by Nick Trend, The Daily Telegraph, January 5, 2018
The pound is weak, the economy is ailing, money generally is tight. But choose your holiday carefully and you can still find exceptional value. Here are our predictions for travel’s best buys in the coming year.
Long haul for less than £1,000
Overall, Thailand is my best tip for 2018. It has pretty much everything going for it. The huge choice of flights – both to Bangkok and to the region in general – keeps fares low (Norwegian’s new no-frills service to Singapore with returns from about £385 will only serve to keep the downward pressure on fares). Plan ahead and you can certainly find returns to Bangkok from around £400. Then there is accommodation. Hotels in the capital are among the best value in the world, averaging £103 for a five-star and £27 for a three-star during 2017. In fact overall, among the 10 most popular destinations for British travellers, accommodation in Thailand (averaging £57 per night) is by far the cheapest. So if you are planning a big trip in 2018, and you are looking for maximum value for money, look no further.
For an overview of fares and hotel options in Thailand, try Trailfinders ( trailfinders.com ).
Bargain city break
Whether you are a shopper, culture enthusiast or foodie you can obviously find excellent value in some of Europe’s nearer, smaller destinations (see “Short haul for less than £70”, below) but let’s assume you crave the variety and sophistication of a capital – or at least a major historic city – for your weekend break.
If so, I predict the very best value for 2018 will be Istanbul. Last year the average price paid for a room in a five-star hotel in the city was only £87 (remember, that’s the average; it will be even cheaper at quiet times). Rates in three-star hotels are even more eye-catching, averaging just £31 per night. Prices are depressed by a drop in demand following a rough year of terrorist attacks in 2016, but the situation was been much more stable last year. It seems likely that, as has happened in Paris, tourism will now start to recover, but it will be slow. Bargains will persist, partly because of the weakness of the Turkish lira – down by about 30 per cent against the pound over the course of 2017. Airfares are also exceptionally good value: you can currently get a return from London in April for £100.
See our expert guide to Istanbul, including how to get there and hotel recommendations . As with all destinations in these troubled times, check the latest FCO advice before booking ( gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey ).
Skiing for less than £600 all-in
The best-value holiday will depend on how well you ski. If you are a super-fit expert who likes to spend maximum time on the slopes, you’ll need a different type of resort from an intermediate who enjoys long lunches, or a beginner needing lessons. Either way, because of the way the holiday market works, you will almost certainly find the best bargains by starting with what tour operators can offer, rather than trying to find a cheap resort per se – a package which includes all or most meals, ski hire and lift pass will almost certainly offer best value.
Novices and nervous skiers are unlikely to find anything which costs less than the all-inclusive deal to Pamporovo in Bulgaria offered by Crystal Ski. The tresort has a relatively limited ski area (36km of slopes and 13 lifts) but it’s easy to navigate and offers reasonable variety. The package costs from £588 per person, departing this month and including lift passes, all equipment hire and tuition, flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation (with alcoholic drinks) in the four-star Hotel Perelik.
Crystal’s best-value alternative for experienced skiers is Niederau in Austria. The area lift pass covers not just Niederau but also the Ski Juwel ski area (Oberau, Auffach, Alpbach, Inneralpbach and Reith) which in total offers 135km of pistes. A week’s package in January costs from £645 per person including flights, transfers, half board at the three-star Hotel Harfenwirt, lift pass and and standard ski hire.
Rival operator Ingham’s best value is in Sauze d’Oulx in Italy, where seven nights at the three-star Hotel Hermitage costs from £742 in January – including half board (with wine at dinner), return flights, transfers, lift pass and ski and boot hire.
Michelin-starred dining for £35
One of the strongest trends in recent years has been the growth of interest in eating out on holiday. A few years ago, travellers would arrive in a destination and then look around for somewhere good to eat. Today committed foodies will work out where they want to eat and arrange the trip around the restaurants. But if money is tight, how do you find good value?
The best guide I know is through the price limits set by the Red Michelin guides for their Bib Gourmand restaurants in different countries. These indicate the maximum cost of a three-course meal in a restaurant of sufficient quality to be considered for the Bib award.
In the current guides, France (outside Paris) and Italy, both with a price limit of £28, offer the best value in Europe and are cheap to get to. But the lowest price limits of all were in Rio and Sao Paolo in Brazil – where you can eat well for about £20 a head – and in Shanghai, which has a Bib Gourmand limit of £22. Those prices compare with £38 in Hong Kong and £52 in Switzerland.
If you are looking for real gourmet value, however, one of the best value restaurants in the world must be the Michelin-starred Fukamachi in Tokyo’s Ginza district – a small, informal Japanese restaurant which specialises in freshly-made tempura – where a meal costs about £35 a head.
Fukamachi (0081 3 5250 8777).
You’d never guess this one. As well as a bargain Michelin-starred restaurant, Tokyo offer some of the world’s best-value bars. A recent Post Office survey of 30 major tourist destinations around the world found that average prices for a bottle of local beer (74p), a glass of wine (74p) and a cocktail (£2.23) were far cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Cheers.
Bargain summer sun
The prize for cheapest trip to the Mediterranean coast goes to the Costa Brava – at least if you fly into Girona (a few miles inland). Average fares to this Catalonian city were £94.93 in 2017 according to Skyscanner and, looking ahead to later in 2018, there are still plenty of returns in May and June for £60. The nearby sandy coves of resorts such as Tamariu, Llafranc and Callela de Palafrugell are some of the most attractive in Spain, and the bigger resort of Tossa de Mar is also an excellent bet.
