7 tips for budget summer travel: from the best time to book flights to finding hotel deals

With summer right around the corner, here's a guide to finding a more affordable vacation if you're thinking of getting away

Summer travel tips for holidaying on a a budget. Courtesy Unsplash
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With summer right around the corner, if you're thinking about taking a holiday, you're not alone.

Travel restrictions in place owing to the Covid-19 pandemic mean that millions of people have not been able to venture overseas in a year or longer. But with vaccination rates ramping up, travellers are once again eager to take to the skies.

In the UAE, May was a busy month for air travel with Dubai International Airport named the world's busiest airport for international flights, with 1,895,866 scheduled seats.

As traveller confidence returns, it's getting a little more tricky to find the bargain deals that were around a few months ago when airlines and hotels were desperate to get people on their seats and in their rooms. But that's not to say there are no summer offers to be found, if you're willing to put in the work you can still grab a bargain.

Book flights sooner, rather than later

While experts have predicted that travelling will get more expensive in a post Covid-19 world, right now we're still in the midst of things, so there are still bargain airfares to be found.

If you know where you want to go, set up an alert on Skyscanner or Google Flights, keeping your dates as flexible as you're able to. Once you've tracked prices for a week or two, it's time to get booking, as the majority of fares will only rise as demand returns.

Book flights earlier to lock in better fares before prices start to rise. Flexible booking policies mean you can make changes down the line if you need to. Unsplash

If the place you want to go to is not yet open for travel, keep an eye on what is happening with border restrictions and possible moves towards reopening. As destinations begin to welcome travellers again, airlines will scramble to launch new routes. This process used to involve lead times of up to six months and thousands of marketing dollars, but during the pandemic, with routes being added without much notice, some airlines are using introductory airfares in place of marketing spend, meaning if you're among the first to book a flight, you could get a bargain.

If the destination you plan on visiting doesn't look like it's going to open any time soon, there's no harm in booking your flight now to lock in a better fare for when things change. Most airlines currently offer flexible booking policies, meaning that if you have to cancel your flight, you can often hang on to your ticket and even retain the same fare for when flights do resume (airline dependent).

Check fares on local and low-cost airlines

Unless you're a long-time frequent flyer with one particular airline and have plenty of air miles to use, it's worth considering flying with an alternative airline.

In the UAE, Etihad has changed its pricing model and now consistently offers flights on a par, or even slightly cheaper than Emirates, to some of the same destinations. Emirates, meanwhile, is operating to more destinations so it pays to check each airline.

Even if you're a frequent flyer on Emirates or another major airline, you should always price fares on alternative airlines including local carriers and low-cost ones. Emirates

Low-cost carriers are also worth considering. In the UAE, try flydubai, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and Air Arabia where you'll often find lower fares and/or flights to destinations not being served by the bigger airlines. Just be sure to check what your ticket actually includes before you book, as some budget airlines charge extra fees for luggage, meals, seat selection and change fees – meaning you could end up paying more.

Don't forget about airlines outside of the UAE. Find out the name of the budget carriers in the destination you plan to travel to, and check where they are operating to and what fares are like.

Low-cost, budget and local airlines are worth researching for cheaper fares or flights to less-visited destinations. Courtesy Flynas

A recent search for flights from the UAE to Moscow returned results from both Etihad and Emirates, with fares about Dh2,000. Local Russian carrier S7 Airlines has the same trip on sale for just a little more than Dh1,000, so there are savings to be found.

Finally, check out Colibra, a newly-launched app in the UAE. It's designed as a way for travellers to book flights but only pay for them if the journey goes ahead without any cancellations or delays. Expected to go live later in June, the app is free to download from the Apple Store or on Google Play.

Don't forget travel insurance, and know what's covered

You'd be foolish to travel without insurance during the global pandemic, so factor the cost into your holiday budget. In the UAE, several airlines offer Covid-19 insurance to passengers for free. These policies are designed to cover any health-related costs arising from contracting Covid-19 when overseas. It's important to note that these insurance packages typically do not cover delays, cancellations or any other factors not directly related to contracting the virus.

Not all travel insurance policies will cover delays or cancellations from Covid-19, so read the small print. Unsplash

Travellers should also invest in their own comprehensive travel insurance plans, which can be purchased via your bank or home insurance provider, with discounts often available for existing customers.

Before you purchase a policy, read the fine print. Now that Covid-19 is a "known pandemic" many policies will not cover customers for changes to travel plans that are related to the pandemic as they say it is no longer considered an unknown or unforeseeable event. However, if you do your research, you'll find plans that will cover these costs – a starting list could include Staysure, Cat 70, Axa and HTH Worldwide.

