Monthly Archives September 2010

Finding Cheap Flights Online

When searching for cheap flight deals, timing is crucial. In the opposite fashion to package holidays, last-minute deals can rarely be found, as most airlines structure their prices to increase as the number of seats available decreases. Start your search well in advance of your dates of travel, and use the internet to quickly search for the cheapest option.

There are four different ways to find cheap flights specifically, depending on your plans and requirements.

  • If you know precisely where you’re going and when, use a ‘screen-scraper’ website.
  • If you want a combined flight & hotel break, use a flight broker website.
  • For traditional package holiday-style deals, use a charter comparison service.
  • To find super-cheap flight sale deals anywhere, use an online service like ‘Flightchecker’.

‘Screen-scraper’ websites are advanced price comparison websites which use sophisticated software to search-and-report from multiple websites in one fell swoop. You enter the dates and destinations you wish to fly between and the website automatically searches budget airlines, regular airlines, and flight brokers – presenting you with a price comparison of the results with the cheapest at the top. It’s best to try a number of ‘screen-scraper’ websites to find the best deal as they don’t all search the same sites, try this selection for starters: ‘Kayak’, ‘Travelsupermarket’, ‘Sidestep’, ‘Kelkoo’, ‘Nowfly’, & ‘Openjet’.

Flight brokers have commercial partnerships with airlines to offer special deals, which can extend to hotels too.  Many ‘screen-scrapers’ check the major flight brokers, but for long-haul destinations they may have deals not listed elsewhere, and can give uniquely good deals on flight and hotel packages. Good flight brokers to try are ‘Netflights’ – especially good for long-haul destinations, ‘Expedia’, ‘Opodo’, and ‘Travelocity’ – which many screen-scrapers miss.

Charter flights are bespoke flights chartered by package holiday companies to ferry their passengers. If you’re headed to a popular package holiday destination, you may be able to find one-off cheap deals, as operators often fill spare capacity on their planes by selling seats cheaply to flight-only customers. You can try charter airlines and travel agents direct and local travel agents, or use an online charter flight comparison such as ‘Flights Direct’ or ‘Avro’.

Budget airlines often announce sales with “x number of seats available for £1”, yet these can be hard to find. ‘Flightchecker’ is an online tool from ‘MoneySavingExpert’ that collates searches of the latest offers from nine major budget airlines, and can be used to search by date, destination, or price. It is important to remember that prices quoted by budget airlines are often ‘fare only’ and do not include taxes, baggage charges, and check-in fees. 

When making holiday plans, it is important not to discount the traditional package holiday. D-I-Y flight and hotel deals have become popular in recent years, but for week, 10 day, and fortnight-long trips, flight and accommodation packages can often be competitive. Package operators have the advantage of being ATOL protected which can mean a full refund if your trip is cancelled.

You may consider booking a package but not staying in the accommodation as a way to get a cheap flight. If there are no charter flights available, booking a package holiday but not using the hotel can still be much cheaper than booking a scheduled flight to some destinations.

Free European flights can sometimes be found through promotional flight sales as mentioned earlier, but also with airline-linked credit cards that offer a free return trip as an incentive for applying. Alternatively, if you’re a student or under twenty-six, specialist agent STA Travel guarantees to beat scheduled flight prices and can be very competitive. One final method worth trying is to use a ‘location specialist’ – depending where you’re looking to fly to. In areas of the UK with a significant immigrant population, niche travel agents exist and can offer very good deals to the countries linked to that community.  These are not widely known of, and can come up with real bargains.

 

Stop Championing Cheap Insurance

Sometimes being frugal and saving money where possible is the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s the only option available when finances are tight.

But people who are able to make ‘lifestyle’ decisions on the things they buy would never buy the cheapest fridge on offer or the cheapest material for the new kitchen worktop.

Nor would they buy cheap clothes or cheap shoes.

Lifestyle choices are usually made based on preference and quality (and sometimes pride) but not on price.

The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ sums up the concept that if you pay more, you get better quality or better service.

So why do we insist on paying as little as possible for insurance? Why is ‘cheap, cheap, cheap’ being forced down our throats?

Price comparison websites have a lot to answer for when it comes to the shift in popular culture and the belief that cheap insurance is the best option.

After all, price comparison websites pretty much just compare price.

Most of them do give options such as legal cover, courtesy cars, home emergency etc.

But how many have information about the percentage of claims paid, the average time taken for calls to be answered or financial stability of the insurer?

Which? tries to bridge this gap a bit and their table of car insurance Recommended Providers is quite good from a customer satisfaction perspective.

