If you haven’t organised a summer holiday yet this year, now is the perfect time to book a last minute travel deal, with hundreds of companies slashing prices as the end of the holiday season approaches. But to all but the travel deal pro, booking last minute can be seem a bit of a minefield…
Well, fear not, we’ve compiled a guide of nine easy steps to booking last minute and finding the best deals. One read of this and you’ll never want to pay full price for a holiday again!
1. Be flexible
To score the best travel deal, the only thing you need to decide is when you want to travel, and how long for – the rest should be completely flexible. Don’t choose an exact date to travel, and be willing to go midweek, late night or early in the morning for the cheapest price. You might also have to fly out of a regional airport – which can often be more accessible, less busy and hectic than major international airports.
2. Don’t pick a place
You may have a particular place in mind, but if you can’t find a deal there be willing to go to a more offbeat or less popular destination. This way you’ll discover somewhere completely new, escape the crowds and tourists, but still get the same kind of holiday.
3. Shop around
You can make great savings on package or all-inclusive deals by booking last minute, but don’t just fall for the first deal that catches your eye. If you’re really on a budget, package deals can still cost around £200-600, even with the last minute discount. The cheapest kind of last minute break can be booked seperately – scour the internet for dirt cheap flights, then find a hostel online in your chosen location. Hostels are more likely to have late availability than hotels, especially in popular cities and you can always opt for a luxury hostel like Old Town Hostel in Stockholm if you need.
4. When to book
Time your booking wisely. Leave it too late and you might not be able to find the kind of holiday you want, book too early and you may miss out on the best deals. The optimum booking window is about 2-3 weeks before you travel. The best ‘seasons’ to book are when people aren’t likely to travel, or at the end of a season – so late summer, the weeks leading up to and after Christmas.
In general January is one of the least popular months to travel, so companies and airlines slash rates to try and fill rooms and flights. January is perfect for a romantic city break to destinations like New York. For last minute summer accommodation deals in Southern Europe, check out our listings for Kos, Ibiza and Lanzarote where there are still bargains left for August and September.
5. Finding flights
Often buying flights last minute from budget airlines can work out more expensive, so look out for airlines such as Ryanair holding ‘flash sales’ – one day sales with flights going as low as €19.99 (follow @ryanair on Twitter for flash sale alerts). Of course you might have to pay extra fees on top, but it can still work out incredibly cheaply. In the US airlines like JetBlue often have last minute sales.
But don’t discount the more ‘premium’ airlines either – they’re more likely to sell off their seats at a cheaper price in order to fill planes. British Airways often have great last minute deals. Otherwise, there are thousands of websites out there devoted to showing you the cheapest flights available for each destination – they operate like a search engine. Some sites only include certain carriers, so check out a couple and see what you find – we like Kayak, SkyScanner, and Cheap Flights.
6. Go offline (occasionally)
While booking online is often the best way to find cheap flights, you can sometimes negotiate a better deal by picking up the phone. Travel agents have been squeezed the most by the rise of online travel, so pop in or call your local agent and see if they have any last minute holidays they’re willing to flog. Sometimes it’s even worth calling the airline directly to see what the cheapest flights are, and Flight Centre is always a great resource for bargain air fares.
7. Go off-season
If you have your heart set on a popular destination, you can still get a last minute deal if you travel off-season, e.g. Australia in the summer (their winter), or for places in the Med like Ibiza try September and October, when the weather is still good.
Obviously you aren’t going to get great snow in the Swiss Alps in the height of summer, but winter destinations can also make great places to visit off-season – try ski and snowboard destinations in the summer for hiking, water-sports, beautiful scenery and a whole host of outdoorsy activities. Mammoth Mountain, in California and Interlaken, Switzerland, are great places to visit on and off-piste.
8. Where to go now
So you want to escape from the 9-5 NOW – where should you go in August? Your best bets are seasonal summer destinations – check out our best beach parties, cool outdoor adventure places and favourite UK holiday destinations to find cheap accommodation. The peak season for these destinations ends by the end of September, so you’re in the best position to score a last minute deal.
9. Sign up for travel newsletters
To keep abreast of any upcoming travel deals in the future, sign up to airline and travel company email newsletters, that will let you know of summer sales and discounts before everyone else. What could be better than a holiday bargain popping up in your inbox? TravelZoo is the most famous ‘travel deals’ letter, but it’s worth checking out airline companies and tour operators as well – the HostelBookers newsletter is a way to get a heads up about any deals, promotions, competitions and discounts going on in the world of budget accommodation.
Got an eye for a holiday bargain? Get in touch below with any of your travel tips for booking a last minute deal…
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