Travel hacks: when to book your holiday to get the best deals

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From flights to ferries, booking your holiday at the right time can make a big difference to the price. Here’s our guide to good timing…

Don't miss out on the best deals by booking at the wrong time

The best time to book flights

These days, most airlines have very sophisticated technology to help them get the best revenue for each flight. As fewer seats remain, fares are hiked up, but if a flight isn’t selling well, fares come down. After all, there’s no point in flying a plane with empty seats. Many studies have attempted to calculate the best time to book, but with so many outside factors affecting demand – British weather and overseas events, for example – it’s not set in stone.

If you can, book early

Last-minute deals do exist, but the general rule is to book early if you know exactly when and where you want to go, especially if you’re travelling in the peak season. Many airlines make seats available 11-12 months ahead of departure date, and prices generally go up the later you book, particularly on popular long-haul routes like London-New York, and on key business routes.

To encourage early bookers, many scheduled airlines launch flash sales in late December, after the Christmas rush, so look out for deals for the year ahead. With short-haul flights, especially on low-cost airlines, prices can fluctuate wildly.

If you’re flexible

If you’re flexible on dates and destinations, sign up for alerts and take advantage of flash sales – but remember to factor in extra charges to check in bags and select seats.

If you’re tied to certain dates and travelling in the school holidays, book as early as possible – but if your dates and destination are flexible, risk holding out for late deals.

Long-haul or short-haul, you can cut the research time by using a flight comparison website, many of which will not only compare prices across airlines but will show you all fares across the month you want to travel.

If you’re going further afield, it’s worth consulting a specialist travel agent, who will know where to find the bargains and can often get a discount when you book a flight and accommodation together.

The best time to book ferries

The earlier you book your ferry, the better the price – and the better chance you’ll have of securing one of the popular family-sized cabins for overnight summer crossings, or the equally popular pet-friendly cabins. Brittany Ferries, for example, generally releases tickets in July for the year from November to November. It might seem early to book for the following year but there’s only a £40 deposit to pay, and as long as you cancel at least 46 days before travel, you’ll only lose your deposit minus a small amendment fee.

If you’re flexible

If you’re not tied to the school holidays, look out for seasonal special offers too, particularly for shorter breaks. P&O, for example, ran an offer earlier this year of £70 for a three-day short break on its Dover-Calais route, for a car and up to nine passengers (yes, nine).

When to book Eurostar tickets

If you decide to cross the channel by rail, Eurostar publishes its fares six months in advance, and with each new batch, it throws in a number of lead-in fares of just £29 each way.

The best time to book a package holiday

Tour operators selling traditional packages have much to lose if their holidays aren’t sold, because they have to commit well in advance to chartering flights, organising transfers and hotel allocations.

But, like the rest of the travel industry, they’re getting good at predicting demand and managing capacity, so while last-minute offers are still out there, they’re not as common. Instead, holiday companies tend to offer attractive ‘early bird’ deals and free child places – usually in January, traditionally the busiest month for bookings.

In recent years, a shortage of holidays in some Mediterranean hot spots in the peak summer months has made it even more vital not to leave it too late.

When to book your hotel

Like airlines, hotels have developed sophisticated systems to reap the most for each room night, and prices can fluctuate by the minute. Rooms usually become available a year in advance, but some studies suggest that prices aren’t necessarily cheaper the earlier you book.

They point to rates dipping around a month before your arrival date, then rising again closer to the time – but not to the price they reached around two to three months before.

Do your research

However, this greatly depends on the destination, local events such as a convention or wedding, and the size and nature of the hotel (is it small and boutique, or a large business venue that holds out for late corporate bookings?). Comparison websites and dedicated hotel booking sites can help you shop around, but they charge hotels commission, so once you’ve made your choice, it’s worth contacting the hotel direct to see if they can do it any cheaper.

Hotel hacks

1. Many hotels and accommodation websites offer free cancellation, up to 24-48 hours before your stay. You’ll pay slightly more initially, but can cancel and re-book if the rate drops.

2. Check in to your hotel as late as possible to increase your chance of an upgrade, as they are more likely to have run out of standard rooms.

3. Consider business hotels for weekend breaks, when rooms can be considerably cheaper.

4. August is an expensive time to holiday in Europe, but travelling in the last week before schools go back can bring significant savings as most people want to be back by then.

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