Consumer Champion: Organising that family summer getaway doesn't have to cost the earth ...
Lots of us leave booking summer holidays until after the Easter break and certainly the brief spell of warm sunshine we've had put us in mind of trips away.
However, you might find that prices have increased dramatically and travel either inside or out of the country during July and August is hitting pockets more than you expected. So this week, I'm looking at alternative ways to get a family break which may be cheaper, and more fun, than two weeks in a Spanish resort costing thousands.
Ireland is a super destination and thousands of foreigners come here for the things we tend to go abroad to do! But hotel accommodation can be really expensive for families, although there are deals during the summer.
The table shows some super camping options - we're talking top-end luxury here so even novices can enjoy a 'hotel room outdoors' rather than fighting with tent poles and queueing at outdoor latrines. 'Glamping' is glamorous camping and it's taken off.
Many manor houses and hotels now have fully fitted tents, huts and yurts (posh tents) on their grounds. Kids will have a ball as many feature adventure centres, tons of activities and things to do even on rainy days.
If you're still nervous, there is self-catering in 'proper' houses to consider especially with older teens who might like a surfing holiday included - drop them off in the morning and collect them sandy and tired later on.
See www.lahinchsurfexperience.com and the many options along Doonbeg, Doolin and not forgetting the Wild Atlantic Way. For cheap hotel deals, see www.lidl-breaks.ie for good 3/4 star family rooms.
Ireland now boasts dozens of festivals in every county. Why not plan a short stay-cation around one of them - there'll be no bored kids in sight. Wexford Maritime Festival, Carlow Arts, Galway Arts and Killarney Summerfest are all on in July while Castlepalooza in Tullamore and Fethard Medieval Festival are on in August.
Try www.findafestival.com or local council websites for more. Discover Ireland has a super 'Holiday Hub' section for Romantic, Lord & Lady, Festival and 'Who Cares If It Rains' breaks. www.discoverireland.ie.
Home from Home
Hotel not for you? Check out AirBnb. It's not just for back-packers. Many are full houses in Tuscany, the Med, the States and thousands of other places at a lot less cost than a hotel. You can contact owners before booking to get the low down, but the site is self-selecting with feedback from visitors.
Another option is a house swap. Some people are uncomfortable with this, but I've heard great reports from others. Register with homeexchange.com or guesttoguest.com. You'd be surprised who might want your three-bed semi.
In the Air
If you're flying during the summer, keep costs low by booking mid-week and early in the day (sleep on the plane!). Tuesday's are cheapest. Use skyscanner.net as it may be more beneficial to go out with one carrier and return with another. Also consider flying from regional airports or Belfast as they can be cheaper.
Use an ITAA travel agent - if you have small kids and you want a specific holiday they know their stuff and it will be safer, fully-bonded and you'll get a chartered flight too.
Consider Daily Deal sites. They offer great value, but always read the small print. Make sure the holiday covers everything and it's where you want to go, rather than just a good price. You're paying up front with little redress if you change your mind.
Never go without travel insurance. There are cheap online policies with www.multitrip.com and www.getcover.com and don't skimp.
If hiring a car do NOT just pick the cheapest option - they may well have far poorer insurance and you'll pay afterwards. Check the small print.
Free offer that might save your life
I recently received a reminder that a Cervical check appointment is due. The service, like BreastCheck, is completely free and offers cancer screening on these two big killers. It's a no-brainer, but the numbers not turning up for appointments has been increasing.
BreastCheck is offered to women from 50-64 every two years but up to 30pc of those invited to attend simply don't turn up. The fall-off was marked in women at the younger ages even though 2,700 cases are diagnosed every year - the most common cancer in Ireland - and 790 die from the disease.
It's hard to fathom why, but it may simply be that life gets too busy and the letter gets put away, or ignored. If there's no 'lump' and we feel fine, we may not bother, although symptoms can vary.
So I'm always pleased when there's any campaign which highlights the benefit of screening. After all, we give out about the HSE so often that when something like this is offered at no cost, we really should avail of it. Over 1.2 million mammograms have already been provided by the service.
If women are concerned about the exam, the www.breastcheck.ie website has a video explaining it all along with a register you can check for information about your next invitation. The number is freephone 1800 45 45 55.
Why is AIB dragging its heels over variable mortgage interest rate cuts?
So, AIB rocked up to the Oireachtas Finance Committee last week and said it would be cutting variable mortgage interest rates ... but not yet. ECB money costs them a fraction of what they're lending it out at so why the delay?
Well, it's because variable mortgage holders are needed to prop up the loss-making Trackers. Yes, it's unfair and no, the Government won't intervene. It really wants AIB sold off, and it can't be until it's making money, hence the piecemeal approach.
As for BoI? Well, no excuse there.