Sep 20, 2010

Posted by in Trip Advice | 1 Comment

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Book early or book late – what’s best?

Bob wht shirt 1One of my friends rang me this weekend desperate to seek my advice on their summer holiday for 2011. When should she book her family break?  She’d seen a tremendous offer on a cruise trip and one for a package to Turkey. But should she commit now or wait until later when deals will be better? Having only returned from her main summer holiday 4 weeks ago she is already on her next holiday conundrum.

Like a good friend I talked her through the options, using my expertise and knowledge and she opted to plump for the cruise and hold off on the beach break until January when the sales are on for next summer. No doubt I will be reminded of this advice if prices dip and she finds better offers later.

The schools are back for the autumn term and already the offers are piling in on customers to book early for summer 2011 from the big tour operators.  ‘Free’ kids places, discounts of up to several hundred pounds, on line savings, complimentary upgrades; early booking bonus’…the list goes on and on.

img-book-early

It's all in the timing - when is the right time to book?

But the perennial question remains when to book. Is there an exact science to getting the best price and availability or should you just pile in and book whenever you want? If I could have a pound for every time I have been asked that question I would be a very rich man indeed.

In the last couple of weeks there has even been a study released by Japanese Economist Makoto Watanabe, that stated the best time to book a flight was eight weeks prior to departure. You can hear the piece below from Radio 4’s You and Yours that nearly caused me to crash my car when I heard it on air.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009t1bm

If we all stuck to that advice, the airlines and holiday companies of today would have a fit as they sit there staring at no bookings for departures only  two months ahead.

I’ve tried those services where you track the best price to book a flight and it is not often that the ones I look at go down in price. True, there may be sales at various times, but when you need to book and get organised, knowing that you have the dates you want are better than worrying about Russian roulette with sales prices.
In my opinion it really does vary as to what the advice should be and no one size fits all.

Let me illustrate with some examples.

Take my friend for instance. She’s a busy working mum with two kids and a husband that works every hour god sends and likes to have her holidays planned out. She won’t take the kids out of school and likes to have a full run at the availability when she chooses her holiday. She won’t compromise on room types, hotels or destinations. She’s the original single minded mum who wants the best. Generic early booking symbol

Over the years she has moaned to me about how much cheaper holidays seem to be at the last minute and how she always misses the bargains. Something I have been guilty of highlighting in the press this year on more than one occasion. Yet point out to her where the bargains are or the kind of accommodation and she turns her nose up straight away. No, for busy working mum who knows what she wants, knows her dates and is not one to compromise, then I would advise to book early and be done with it. Gives you something to look forward to, allows her to plan saving up for the holiday and means she gets just what she wants including the early booking offers.

One of my ex work colleagues was adamant that booking last minute was the way forward.  He would wait until a couple of weeks before and then start perusing websites and travel agents windows for hot offers. True he found some absolute steals, but only ever on package holidays to the Med or the Caribbean or Florida.

He never got a last minute cheapie to a city or anywhere long haul and the time he left it late to come and visit me at my Spanish villa, he paid through the nose for his ‘low cost’ flight.

Take off with lower prices when booking early

Take off with lower prices when booking early

When it comes to flights it generally pays to book early. I’m a slave to those e-mail sign ups and my inbox creeks with this week’s sale from a huge variety of airlines. Yet despite some cracking offers over the years (Amsterdam for £20 return with Bmibaby earlier this year), I have found that the earlier you book the better the fare, especially for those precious weekends away. I am just waiting for flights form April onwards to go on sale with EasyJet and Ryanair to get my bargain to Marrakech. Please be as cheap as last year’s £65 deal? If I’d waited to eight weeks before, then the fare would have been already well over £150 return and I would have committed hari kari no doubt. Mr Watanabe take note. So I get in as soon as the season goes on sale for low cost airlines and pick out where I want to go and the best time price wise.

This year I managed to bag weekends in Munich, Copenhagen and Marrakech for under £180 for all three! And that was travelling to main airports from Manchester, somewhere that Ryanair has pulled out of. I can only dream of getting one of those legendary low cost sale fares from Liverpool on the Irish carrier as there is no way I’m driving to Liverpool with Ringway on my doorstep; even if it is for a flight for a fiver.

OK, so I have had last minute bargain charters to Greece and bargain packages to Spain in the past. But then I was prepared to be flexible as hell and go anywhere, just for the fun of it. I know my friend would never do that and she has admitted that we would make the worst possible couple when booking and planning.  Booking early is the way to get what you want on a package deal.

Or the time that I booked a package with friends to the Canaries and found I could have waited and halved the price for the same holiday. I didn’t even enjoy that break either, serves me right.

Airtours cruise ship Carousel

Nan could have saved on her cruise

Or my Nan’s 90th cruise trip where we could have saved over £1500 if we had hung on and not splashed out early. I found this out when I was accosted in a queue for the midnight buffet and someone told me they had paid only £499 for their inside cabin on the two week Mediterranean cruise. Unprompted as well. The cheek of it.

Whilst I was furious at the time, thinking I had been ripped off, I also found out he was retired and could go anywhere at any time and had only booked the trip three days before sailing. It was a last minute offer to fill up the ship and he had the cabin from hell in the bowels of the boat. I licked my financial wounds in my luxury cabin with balcony. You get what you pay for I guess and I soon felt better knowing that Nan would have hated a cruise with a cabin like that, however cheap it was.

So what have I learned over the years then? Well the main thing is when you know what you want, just shop around and book the best deal you can find. Get the trip in the bag and have something to look forward to.

When I’ve left things to the last minute then I’ve found some cracking offers, although very rarely at the busy travel times such as Christmas, Easter and the later May bank holiday.

But one thing is for sure, don’t keep checking the prices once you are booked. It’s not worth the risk of seeing a better price on offer and you’re better off researching things to do and places to visit than to keep looking at prices.

Now, I must away to check my inbox. I’m sure there was an early booking deal there for some flights to Canada for next year…….

  1. duncan says:

    a well articulated piece with some useful tips. thanks. what i’d like to see is a brief, punchy list-type post or ‘tips’ section which would expand into loads of useful little mini cut-out-and-keep type guides for people needing quick hints on booking travel.

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