The Colosseum in Rome is a popular Italian tourist destination. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Are you planning a cultural trip to Cuba? Or would you rather indulge in fresh croissants and ice cream in France and Italy? 

No matter your holiday of choice, the last thing you want to do is count your pennies while you’re enjoying some well-deserved time away. On the other hand, you also don’t want to overindulge and come back home to staggering credit card bills. 

We chatted to South African travel professionals for some of their tips on how you can make the most of your budget: 

Off-Peak or High-Season? 

It seems a no-brainer. Off-peak will always be more affordable than high season travel, right? Well, not always according to Theresa Szejwallo, md The Travel Corporation.

She explains that everything depends on your chosen location. For South Africans, anytime between November and February is high season. However, when travelling to Europe, this time is considered low season and therefore more affordable and less crowded.

Says Szejwallo: “If you’re travelling to Mauritius or Cape Town in December, you’ll be paying top dollar because you’re travelling peak season. But, if you decide to travel to Europe, you’re going during their low season. You’re missing the crowds and your travel experience will be more affordable. It’s also a lovely time to visit Europe with its Christmas markets and winter vibe.” 

Wally Gaynor, MD Club Travel and ASATA member, agrees and says: “Without a doubt off peak is more affordable, but again what’s off peak?”

Gaynor explains different countries have different holiday times so you can find that an off-peak time for us is a high season for them. He says: “The weeks before Christmas is Low season in Ski resorts in Europe but schools in SA have broken up so you could have a ski holiday choosing a guaranteed snow resort for a fraction of the amount you would pay a week later.” 

ASATA-member Annemarie Lexow, Sales and Marketing Manager Travel Vision, says off peak is not always necessarily better. She explains most travellers still want to experience a destination when it is lively and there are people around.  She says: “I would recommend the shoulder periods as the better option to give you the best of both sides – slightly cheaper and not too crowded.”

For a lot of people, school holidays dictate when you can go on holiday, adds ASATA member and marketing manager for iGo Travel Karin Donkin. She says: “My advice is to go as early as possible within the peak periods. For example…if you can travel before 15 Dec, it will be cheaper than travelling over Christmas and New Year. So, plan smartly.”

Book in advance or wait to the last minute? 

“Advance is better,” says Lexow, explaining there are sometimes plenty of accommodation options to choose from, but availability of flights is limited if you leave your booking to the last minute and all the seats in cheaper categories might be sold by then.

Also, Donkin highly recommends booking in advance. She says: “Take advantage of early booking discounts. If you wait too long, and book last minute, you risk a price increase or no availability.”

Gaynor agrees and adds Ryanair changed the industry with its low-cost model. He says: “The cheapest fares are available way in advance and as you get closer the price gets higher. Most airlines and increasingly accommodation establishments are adopting this model. They are of the view that people who book at the last minute generally need to travel so will pay more.”

Szejwallo explains the key is to look for good deals. Trafalgar recently launched a 2018 Preview Deal, which means travellers can book 2018 holidays at 2017 prices. Travellers need to book this special by 12 September for travel next year. They can pay a deposit and pay the remainder either in 2018 prior departure or they can opt to pay monthly instalments. 

Szejwallo says however that last-minute travel has also been a massive trend in South Africa during the past year, which is why Trafalgar has launched some great last-minute deals for Europe, allowing travellers to save up to 25% off their holidays. 
  
All-inclusive? Or local eateries? 

It can be a comforting thought to know that everything is paid for in advance, but is it really worth it? 

The jury is still out on this question. Some people say all-inclusive deals equal huge megaresorts with mediocre food, while others say it’s a fantastic money-saving option that allows them to fully relax without having to think about money. 

Donkin explains that for a family holiday in Mauritius or Zanzibar, the all-inclusive option is the way to go, especially when travelling with children. She says: “Children will want that milkshake and five minutes later, that ice-cream. You also then don’t have to watch your pocket if you want to indulge in that one cocktail of the day or three!”

However, when embarking on a cultural holiday to Thailand, Donkin would advise to rather opt for a bed & breakfast in order to leave time to explore the tastes and sounds of the city.

“Why not get the best of both worlds?” says Szejwallo. On a Trafalgar trip, some of the meals and drinks are included, while other nights travellers can explore the destinations and their local eateries on their own. “Going out for dinner at your destination doesn’t have to break the bank. Ask your Trafalgar travel director for advice on some great affordable local eateries.”

Travel agent or book online? 

In theory, travelers today have more information and booking capability at their fingertips than ever before.

However, by using a travel agents you don’t only get help planning your holiday, you also suddenly have your own personal holiday advocate. A travel agent will find you the best prices. And if something bad happens — such as a canceled flight or a missed connection — they’ll be there to help. 

So, if you’re looking for value-for-money, the best connection and the best deals, the travel agent is definitely the way to go, says Szejwallo. 

Gaynor agrees and says an ASATA travel agent will save travellers time, money and frustration before, during and after their trip. He says: “It’s the equivalent in doing a DIY Home improvement or getting an expert in to do it properly.” 

“ASATA travel consultants work with all the specials on a daily basis. There are also trends, which we know about,” says Donkin. “Don’t waste time trying to do it yourself for the ‘best deal’ and risk being taken advantage of. Rather contact your ASATA travel professional, who knows the best deals, and who uses reputable suppliers. If it’s too good to be true, it normally is – there is always a risk of trying to book yourself online. Don’t risk it, leave it to the professional.”