/ Parenting, Travel & Leisure

Summer holidays are ripping us off

Sand chart

Most of us know that going on holiday during the summer months will probably cost us a pretty penny. But, do you realise just how much lighter your pockets will be?

I don’t have children, but my partner works in a school and can’t take holidays in term time. It’s a constant source of frustration because we regularly have to pay higher prices for our holidays.

Luckily, we can make savings because the school’s private and term dates can differ from state schools. But, if this wasn’t the case I would be very tempted to encourage him to bunk off so we could get better holiday deals.

And is it any wonder when you’re dealing with whopping price hikes? Our research found that those planning to take a holiday in August could pay more than double the amount of those taking exactly the same holiday in September.

Up to an 181% price increase

We found a Virgin Holidays break to Jamaica increased by 181% in August compared to September. A family of four staying at the Sunset Beach Resort in Montego Bay, departing on 21 August this summer, would pay £7,343. However, the same holiday departing on 4 September, would cost £2,611 – a whopping £4,732 less.

A Thomas Cook holiday to Mallorca would have cost 78% more in August compared with the same holiday in early September – £1,719 compared with £996.

You don’t know how lucky you are if you don’t have to travel during school holidays. A Which? Holiday survey found more than three in ten UK adults who took a holiday in the last 12 months did so during July and August. And six in ten said their last holiday was during school holidays.

When does profit become profiteering?

The tour operators told us that prices reflect supply and demand with family-friendly destinations being more popular at peak times. But, I can’t see how tour operators can justify such huge price increases.

It feels like profiteering, penalising those people who can only travel at this time. So it doesn’t surprise me when parents take their children out of school during term time to go on holiday.

Having seen first-hand the extent of the price differences between August and September, I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t do the same if I had children myself.

Would you take your child out of school during term time to avoid paying peak-time holiday prices?

Yes – definitely (33%, 38 Votes)

No - never (30%, 34 Votes)

Only if it was a couple of days at the beginning or end of term (26%, 30 Votes)

It would depend on how much I would save (11%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 114

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Comments
Guest
pickle says:
31 July 2010

I can understand firms wanting to make more money during school holidays – but I think the increase in price is excessive. ‘spose it is a form of rationing as well,. Families with children have no choice of when to go on holiday – to hit the pacage holiday rip-off families should collaborate and all stay at home, or holiday in this country, for one year – that would bring prices tumbling!

Guest

I did take the children out of school occasionally when they were very young, but they soon reach an age when they themselves worry they would be missing something. Now coming to the end of over 20 years of paying the school holiday surcharge, I am able to gloat a little, but had always tried to see it as not profiteering by the companies but more as a need to subsidise holidays at the other times which would otherwise have simply been unviable. When we stay in our hotels and villas, dine in pretty restaurants and take boat trips, it would perhaps do to remember how few of the facilities would be available if no-one holidayed outside the end of July and August.

Guest
Methuser-la says:
31 July 2010

Re: Summer Holidays
Why not think of it as hefty discounts if you go outside school holidays – not heavy penalties the other way round? Most decent items of clothing in ‘Sales’ are the very small or very big, for the obvious reason that the shops would be stuck with those at normal prices. If you are very small or very big – great, you can take advantage of the offers. If you aren’t at the extremes -tough! Similar reaoning with holiday dates.
Practically – there is no real reason why UK has the same school holidays in every county. Why not stagger them? Holiday companies would have to reflect this broadening of the holiday season in their prices.
It is only a question of ‘parent power’ forcing the changes through local government.

Guest
Kiersten says:
21 September 2010

At the moment, I’m fairly satisfied that the kids should just come out of school when we can afford a holiday…. and that won’t be during the school holidays, there is just no way I could afford those prices. As a single parent, I am unlikely to be able to afford those prices when the kids get older and can’t afford to miss school, so I guess they’ll just have to miss out on holidays instead.

Guest

Think of it – teachers get ripped off – every single year – with or without children – for their entire working lives – and you are dissatisfied!

Guest
Doreen says:
19 June 2014

Yes but teachers get 13 weeks holiday a year. Who else gets that? 25% of the year on holiday!! Don’t ask me to sympathise.

Guest
Barry says:
5 August 2014

Doreen, I can only assume you do not know any teachers! I am not a teacher myself but my wife is. If you calculate her hourly rate based on a ‘full’ working year (4 weeks holiday) including the enormous amount of unpaid overtime she HAS to do during the working week (generally 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the school plus a minimum 1 hour at home in the evening and 5 -8 hours over the weekend) you wouldn’t do the job and make such uninformed statements. Do you think the teachers just have the lessons in their head and wing it all day, please, get real!