What’s more concerning though is the drive to sell the cheapest life insurance or critical illness cover when it is so easy to end up with cheap cover that doesn’t offer the protection that is needed.

For example, Tesco life insurance (provided by Friends Provident) doesn’t come with ‘Waiver of Premium’ which is usually an optional extra and protects the policy if you can’t work due to sickness. Imagine having a fall or an accident that leaves you disabled and unable to work – it’d handy to be able to keep the life cover and never have to pay another penny for it!

Cavendish Online are championed by MoneySavingExpert but they don’t give any advice with their cheapest option so if you get something wrong and the policy doesn’t pay out there’s no one to blame.

Even Which? can’t offer much in the way of life insurance comparisons in terms of quality and their Best Buys table is out of date and not competitive. I can easily beat their prices so they’re information is not to be trusted and shouldn’t be portrayed as ‘Best’.

Cheap is definitely not the right way to go when it comes to buying critical illness insurance or income protection. People need to know what the difference between an ‘Own Occupation’ and ‘Any Occupation’ Total Permanent Disability definition actually means and that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to all the nuances available.

It’s a shame that consumers are being driven towards cheap low cost options as opposed to good quality service.

You wouldn’t hear BMW or Mercedes shouting about having the cheapest 4 door saloon in the market and M&S don’t position themselves in the budget shopping arena, yet they all still get plenty of customers.

 

Staying Safe Online Cheaply

Online fraud and the threat of malware is an ever present danger as we use the internet day-to-day. Here are a few pointers to keep your computer and personal information protected when online  cheaply!

For all secure websites you use, have passwords that can’t be easily guessed. Avoid information that could be worked out, such as dates of birth and family names. Use random letters, numbers and non-alpha numeric characters to make a password that seems impossible to guess, and therefore makes it harder for intruders to hack into your system. Change passwords regularly – especially for online banking sites, and have different ones for different sites.

Whenever you’re being asked to make a payment online, you must ensure that the connection is secure. If you can’t be sure – don’t make the payment, contact the vendor to ask why the payment system isn’t secure, or simply buy elsewhere. There are a few ways to know:

  • “https://www…” rather than “http://www…” the additional “s” indicates a secure server. 
  • The Padlock symbol: If a site is secure, a padlock symbol will be displayed on the browser window in the correct place. Ignore icons and symbols shown inside the main body of the website, only a symbol on the window itself means the site is secure. Website creators can only control what appears inside the body of a browser window – they can’t add the padlock symbol onto the window itself in the correct location.
  • Have a quick scan of the web address to make sure it isn’t a dodgy impersonation of the correct site.

Install a quality anti-virus program and keep it up to date – there are a number of free antivirus downloads and completely free to use programmes available. Use your anti-virus software to do the following:

  • Scan your computer on a daily basis – set it to automatically scan your computer at a time when you’re likely to be working to avoid missing scans.
  • If you find your computer is infected, quarantine or remove viruses – there are free removal tools for specific viruses online.
  • Scan all cameras, pen drives and other portable media automatically when you attach them, to prevent the passing of viruses.
  • Scan all incoming email attachments and file transfers, even from trusted contacts – most viruses are passing innocently and unknowingly.

You should have Firewall software to work alongside anti-virus software in order to block unauthorised access to your computer. Keep it turned on at all times to filter out unwanted network access.

A basic security precaution that is frequently overlooked by many is the regular updating of operating systems. Set your computer to automatically download and install updates and security patches. Services like ‘Windows Update‘ are free, and downloading these updates decreases your computer’s susceptibility to virus infection.  

As a precaution it is wise to regularly back-up all your important personal information, in case something does happen to a computer. One of the most simple and effective methods is to have an external hard drive to back up onto. Periodically transfer your data to a storage device like this for safe keeping.

Guest post courtesy of: Bullguard Internet Security

Are credit cards the safest way to pay for your holiday?

Summer 2010 was a terrible one for the British travel industry as thousands of holidaymakers had their vacations disrupted through a combination of collapsed travel companies, threats of industrial action and even volcanic ash clouds!

So, as people’s thoughts turn to summer 2011 and with such uncertainty in the travel industry, does it make sense to book your holiday on a credit card?

Just over a month after Goldtrail’s collapse in July left thousands of holidaymakers stranded, another British tour operator, Kiss Flights, ceased trading leaving a further 13,000 people abandoned overseas.

Fortunately, Kiss Flights were part of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) protection scheme and so most holidaymakers were able to complete their holidays and return to the UK with no disruption.

