Gone are the days of fixed holiday prices. Today, tour operators and airlines use innovative technology to adjust prices regularly, reducing the cost when tickets aren’t selling and raising the price when a date or location is in demand.
We discuss the best times to book your holidays, from the cheapest seasons to the most inexpensive weekdays.
Consumer watchdog Which? crunched two years of data from the flight price comparison website Skyscanner and discovered the best time for booking a flight was three months before you travel.
The only exception was if you need to travel during the peak summer season because of school holidays, in which case you need to book six months ahead.
Research by online travel agency Opodo also revealed January was the cheapest month for flight prices, so is the best time to book if you’re looking to fly in July or August.
Wait until July to book and flight prices are at their highest. Sunday proved to be the cheapest day for booking a flight, followed by Monday
Prices for hotels are generally more set, so getting an early booking discount isn’t as common or rewarding.
According to Expedia, booking on a Friday can save money if you’re holidaying in the UK, while Sunday is typically the most expensive.
For international hotels, booking on a Wednesday saves you 5%, with the most expensive day being Saturday.
Travelling over the festive period can result in Christmas savings, according to our research.
The data, which included all travel operators, showed that a family of four could save 57% on their Christmas costs by swapping frosty Britain for a week in sunny Portugal.
A week away costs £345 – a £464 saving on what a four-person family will typically spend over Christmas (£809).
In fact, the data reveals that Portugal is the cheapest ‘thriftscape’ for all traveller-types across the Christmas period, followed by Spain and Malta.
|Traveller type and cost||Portugal: cost and saving||Spain: cost and saving||Malta: cost and saving||Riga: cost and saving||Krakow: cost and saving|
|Single traveller (£339)||£235 cost, £104 saving (31%)||£242 cost, £97 saving (29%)||£231 cost, £108 saving (31%)||£365 cost, -£26 saving (+8%)||£359 cost, -£20 saving (+6%)|
|Couple (£567)||£251 cost, £316 saving (56%)||£328 cost, £239 saving (42%)||£383 cost, £184 saving (32%)||£551 cost, £16 saving (3%)||£798 cost, -£231 saving (+41%)|
|Family of three (£581)||£300 cost, £281 saving (48%)||£391 cost, £190 saving (33%)||£570 cost, £11 saving (2%)||£518 cost, £63 saving (10%)||£1055 cost, -£474 saving (+82%)|
|Family of four (£809)||£345 cost, £464 saving (57%)||£444 cost, £365 saving (45%)||£746 cost, £63 saving (8%)||£812 cost, -£3 saving (+0.4%)||£1064 cost, -£255 saving (+32%)|
We partnered with Chelsea, the travel expert behind @CheapHolidayExp, who shared her top Christmas travel money-saving tips.
“Flights leaving on Christmas day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day can sometimes be less expensive, so it’s worth being flexible with your flight times.”
“If your chosen destination is on a ‘winter sun’ list, then it’s likely to be pricey. But there are destinations that are still warmer than the UK at this time of year, where you’re also likely to get better value. Places like the south coast of Turkey, Spain and Portugal are all great options.”
“Book flights to a city that’s cheaper to get to, and then consider travelling onwards from there, perhaps using a hire car, or via public transport. I recommend flying into Athens and then travelling down the coast!”
“If you want traditional winter sun then make sure you’re going for somewhere with cheap daily costs. For short haul, consider Portugal or Marrakech. If you want to travel further afield, consider locations like Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand. However, double check specific areas for their rainy seasons.”
“Having everything paid for in advance can help to keep you on track with your budget and help you limit any additional costs.”
Overall, flying at Christmas could be the best time to book, and sometimes it’s nice to head somewhere sunny for a change.
Booking three to six months ahead of time for a car rental is best; there isn’t much advantage to booking further in advance.
For transfers, the booking time doesn’t matter. You’ll get better value by comparing options and taking public transport.
The best time depends on your trip, when you’re going, the insurance you buy and what you’ll be doing abroad.
In general, we recommend getting insurance as early as possible after you’ve booked your trip, much like the other options.
We recommend buying single trip travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked your holiday.
It’s the best way to get cover if you only travel once a year, so we recommend it if you’re buying insurance for one trip.
It covers you for things like sports and activities, emergency medical expenses and personal belongings.
A key benefit of single-trip insurance is holiday cancellation cover. This offers up to £5,000 of protection if something goes wrong, like travel disruption.
The level of cover depends on whether you get Admiral, Gold or Platinum.
Annual travel insurance, also known as multi-trip insurance, is ideal if you’re a frequent flyer. It takes away the hassle of arranging cover for every trip you go on.
It’s typically the cost-effective option if you travel more than once a year. It includes everything you need, including medical emergency cover, cancellation cover, personal liability, legal protection and personal belongings cover.
The cancellation cover on annual travel begins on the policy start date, not when you buy the insurance.
The best time to buy annual travel insurance is when you’ve booked your trips away, and make sure the policy start date lines up with your first holiday.
There is more specific travel insurance you can buy:
We can only insure you before you have passed through customs.
However, don’t get put off buying travel insurance late; it’s better to have protection than deal with having no insurance when abroad.
Life as an award-winning travel and drinks writer has led to Mike drinking vodka with breakfast in Siberia, cognac in Cognac, sherry in Jerez, port in Oporto, champagne in Champagne, rum in Jamaica, jenever in Amsterdam, gin in Iceland, beer at the Great American Beer Festival, bourbon in Kentucky, whisky in Scotland, and visiting vineyards and distilleries all over the world. Dividing his time between Cambridgeshire and Arizona, Mike's written for BBC Good Food, Waitrose Drinks and American drinks magazine Chilled, where he's an Editorial Staff Writer.