Guest
Little-Bev says:
28 March 2015

I can understand your point, however, I work as a TA in a school and don’t get paid for the 13 weeks of school holidays so am stuck with having to go during school holidays and the rip-off prices!

Guest
Lloyd says:
11 July 2016

Err… Don’t be a teacher.

Guest

I have a 4 year old son who has just started school. To go to BUTLINs is a 300% hike in price. In term is £189 – school holiday price £649!!!!!! how do they justify this – by ‘supply and demand’ – they cannot reasonabley justify this. Its appalling.

Guest
Paul says:
12 March 2012

Amanda. Surely you do not believe this. You are paid to know how the travel industry works and the allegation of profiteering and rip off is fueling a popularist myth.

You can liken the holiday industry to an imaginary world in which everybody eats PIZZA on a monday night. The rest of the week almost nobody is interested in pizza. So pizza resturants and take aways are worked to capacity on a monday night and each table could be filled twice over. People are so keen to eat pizza on a monday that they will pay over the odds for a table, and surprise, surprise, they do just this. There are loads of pizza businesses and they keep on springing up. They are all packed on a monday. The rest of the week the pizza prices are rock bottom and there are bogof offers all over town, but even so the resturants are mostly empty. So basically the investment needed to buy and run a pizza business has to be mostly met from your takings on a monday – the rest of the week you lose money. Now mondays LOOKS like a rip off, but it isn’t!! You are SIMPLY supplying what people DEMAND. Pizza on mondays.

Now I agree that the holiday business LOOKS like a rip off, but it isn’t, and ‘Which’ magizine should really be able to see this. I am a long time fan of ‘Which’ and in this case you’ve got it wrong. People need to be educated; the industry does not need to be demonised. The demand for summer holidays is so huge the industry will always become twisted to reflect this.

If you look at the profits of the holiday companies you will realise that no one is being ripped off. It really is simply SUPPLY and DEMAND. Most of the year holidays are sold at or below cost. In the winter all the package companies make a substantial loss. In the shoulder summer months, outside of the summer holidays, the companies are making small amounts of money and in the peak periods they do make substantial markups, but most of this simply covers the losses made over the rest of the year. A good margin on turnover in most businesses is considered to be 5%. The holiday industry struggles to make 3%. Please Amanda could you explain where the rip off is? If it was a rip off industry then you would not see droves of holiday companies going out of business every time the economy catches a chill. The only way to lower summer costs would be to find more holiday capacity in the summer. That means more hotels, more coaches, more airports, more villas, more aircraft, just for 2 months in the summer. What to do with them for the rest of the year and how to pay for them???

I agree that the difference in cost between high summer and other periods is galling – I have a family of 5 and we generally avoid the high season at all costs. However there does not seem to be another model that will enable the holiday companies to stay in business. If they try to cover their costs by putting up prices in the low and mid season, no one will buy those holidays and out of business they go!

This is not like banking, or insurance where there does seem to be genuine money printing going on. If it was the likes of Thomas Cook would not be tetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

I look forward to a considered reply with an explanation of an alternative business model for the holiday industry. To whip up a campaign against holiday companies when there is minimal profit will do no good at all, and will not be in the interests of the consumer. This smells rather like a witch hunt, rather than a ‘Which’ campaign.

Guest
Paul says:
12 March 2012

Actually, what methuser states about staggered summer holidays would be the only way to reduce the peak demand and this would lead to reducing prices, like eating PIZZA on tuesdays and wednesdays as well!! This is where ‘Which’ should start a campaign. I am sure the holiday companies would be delighted at a spreading of the demand and the family customer would see a significant reduction in price. However, be careful what you wish for as the super cheap out of season offers could vanish!!

Guest

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your comprehensive comment. I like your pizza restaurant analogy!

To clarify my view – and this is my view and not the view of Which? – I wasn’t suggesting that the holiday industry is a rip-off. My rhetorical statement was merely pondering the justification between the huge increases (181% in one instance) between holidaying in August compared to September. Of course I’m not so naïve as to have a lack of understanding of the rudiments of the concept of supply and demand. High demand means that holidays during peak times will be subject to some price inflation. But does the price increase need to be so sharp? And does this massive price increase need to happen at EVERY school holiday during the year?

Why, for instance, is it so much more expensive during the February half term than a week earlier or a week later? Supply and demand, you will say. But can such massive premiums be justified? I don’t think so. School holidays are not the only time of year that people go on holiday so I think costs could be spread more evenly. Price is not the only reason people go on holiday outside of typical peak times – a resort being less busy and weather are also significant factors.