Also, as the company failed at the height of summer, the CAA also put in place arrangements to allow people to travel out on their holidays for the first 24 hours after the collapse.

On the downside, anyone that was due to fly after this 24-hour window would have had to go through the painstaking process of claiming back the money they spent on their holidays, a process that can take up to twelve months to complete!

But what protection is afforded to customers booking their holidays through companies that are not ATOL protected or, even worse, through companies that are set up with the specific intention of taking the money but never delivering the dream holiday?

It’s estimated that 30 per cent of holidaymakers booking online leave themselves open to becoming the victim of fraudulent travel operators.

This is generally due to the customer failing to check the authenticity of a site or through verifying their payment details on an unsecure web page, which means that third parties can intercept their credit or debit card information.

So what protection is out there?

If you book a package holiday, that is two or more elements of the holiday are booked together in a pre-arranged combination, then your holiday is protected under law and you will receive some form of recompense should things go wrong.

One thing to be aware of when booking a package deal is that some companies will split the invoice so that your flight and hotel is paid for separately and this will leave you without protection.

In addition, companies that offer just one element of a holiday, for example a budget airline company offering cheap flights, are not protected and nor are you protected if you book a hotel and flight through a budget airline as they are not covered by the bonding laws.

The best way to protect your money in this instance is to book your holiday on a credit card.

This means that you are automatically covered under the terms of your credit card agreement and your card issuer will refund any losses provided the credit card transaction bears the name of the company you have booked with.

Also be mindful that many companies charge a fee for credit card bookings and, whilst this makes paying on a debit card seem like the better option, debit cards do not offer any of the protection that credit cards do.

Another idea could be to book your flights with an airline credit card. These are, essentially, everyday credit cards with all the same terms and conditions, but offer such incentives as air miles or companion vouchers.

One thing is clear though, no matter where you’re travelling or who you’re travelling with, the credit card route is the safest way to go!

Airline Credit Cards

Article written by Les Roberts money writer for Moneysupermarket.com, the UK’s largest independent price comparison site.

House Prices and Earnings/Debt:Income Ratio

House prices are up! House prices are down… Now they’re up again! And now there down again. And when they are only halfway up they’ll be neither up nor down….

And that’s where they need to be, neither up nor down but on a bit of a plateau.

While that’s going on, earnings need to go up which will bring down the – House Price : Earnings.

In order for earnings to go up, inflation needs to rise steadily.

In order for inflation to rise steadily people need to have enough money to keep buying stuff.

How do they find more money during a time of high Debt : Income?

Introducing the 40 year mortgage! (It doesn’t exist but what if it did…?)

A mortgage you take with you throughout your working life (and beyond if you can still afford it).

What’s the downside? People take out 25 year mortgages when they’re 25 and pay them off for 15 years then, so they can afford a bigger house, they take out a bigger mortgage for another 25 years. That’s 40 years of having a mortgage anyway.

If the mortgage was 40 years from the start it would cost a lot less on a repayment basis than a 25 year mortgage.

Eg:

£150,000 over 25 years at 5% = £877 per month.

£150,000 over 40 years at 5% = £723 per month.

£154 per month less.

The idea of long term debt is something the FSA are scared of. They want people to have the opportunity to one day be totally debt free, no mortgage and happy in retirement.

For that to happen people need to think differently about money and I noticed a car insurance advert on the back of a bus today stating that ‘saving is cool’ so some effort is being made by the media to promote saving. But while pop stars sing about wanting to be billionaires (so freakin’ bad) and snappy aftershave commercials sell gold bullion people will want, want, want which, is good for the economy but brings about a catch 22 situation.

How do you get people to spend while working towards being debt free at the same time?

Stop them borrowing more than they can afford.

Impose a maximum debt to income ratio that encompasses all borrowing.

People that aren’t up to the maximum can keep borrowing if they want to. People who are over the maximum can’t borrow any more until they’ve paid some off.

And how do they pay it off? With the extra £154 per month they’re not spending on their mortgage.

This could lead to long term mortgages keeping people in debt for longer and although it would be lovely if we could all be mortgage free after just 25 years or less the truth is many of us will have a mortgage for 30, 40 or even 50 years anyway.

But if house prices come down while earnings rise the maximum debt to income ration could be increased and long term mortgages could be phased out.

So, who’s going to keep house prices level and how are they going to do it?

Incidentally, take the 40 year mortgage and over pay it by £100 per month and it could be repaid in 28 years and still cost £54 per month less (subject to interest rate changes).