The easing of Covid restrictions and testing requirements has prompted a big rush to book holidays abroad. And why not? We’ve all had a pretty miserable few years so a bit of sun and foreign travel sounds fabulous to me.

Of course, the world has changed significantly in the last two years. Though we may be returning to some levels of normality, there are still things the savvy traveller needs to look for before booking – not only to get the best deal, but to cover you if things go wrong.

Algorithms

Travel firms are experts in the mysterious world of algorithms – the computer technology that predicts everything from demand to pricing. One of the biggest complaints I hear is how a flight or hotel room can go up in value in the space of an hour or two. That’s because the algorithm reacts to how ‘in demand’ a destination or hotel is at any given time. So look online later in the evening or mid-afternoon during the quiet spells for the best deals. The more people are online and looking, the pricier a holiday might get – well that’s the theory anyway. In truth the pricing of holidays is shrouded in mystery.

Don’t panic buy. If you know where you want to go, shop around, check hotel prices direct on their websites and be wary of ‘pressure selling’ – those tickers on websites saying there are ‘two rooms left’. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned the big online holiday firms about misleading ‘last room’ offers.

Apartment websites

The holiday industry might be gearing up for a bumper year ahead, but many apartment websites haven’t done their housekeeping. I’m getting loads of complaints about apartment bookings that are suddenly cancelled when the owner doesn’t confirm the booking. Many apartment owners shut down their operations over the pandemic but didn’t update website entries. This matters because you can still be debited and lose loads of cash in currency exchange rate conversions when the booking is subsequently cancelled. Email the owner before you book to confirm the apartment is available.

Travel traumas

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that things can change, often very quicky indeed. So if you’re booking a holiday, it’s more important than ever that you prepare for sudden changes in travel rules – both home and away.

Check with both the airline and accommodation provider before you book about your rights if you can’t travel because of UK rules, foreign countries shutting their boarders and (God forbid) another wave of Covid. Get it in writing if you can or take screenshots of the T&Cs when you book. Ask if you can get a cash refund if you can’t travel, vouchers or if you can move the holiday forward.

Credit cards

Speaking of being cautious, if you have a credit card, why not use it to book the holiday? If you spend over £100 and there’s a problem, the firm goes bust or you don’t get what you paid for, then you may be able to make a claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act against the card provider if the holiday firm isn’t playing ball. The problem has to be pretty full on though – you can’t insure against not enjoying your holiday! In order to be covered, you have to have bought direct from the business, not through a third party.

Travel agents, marketplaces and packaged holidays

Most of the complaints I see are about online travel marketplaces – where you buy from a business that brings together flights and hotels but doesn’t provide the services. If you buy from one of our many fabulous independent travel agents, you’ll get a much more personalised service and more protection from the schemes they are members of if things go wrong. The same goes for packaged holiday providers too!

One last thing…

I can’t say it enough – don’t leave home without travel insurance. Start it from the day you book the holiday. Our mates at MoneySavingExpert have a regularly updated guide to the best buys too.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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