Last year some research by Santander found that it was 53% more expensive to go on holiday abroad during the February half term week than other weeks in February. February is hardly traditional holiday season so this would seem to me to be opportunistic – to catch families (and those who work in education) should they decide to go away during half term. I don’t think such huge premiums can be justified. But this is just my opinion 🙂

Having just taken a cursory glance at the end of year profits in 2011 for TUI, I would suggest that a net annual profit of £87million is pretty healthy! But then I’m not an economist – simply a working journalist – so that would sound like a healthy from my point of view 🙂

Another thing to note is that travel companies hedge their costs quite far in advance. When they get a good deal for services that make up their holidays, they’re not quick to pass these savings on. For instance, they hedge currency conversion rates ahead of time. When the exchange rates go up, this increase is passed onto customers in the form of holiday surcharges, but when these rates go down, customers are not then refunded the difference.

Again I’m not saying that the holiday industry is a rip-off – that would be a scandal! But it does seem to me, that such extortionate price hikes specifically during school holidays whiffs of holding people to ransom. I accept that you may not agree, but that’s the beauty of healthy debate – we can agree to disagree 🙂

Guest

If Paul’s argument about prices evening out across the year is true, then this translates to people who are forced to take holidays during school term breaks being made to subsidise costs for everyone else in the other months. I do agree with Anna that there is a large amount of profiteering going on here.

The pizza analogy is very good.. I tend to liken it more to a herd of Wildebeast crossing a river every year at the same time and the crocodiles are waiting to bite chunks out of them. You could of course argue that people don’t actually have to take holidays. My family never did, not even once. And as an adult I’ve only had a handful of short day trips or weekends somewhere not too far from where I lived, with just one exception which I considered to be a proper holiday, thought it still wasn’t overseas. You can survive without these things.. but life is much richer with them.

I do think time with family is important, especially for children, considering they spend more time each day with teaching staff, such as I used to be, than they do with their own parents. And education staff easily get burnt out too. It’s a high pressure job, even at primary school level, contrary to popular belief that it’s just mucking around and playing, and teachers often spend part of their holidays catching up on marking, writing student report cards and assessments, and doing planning for the next term, which is an incredible workload. I was only a teaching assistant, so I was spared most of that but frankly, they are not paid enough for the amount that’s expected of them. A break away is just what is needed to recharge the batteries and then they get slashed by holiday prices when many are already underpaid.

I think the only solution is to break up the traditional way we work and teach… a Mon-Fri, 9-5 system actually creates massive social problems, the cost of which is rather inestimable and this is just one of them. We need extra capacities on our trains and at stations for example, for the sake of a 2 hour window in the morning and evening, when capacity could easily be spread across a wider timeframe.. and commuters are similarly stung with peak travel fares. They say it’s to help regulate the system, encouraging people to travel at non-peak times unless they really have to, but most peak travellers have no choice but to travel at that time. In that case it absolutely is profiteering and this business with the holidays is no different.

Guest

OK, so people who have children have to pay more for their holidays. And their whole agrument for this is that ‘they have no choice’. However, they receive tax breaks for having children, they get free education for their children and free/subsidised travel for their children – all funded by tax – which is paid regardless of whether or not you have children. I cannot think of a single tax-paid benefit that benefits those with no children that those with children cannot also get. And I don’t have a choice about whether to pay my contribution towards those services which benefit those with children but not those without. So just in this single instance where there is, due to market forces, SOME benefit to not having children I think there’s little real scope for parents whining about being hard done to.

Guest
benion says:
19 June 2014

Shocking service! Once they have your money there is no communication aside from letting the customer know about their numerous hidden charges! May seem cheap at first however with the added extras you are better off booking everything separately by yourself.

We booked as a group of 8, 2 families, each managing their own aspect of the booking separately. At first we got a fantastic deal of £1099 per person including flights, car hire, hotels and a cruise from Miami. For reasons beyond our control we then had to amend the booking, changing the cruise, to which we were charged £150 per person extra, however if you were to book the cruise direct with the cruise line, it would cost £150 LESS per person than the original cruise we were booked on! This was just the beginning!

After paying a deposit of over £1250 for our family, it suddenly became VERY difficult to get hold of anyone at Florida Masters OR Major Travel (Florida masters are their subsidiary). It seemed that they answer your questions at their convenience, so many of ours were left unanswered. In addition, they did not provide us with a valid ABTA certificate for our amended booking which installed fear into our minds. We were unwilling to part with over £8000 without the necessary confirmatory documents and adequate communication from Florida Masters.

