How to cut your holiday costs

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Travelstart asked 6 000 people about their biggest gripes when catching a flight and found some telling results. Picture: Courtney Africa

Travellers have rarely had so much choice when they book a holiday. Popular destinations have dozens of airlines and car rental firms - and an array of ways to pay for days out and meals.

Seasoned travellers know there are some hidden costs, but in recent years a mind-boggling number of sneaky fees have been introduced to catch out even the most savvy.

Get it wrong and you could find yourself forking out hundreds of rands before you’ve even checked in for your flights or be lumbered with a shock credit card bill on your return.

WHY IT always PAYS TO PACK LIGHT

Extra charges can vary hugely between airlines - and you need to be sure that what you’re booking matches your needs.

You can be charged for anything from booking a specific seat to putting a bag into the hold. Even paying for tickets can cost you dear.

Some of the baggage charges levied by budget airlines can be eye-watering.

Even hand luggage on the same flight that is just a couple of grams overweight will cost you £50 (about R600) a bag.

Airlines have different rules for children, too. Some make you pay for carrying under-twos.

Be absolutely certain your booking is correct before you pay.

Changing your flight with the airline will cost you up to £90 (about R1 700).

And remember that with most budget airlines seating is a free-for-all - if you want to sit together you’ll have to pay.

MONEY MAIL’S TIP: Be a smart packer, but be realistic and plan for slightly heavier bags.

DON’T GET SNARED BY CURRENCY CONS

For starters, never buy your currency at an airport, at a holiday destination bureau de change or from your bank - these usually offer the worst rates.

If you’re worried the rand could fall in value before your summer break, rather than stashing a pile of cash at home you can buy a pre-paid cash card and lock in the rate today.

These cards work in exactly the same way as credit cards, but you pay to load it with money in advance. You can choose from any number of currencies.

Beware of extra fees and charges.

Most debit and credit cards have huge fees if you use them overseas. They can charge poor exchange rates, one-off fees for transactions and withdrawing cash, and percentage charges for every sum you spend.

So choose a card that cuts extra charges while abroad.

And ensure you always pay using your own bank’s exchange rate while away. In some bars and restaurants, they’ll offer you a local rate of exchange when paying the bill.

This is called “dynamic currency conversion” and can leave you out of pocket with worse rates. Always stick to paying in the local currency at your credit or bank card’s own rates.

MONEY MAIL TIP: For cash to take with you, order it online. Use a credit card in shops.

THE pricey CAR HIRE TRICKS

It’s never been easier to book your hire car, with dozens of companies at every airport.

This extra competition is keeping prices down.

But hire companies are trying to claw back cash by hitting families with hidden extra charges.

Typically, they do this with outrageous insurance excesses, unwanted upgrades, sneaky fees imposed once you’ve returned the car and fuel bills.

Increasingly, some charge a bargain price and then charge you for a full tank of petrol when you arrive - doubling or tripling the cost of hire.

A reputable company should give you the option of returning the car with an empty or full tank.

It’s also absolutely vital to know what you’ll pay if you have an accident. Even if you have insurance, you will have to pay for the first part of the claim, called the excess.

You will end up paying if the car is damaged in any way - even if it just received a tiny scratch. Some companies use this to scare you into buying expensive excess waiver insurance.

But there are cheaper ‘excess waiver’ insurance policies than those offered by the car hire firms.

With these policies, you would need to pay your excess to the car-hire firm if you had a crash, then reclaim it from the insurer.

Also, don’t fork out for expensive personal accident insurance flogged by the car-hire company without first checking if you are covered by your home or car policy.

MONEY MAIL TIP: Buy car-hire excess cover before you go. Try to spot a petrol station as you leave the airport so you can head to it to fill up when you return the car.

PARKING that COSTS MORE THAN A FLIGHT

Parking is a huge money-spinner for airports, which charge sky-high prices for travellers who fail to plan ahead. You need to book at least 30 days before your trip to get the best deals.

MONEY MAIL TIP: Get friends or family to drop you off. If you do need to park, book in advance.

TALK ISN’T CHEAP overseas

The cost of using a mobile phone abroad is coming down. From July, the cost of making calls and of using the internet will be capped.

This should help stop many of those shock bills that families have come home to in previous years.

Remember that if you are calling a friend or family member you are on holiday with, you will both pay for the overseas call.

When sending text messages, only the sender pays.

MONEY MAIL TIP: Switch off “data roaming” on your phone. If you need to use the internet, surf for free on a hotel or cafe wireless network. - Daily Mail-IOL

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