Net Savings: How to really find better holiday deals on the web

Booking travel online can unlock big savings and great deals. The trick is knowing where – and how – to find the bargains. Here is some practical advice for doing precisely that.

Break old habits: stay flexible
Staying flexible is the first rule of saving on travel costs. If you are retired or semi-retired, then you’re probably already used to off-season travel and avoiding those peak times. But staying flexible is an approach you should apply to other factors in your booking, too – starting with your initial web searches.

Some websites are built with subtle mechanisms that adjust the prices of offers for individual users. If you are the sort of person who only ever searches for “weekend city breaks” for example, you may find you are only shown the top prices for these searches in future. Vary your search terms every time you browse, and you’re less likely to get caught in this trap.

Despite what common wisdom may claim, there are no set-in-stone rules for when the best time to book online may or may not be. While it is true that you often save by booking early, you are just as likely to find that some of the best deals are only released at the last minute: when a travel agent, hotel or airline is keen to ensure they are fully booked during an otherwise lean period.

It is a complete myth that it is cheaper to book mid-week, or late at night: if it were, then everybody would do it, and the prices would go up!

Exclusive deals are often on social media and email
Social media is not just for staying in contact with friends and family; it is the new frontier for marketing and e-commerce. All businesses – travel and leisure companies included – focus a great deal of attention on winning social media support.

To encourage people to follow them, travel companies make some discounts and offers only available to their followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter. So get involved and you might find a bargain!

After many years of sorting through spam emails, most of us are reluctant to sign ourselves up to any kind of bulk advertising mailing list. But this is a big mistake when it comes to travel, because booking companies regularly send out emails with genuine offers and exclusive discount codes. Some of these offers cannot even be found through the main website.

So although it goes against every instinct you might have about mailing lists, you really should be signing up for those travel newsletters. If you are particularly concerned about not filling up your inbox, you could always create a separate email account just for newsletters, on a site like Yahoo Mail, Gmail, or Hotmail.

The bottom line for cheaper travel on the web is to stay constantly informed. Start thinking of the deals you see on booking sites as being like a constantly revolving conveyor belt: if you keep watching long enough, the same items may just come back around at a lower price. And, if your travel plans can stay flexible, you are sure to find something that appeals.

Seville in the spring: sunny, serene and stunning

“Sunny Spain” doesn’t have to mean the seaside – go inland this spring and explore the fascinating Andalusian city of Seville. With its centuries of history and wealth of captivating architecture, Seville in southern Spain makes a fantastic choice for a city break. Going before summer arrives also means less crowding!

What to see
Seville’s glories are its superbly preserved buildings, showcasing a tradition that runs from medieval times to the present day. UNESCO has recognised the city’s importance by granting World Heritage Site status to several of these extraordinary places.

Your first stop might be the remarkable Moorish royal palace, the Alcázar. Dating back to the medieval period, it is still used as an official residence by the current Spanish royal family. The imposing interior boasts many beautiful examples of intricate Moorish carvings, while outside you can enjoy a pleasant, shady walk in the lush, planned gardens, whose design is still based heavily on the 16th-century ideas of the architect Vermondo Resta.

Another must-see is the Cathedral of Saint Mary. The second largest church in Europe, this monumental Gothic building was consecrated in 1507 after more than three centuries of construction; its 343-foot Giralda bell tower is visible from all over Seville. Elsewhere in the city is another World Heritage Site: the Archivo General de Indias, or General Archive of the Indies, which stores thousands of priceless documents relating to the Spanish Empire. Parts of it are open to the public every weekday.

Where to stay
The cost of accommodation in Seville varies during spring, with prices highest around Easter. At other times, you’ll find some tempting rates available. The modern Melia Sevilla hotel, a 15-minute walk from the cathedral and close to several good restaurants, charges around £90 per night in late April. If you’d prefer a more traditional Andalusian experience, the Hotel San Gil offers a large central courtyard and a lovely location within the old city walls.

When to go
Summer in Seville can be fiercely hot, but the Andalusian climate is considerably kinder during spring. Perhaps the best time to visit is the end of April, after the Easter celebrations have died down. The afternoon temperature at this time of year averages 24C/75F and the evenings are pleasantly cool without being cold. By late May, the weather has become much hotter, with very little rain and temperatures often nudging 30C/86F.

