Here’s how to get the best deal on a last-minute getaway...
Why should I book last minute?
You’re most likely to snap up brilliant holiday deals if you can wait until just eight to 10 weeks before your departure, rather than booking months in advance.
This is the time when operators and travel agents are looking to sell off room reservations and plane seats and are prepared to slash prices. This does mean you’ll often be more restricted on where you can go, especially as the departure date creeps closer, so prepare to be flexible.
If you can hold your nerve, deals can be even more wallet-friendly if you leave it to the very last moment to book.
If you just want to go somewhere hot and cheap, you could even wait until the week before and make the most of the rock-bottom price deals.
Where is best for holiday bargains?
Often the best deals can be found by booking a holiday in either Spain or France. The former offers a huge range of destinations, flights and accommodation, while France is easily accessible by car, ferry and train.
Alternatively, why not give ‘staycationing’ (holidaying at home) a try and check out more of what the UK has to offer?
Why do it yourself?
If you’re prepared to do a bit of donkey work, city breaks, multi-destination holidays and breaks that fall outside of the standard seven/10/14-day period often come up cheaper if you piece together the elements yourself. It also means you can plan the holiday you want.
Be aware of booking accommodation without taking anything else into consideration. For example, a low-priced, accommodation-only offer might turn out to be less of a good deal if the flight there is prohibitively priced.
This especially applies to destinations like Greece or Turkey, which require longer flights than nearer European destinations.
Bear in mind, the longer you leave booking the flight, the more expensive it can be; each flight has a quota of cheap seats and once these are filled, the price rises. Midweek and out-of-season flights offer the best deals.
To get your trip at the best price, book your flight first, then look for somewhere to stay.
Browse sites like skyscanner.net for cheap flights – you can search for any destination – and take it from there. You might end up heading somewhere that you’ve never considered!
It’s a secret!
If you’re willing to take a risk when it comes to hotels, it’s worth trying the ‘Top Secret Hotels’ section on lastminute.com.
You can pick your area and price range, but you won’t find out the name of your accommodation until you’ve booked – which often means you can pocket a great price on an unsold hotel room.
Top Travel Tip
If you pick a package deal, make sure it comes with ATOL protection.
It’s a scheme designed to protect people who’ve purchased pre-organised holidays, and means that if your deal fails in any way, you’ll be provided with a refund or alternative flight arrangements rather than being left in the lurch.
Always check for the distinctive logo when booking.
Look for the ‘lates’ section on websites
Thomas Cook, First Choice, Travelsupermarket, Thomson and Co-operative Travel all have specific late-deal sections on their sites.
You can still book hotels via Teletext – but on your computer rather than the TV. You’ll find a great selection of deals in its last-minute section, all of which come with ATOL protection. Visit teletextholidays.com
When should I book?
Avoid booking late for travel and accommodation in the school holidays. If you have to go at that time, you really can’t leave it any later than six weeks before you go.
Demand is lower in Whitsun week (the week of the second May bank holiday) and the second half of August, and you can expect the best price on package deals if you travel to family destinations in May, June, and the end of August or September.
Why pick a package holiday
If you’re after a holiday in a traditional destination – Turkey or Spain, for example – that falls in a standard break period of seven, 10 or 14 days, then a package holiday is your best bet.
These deals, which generally include accommodation, transfers and flights, are often far cheaper than putting together a break yourself, as tour operators have usually arranged deals with their partners, for example, airlines or hotels.
Make sure to note what’s included in the deal, and check whether it’s for you – for instance, if you’re travelling with family, are there any child-friendly benefits included?
Deal or no deal?
After a well-priced package break? Head to the ‘Top 20 Deals’ section at travelzoo.co.uk, which is frequently updated with deals that have been meticulously checked for accuracy and availability and span all sorts of holidays; weekend breaks, cruises, spas and much more.
Top Travel Tip
It’s possible to create your own package and also get ATOL cover: if you book a flight plus separate hotel or car hire together (or within 24 hours) from the same travel website, you now get ATOL protection.
Expedia, Travelocity, ebookers and lastminute.com often offer discounts for flights and hotels booked together.
Pop into a travel agent with details of the type of trip you’re after and ask if they could check for you until something suitable comes up.
One operator’s deal may be on offer with several agents, so it’s worth looking around to see who could give you the very best deal.
Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: ‘Haggling is always key when it comes to booking a package – first benchmark a price, then hit the phones – and this can be particularly effective when you’re trying to get a last-minute break.’
For last-minute cruises visit cruise-womansweekly.co.uk