Could a month-long escape to the sun really save you money?

Travel firms are marketing long breaks as a means to leave the cold and cost of living crisis behind. But are they worth it?

With rising energy bills and mortgage costs, we are facing a bleak and dark winter. It is little surprise, then, that more and more people are hoping to get away from it all by flying to sunnier climes for lengthy holidays in January.

Travel companies are pushing all-inclusive three- and four-week breaks to tourists, young and old, as a way of escaping the grim realities of home – with prices starting from as little as £23 a day. But is it that easy to just jet away for the winter?

What is on offer

EasyJet is the latest operator to come up with an offer for a four-week break in the sun during January. Its Escape the UK package came in at £650 per person for an all-inclusive stay at the Stella Gardens Resort in Egypt.

Touted as an alternative to a winter in the UK amid the cost of living crisis, the company says the trip is “ideally suited to those who can work remotely”.

It is not clear how many of the stays were on offer, and easyJet says that a “limited number” had been available. They were sold out on the first day of release, with no firm details on whether the offer will be reintroduced.

EasyJet offer: Stella Gardens Resort and Spa in Egypt was £650 per person for an all-inclusive stay.
EasyJet offer: Stella Gardens Resort and Spa in Egypt was £650 per person for an all-inclusive stay. Photograph: Alamy

Travel giant Tui is also offering cheap all-inclusive deals. Four weeks in the three-star Port Vista Oro hotel in Benidorm, Spain comes in at £898 per person for full board – or £32 a day for all meals and flights from Gatwick, at the beginning of January.

Tui says that, to date, there has been an 18% increase in the number of people who want to go on three- and four-week holidays this winter, compared with pre-pandemic levels of interest in 2019.

How can they be so cheap?

It is little surprise that holidaying in the winter is going to be significantly cheaper than at peak times in the summer. The Stella Gardens Resort, highlighted above, would cost £4,585 for the same holiday in August.

Tui says prices are dictated by when and where people want to travel, and also how they book.

Tim Hentschel, chief executive of HotelPlanner, a hotel booking site that specialises in group rates, says it is possible to get “unbelievably cheap” deals during the off season as businesses try to make some money from rooms that would otherwise be empty, even if doing so does not cover all of their costs. “So the hotel is still losing money but … not as much money,” he says.

Tui offer: Port Vista Oro Hotel in Benidorm, Spain is £898 per person for full board.
Tui offer: Port Vista Oro Hotel in Benidorm, Spain is £898 per person for full board. Photograph: pr handout

Extended holidays, he adds, have been increasingly popular since the pandemic, with people wanting to get out of city centres. “The traveller is more used to booking extended stays at discounts, and, with the energy crisis, are looking at the same option and think they can save.”

The end of the pandemic restrictions led to an increase in holiday bookings as people embraced tourism once again.

But recent months have seen a fresh scepticism emerge as the reality of the poor economic situation creeps in, says Wouter Geerts, the director of research at travel industry site Skift.

“With high inflation and talk of a possible recession, we are seeing in our surveys that people are starting to change their travel plans – either cancelling or postponing, trips, or, at the very least, choosing cheaper hotel and transportation options,” he says.

“After months of extremely high demand, these companies might start to see demand drop off for the winter months as people tighten their belts. Offering all-inclusive deals is an attractive option in these situations, especially since travellers don’t need to worry about exchange rates and the swings of the pound.”

But will you save money?

Spending a month in the sun will allow you to get away from some things, most notably the British winter chill, but others will remain and will need to be paid for.

EasyJet claims its £650 holiday means people will save on broadband and gym membership – but, since many people are on subscription plans, and can’t simply stop the direct debits because of contracts, it is unlikely to be a realistic saving.

“While an interesting marketing tactic, the idea that it would be cheaper to live for a month in Egypt than in the UK is all a little baloney,” says Geerts. “The way that it calculated this is based on the current costs of a mortgage, energy, subscription services, and so on.

“But the banks will still expect their mortgage payment even when you’re on a sun lounger in Egypt. It’s a good marketing tool that plays into the current zeitgeist.”

One area where there will be a saving is on energy bills during the coldest part of the year. Typically, more than half of a gas bill is from heating your home in the three coldest months of the year. If you have a large-ish home, you could save £200 a month on bills by going abroad.

However, couples will have to work out whether spending perhaps almost £2,000 on a holiday will be worth the saving they will make. All-inclusive deals will also mean that you save on food, and sometimes drink.

Things to watch out for

The growth of remote working driven by the Covid pandemic has supposedly led to a rise in the number of “digital nomads” – people who can, in theory, work from anywhere once they have a laptop and an internet connection.

Airbnb has said that an increasing number of people using the platform are staying for lengthier periods, with one-fifth of stays for 28 days or more, which Geerts says is a reflection of flexible working trends.

But working remotely may not be as simple as hopping on a flight and opening your computer. Working from abroad can prompt visa and tax obligations for UK citizens.

If you are travelling to an EU country, you do not need a visa for stays of less than 90 days in a 180-day period. However, if you do want to work, you may need a visa or permit. Prospective digital nomads should check the entry requirements before travel.

A trader with a replica World Cup in the Souq Waqif market in Qatar.
A trader with a replica World Cup in the Souq Waqif market in Qatar. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

And a World Cup travel warning

Football fans planning to travel at the last minute to the World Cup in Qatar have been warned to beware of fake booking agents and deals. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has advised travellers to ensure the company they book with is part of its Atol scheme, which means they will be in safe hands if their holiday is cancelled, or they are stranded overseas.

Paul Smith of the CAA says that if England and Wales did well in the competition, some fans might be tempted to make a last-minute dash to Qatar. However, he cautioned they should research their chosen travel firm to avoid “losing out”.

The number of holiday scams that cheated consumers out of thousands of pounds leaped earlier this year as the end of pandemic restrictions led to a resurgence in overseas travel. Under the Atol scheme, if a travel operator stops trading, you will get a refund for your holiday, or an alternative trip, or transport.

The CAA is advising fans to use a credit card to book so their purchase is covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If something goes wrong, your credit card issuer should be able to give you your money back on amounts from £100 to £30,000.

Also, you should take out travel insurance. Consumers can check whether the travel firm they are using is part of the Atol scheme on the CAA website.


Shane Hickey

The GuardianTramp

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