Pick a destination that suits your budget

Affordable summer travel awaits in Georgia. Unsplash

The Abu Dhabi Green List now has 28 destinations on it that allow travellers to return to the UAE without quarantine. If you're returning to Dubai, you won't need to worry about self-isolation. The UAE has also set up vaccine corridors with four countries: the Seychelles, Serbia, Greece and Bahrain, where no quarantine exists for vaccinated travellers.

If you're looking for an affordable summer trip, remember that not every destination on the list is equal when it comes to travelling on a budget.

Russia is on the Green List and flights are operating to Moscow, with fares available from Dh1,000. Travellers need a PCR test to visit what was previously one of the most expensive places in Eastern Europe. These days, Russia is much more affordable so long as you skip the five-star hotels – you can get a decent Airbnb for $50 a night – and journey onwards travel via train if you want to head out of the capital, thus avoiding expensive domestic flights.

Click through the gallery above to see all the destinations on Abu Dhabi's Green List

For an off-the-beaten-path budget choice, consider Kyrgyzstan, which is also on the Green List. Air Arabia announced services from Sharjah to Bishkek this week, with fares from Dh1,500 and flights operating from July. Go for untouched mountains, deep canyons and an enthralling history and take your pick from a wide selection of affordable guesthouses, homestays and local hotels.

For those craving a slice of island life, the Seychelles is one country in a vaccine corridor with the UAE. Despite its reputation as a honeymooner's paradise, there are affordable options if you know what to look for.

Stay put on Mahe once you land to cut down on what can be very expensive transfer costs. This is also the biggest island meaning there's more choice – and subsequently more competitive pricing – when it comes to accommodation. Family-run guesthouses and self-catering options such as bungalows and villas are a good pick for those hoping to visit the Seychelles on a budget.

Seychelles can be family-friendly and budget-friendly if you do the research. Unsplash

Another idea worth considering is booking a package deal to your destination of choice. Travel agent and companies including the likes of dnata Travel, Etihad Holidays, Holiday Factory and others sometimes have discounted bundles on travel to select destinations. Often these are worth booking, even if you don't want to stay in the hotel listed. For example, Holiday Factory currently has a "crazy deal" on sale for trips to Georgia. The three-night holiday includes hotels, transfers and flights, and costs Dh1,399. Booking flights alone costs Dh1,460, so purchase the package deal, then reserve your own hotel.

Look for discounts and deals

Students can often claim discounts with airlines and other travel-related services. Unsplash

Once you've decided where you want to go or stay, and have found the best deals, check to see if you can find any applicable discounts to save a little more. Other travel companies like booking platforms or online metasearch engines often offer one-time discounts for downloading apps, signing up to newsletters or via discount codes, which may pop up on site.

It's also worth adding a discount code browser extension, such as Honey or Rakuten, to your laptop for a final hunt for any available discounts before you checkout and pay.

Students can claim discounts when booking flights on some airlines, including savings of up to 10 per cent with Emirates and Etihad. Some credit cards also offer travel perks, such as free access to airport lounges or discount rides to the airport.

If you have the popular Entertainer app, check the travel tab. There, you can find buy one get one free offers and discounted rates for stays at hotels globally.

Find and book cheaper PCR tests

PCR testing is now a necessity for most travellers, with tests often required before departing and again to return home. Keep these additional costs to a minimum by shopping around for the most affordable places to take your test.

Start by checking with your airline. Both Emirates and Etihad offer discounted PCR tests for passengers who are being tested before flying. Other airlines, such as British Airways, offer a list of discount codes that travellers can use when booking Covid-19 tests.

A health care worker performs a PCR test to Juan Carlos Fraga at Coronel Palma primary health care center during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Mostoles, Spain, August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

It's also worth checking if the hotel you're staying in can help with PCR tests. Some of the bigger hotel groups including Marriott, Melia, Hyatt, Sandals and Atlantis have free or discounted testing programmes for in-house guests at select properties.

Finally, make use of travel forums or groups on sites such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, Reddit and Lonely Planet to ask travellers that have recently visited the destination you're going to where the most affordable local PCR testing centres can be found.

Get vaccinated

epa09226468 A man exits a Covid vaccine centre in central London, Britain, 25 May 2021. The government is coming under pressure to answer questions over its apparent failure to notify local health chiefs of crucial Covid-19 travel advice.  EPA/ANDY RAIN

Of course, getting vaccinated is a personal choice, but if you are fully protected against Covid-19, not only will you be able to fly to more destinations – Iceland, Spain and Bulgaria are only welcoming vaccinated travellers – you may be able to get other travel discounts.

Travellers flying with Qantas could win free flights for a year, and United Airlines is offering a similar giveaway to passengers in the US. Other perks for those who are vaccinated include discounts on travel insurance (Axa offers 20 per cent off Smart Travel Insurance for vaccinated UAE residents), cheaper concert tickets and access to events and attractions that are not open to unvaccinated tourists.