When Booking Last Minute Is Worth It
Want to save money on this year's holiday? Serena Cowdy outlines when you should - and shouldn't -grab that last-minute deal.
When it comes to booking a holiday, you're sometimes talking thousands of pounds -- so finding the best price becomes a serious business.
I still bang on about a deal I came across a few years ago. By holding out and booking just a few days in advance, I managed to bag a week-long ski trip to the French Alps for just £199 -- including flights, transfers, accommodation and meals.
But is it always a good idea to fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to booking your getaway? And do deals like this still exist?
Here's a quick guide to when you should - and shouldn't - book your break at the last minute:
Grab that last-second deal!
If you don't mind where you go. It's generally cheaper to visit somewhere that's no longer as `fashionable' as it once was. You can also save cash if you choose an area suffering from a damaged reputation.
For example, the tourist trade in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh suffered following the terror attacks there in 2005 - and prices dropped as a result.
Just make sure you contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before you book to find out about any warnings against visiting the country of your choice. As always, safety comes first!
If you don't mind when you go. If you can up and leave at a moment's notice, great deals can be had by booking off-season.
Time of day is also a consideration: cheap deals often include checking in at an ungodly hour at an out-of-the-way airport - so decide whether a 3am start is for you before you book!
And if off-season prices for a particular location seem unusually high, it's worth finding out why. Sports events, carnivals and rock concerts all draw international crowds - so wait a week for it all to be over and you could save a packet.
If you're not fussy about accommodation, you'll usually find a room (or at least a bed!) at the last minute. But you usually can't afford to be picky. If you're looking for a last-second ski break, you may well end up in a huge concrete hotel, rather than a picturesque rustic chalet.
If you're waiting for something to happen. By this I mean that last-minute judgements can prove valuable. Skiers, for example, may choose to wait and see where the best snow is falling.
Just remember that lots of other skiers are probably doing exactly the same thing - and if you all rush to book at the same time, prices may rocket anyway...
Get in first...
If you want specifics. Book months in advance and you've generally got a better choice of destinations, accommodation, airports, flight times and so on.
You're also more likely to get particular facilities - such as playgroup places for the kids - as well as `frills' such as a choice of meals on the plane.
If you can only travel at peak time. If you really want to go at a popular time like Christmas or half-term, the chances are the prices won't drop.
So if you have a particular destination in mind - and you're restricted by the school year or by work commitments - booking well ahead is generally the only way to make sure you get the holiday you want.
If you're in a group and you want to stay together. One or two people can be slotted in to an almost-full hotel - five or ten probably can't.
If you need vaccinations! That last minute trip to the tropics could cost you a whole lot more than money. If you're off to a region where there are nasties such as malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and rabies, you'll need to get your jabs well in advance.
Some immunisations have to be given in two doses, up to four weeks apart. Check what vaccinations you need at Fitfortravel - an NHS site which gives travel health information for people travelling abroad.
If you need a passport: A cheap last-minute break could prove a false economy if you end up paying as much again to fast-track a passport renewal.
The cost of renewing an adult UK passport is currently £72 if you use the standard service, which takes around three weeks. If you're forced to choose the same day, `premium' service, the price shoots up £42, to a whopping £114.
Don't fall between two stools...
Whichever option you choose, try not to fall between the two stools. If you're going to wait, try leaving it until the last possible second to get the very cheapest deals around.
Or if you want to book ahead, try getting it sorted at least nine months in advance and preferably sooner. You may well benefit from early booking reductions, and prices often soar two to nine months before departure.
Finally, if a holiday costs next to nothing, find out why before you book. What's the country's political situation like? Is the hotel in the middle of a building site? And what's the weather like?
Recent research by esure found that 79% of those questioned didn't know when the US hurricane season began. India and Vietnam will be ever so much cheaper during the monsoon season - and holidays to the Caribbean might go for a song when hurricanes are expected - but do you really want to be in the middle of it?