You know where you’re going and when but experts have advice on aspects you may never have thought of.
The best time to book flights to get the best rates
When do tickets go on sale for flights?
Usually, 11 months in advance. Reasons for this are arcane and historical — in the days of printed seat plans, airlines wanted to avoid booking people on to the right plane on the right day but in the wrong year.
So should you charge in and book almost a year ahead?
Not normally. Airlines can (and often do) update fares every hour using complex algorithms. This is the dark art of yield management — trying to get full planes with passengers paying as much as possible for every seat.
So when is the best time to book?
There are certain broad trends: on average the best time is five weeks before travel. If you have time, it can pay to watch your route carefully and educate yourself about when cheaper seats are generally available — varying the day of departure and time of day can make a big difference.
What about if you’re flying at a very busy time, like over Christmas?
This may be the time to book very early: all fare classes will be available and you should score a price that won’t be beatable nearer the time.
You’ll also ensure you get a seat on the plane you want.
● Filip Filipov, head of B2B, Skyscanner
Claw back the cost of your trip
The silver lining on that missed flight
You may not be able to get a refund on that budget airline flight you missed, but you can reclaim the tax on any portion of a journey you haven’t taken.
Maximise loyalty schemes
Make sure you’re signed up for and using airline and hotel loyalty schemes at every opportunity, including claiming points for additional purchases such as car hire. Making large purchases on a credit card that offers airline loyalty points is a great way to pile up the miles — but always check terms and conditions carefully.
Recoup on purchases made abroad
Depending on where you are, you can usually claim back certain taxes paid on purchases made while travelling, especially if you’ve paid with an overseas credit or debit card. Check out the regulations for where you’re going and where you’ve been, as there will be forms to fill in (that you can usually pick up at point of purchase). Payment for services such as car hire can’t generally be claimed back.
Know the inside track
As odd as it sounds, check if certain elements of your holiday are tax deductible, as they may be if, for instance, you combine a holiday with a business trip. Your home government should have advice online.
Don’t lose out on leftover currency
Although the exchange rate for repatriating your leftover holiday funds into your own currency will be poor at departure points, you can often find zero-commission fees back at your point of purchase. At larger hostels you may be able to strike a deal with a fellow traveller — if legal to do so of course.
Surviving a Small Group Tour
With a tour company handling the travel logistics, it’s easy to switch into “passenger mode”, which can be a treat, as long as you’re not totally clueless about the itinerary. Do your destination research in advance, as you would for any independent trip (yes, even get a guidebook if you’re so inclined), so you don’t spend the entire time playing catch up. Ask your guide lots of questions for extra context and recommendations — you can’t beat insider knowledge.
Befriend your guide
Communicating effectively with your guide can take your tour to the next level. Ensure they are aware of any basic needs or issues (such as dietary requirements, travel sickness, allergies) so they can help you stay healthy and happy. Explain your goals for the tour — be it trying as many new foods as possible, exploring local architecture or finding an authentic souvenir — and a decent guide will make it happen. Finally, listen closely to briefings.
Go with an open mind
All kinds of travellers take small group tours, so leave your preconceptions at the airport. You’ll probably be mixing with an international crowd of varying ages and personalities, all of whom have different experience levels and definitions of what it means to travel. Be patient with your fellow voyagers and take the opportunity to hear their perspectives on the place you’re exploring together — you could end up making friends for life.
Don’t follow the crowd
There’s going with the flow and there’s staying in a dive bar for a fifth slippery nipple when all you really want is your bed. Don’t feel pressured into sticking with your travel buddies 24/7 — alone time is a healthy way to punctuate what can be an intense group dynamic. If you need a rest, skip the morning activity and enjoy a lazy brunch, or eat at a food stall of your choosing rather than the group-friendly restaurant.
Take pocket money for extras
Study your tour inclusions closely and budget for any missing meals or optional activities. Unexpected expenses (or splurges) can crop up, so having a cash stash for those “oh go on then” moments can prevent FOMO on the road. Many tour guides and drivers rely hugely on tips — if you think they’ve done a great job, be generous.
● Advice for feeling empowered, not imprisoned by Emma Sparks, Deputy Editor,
Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet © 2018.