James Walker: Is that winter getaway really such a bargain?

Are you tempted to get away for Christmas or the New Year? Increasing numbers of people are making the last-minute decision to ditch the turkey and escape abroad for the festive period.

Life's a beach for many people who prefer a warmer Christmas. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

This time of year is one of the busiest for travel and holiday bookings. There are a few bargains to be had, especially if you decide to get away during the quiet period in January. If you’re planning a spontaneous winter getaway, or you’ve already booked and you’re getting ready to travel, here are some tips.

If you love a bargain then you might have been tempted by an email from an airline or an advert for a travel comparison site, telling you that the January holiday sales are on. There are lots of bargains to be had – but it pays to be realistic. A flight or hotel is only worth what you’re willing to pay for it. So 30 per cent off a £300 a night boutique hotel isn’t a great deal if you wouldn’t have looked twice if it cost £200 normally. Factor in spending money and the exchange rate and have a think about cancellation options – just in case a better deal comes along closer to the time.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

If you’re doing anything even slightly adventurous while on holiday, don’t forget to take out the winter sports cover. This might seem obvious if you’re planning on skiing off-piste but you’ll need it even on the nursery slopes. The same goes for what might seem like relatively tame things, like going for a sedate ramble on a nature walk. It’s not hard to get in to difficulty in winter weather abroad and I’ve had to help sort out numerous insurance claims involving helicopter call-out costs, repatriation and extended hospital stays.

Despite Brexit uncertainty, you can still use your European Health Insurance Card when going on holiday – for now. But it doesn’t cover everything – and if you get ill or injured, it could be very expensive. Different countries have different rules about what the card will cover so don’t assume it’ll be cost-free if you need to pop to a clinic or hospital. Take out travel insurance before you travel – and make sure the cover starts from today. That way if you slip and fall on a typically glacial December morning, you’ll be covered if you have to cancel. There are lots of different types of travel insurance but the basic rules of shopping apply here too: buy cheap, get cheap. Don’t save £5 on cover that could have given you much more protection when away. And don’t buy at the airport unless it’s an emergency – the cover is generally much poorer.

Travelling over winter comes with its own risks. Much as it’s good to escape the UK, there’s a higher chance of a flight cancellation or delay. If you’re travelling with your family, make sure you have back-up batteries for phones and tablets and things to keep the children occupied. Have a credit card handy with lots of credit on it just in case you have to make alternative arrangements or rebook a flight if there’s a problem. Don’t forget to check with your hotel or tour operator what your rights are if you are delayed or need to rebook.

And know your rights – Resolver has a full guide to your rights if your plane is cancelled or delayed. It’s a cold comfort, but you might get some cash back if something goes wrong. We’re working with the airlines to make the process of making a claim stress free – but if you aren’t getting anywhere, we can help you get your complaint sorted.