently has 47 restaurant and dining discounts offers, 10 reduced tickets for theatre and shows, reminders of around 23 free events over the Easter weekend and even some cheaper travel deals.
Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James