Rising costs for accommodation, travel and eating out mean a UK holiday is no longer the bargain break it was – but has the balance shifted in favour of going abroad? Research by Guardian Money suggests that for some British holidaymakers, taking a trip overseas will not come at a premium.
Our snapshot of holidays in the UK, France and Spain found that for a family travelling from London, a trip across the Channel could come in at less than a break in Devon. Flying to Spain would cost considerably more but the promise of better weather will be worth the money for some.
Prices for UK stays have been going up but figures suggest that the typical cost of summer holiday accommodation in France and Spain has risen at a faster rate.
Data given to us by the comparison website Trivago shows that the average price of accommodation – covering hotels and self-catering options such as cottages – in France during June to August this year is £126 a night, compared with £106 during the same period in 2019. That is an increase of almost 19%. In Spain the average price is up by 16% – from £106 to £123 a night. However, in Málaga on the Costa del Sol, average prices have leapt 34%.
Those numbers don’t make the figure for the UK look so bad: a typical increase of 12% – from £98 in 2019 to £110 this summer – according to Trivago, which lists millions of accommodation options on its site.
Separate data provided to Guardian Money by the hotel tech provider allora.ai shows that average UK hotel prices for the summer of 2022 are up about 10% on last summer as hoteliers grapple with the same cost of living issues that households are dealing with.
While accommodation costs have clearly gone up, the consumer body Which? found that the average cost of flights to mainland Europe has decreased since 2019. It found that the average cost of a summer holiday flight from the UK to mainland Europe this August – booked in March this year – was £92 compared with £182 in 2019. When Which? compared six routes from London Stansted to destinations including Venice and Barcelona, it found all six were “significantly cheaper” in 2022.
That may help to bring a holiday in the sun a little further within reach.
However, as Rory Boland, the editor of Which? Travel, says: “It might not be a surprise if we see some individuals and families reconsidering their plans to go abroad after airlines cancelled hundreds of flights and consumers faced widespread disruption at airports.”
As ever, it is not a straightforward picture.
Guardian Money decided to do its own price test, based on a family of four. We priced up trips to three different seaside destinations: Brixham in Devon, Le Touquet in northern France, and the Málaga area of Spain.
We found comparable properties in Brixham and Le Touquet for almost exactly the same price (£765 and £778 for the week respectively).
With fuel prices at the pump so high, the distance you will be driving has become an important factor when working out the cost of a trip. In our price test you would pay more for driving from London to Devon and back than you would to get to northern France and then home.
Fortunately, there are lots of websites that can help you budget for this part of your trip. The RAC’s online mileage and fuel calculator can help you work out how much a UK journey will cost in terms of fuel. For those going further afield, sites such as ViaMichelin let motorists type in their destination in France, Spain or wherever, and will suggest a route and calculate the estimated fuel cost for the journey, plus the cost of any road tolls.
“With raging inflation, most UK holidays are more expensive due to higher energy costs in the hotel or cottage you might be staying in, as well as higher catering costs making food and drink more expensive when eating in a restaurant,” says Paul Charles, the chief executive of the travel consultancy the PC Agency.
He adds that there is also strong demand for UK holidays, and has been since the pandemic began, which is pushing up prices. “However, you have to balance the higher UK cost with the fact you usually will have cheaper travel costs and no flight to book.”
Which? says you may be able to save money by checking out “lesser-known” locations. It asked members to rate seaside towns and says those with an average hotel rate of £100 a night or less included Llandudno in north Wales, Filey in North Yorkshire, Lynmouth in Devon, Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, and Tynemouth in North Tyneside.
The budget player Premier Inn – with prices averaging £66 a night – was rated one of the best large chains by Which? members.
The travel blogger Sally Akins says you can sometimes get a better deal or a room upgrade if you book over the phone rather than online. “So use a comparison website to narrow down your choices and then get on the phone to make your final booking,” she says.
The blogger Julie Falconer (A Lady in London) says that when it comes to food and drink, markets, street food stalls, food trucks or picking up a picnic lunch at a supermarket can save you a lot compared with eating at restaurants.
The large number of ferry comparison and booking websites out there – they include Direct Ferries, Compare Ferries, Ferrysavers, AFerry and Ferryonline – have made it easier to search for deals and compare prices.
For many people living in the UK – particularly south-east England – who want to load up the car and drive to France, the Dover to Calais and Dover to Dunkirk ferry crossings are typically the cheapest ways of getting there. However, depending on where you live and where in France you are travelling to, some may opt to sail from Newhaven, Portsmouth, Poole or Plymouth.
“Dover-Calais is the cheapest way to cross the Channel at the minute,” Niall Walsh at Direct Ferries says.
In our price check, the cheapest return sailing on that route was £184 – however, Dover to Dunkirk was £3 cheaper for our selected trip, so it may be worth looking at both options.
The quoted cost of going on the Eurotunnel on those dates was a lot more: £429.
“Typically, late night/early morning sailings are cheaper than daytime ones,” Walsh says.
We asked Direct Ferries for the cost of the cheapest return sailing this summer (Dover-Calais or Dover-Dunkirk) for a car with a family of two adults and two children. The answer was £143, which is a Dover-Calais Irish Ferries sailing leaving on 27 July and returning on 3 August.
