Long gone are the days when the price of a holiday was fixed, whether you booked 12 months or 12 days in advance. Today, tour operators and airlines use smart technology and algorithms to adjust prices regularly, reducing the cost of those things that aren’t selling and raising the price when something’s in demand.
The main thing for you, the customer, to decide is whether you want something specific, in which case the general advice is to book well ahead to secure it.
If you’re not bothered what you do or where you go, you can afford to wait… though not too long, as Emma Savage explains.
Emma is an award-winning Business and Leisure Travel Counsellor with over 20 years’ experience in travel.
“My advice,” Emma says, “is always to book early. This way you can benefit from early booking offers, extra savings and perks like free child places.
“Late deals aren’t what they used to be, and prices are not as heavily discounted in the ‘lates’ market as they were in years gone by. By booking late, you would have less choice of hotel or flight times, for example, so unless you’re very flexible this might not suit you.
“If you can travel mid-week, off peak, avoiding school holidays and public holidays, often prices are lower. September and May are great times to travel to places in the Mediterranean as the crowds are less, the weather is still good, and the prices are lower.”
However, things are different if you still plan to book something for this year.
Britt-Marie Monks, founder of The Honeymoon Fixer and The Holiday Fixer, says if you want to holiday abroad this year, she recommends booking last-minute, mainly because the countries on the Government's quarantine list are constantly changing, which makes it very difficult to plan ahead.
She’s also advising clients wanting to escape for a week to book their holidays from a Friday to a Friday as the government tends to announce new countries being added to their quarantine list on a Thursday with holidaymakers given until 4am on Saturday to return if they want to avoid the 14-day quarantine.
“However, to lock in the price of a holiday for next year it’s definitely a good idea to book now,” says Britt-Marie, “because as a route becomes more popular, the price of the flight will go up which, in turn, pushes up the price of the holiday package.
“Also, it’s worth noting that some tour operators, like Jet2, are releasing free child places a week or so after advertising a package, which helps to reduce the price of family holiday.”
Travel Counsellor Sheila Stamp agrees that the days of last-minute bargains are over.
“Gone are the days of a really last-minute bargain,” she says. “I’ve done some great deals for Egypt for 2021 and they booked months ago. Booking flights as soon as they come out is best, which is 11 months before travel.
“If I know a flight sale is due, I will look at that, which is what I’ve just done for next year for clients. Flying Monday to Thursday can be cheaper, but not always. If the clients have flexibility, I will do an advance date search.”
If you’re only looking to book a flight, then as well as the day that you travel, the time when you book can also affect prices.
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.
Sign up to Jack’s Flight Club, a service which constantly monitors fare prices and sends regular newsletters to let people know when bargain fares are available. You must be prepared to strike quickly.
Some fares get discounted by mistake, sometimes ridiculously low, and the seats will only be available until someone spots the mistake. Check out Airfarewatchdog too.
You should join the email list of any airline you might want to fly with and watch for their sales. British Airways, for example, usually has a sale in late August when prices to popular destinations for a one or two-week break can be very cheap indeed.
One sector of the travel market which tends to get overlooked, when the focus is on package holidays, is ‘voluntourism’. Projects Abroad has been sending people all over the world to volunteer in projects such as teaching in Jamaica, working with children in Romania, helping with lemur research in Madagascar, and many other worthy schemes.
“No one can deny that voluntourism, like all the travel industry, has been hard-hit by Coronavirus,’ says founder and chairman, Dr Peter M Slowe.
“The biggest problem of all for us is that the projects themselves are suffering. Projects which help the poorest people in developing countries all around the world are struggling to keep going, without the volunteers.
“Projects to help poor village schools in Ghana, for example, projects to protect wildlife in the Peruvian Amazon, projects which support poor families in rural Madagascar: all these are under threat.
“They have nothing to fall back on. Projects Abroad needs volunteers as soon as safe international travel re-starts.’
So, if volunteering is the kind of holiday you’re interested in, then the time to book up for 2021 is now, otherwise the projects may not be there.
Projects Abroad is currently offering a 100% risk-free refund policy, or a free change of destination, if Coronavirus restrictions prevent travel to a particular country. They’re in touch with airlines and consulates about all the latest regulations in the many countries they work in.
So, the best time to book your holiday or flight is now, or in January… and on a Sunday. Though if everyone does that, the algorithms will notice, and prices will go up due to demand!
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.