November may well be a time of Black Friday sales and Christmas panic buying, but it’s also the point where travellers get itchy feed and start booking holidays.

Usually it’s people booking Winter sun breaks that drive demand at this time of year. However, I’ve been speaking to lots of travel experts lately who all report that the rush to book 2023 holidays has moved back from the peak of January. The reasons for this are threefold. The Spring/Summer flight schedules have just been announced, airlines and airports are still reeling from the disastrous mass cancellations that ruined holidays in 2022 and prices, sadly, are rocketing.

It’s hard to know by how much definitively, as ‘average’ flight and hotel costs are almost impossible to confirm, thanks to the ubiquitous algorithms that suddenly crank up your costs when you stop browsing and start buying. However, even the most conservative studies predict a 10% increase in flight, hotel and car rental costs next year. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, given that prices went up by 40% to 50% for flights alone in late 2022 –after most people last booked a summer holiday – and you’re looking at a hefty sum to book for 2023. And that’s before the big rush in the New Year.

If you’ve not taken a foreign holiday since the pandemic, or have just taken one long-delayed trip funded by vouchers, you might not be aware of some of the changes in the industry. Here’s my guide on what to watch out for.

Travel traumas and problematic pandemics

As we learned over the pandemic, things that can dramatically change our lives can happen 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.

I’ve noticed a trend in T&Cs for travel and insurance that link refund rights to advice given on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website. You can find a guide to each country you might consider visiting here:  https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

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 pandemic. 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, or vouchers – or if you can move the holiday forward without penalty.

Remember that different countries can set travel and visa requirements for entry, so you could be asked to prove all sorts of things, from your health status through to recent trips to Cuba. This can apply even if you are only stopping over for an hour or two. Should you need to report something, then you may have to book an appointment for a visa/interview at the embassy itself – and I’m hearing a lot of complaints about massive delays for some appointments. Finally, there have been a number of news reports about visas being used in diplomatic tussles, with travellers losing out. So check entry requirements before you book

Algorithms

Travel firms were among the first sectors to embrace the mysterious world of algorithms – the computer technology that predicts everything from demand to pricing. ‘Dynamic pricing’ is the rather breathless way that some businesses describe algorithms that raise prices at high demand times. I receive a steady flow of complaints from people about flight or hotel costs that have significantly changed in the space of an hour.

Travel algorithms are a murky world and despite many a warning to the industry, we still don’t have a clear overview of how the technology is working in practice or how fair it is.  As a general rule, 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.

The days of buying a holiday on a whim are over, so if you know where you want to go, shop around, cross reference flight and hotel prices with the provider of the services and be wary of ‘pressure selling’ – those warnings on websites that claim there is ‘one room left’ or that ’42 people have booked this deal in the last hour’.

Price hikes

Inflation and increasing prices are not just confined to the UK. All around the world, the cost-of-living crisis is digging deep. This means everything from food to taxis are going to be pricier in 2023. Whatever you usually put aside for your spending money, add on an extra 25% at least so you don’t get caught out.

I’m hearing a lot about car hire companies – a sector that didn’t exactly cover itself with glory in the past – and massive price jumps at the moment. The more unscrupulous car hire firms have a range of ways to squeeze more cash out of you, from spurious claims of damage and expensive policies to cover you for such incidents to endless add-on charges.

If you reserve a hire car before you travel, read the T&Cs, especially if you are on a late flight (night fees or closed retal booths lie in wait). Booking insurance to cover damage claims (sometimes called ‘excess’ or ‘damage waivers’) is essential and much cheaper on the open market. Some car hire firms claim you have to use their insurer – this should not be the case. Make sure you can change your policy to a different vehicle model if for some reason the one you booked ‘isn’t available’ when you arrive.

Currency and exchange rates

If you’ve not travelled for a bit, you might be in for a shock when you wander round a train station, trying to find the currency exchange. Covid killed off many traditional currency providers and banks tend not to have the best rates. MoneySavingExpert has a useful comparison tool that helps find the best rates near you.

https://travelmoney.moneysavingexpert.com/

Paying by debit card – and withdrawing cash in particular – can be an expensive business on holiday. Most of the main bank cards bill you all kinds of fees per transaction and the exchange rates are pretty rubbish.

However, the new digital banks have upped their game. You can sign up for an account online and the best ones don’t charge fees at all and offer exchange rates that are really reasonable too. I’d suggest a ‘half and half’ mix of cash and digital bank cards to cover most eventualities. It’s a good idea to have a credit card to cover emergencies too.

Credit cards

Speaking of credit cards, why not use one to book the holiday? As I often mention, when 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. As always, in order to be covered you have to have bought direct from the business, not through a third party.

Apartment websites

Ask a Eurovision fan what they think about apartment booking websites and prepare for a lengthy rant! When Liverpool was confirmed as the host city for Eurovision in 2023, many canny fans had reserved or paid for accommodation before the announcement. Cue much gnashing of teeth when the bookings were suddenly cancelled and reposted at vastly inflated prices.

Aside from being intensely annoying, sudden cancellations can be costly. I’ve received a raft of complaints in 2022 about foreign bookings suddenly being cancelled. Some websites do have mediation schemes, where the website will attempt to rebook you somewhere similar if the cancellation is last minute. The same goes for blatantly mis-advertised apartments – but that can be a nightmare if you’re already in the country and find yourself sat on your bags waiting for an alternative.

You can also lose loads of cash in currency exchange rate conversions when a booking is subsequently cancelled. So it makes sense to really look in to the apartment owner and reviews before booking. Email the owner too before you commit to confirm the apartment is genuinely available and what happens if there’s a cancellation.

Travel agents, marketplaces and packaged holidays

Most of the complaints I hear about relate to online travel marketplaces – where you buy from a business that brings together flights and hotels but doesn’t provide the underlying services. Over the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of complaints were made by people who booked holidays through these organisations (as millions of people do) only to find that refunds were not forthcoming or were delayed – sometimes for a year or more.

Ultimately, if you use a third-party business like this to book your holiday ask yourself what would happen if things went wrong. Always check out the ‘refund’ and ‘cancellation’ sections of the website. Bear in mind that your section 75 rights might not apply too if the firm doesn’t supply its own flights or hotels.

There are lots of great independent travel agents though, and you’ll get a much more personalised service if you book through them. You also get further protection from the industry schemes they are members of if things go wrong so check to see who they are signed up with. The same goes for packaged holiday providers too.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

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