A Blissful Beach Holiday on the Budva Riviera

The Budva Riviera is one of the most up-and-coming sun and beach destinations in the Adriatic Sea. Located on the dramatic coast of Montenegro, this region is ideal for a blissful beach holiday. This is an affordable and uncrowded destination that has much to offer in the way of beautiful coastal landscapes and pretty architecture.

Beach Life
The Budva Riviera has more than 40 beaches, ranging from picture-perfect sandy beaches to secluded coves. Budva is the largest town in the area, although it tends to attract younger crowds in search of nightlife. Having said that, it is worth visiting the town, as it has a beautiful natural setting and is the departure point for boat trips around the Riviera. You can also arrange a day trip to St Nicholas Island in Budva and enjoy the island’s three award-winning beaches.

The towns of Petrovac and Becici make for a more suitable base for exploring the Riviera, as they combine beautiful historical attractions with stunning beaches and a low-key atmosphere. Make the most of the great beach weather (which averages 25C/77F during the summer months) and head to Petrovac’s crescent-shaped beach or to the nearby beaches of Lucica and Perazica, known for their spectacular natural beauty.

Events you won’t want to miss include the Pasticada Fest in June, and Petrovac Night in August, which offer a combination of music, fireworks, and gastronomic events. August is a good month to visit: you might also like the Fishing Night in Ulcinj, and the Petrovac Jazz Festival. Make sure you check closer to the time to see exactly what’s on when!

Travel and Accommodation
The most popular way of getting to Budva Riviera is flying to Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia. This airport is served by regular and budget airlines that connect it with many UK airports. Some of these flights are seasonal, which means that you will have a wider range of options if you travel between June and September. You can then cover the 45 mile drive between Dubrovnik and the town of Budva via private transfer (£85) or by bus and taxi (£50).

Alternatively, you can fly to Podgorica (Montenegro’s capital city, also around 45 miles drive away from Budva) from London Stansted and continue your journey by taxi. On average, the taxi ride from the airport to Budva costs £35.

Accommodation prices range between £35 and £150 per night. Self-catered apartments are particularly good value in the area, and you can find fully equipped studios with sea views for just £25 per night.

City break with a beach: discover Santander’s charms

Santander is not just the name of a bank! It’s also a mid-sized Spanish city that is often (and unfairly) overlooked by foreign tourists, and as such, it makes for a great city break away from the crowds. Mild weather means that Santander is a great destination all year round, as average temperatures range between 23C/75F in the summer and 15C/57F during the winter.

Beautiful seaside setting
Santander’s appeal lies in its exceptionally beautiful seaside setting and on its palatial architecture. Start your visit with a stroll around the Old Town, which is packed with splendid buildings dating from the late 19th century, such as the imposing Ayuntamiento (city hall) or the neo-classic Mercado del Este market, which is also a great place to get your hands on some unique souvenirs.

For the finest panoramic views of the bay, head to Magdalena Palace, a magnificent building that once was the holiday abode of the Spanish monarchy and that might remind you of Isle of Wight’s Osborne House. The hourly boat trips that cruise along Santander’s bay for less than £5 also come highly recommended, especially during the evening. You won’t get tired of admiring the gorgeous panorama punctuated by glittering city lights!

Whenever you fancy a change of scenery, you’ll have a choice between sea and mountains: Cabarceno Natural Park is only 10 miles away and will delight wildlife lovers, whereas the more than 20 beaches that surround Santander offer a pleasant escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Getting there
Santander is well-connected to the UK via Santander airport, now renamed Seve Ballesteros airport in honour of the golfer. It is served by budget airlines, including Ryanair from London Stansted. Alternatively, you can fly into Bilbao airport (which has direct flights to several UK cities) and hop on a bus or drive to Santander, which is 60 miles away. If you’d rather take the scenic route, Brittany Ferries runs 3 weekly trips between Portsmouth and Santander.

Accommodation in Santander
Santander offers excellent value for money on accommodation, as well as a wide range of choices that go from lovely boutique hotels in the city centre to elegant 3 and 4-star hotels overlooking the bay. Prices range from £35 to £60 per night.

You may also want to stay at one of the local posadas, beautiful country homes that are usually located in the most scenic parts of town and that offer accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis.

