The best ways to research and book your holiday online

Savvy travel shoppers are carrying out up to three months’ research to ensure that they get the most for their holiday budget. And, increasingly, British holidaymakers are doing their travel planning online.

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Research by TravelSupermarket has revealed that a large proportion of Brits are turning to their computers when researching holidays with more than half (52%) using internet search engines as a planning tool, 40% reading the opinions of fellow travellers on review sites and 37% visiting travel agents’ websites to find out more about their ideal break.

And, according to TravelSupermarket, between two and four weeks is the most common length of time for holidaymakers to spend researching with 29% of Brits weighing up their options over this time span. However, an impressive 15% of holidaymakers spend between two and three months collating information to make an informed decision.

So, if you reach for the keyboard to plan your holidays, here are on some tips on how to research effectively and how to find the best price when booking.

Do your homework to get the best break for you

Before you even turn your computer on, make a list of what you want from your holiday – whether this is complete relaxation, an activity break or a family-friendly trip - so you focus your research. And, don’t forget to include the needs of every member of your group.

If weather is important to you, look this up before you set your heart on a destination.

Research average rainfall and humidity as well as the temperatures when you want to travel and, if you are going to a destination which can experience extreme weather such as hurricanes, monsoons or heavy snow, make sure you check the seasonal variations.

Good sites to look up holiday weather on include weather2travel.com, holiday-weather.com and, if you are after a sunny break, take a look at TravelSupermarket’s where’s hot when page.

Find the best value holiday

Finding the lowest possible price is a key driver for Brits when researching online with 40% of holidaymakers telling TravelSupermarket that the cost of a break was their number one holiday consideration this year.

Starting your research months before you travel will both help you to find the best price for your trip and will give you more options to choose from. Read more on why it is important to book your holiday in advance in Why you should book your 2012 holiday now.

The timing of your break is very important when it comes to bagging a bargain as travelling during peak booking periods – such as school holidays or when a major event is taking place in your destination – can really push prices up. So, check term times by using a site such as Directgov and look up popular events in your destination including festivals, big-name concerts and public holidays.

Destination inspiration

Sometimes the hardest decision when researching a holiday is simply choosing where to go. According to TravelSupermarket, Spain is set to be the most popular travel destination outside of the UK this year with 11% of Brits planning on visiting in 2012. This is due to several factors including some great offers available on holidays to the country at the moment, the value for money when there and the wide range of resorts to choose from.

If you are completely stuck for ideas, blogs such as TravelSupermarket’s are great sources of inspiration. A recent post, for example, offers advice on where to go for less in 2012.  TravelSupermarket’s travel expert, Bob Atkinson, also offers advice to British holidaymakers in two recent videos: Where should I go on holiday? and Helping you plan your holiday.

When you have decided where you want to travel to, read as much as you can on the destination itself to make sure it is the best destination for you. Look at online travel sites, review sites, newspaper travel sections and speak to friends and family who know you well. A recent poll on TravelSupermarket showed that review sites are a popular source of information for holidaymakers when researching with 50% trusting the advice on them over other options.

It’s all in the detail

You may have found great-value flights and the perfect hotel but before you part with your cash, check a few details to avoid any hassle when you arrive.

Look up how far the airport is from where you are staying and how easy it is to get there. Are there any free transfers available or will you have to pay for an expensive taxi on arrival? And, if you want to spend most of your holiday exploring the city or resort you are travelling to, make sure your accommodation is actually close by. Saving a few pounds on a hotel that is 25 miles from the place you want to visit can be a false economy as you will spend a lot of time and money when away on transport.

Before you book, make sure you have found the best price

According to TravelSupermarket, Brits are not only carrying out research on the internet, they are also booking their holidays online. Two thirds of holidaymakers (66%) are buying their break online using an online travel agent, an online tour operator or a price-comparison website. In contrast, just 11% of Brits will visit a travel agent to book a holiday in person. This represents a big shift in the way travellers are now booking and planning as just a few years ago, the majority would visit a local travel agent to look after all of their holiday needs.

The internet can be a great tool to ensure you have the best deal as you can look at several different companies to see who is offering the most for your money. Using a price-comparison site such as TravelSupermarket will allow you to look at prices from both traditional travel companies and online agencies side by side in one place saving you both time and money. The latest figures show that using the site can save, on average, £150 off the price of a holiday.

And, before you book, don’t forget to compare the price of both package holidays and buying flights and accommodation separately to check that you have found the cheapest option for you.

Finally, when booking online, buy an ATOL-protected trip where possible and pay for your holiday with a credit or Visa debit card to protect your booking. Read more on this in Bob Atkinson’s blog post How to book your holiday with confidence. And, for ultimate peace of mind, buy your travel insurance as soon as you book. Clare Walsh explains the benefits of this in her article Why you should buy travel cover when you book.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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