How to plan the ultimate budget summer holiday in Europe

Jun 4, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

This summer is shaping up to be a little different.

It’s already June and maybe you haven’t even planned your summer holiday yet. Or perhaps you’re feeling conservative and don’t want to book a massive trip until things settle down. While this summer may not be the right time for a blowout trip to the Maldives or Brazil, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a holiday somewhere a little closer to home (all while mentally planning that far-flung bucket list getaway for 2021 or 2022).

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The green cliffs of Ponta Delgada on Madeira island in summer. (Photo by Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty Images)
The green cliffs of Ponta Delgada on Madeira island in summer. (Photo by Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty Images)

Summer 2020 is the perfect time for a budget holiday, especially if you don’t feel like overspending at the moment. Here are some tips to help you organise an affordable holiday, whether it’s a sun escape to Spain, a hiking holiday or a staycation in the U.K.

Related: Why we’re still holding off on booking our international summer holiday just yet

1. Book refundable

It can be tough to get refunds right now, as airlines love a voucher, and you certainly don’t want your money tied up if things don’t work out. So make sure with whatever you book — whether it be trains, hotels, flights, home rentals, ferries or car hire — that you choose a refundable rate. This way, if anything goes wrong, like a border closure or you fall ill, you won’t lose your money — or have to spend hours on the phone on hold or explaining your situation to customer service reps. Likewise, if your planned trip doesn’t work out, you may be able to use your refunded money to book a different holiday elsewhere, especially if your cancellation has to do with a border closure.

2. Holiday in affordable destinations

A home rental in the Lake District for a long weekend may actually cost the same as a full week of holiday in a more affordable destination such as southern Portugal or some of the Canary Islands. Other affordable spots in Europe include Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, some areas of Italy and Greece — the list goes on. Do the maths and see what fits in with your budget. Simply hopping on Airbnb or hotel websites to compare prices can give you a snapshot of what to expect in different destinations this summer. Many spots desperate for tourism are offering extremely low rates.

(Hydra, Greece. Photo by f8grapher/Getty Images)
Hydra, Greece. (Photo by f8grapher/Getty Images)

It’s not always a given, but oftentimes, smaller villages, specific islands or more rural spots will be more affordable than larger cosmopolitan cities — and this will help with social distancing, too. Just make sure to take transportation costs into consideration as well, but if you do have some points stored away, an affordable destination may be your best bet.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

3. Have a staycation

Still, don’t discount that holiday home rental in the Lake District. It may be the right choice if you don’t have airline vouchers, miles or have a large family that requires more than just one or two plane tickets. If you already own a car, a road trip is an obvious choice.

There are so many gorgeous destinations to visit in the U.K. — many of them even have an international feel. If you plan to stay close to home with some domestic travel, here are some articles that may help you organise your staycation holiday:

4. Dip into your points stash (and get creative)

My preferred way to use points is to hoard them for a while, then use my large stash for a blowout trip in business class on a long-haul flight to a far-flung destination.

But this summer, that plan isn’t really going to get me far. For example, instead of using my stash of Iberia Avios for my favourite sweet spot (Madrid to Chicago in business class for 34,000 Iberia Avios) or transferring Amex points to fly Emirates business or first class to Bangkok via Dubai, I’ll use these points to fly short-haul around Europe. I’m hoping to get to Tenerife to hike the Teide volcano and to Paris to see a friend (if borders restrictions allow me in, of course).

While this may not get me the maximum value for my points, it will give me a way to fly for (almost) free this summer. So, don’t worry if you won’t use your frequent flyer miles in the usual way this season. Use them to do whatever works with your travel plans instead. After all, we don’t recommend hoarding your points — it’s best to get some use out of them, as you never know if/when an airline will devalue them, or worse — go under.

The same goes for hotel points. This summer, I’ll be using a Marriott free night 35,000-point certificate for the Category 5 Sheraton La Caleta in Tenerife. Room rates there are around 200 euro (£178) a night for my dates, so I’m getting a value of 0.6p per point. I used 2019’s certificate at the Ritz-Carlton Nile in Cairo over Christmas when room rates were nearing 400 euro (£357) per night, getting a value of 1.1p per point. TPG U.K. values Marriott points at 0.7p per point — so in theory, I’m losing out this time around.

The Sheraton La Caleta in Tenerife. (Photo courtesy of The Sheraton La Caleta/Facebook)
The Sheraton La Caleta in Tenerife. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

But the thing is, this summer, I’m not.