Car hire in Spain is generally much cheaper than in France, Italy or Greece – and you should be able to find accommodation at a reasonable price, especially during the off and shoulder season. You can be sure you are getting top value overall.
If you aren’t so attracted to the Mediterranean heat, the other real bargain is for flights to the lovely 19th-century resort of Dinard in northern Brittany. The average return fare here in 2017 was just £66. And when I checked advance fares for 2018, there were still plenty available for only £20.
Girona is served by EasyJet (easyjet.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com), Jet2 (jet2.com) and Vueling (vueling.com) from a total of 12 UK departure airports. Dinard is served by Ryanair from Stansted and East Midlands. Before booking car hire, see our cautionary guide .
Short haul for less than £70 return
Nimes and Baden Baden
If your plans are more modest, and the cost of getting there concerns you most, there is a small clutch of destinations where you can pick up some exceptionally cheap flights. It’s too early to predict fares for 2018, but last year’s are a good guide. Figures from Skyscanner show there were six cities in Europe where the average airfare from the UK was less than £70 return. There is every chance that they will come up trumps in 2018 too.
Three in particular strike me as attractive options. I’ve included Dinard (average returns from £65) under “Bargain summer sun”, above, but both Baden Baden (£68) in west Germany and Nimes (£69) in southern France are excellent destinations for a short break. Baden Baden has a particularly rich cultural life, with regular festivals of classical music as well as its thermal baths dating back to Roman times. Nimes is one of the most attractive and under-rated of southern French cities, with spectacular Roman ruins of its own.
All these routes are served by Ryanair ( ryanair.com ).
Looking for a five-star hotel? Avoid Venice and Florence – costing an average of about £280 a night, they are the most expensive places in the world to indulge a tastefor luxury. Based on average rates paid on hotels.com in 2017, you will get far better value in Istanbul (£87) and Bangkok (£103) – which we have already singled out above. Hard on their heels are Kuala Lumpur (£89) and Hanoi (£114). In Europe, Warsaw (£110) and Prague (£111) also offer exceptionally good rates.
If you prefer to be beside the sea, the cheapest luxury beach destination – and also the nearest to home – is, of all places, Benidorm. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but five-star rates there average £113 a night.
For more on Bangkok and Istanbul, see the first two entries in this round-up. Tui ( tui.co.uk ) offers a selection of Benidorm’s top-end hotels.
Culture on a budget
Germany and Britain
Culture means different things to different people, of course. But I’m going to focus first on opera and ballet – not only wonderful experiences in their own right, but which also offer an insight into the cultural mores of the destination you are visiting. Ticket prices vary enormously. A recent survey of productions of the Nutcracker across Europe found the cheapest tickets at 56p at the National Ballet in Kiev (though I could only find one for £1.38), while the lowest-price stalls seats were £14.95 in Budapest.
Overall, though, our prize for value for money goes to Germany. Whether you go to Hamburg, Berlin, Munich or another major city, you will find consistent quality and variety and excellent bargains. Frankfurt’s most expensive Nutcracker tickets, for example, were only £18.
When it comes to museums on a budget, though, there is only one winner. For free, unrestricted access to some of the world’s greatest museums and at galleries, you don’t have to leave the country. Most of Britain’s best museums have no admission charge for their main collections – from the V&A and the British Museum to the National Galleries in London and Edinburgh and the Tates in London, Liverpool and St Ives. Compare this to the cost of visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (€17.50), the Vatican Museums in Rome (€16) or the Louvre in Paris (€15).
The Piccadilly Line
The route may be tortuously slow, but the £3.10 single fare from central London to Heathrow Terminals 1-5 is extraordinarily good value – and it has been frozen for 2018. Compare this with £22 off-peak on the Heathrow Express and a standard fares of £19.90 to Gatwick or £00 to Stansted.
The £3.10 fare is available after 9.30am if you pay with an Oyster or contactless card ( tfl.gov.uk ).
Compiled with the help of data from skyscanner.net for airfares, hotels.com for hotel rates, and the Post Office for its recent price surveys.
The 20 destinations you must visit in 2018Five top tips for bargain hunters in 2018
1. Be counter-intuitive. Sunday nights in city hotels are the quietest and cheapest of the week. Plan your city break from Saturday to Monday instead of Friday to Sunday and you are likely to find both flights and accommodation are much cheaper.
2. Be spontaneous. Go where the last-minute bargains are.
3. Be flexible. Some price comparison sites, such as skyscanner.net, allow you to search for fares over a whole month. If you are free to plan your travel flexibly, you can make big savings.
4. Look at the bottom line. It is easy to be seduced by a headline discount or percentage savings. But because holiday prices change according to demand, many such offers are arbitrary and fluid – so you can never be quite sure that you are being offered a real “saving”, or whether the higher price which has supposedly been discounted was never realistic in the first place.
5. Remember the extras. The key components in any holiday are the flight and the accommodation. But eating out can also add significantly to your costs when you get there. Many hotel rates do not now include breakfast, let alone half board or all-inclusive arrangements. And with certain types of holidays, some aspects can make a huge difference to the overall price. For example, you might think you can put together a bargain ski holiday by booking a flight and hotel independently, then find that it costs you hundreds of pounds for the transfer or hire car to the resort.