When is the best time to book travel?
This is a question I get asked a lot. At work, at parties, at the gym, by family, friends, random strangers at the dog park...It’s not unusual for people to think that because I’m a travel agent I have the inside scoop on when they’ll be able to get the best deals. The truth is that while I have a bit of an idea of when deals MIGHT come out based on previous years, I’ll never have 100% certainty about when the rates will be the cheapest. However, I do have advice on how to determine when it’s best for YOU to book your travel based on a few simple questions.
1).When do you want to travel?
Other than the obvious reason that I need to know when someone wants to travel in order to put a booking in place, this can also determine when it’s best to book. It may sound obvious but if you want to travel over any holiday period (Christmas, Easter, New Years and even the seemingly less popular Queen’s Birthday or Labour Day) the further out you book the better. I would recommend booking as early as February for the upcoming Christmas and even 5-6 months out for long weekends or public holidays. Airlines rarely release sales or specials for holiday travel and as a plane fills up, the seats get more expensive. It’s better to get the cheapest of the normal fares than wait around for a sale that will never come and end up paying exorbitant prices.
The same applies to people with children wanting to travel during the school holidays. While you can sometimes snag a deal over this travel period, it’s usually only if you book quite far in advance (8-10 months) while the planes are still quite empty. Additionally, if you have specific preferences around accommodation style (think 2- and 3-bedroom apartments for larger families) there are often limited numbers of these and they are usually the first to go over the school holiday period. Cruises are no different with interconnecting cabins often selling out fast to accommodate families during this time.
The general rule is that if an airline can fill the plane to full or nearly full capacity they have no need to sell those seats at a cheap rate. The same applies to hotels, tour companies and cruise lines.
2).How strict are your dates?
If you don’t want to travel during the holidays but still have very strict dates due to an event or when you can get leave approved it is still best to start looking early. As soon as you see something that suits, I recommend booking the first great deal that you find with an airline and/or service provider that you like. The further out you start looking, the more choice you end up having. Certain airlines are generally more preferred due to specific routings or flight times and their cheap seats will sell out quickly. Wouldn’t it be better to book the minute you see a decent deal with the airline you prefer rather than try to save $100 and end up on a subpar airline or having to overnight in a weird city? Too often I see people wait for a better deal to try and save every possible dollar and they end up having to go with the leftovers because they’ve waited too long and all the good stuff is gone.
All that being said, if you can go whenever, then sometimes winging it can be great fun. If you don’t care when or where you go, there can be amazing last minute specials for travel in the next week or month. I’ve seen 40% off with tour companies trying to fill seats, 2 for 1 deals on river cruises, massive discounts on Antarctic cruises and I’ve even been able to score people crazy cheap flights to Europe last minute. The flight route wasn’t the best but the clients made it work. Just remember, even if you could drop everything and go tomorrow, that those sorts of deals are the exception and not the rule.
3).How tight is your budget?
This is probably the biggest factor in deciding when it’s best to book your travel. If money isn’t an issue and you do not care one bit how much something costs, then the world truly is your oyster and you can book pretty much whenever the mood strikes you. You may not get exactly what you want but it’s likely that you’ll get pretty close if you’re willing to spend whatever it takes.
If you’re on the other end and have a restrictive budget with specific preferences, you’ll want to maximise every cent, regardless of when you’re traveling. So, the further out you start to look, the higher the likelihood you’ll get a good deal for your dates. When working with clients on a tight budget, I’ll actually find out what they want long before they ever intend to book and then keep my eyes peeled until a great deal comes out. When I see it I snap it up as quickly as possible.
If you’re somewhere in the middle where you don’t want to break the bank but could spend a bit more if necessary, I still recommend looking for early sales. There is no point spending more than is necessary for a trip and unless you have a crucial reason for waiting to book (ie you’re not sure where you’ll be living or maybe you’re changing jobs) I highly recommend making your plans promptly!
Not everyone can or wants to be super organised by booking a trip 7-10 months out. Some people worry about things going wrong or situations changing. Travel insurance is necessary when booking in advance and there are now some insurances that will cover cancellation for ANY reason, not just unforeseen circumstances. However, in my opinion, in order to have the best chance of getting the best deal and securing the holiday that YOU want, earlier is always better. The bonus is having an amazing trip to look forward to!