How Susan saved thousands on her family's summer holiday

Susan Doueihi has saved thousands of dollars on her family's holiday to Hawaii.

By booking flights, accommodation and transfers early and travelling outside peak periods it's costing $1300 for each person in late November rather than closer to $2000 in January.

Susan booked the eight-day holiday to Hawaii for her family and her mother four months ago and then went to travel agents with the details of the deal. "Travel agents want your business and will compete for it," she says.

Her husband, Clayton, 33, is a self-employed finance broker and Susan, 29, is a loans officer at the same business.

They wanted to go in January, but it was just too expensive during school holidays.

"It's a beach holiday with some shopping as well, which is why my mum is coming," she jokes.

A mate of Clayton is also coming - though he is paying for himself.

Susan says the only compromise apart from not going in their preferred month of January is that they have a smaller luggage allowance than if they were to go with another, more expensive airline.

With the festive season the most popular time to fly, the cost of flying can become very expensive, very fast.

Harder to find discounts

Those booking seats have to work harder to find discounted fares on international flights. In August, Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner said the days of heavily discounted international airfares were coming to an end.

He expected the trend to continue into 2018.

Discount fares would still be available, but they would be less frequent and have fewer seats available for each deal, he said.

Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics show domestic economy-class fares have been rising since the start of this year, after being flat during 2016.

Even being a bit selective about the day of travel, a day here or there, can result in big savings.

Although prices are elevated throughout the school holiday period, flying out on Christmas Eve is the cheapest day to depart this festive season, according to research by comparison site Finder.

Finder used flight comparator site Skyscanner earlier this month to search for the cheapest seven-day return flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to popular holiday destinations including the Gold Coast, Bali, Fiji, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hawaii.

Finder wanted to test the often heard proposition that flying on public holidays such as Boxing Day or Christmas Day means cheaper airfares.

"Our analysis clearly shows that this year Christmas Eve is the cheapest option," says Angus Kidman, travel expert and editor-in-chief at Finder.

"If you're willing to spend Christmas Eve on a plane or in transit, it will save you money on your holiday."

Highs and lows

The Finder research shows it's 40 per cent more expensive flying on the day after Boxing Day, December 27, than on December 24 this year.

Flights during this period are already pricey. A Honolulu return ticket is fetching top dollar at $1283 a person on December 27 from Sydney, but it is only $755 on Christmas Eve.

Flying round trip to Honolulu on Christmas Eve instead of December 27 could save a family of four more than $2100.

"If you really want to save money, travel in off-peak periods, be flexible with dates and book early," Kidman says.

"The day after Boxing Day is the most expensive day of the holiday period to fly out for a trip."

Prices start to drop again on New Year's Eve, he adds.

Kidman has booked a flight for himself to London in late November and will return on New Year's Eve, rather than another day, because it is much cheaper.

"Flying on New Year's Eve provides another window of opportunity to avoid peak fares if you are limited to travelling during this period," he says.

Further ways to save

Kidman, who is a frequent flyer, says the major airlines send out email updates listing their fares and sales.

He has found the best deals often come from the airlines' "spot" specials.

The biggest discounts, apart from starting the search early, is from specials, he says.

It also helps to keep the cost of airfares down if you are not too fussed which airline you use.

"Of course, if you want to maximise frequent-flyer points that will restrict the options, but not being ridiculously fussy about the airline is helpful," Kidman says.

It is also a good idea, after searching airfare comparison sites, to check with the airline directly to make sure it's a good deal.

"Some of the comparators earn a fee if you book through them," he says.

"Though, having said that, the reverse can be true if you are not doing a point-to-point return flight."

If you are doing a stopover or if you want to return from a different city in Europe to that at which you arrived, for example, it can be cheaper to book through the online airline comparison sites than booking directly with the airline, Kidman says.

Travel insurance tips and traps

Premium credit cards usually offer travel insurance, but it needs checking to see what it does and does not cover, says Kate Smith, the marketing manager at Zoom Travel Insurance.

"We get numerous inquiries about whether credit card cover is adequate," she says.

"While you may be able to save a few dollars by taking advantage of your free credit card travel insurance, there are plenty of exclusions that may catch credit card holders by surprise."

For example, very often it is only the cardholder who is covered.

You usually have to have paid for your flights and accommodation with the card and travel insurance usually has to be activated before you leave, she says.

That usually involves logging into your online banking and turning your insurance "on".

In some cases, if you don't activate your travel insurance you'll only receive a base cover, she says.

This usually only includes cover for benefits such as hospital expenses and personal liability, leaving you without comprehensive protection, Smith says.

If you haven't kept up with your card payments, or your card has been cancelled, then it's likely that any travel insurance benefits relating to your card would be void.

"Never assume you're automatically covered. If you've recently been behind on some of your interest payments, it pays to check your travel insurance is still binding," Smith says.

Finder's Kidman says the policies behind the credit cards can vary widely.

As well as checking the exclusions and the excess, which can be higher than with stand-alone insurance, it's important to look at the level of cover and whether it is adequate, he says.

This story How Susan saved thousands on her family's summer holiday first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.