How inexpensive is a last-minute holiday?

The main beach of Cala Tarida, Ibiza, a popular holiday destination.
The main beach of Cala Tarida, Ibiza, a popular holiday destination.
Yachts taking part in last years Clipper Round the World Race			             	  Picture: onEdition

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The family holiday season may be in full swing, but searching for a last-minute autumn break will soon be the name of the game.

These days, finding out what is available is a cinch. By just going online, web comparison sites throw up a bewildering choice of hotels and combined flight deals.

Streetwise discovered there was more than a £300 price difference between the cheapest and most expensive quote, and negotiating a way around combined flight plus hotel deals was the equivalent of an obstacle course.

A high proportion of cheapest deals were room only.

Many flight quotes didn’t include all taxes and fees, or excluded baggage costs.

Airport transfers were expensive and rarely included.

The ‘small print’ booking conditions weren’t available to read until the final payment page and some call centres were not very knowledgeable or helpful.

But how easy is it to find just the right holiday package priced within your budget, and can you really save money?

Streetwise went undercover to find out.

We checked out four websites that feature last-minute suntan breaks to the hotel Alba Seleqtta in Lloret de Mar, on the Spanish Costa Brava.

We said we were planning a seven-night break for two from September 11-18 on a full-board basis and wanted the cheapest deal available.

Lowcostholidays.com gave some of the most attractive headline price offers.

Including early morning flight from Gatwick and the hotel, its quote came out at £501. We e-mailed the hotel and it confirmed there were rooms available on that date, but if we wanted full board we would need to book a superior room, pushing up the price to £635.

But there was more to come. The cheapest transfers to and from the airport worked out at £31 per person each way adding another £124 to the bill, making a total of £759.

Expedia offers a complete online reservation service and you can build your own package. We were anxious to try it out.

We put in the holiday requirements, including two roundtrip flights plus the hotel, and to minimise transit costs added car hire.

We were quoted a total of £635.70 for the complete package, which was £123.30 cheaper than the lowcostholidays.com price with a car thrown in which we could pick up and leave at the airport.

It sounded too good to be true, so we rang Expedia’s call centre to check it out.

A very polite lady assured us there were no hidden charges with Expedia, and went on to give us a complete and convincing selling job.

Next stop was booking.com, rated by a number of price comparison sites as offering the keenest deals for this hotel

Its website only had standard rooms on offer at £28 per night, which was inclusive of a £68 discount making a seven-night total for two of £392. The room came with B&B and there was no mention of a full board superior room option.

The total bill came out at £478.50, inclusive of flights and transit. This was by far the cheapest offer if you were prepared to slum it a bit and eat out most days in one of Lloret’s countless restaurants or bars.

We rang about upgrading the room and going on to a full-board basis. We were promised a call back which didn’t materialise.

And finally, what about booking direct? We tried to locate the hotel website but discovered it offered limited interaction.

We rang the hotel and asked if we booked directly with it what discount it was prepared to offer.

It quoted a standard room on full board terms of £490 a week. When flights and transit costs were added the total cost equalled £787, by far the most expensive quote.