THE RUSH for bargain summer holidays starts today as travel firms slash hundreds of pounds from the cost of sunshine breaks.
Operators are offering discounts of up to 20 per cent to popular destinations, including Spain, Cyprus and Turkey, as they compete for customers during the Christmas break – a peak period for bookings.
And after a washout British summer, millions of families are expected to splash out for some guaranteed sun for their main break in 2013.
Cut-price deals are also available to far-flung destinations including Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States.
In one of its biggest ever Boxing Day sales, Thomas Cook is offering £564 off the price of a week in Cyprus for a family of four in July.
Virgin Holidays has cut £559 from the price of a five-night trip to St Lucia for two adults in May.
A spokesman for travel agents’ group Abta said that economic problems in the eurozone would also help to keep prices down.
Cook’s has guaranteed 10 per cent off millions of holidays with “Kids for a Quid” deals offering travel for children for just £1.
Spokesman Mike Hoban said: “Today a fifth of us will be starting to think about where we want to go on our summer holiday, with half of the population adamant that they will have a holiday overseas in 2013.”
Cook’s has slashed the price of a family of four’s week in Cyprus by £564 from £3,082 to £2,518 in July.
A couple could save £296 by snapping up a £1,018 seven-night break in Gran Canaria in May.
Virgin Holidays has cut the price of five nights in St Lucia in May for a couple from £1,518 to £959.
Seven nights in Orlando in March will cost two adults £1,209 rather than £1,649.
Virgin Holidays is also offering huge discounts on breaks to Mexico and Antigua. Managing director Amanda Wills said: “Our team is ready to greet the thousands of bargain hunters we expect to see in our shops and visiting our website after we launch on Boxing Day.”
Thomson and First Choice Holidays, both owned by TUI Travel, have both slashed hundreds of pounds from the cost of summer breaks.
Offers include discounts of up to £200 for a couple, free children’s places at selected hotels, and free board upgrades.
Thomson and First Choice spokesman Andrew Flintham said: “With a wide range of new and exclusive products and thousands of free kids places available, we anticipate customers will book early to take advantage of these fantastic offers.”
A couple could save £296 by snapping up a £1,018 seven-night break in Gran Canaria in May
Abta’s spokesman said: “Travel industry sales start the week after Christmas and tour operators offer their best deals with 10-20 per cent discounts and free child places on offer.
“Savvy consumers will also benefit from the widest range of choices whereas those who leave it late will be restricted to whatever hasn’t sold.”
Teletext Holidays is expecting more than 50,000 hits to its website today.
Managing director Victoria Sanders said: “The January sales are getting earlier and earlier, but Boxing Day is still one of the busiest days of the year for the travel industry.”
However, industry expert Bob Atkinson from price comparison website Travelsupermarket.com warned customers to read small print particularly on special-deal holidays.
He said: “Beware of ‘Kids go Free’ and other deals as the cost may be spread over the other parts of the holiday. Get a costing with and without the free child place.
“All the big companies will be fighting for as much business as they can after a tough two years and they need people to buy early.
“It may be an advantage for families and people with fixed dates for holidays to buy early, but if you are flexible, bide your time.”