Are we there yet? It can be more cost-effective to book early

It's that time of year again. Just as you're busy ordering the entire contents of the Christmas Argos catalogue in a bid to keep your little angels happy, the summer holiday adverts start on the telly.

The kids have already said they quite fancy snorkelling in Egypt, sky diving in New Zealand, and lying on a beach in Greece – and it's all thanks to the efforts of travel operators trying to lure families into parting with their hard-earned cash this winter. Offers advertising free child places and discounts for early-bird bookings are plentiful, and the pressure is on to buy now or lose out.

Should we be panic booking? There's no doubt that it can be more cost-effective to get in early. The "kids go free" deals offered by many of the major operators mean that you can potentially save a hefty amount if you book while stocks last. Check out the deals from Mark Warner (0871703 3887; and Thomson (0871 231 4691l, for example, which are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other incentives, such as early booking discounts, mean that you can save up to 30 per cent by putting down a deposit before the end of January. Deals worth a look include 25 per cent off at the luxurious Chia Laguna Resort in Sardinia (00 39 070 92391; chia, a watersports favourite for families. Majorca Farmhouses (0845 800 8080; is also offering a lovely selection of family properties with 30 per cent discounts for early bookers.

But there is one booking incentive I've found which should please cash-strapped families wherever they fancy going. Holiday Gems (0871 911 0101; is offering the chance to secure your family accommodation for next summer – with a deposit of as little as 99p.

The offer is valid on all dates, durations, and prices, and there's a choice of more than 65,000 places to stay in destinations ranging from Bulgaria to Barbados. So you can book early without having to make a hefty down payment, and guarantee the break of your choice.

Now that's what I call having your Christmas cake and eating it.