In terms of accommodation, Carolyn Boyd, an expert on French travel, says: “There are ways to find a reasonably priced self-catering place if you adopt the French’s own ways of holidaying, so booking ski apartments or gîtes de France, even holiday villages.” She has written a number of pieces for the Guardian, including one titled France on a budget: an expert guide to holidaying like the French.
“Also, there’s a lot of business accommodation that is available cheaply in the summer, so search for aparthotels such as Adagio or Citadines,” she adds.
Boyd, who writes a newsletter called France Traveller, says she has found on her last few trips that eating out is cheaper in France than in the UK.
“Look to have bigger meals at lunchtime when the menu du jour is cheaper (a fixed price for two or three courses, often as little as €25 for three courses), and then you can fill up on bread, cheese, charcuterie, fruit, etc in the evenings, bought from the morning market/local shops. And northern France is ideal for lovers of the Breton galette/crepe, as crêperies offer really filling, healthy meals for as little as €6. Part of the reason I love Brittany!”
For those who have some flexibility about when they can go, sites such as Skyscanner have calendar tools that will show you the prices for your selected trip for every day that month.
We were quoted £554 for our four return flights but we could have paid less if we had opted for different dates. The pricing appeared very volatile: little more than a few minutes after we were quoted £554, the price rose to £574.
Which? found that a group of four people could expect to pay up to £192 to reserve standard seats together on certain flights – but, of those it surveyed, 95% of short-haul passengers who did not pay extra said they were given seats together anyway. However, if you are travelling with youngish children, you probably won’t want to risk being split up.
On the car hire front, as a result of increased demand and lower stock prices have gone up. Which? says the later customers book, the more they will pay – it recommends booking your car hire two months in advance.
Spain scores fairly well when it comes to the cost of eating out, according to the Post Office’s most recent annual holiday money report, which looked at prices in 36 destinations around the world.
It said the typical price for a three-course evening meal for two (including a bottle of house wine) was £41.90 on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. That is more than the £29.20 you would typically pay in the Algarve region of Portugal but a lot less than the £71.95 and £73.64 respectively you would shell out in Nice on the French Riviera or Puglia in southern Italy.
Cost for a week’s holiday for a family of four, excluding food: £824
Petrol cost: £59 (London to Brixham and back).
Accommodation: the average nightly price for an Airbnb in the area is £253, says the site, but there was a sweet-looking two-bedroom cottage close to the harbour available for £109 a night (£765 for the week). On Booking.com the cheapest hotel or inn was £1,371 for the week.
Food and drink: Average daily cost per adult of meals for one day in the UK – £30.
Le Touquet, Pas-de-Calais
Cost for a week’s holiday for a family of four, excluding food: £775
Cheapest return ferry cost: for Dover to Calais, £184 with P&O Ferries. Dover to Dunkirk was £181 (£3 cheaper) with DFDS. Based on two adults, two children and a “standard car”.
Petrol: £38.50 (London to Le Touquet and back), plus road tolls totalling £5.40.
Accommodation: the average nightly price for an Airbnb in the area is £183. At the cheap end of the market there was a chalet-style two-bedroom wooden townhouse in the heart of the town available for £69 a night (£547 for the week, including fees and taxes). Booking.com prices started at £778 for the week for a studio (one double bed, two bunk beds) with a balcony 10 minutes’ walk from the beach. The cheapest of the 10 hotels listed on Booking.com was £1,226 for the week.
Food and drink: the average cost of meals for one day in France – €33 (£28.40).
Málaga, Costa del Sol
Cost for a week’s holiday for a family of four, excluding food: £1,971
Cheapest return flights cost: £554 (£138.50 person), including taxes, charges and discounts. Flights between Luton and Málaga, flying out with Wizz Air and back with Ryanair (economy, baggage not included). The booking would be made with Mytrip.
Hire car cost: “economy” car from £253, “compact” car from £285.
Petrol: £3.30 (Málaga airport to the centre and back).
Trains to Luton airport: £50.20.
Accommodation: the average nightly price for an Airbnb in the area is £316. Prices typically drop when you move down the coast to Torremolinos, Benalmádena, etc. Booking.com: found 391 properties. There was a two-bedroom apartment for £845 for the week but the site said it was 23 miles inland. For more centrally located accommodation, Booking.com prices started at £1,111 for the week for a well-reviewed two-bedroom apartment with a balcony 18 minutes’ walk from a beach.
Food and drink: the average cost of meals for one day in Spain – €32 (£27.60).
We priced up a holiday for a family of four – two adults and two children aged 14 and 12 – travelling from London. Where we needed to provide an address, we used the Guardian’s address in King’s Cross. All the examples are based on leaving on Saturday 13 August and returning on Saturday 20 August.
We used Skyscanner for flights, and the Direct Ferries website for crossing the channel. Hire car costs were obtained from TravelSupermarket, while the estimated food costs (per adult) were courtesy of Budget Your Trip, which gathers travel costs from travellers.
We used unleaded petrol prices based on a Nissan Note (60.1mpg). Calculations based on a UK price of 186.59p a litre (source: RAC Fuel Watch), a French price of €2.11 (plein-moins-cher.fr), and a Spanish price of €2.12 (Drive-Alive). Routes and fuel usage were calculated using the RAC Route Planner and ViaMichelin.
We did not include any fees for currency conversion.