Can the British kiss goodbye to cut-price package holidays?
The cost of a European holiday for families from Northern Ireland has increased by more than 26% in four years because of the falling pound, it can be revealed.
According to a new report published today, Bulgaria may be the best value beach holiday bet for under strain Ulster budgets, ahead of Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Researchers conducting the Northern Ireland Family Holiday Report 2011, checked prices for overseas vacations in seven of the most popular destinations for Northern Irish travellers based on the frequency of summer departures by charter airlines.
As part of the Post Office's annual Holiday Costs Barometer, they priced 10 so-called 'must haves' such as children's food, drink and beach items - and the former Eastern Bloc country emerged cheapest at £86 for the lot. By comparison, hard-pressed local families would have to fork out over £126 (or 47% more) for the same goods in Crete, which is highest priced in the eurozone.
The value of sterling has dropped by 8.2% against the euro since last June, and by 26.5% in just four years. That means £250 will buy around £90 fewer euro than in June 2007 and £22.28 fewer than a year ago - putting the cost of holidaying abroad beyond many families' reach.
The Holiday Costs Barometer, for instance, has revealed the price of a family meal in Portugal this summer is up 25% from £27.03 to £33.33. Likewise, the cost of eating out for two adults and two children in the Costa del Sol region of Spain has gone up from £31.53 to £53.33 - an increase of 70%.
Surprisingly, Italy - generally regarded as one of the most expensive countries in the Post Office surveys - was cheapest in the eurozone for children's beach items (£100.75), beating Portugal (£103.72). Spain, which only managed fifth place in the rankings, was 28% dearer than Bulgaria.
Families eating out in Portugal, however, can expect to pay 65% less than in the more cuisine-proud Italy.
Sarah Munro, Post Office Head of Travel Money, said people in Northern Ireland were feeling the pinch in the current economic climate.
"The UK pound is worth quite a bit less now than a year ago so families in Northern Ireland need to be careful how they spend their holiday money," she said.
"Shelling out on kids' beach items could soon empty the family purse so people on a strict budget would be well-advised to plan their holiday activities carefully to avoid wasting their precious holiday spending money."
Retail expert Donald McFetridge, who is based at the University of Ulster, said many people are not going to leave Northern Ireland at all this summer.
"The rising cost of food and fuel, as well as the fear of job losses, means a lot of families are staying at home this year," he said.
"Budgets are stretched so those who do want a break are looking for cheaper options, like the so-called 'staycations' closer to home.
"Although there are plenty of holidays abroad on offer, prices are exorbitant compared to last year - not forgetting that it's even more expensive when you get there this year."
Using a card abroad can lead to some hefty charges. Some people assume it is better to use a debit card, but banks usually charge about £2.50 each time it is used. Most credit cards carry similar fees, but the following do not:
- Halifax Clarity Credit Card: has no foreign fees and a low interest rate of 12.9%
- Saga Platinum Card: has an interest rate of 11.9%. Only available to the over-50s.
- Pre-paid cards such as Travelex Cash Passport Globe, Sterling MasterCrad and FairFX are also an option. There's a small fee but no interest rate.