Obviously, I won’t be getting the same value this year cashing the certificate in at a hotel that charges a much lower cash rate, but I don’t care. I’d rather have an affordable holiday closer to home during a time of uncertainty (especially after living through Spain’s extremely strict coronavirus lockdown), so using the certificate in Tenerife holds value for me in a different way this year.

While TPG U.K. usually recommends transferring Amex Membership Reward points to airlines, you can also book with the Amex travel portal. Although it doesn’t always offer the best value, especially when booking flights or lodging, it may open up hotel options for you in more obscure spots like a rural village where you can’t transfer points to larger hotel chains. And remember, you can also use those Amex points for Eurostar, too, or for statement credits after a big travel expenditure such as a home rental.

The takeaway here is to use your points in whatever way offers value to you this summer — we won’t judge if you aren’t getting the most lucrative valuation, especially given the circumstances.

Related: 5 ways to use Amex Membership Reward Points that you may not know about

5. Consider a home rental

Besides making it much easier for you to social distance, a home rental may be the perfect choice for budget travellers this summer.

First of all, home rentals can be largely cheaper than hotels, especially if you’re travelling as a family/group and would need to book more than one room. When booking a home rental, make sure it has the below features that will also help you save some extra cash:

  • Coffee or espresso maker. This will ensure you can make your favourite kind of coffee each morning and not have to find it and spend more at a cafe — especially if you love espresso or a latte.
  • Full kitchen (or at least a fridge and microwave). You can shop and make food at home, helping you save on eating out.
  • Washing machine. If you are able to do laundry at home, you can pack less — and this means saving on extras like paying for checked bags.
  • Within walking distance to attractions. This way, you won’t have to hire a car.
  • Free parking. If you do plan to hire a car, find a rental with free parking so you won’t have to pay extra to park.
  • Flexible cancellation policy. Many rentals, especially on Airbnb, have very flexible policies at the moment, meaning you can get a refund if you need to cancel.
  • Discounts for longer stays. Many home rental sites like Airbnb offer discounts for week-long or month-long stays, so consider upping that six-night stay to seven if the rates make sense.

Related: 14 packing hacks for travelling with just a carry-on

6. Be careful with low-cost carriers — book if the price is right

Ryanair has stated it will begin flying 40% of its routes starting 1 July. Before you rush out to book though, note that according to The Guardian, 85% of Ryanair customers with cancelled flights due to coronavirus are still waiting on refunds. About 60% of EasyJet customers are still waiting for money back.

(Photo by JannHuizenga/Getty Images)
(Photo by JannHuizenga/Getty Images)

If you find a great deal on a flight, say £10 return, by all means, snap it up. But be careful booking more expensive fares, because if things don’t go as planned, you may end up with no holiday — and no refund (or at least have to wait a while to get those pounds back in your pocket).

If you do fly low-cost, make sure to read our guide on low-cost carriers, which will ensure you’re aware of all the rules and regulations so you won’t get stuck spending extra to check a bag at the gate.

7. If you have to book with a third party, use Hotels.com

Here at TPG U.K., we’ve been wary about booking using third-party booking sites. Many readers have complained about not getting refunds or sitting on hold for ages waiting to speak to a representative, so we usually encourage booking directly.

But when it comes to accommodation, consider Hotels.com. This can help save you money because the site has a loyalty programme where you can get a free night after 10 paid nights. This can be helpful if you’d like to take a longer holiday this summer, or a few different holidays, helping you gain a free hotel night. The site offers home rental options, too. Just make sure to book something with a flexible cancellation policy so you know you’ll get a refund if things don’t go as planned.

Keep in mind, however, that by booking through a third-party site, chain hotels often don’t honour elite status benefits.

Related: 6 reasons to avoid booking through an online travel agency

8. Book deals

We’re starting to post travel deals for 2020 and 2021, so make sure to check out our deals page with all the details. Right now, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) still advises U.K. nationals against all non-essential international travel. But once these restrictions are reduced, we’ll be posting more current deals, including last-minute and advance offers, so stay tuned.

Bottom line

El Cotillo in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. (Photo by pkazmierczak/Getty)
El Cotillo in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. (Photo by pkazmierczak/Getty)

It’s been a crazy spring and you may desperately need a holiday (so do we). And it is possible to have an affordable one right here in Europe. Just make sure to book refundable rates, select the right destination and get creative with those points. Happy summer travels!

Featured photo by Allard Schager/Getty Images

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