Discover Monterosso – The Jewel of Italy’s Famous Cinque Terre

Many British travellers have heard of the Cinque Terre – or five lands – which lie on Italy’s west coast mid-way between Genoa and Pisa, near La Spezia. Although these five settlements conjure up the image of quaint fishing villages clinging on to the side of rocky outcrops, Monterosso is somewhat different. Firstly, it is reasonably accessible by road. Most of the other Cinque Terre are really only practical to get to and from by sea. Secondly, Monterosso boasts a superb beach making it an ideal holiday destination, especially for anyone who wants a bit of culture, hill views, and great food as well as a beach to lie on.

A region famous for wine and pesto sauce
Properly referred to as Monterosso al Mare, the village is in Liguria, a region of Italy that is famous for its distinctive wines and pesto sauce, both superb accompaniments to locally made pasta. Like the other villages of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso was largely cut off from the rest of the region until modern times. Nonetheless, the introduction of the railway made the village a popular tourist destination for Italians. It is now much-loved by many who have discovered its delights and there are a number of mid range and high quality hotels to choose from, affording some great accommodation.

A delightful beach
The beach is one of the undoubted highlights of Monterosso. It offers fine and lightly coloured sand which is delightful to walk on. Much of the central part of the beach area is covered by sun loungers and parasols which can be hired at a cost which is not exorbitant. The waters are clean and safe for bathing and paddling. Just back from the beach is a promenade which stretches nearly the full length of the bay. Behind this is a single lane road which is lined with restaurants and cafés. Many of these have outdoor seating which overlooks the beach, and the waiting staff traverse the road in order to deliver food and drinks to their customers.

Pleasantly warm
In the height of summer, Monterosso’s beach does get busy. However, its tourists are drawn from all over the world, not just from northern Europe. Also, you are just as likely to holiday alongside an Italian family as from anywhere else. The temperatures are great in May (23C/73F) and September (26C/79F), which avoids the school holiday season. At such times Monterosso is probably at its best – busy, but not overrun. For those that like it hotter, temperatures reach 30C/86F in July and August.

A beach holiday in Pyrénées-Orientales

The winter months often have us daydreaming about escaping to sunnier and warmer climates. If you are already planning your next summer holiday, how does a beach getaway in southern France sound? Tucked away on the southeastern coast of France, the Pyrénées-Orientales region is a lesser-known sun and beach destination that offers nearly 40 miles of beautiful coastline, a low-key atmosphere, and a great deal of attractions to keep you busy for days on end.

Sunny climate and a convenient airport
The Pyrénées-Orientales region is blessed with up to 320 sunny days a year. The best time to visit this area is between May and September, when rainfall is rare and daytime temperatures average a pleasant 24C (75F) – a far cry from the scorching hot temperatures that are common in the Mediterranean region during the summer!

You can now fly directly into the Pyrénées-Orientales area, as the nearest airport is Perpignan-Rivesaltes, which is convenient for British travellers as it has frequent connections with London Stansted, Southampton, and Birmingham.

What to see and do
The Pyrénées-Orientales area is dotted with lovely coastal towns and fishing villages. If you start your trip on the northern end of the region, the first destination worth a visit is Sainte-Marie-la-Mer, a small seaside resort packed with excellent seafood restaurants and boasting a lovely palm-tree-lined promenade.

A few miles south is St Cyprien, home to one of Europe’s largest marinas and to a splendid golden sand beach. It’s worth stopping here for a few days, as there are several tourist attractions in the surrounding area, including the Natural Reserve of Mas Larrieu (perfect for birdwatching), the botanic gardens, and historic villages like Elne or Villenueve de la Raho.

In Argeles-sur-Mer, lush pine forests give way to the azure waters of the Mediterranean creating a serene and extraordinarily beautiful environment that is perfect for sunbathing, going on guided walking tours, sampling the local gastronomy, and for enjoying life on your own terms. Argeles is also known for its balneotherapy – the treatment of disease using mineral-rich waters – so why not treat yourself?

As you approach the Spanish border, the landscapes become more rugged and dramatic. Don’t leave without stopping by at Colliure, a quaint fishing village whose beauty attracted renowned artists like Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse.

A few miles south is Port Vendres, which is the ideal base to explore the southern end of the Pyrénées-Orientales thanks to its privileged location between the picturesque Cape Béar and miles upon mile of rolling hills and vineyards.