Feel that blast of heat as you step off the plane
The clocks have gone back; the evenings are suddenly dark. At first, it all seems so nice and hygge – a good excuse to light the fire and toast some crumpets at tea time. But as the November mists gather and the chill descends, soon we will be pining for the sun – even just a week of warmth and light, of floating in a tropical lagoon or relaxing under a palm tree, can reset your sense of wellbeing and set you up for the rest of the winter.
Assuming, then, that a sunshine fix or a week on the beach is your primary reason for travelling, how do you decide where to go? And, perhaps most importantly in these straitened times, which destinations offer the best value and the most sun for your money?
There are no fixed rules, and how much you have to pay will obviously depend on lots of factors, but there is a lot you can do to make your winter break more affordable. Beginning opposite is our shortlist of 12 great holiday destinations where you can enjoy a week of winter sun (and a four-star hotel) for less than £1,000. First, here is our strategy for getting the best holiday at the best possible price. Decision number one: how hot do you really want it. Broadly speaking, the further you fly, the hotter it will be and the more you will have to pay. But while some really do like it hot, and are prepared to put up with long flights and jet lag to be sure of tropical temperatures and balmy seas, others might prefer a shorter, easier journey and a less extreme contrast.
While, for example, the Canaries can’t compete with the Caribbean for sheer heat, they have major advantages over long-haul destinations. You stay in the same time zone, the flight is only half as long as those to Barbados, for example, and you will almost certainly pay less than half as much for your holiday. And if the Canaries aren’t exotic enough for you, how about Marrakech? It won’t be scorching, but it will be very balmy in the middle of the day, and pleasantly cool at night. It’s a lot warmer than the UK and a fabulous cultural experience, too.
If, on the other hand, you do want to feel that wonderful blast of heat when you step off the plane, you can still find good value – as long as you choose carefully and think flexibly. With a tight budget, don’t have your heart set on the Maldives, for example – you’ll have to contend with prices that have been ratcheted up by strong demand for the predominance of high-end resorts, the high cost of seaplane transfers and of imported food and drink.
By contrast, the number of flights to some destinations – Bangkok is a good case in point – keeps airfares relatively low, and a big choice of accommodation ensures rates are competitive. Tour operators such as Tui and Thomas Cook – which operate their own charter flights – can reduce the costs of getting to other specific destinations that would otherwise be hard to reach. Tui’s new flights into the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc are a good example (see idea seven). It’s important not to be overly distracted by the headline price of a holiday – it may bear little relationship to the final bill, at least once you have paid for all the drinks and meals you consume during your stay. A recent report by the Post Office found that the cost of a three-course meal for two in Sri Lanka (including a bottle of wine) was about £50; in Dubai it was nearly £110. Not entirely surprising perhaps, but it’s worth considering how much difference that might make – eat out every night for a week and it would add an extra £400 to the cost of your holiday. There are two potential ways of con- trolling these costs. Either go for an all-inclusive holiday, where the cost of meals and drinks is included in the upfront costs, or – if that sounds unattractive and a bit limiting – favour destinations in south-east Asia, where eating out is cheap and standards are consistently high.
The dates you travel and the timing of your booking can also make a huge difference to cost. You might, for example, feel that November and early December are a little early for a winter break – many people do. But because they are not popular times to travel, flights and hotels tend not to sell out, so prices drop and you can find excellent value – especially if you are flexible both in terms of the destination and in the exact dates you can travel.
Booking at the last minute can also pay dividends. Keep an eye on the websites of tour operators listed below during the next few weeks (kuoni.co.uk is a good starting point for an overview) and there is an excellent chance of finding discounted deals. It is a similar story for those travelling in early January, but if you want to get away at Christmas or New Year, it is already getting late to book – and expensive. In mid-January, prices also start to rise again. There will always be some deals (except during February half-term), but if you want some control and a decent choice of where to go, consider booking in the next month or two.
Finally, how you book can also have a significant effect on the final price you pay. Most tour operators use the same airlines and hotels, and it’s worth getting more than one quote before you commit to a booking. Even if you aren’t able to negotiate a lower price, you may be able to win a room upgrade, for example. Note, however, that larger operators like Tui and Thomas Cook have their own airline and may contract hotels on an exclusive basis.
Tuk-tuks are named after the sound of their engines