Now, less than 2 months until we travel to Orlando, we have had no choice but to cancel our holiday. The price became MUCH too high, and the lack of documents and communication worried us to the extent that I was unwilling to pay our any more money to Florida Masters. Luckily though, we have now managed to book direct flights with virgin, the cruise, hotels and car hire all ourselves at a much lower cost than continuing with Florida Masters – and that is with losing our deposit factored in!

Guest
benion says:
19 June 2014

we booked with a company called Florida Masters a subsidiary of Major Travel and we received a Shocking service! Once they have your money there is no communication aside from letting the customer know about their numerous hidden charges! May seem cheap at first however with the added extras you are better off booking everything separately by yourself.

We booked as a group of 8, 2 families, each managing their own aspect of the booking separately. At first we got a fantastic deal of £1099 per person including flights, car hire, hotels and a cruise from Miami. For reasons beyond our control we then had to amend the booking, changing the cruise, to which we were charged £150 per person extra, however if you were to book the cruise direct with the cruise line, it would cost £150 LESS per person than the original cruise we were booked on! This was just the beginning!

After paying a deposit of over £1250 for our family, it suddenly became VERY difficult to get hold of anyone at Florida Masters OR Major Travel (Florida masters are their subsidiary). It seemed that they answer your questions at their convenience, so many of ours were left unanswered. In addition, they did not provide us with a valid ABTA certificate for our amended booking which installed fear into our minds. We were unwilling to part with over £8000 without the necessary confirmatory documents and adequate communication from Florida Masters.

Now, less than 2 months until we travel to Orlando, we have had no choice but to cancel our holiday. The price became MUCH too high, and the lack of documents and communication worried us to the extent that I was unwilling to pay our any more money to Florida Masters. Luckily though, we have now managed to book direct flights with virgin, the cruise, hotels and car hire all ourselves at a much lower cost than continuing with Florida Masters – and that is with losing our deposit factored in!

Guest

A rational society would shut the schools from 23 December until 1 March to allow people to have cheaper holidays and save the cost of heating voluminous and poorly-insulated buildings. No more schools shut due to burst pipes and frozen lavatories, teachers stranded in snow drifts, pupils absent with chillblains and runny noses, cancelled games afternoons, and children walking home in the dark.

Guest
tony pellatt says:
19 August 2014

lets end the summer time rip off .simples.lets all boycott the big firms.i.e.the first year no one book with thomson.year 2 thomas cook and so on.simples yeah.

Guest
Paul B says:
19 August 2014

Net result Tony will be bankruptcy, huge disruption, and then a real ripoff due to less competition. The only way to resolve is to start summer holidays in May and stagger school holiday until end of September. 5 months of slightly above average prices would make consumer and holiday companies very happy! Get on to your MP not the holiday companies! They still only make small margins so where is the ripoff? £87m on turnover of £13billion is tiny! You can be sure that the holiday companies will charge as much as they can for all there holidays and that is where competition and the free market come into its own. Lack of supply in the summer always will push up prices as that is basic economics. Look at house prices in London. Holiday companies really struggle with the current model, as they have too many short haul aircraft, too many pilots and cabin crew and idle hotel capacity, not to mention all the coaches sat idle in resort during the winter months, and the schemes to overcome this issue are many and will often determine whether a company survives or goes under. Write to your MP and ask for staggered school holiday. Issues there though are when to set exams! But that is the real issue. To fill out my analogy above with pizza restaurants, the current situation is like half the population can only get out to eat pizza on Mondays. They are at work all other evenings. The restaurants are stuffed on Mondays etc! Is it the pizza companies or the publics fault that prices are sky high on Mondays and the answer is obvious.

Amanda, the price increases are simply what the market can stand. If any company reduced its holiday pricing and increased its winter pricing, what do you think would happen to that company? All it’s school holiday time holidays would sell in a flash, and all it’s other holidays would not sell at all. The following year they would be out of business. You seem to have a remarkably limited understanding of economics to suggest that such a scheme might work. Perhaps all the holiday companies could agree together to do this? Who would ensure that this happened? How would it be regulated? And here is the rub. If at the moment in school holidays, holiday companies take 1million people on holiday at extortionate prices, if we reduce prices it will still be only 1 million people due to capacity restrictions. Now watch the dust fly as 2 million people can now afford said holidays, but the determining factor is simply first come first served!! You’d still have a million people complaining that they could not get a holiday in the school holidays! Supply and demand is the capitalist solution and it works and if the haves and the have nots is a fair and workable system then this is fair. Maybe we should have ration books?

By the way Paul, just remember who is going to pay for your pension and social benefits when you retire. Today’s children.