Spread the cost of getting away

Layby schemes remain rare in the holiday industry but a handful of companies are bucking the system by offering flexible payment.

THESE days, there are not many large purchases you can't put on layby or a payment plan.

Buy a new washing machine or home theatre system and you'll be given plenty of choices in how to avoid stumping up the full amount in one hit.

But travel remains an exception, with only a handful of companies offering layby or flexible payment schemes. While most travel companies by default split the cost of a trip into two payments - a deposit and then the balance - few offer alternatives.

And of those that do offer flexible payments, few actively promote it. Online accommodation booking site Worldwide Holidays (worldwideholidays.com.au) is bucking this approach by promoting a new layby scheme with weekly or monthly payments.

A director of the company, Dipak Kumar, says layby has been used for more than 50 bookings since it was introduced in January. This might not sound like a lot but the scheme is available only for bookings that cost $1200 or more, which rules out the average weekend away.

There are no fees charged, with the price quoted on the website the total amount to be paid.

Kumar says the average layby booking has been about $2000, with some of the bookings involving multiple rooms.

"At this stage, the popularity of layby has been mainly [among] families with kids," he says.

"A lot of families struggle with finances and this gives them the chance to have a holiday without the stress of maxing out their credit card."

Kumar says the payment system is giving people more chance to make the most of the high Australian dollar and take an overseas trip.

He believes the ability to spread the cost of the trip is also allowing many travellers to upgrade their standard of accommodation.

"A lot of the people [using layby] probably would have still booked but not at the same level," Kumar says. "They would not have been booking an expensive place to stay; they would have been booking more budget stays."

Kumar says no one to date has failed to make the payments after setting up a layby plan.

He expects the concept to take off further as the company introduces more high-end products, such as luxury villas in Bali.

It is also expected to be popular for Christmas travel bookings, with holidays able to be paid off before the Christmas crunch hits.

Another company offering flexible payments is Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), which collects a deposit (usually $250) and then allows passengers to pay the rest in any instalments they choose, so long as the balance is paid in full 60 days ahead of the trip.

The company says the flexible payment options are particularly good for those who are on low incomes, such as students, or those who have trouble saving money.

It makes overseas travel accessible to those who aren't in a position to pay the full amount in one transaction.

Adventure-travel operator Kumuka Worldwide offers a structured payment plan for its tours, with travellers paying a $300 deposit followed by regular monthly instalments. The company charges no fees for the service and offers a price guarantee so the total amount to be paid does not change, even if the cost of the trip goes up.

However, travellers should be warned that if they get more than 30 days behind in their payments, the company has the right to cancel the agreement and retain the money that has been paid to date.

The Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre (greecemedtravel.com) also offers layby on the land component of trips worth at least $500.

Flights must be paid in full but the remainder can be paid off in instalments following a deposit of 10 per cent.

Travellers can book up to a year in advance (locking in the price at the time of booking) and have until 30 days before departure to pay off the rest.

Some individual travel agencies also offer layby or payment schemes, so it pays to ask.

Even if they don't have an official scheme, many will be happy to accept instalments so long as the full amount is paid by the required date.

Going it alone

With a bit of organisation (the hard bit, I know!), there are other ways you can spread the cost of your holiday.

One is to book a trip that includes a local payment or payments, so you can pay some of the cost before you leave and another chunk when you get there.

Paying some of the holiday in advance and putting the rest on a credit card can also spread the cost.

For those with the time to save, automated payments to a savings account or loading some money on to a travel money card each month are good ways to go.