People sometimes find themselves in a position to book a last-minute vacation. While a fluctuating economy causes airlines to limit flights and fill airplanes to capacity, last-minute flights can still be found on the cheap for savvy researchers. Additionally, many hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns offer last-minute vacation deals to boost business. Understanding the best time to book a last-minute vacation can help save you money and ensure a satisfying, memorable vacation.
Book two to four weeks before travel. Hotels, cruise ships and airlines can quickly determine whether they are filled to capacity (especially during peak season). In an effort to boost tourism and fill their complement, these companies often slash prices 14 days in advance of booking. Remember that when the economy slumps, available daily flights become restricted, reducing supply for consumer demand. Booking travel early may save on plane tickets (but hotel costs can increase).
Shop on a Tuesday or Wednesday for the best last-minute vacation rates. As online last-minute vacations can fluctuate in price, midweek purchases offer the greatest deals. By the time Thursday comes around, vendors anticipate weekend travel, and hotels, flights and car rentals increase rates.
Schedule departure and return travel during a weekday for cheap last-minute flights. No matter the time or season for travel, off-peak flight schedules (such as weekdays) will offer travelers the best flight deals. Avoid flying out on a Friday and back on a Sunday. These “weekend escape” prices can be a rip-off.
Use an online travel website for a bargain vacation. Online websites–such as Travels (see Resources section)–offer extreme savings on last-minute vacations. Have extra travel flexibility? Consider using websites (such as Priceline) that promote deep flight discounts.
Understand the best deals for last-minute travel. You can often save big on last-minute vacations when purchasing a bundled package together (hotel, car and flight). Or consider an all-inclusive vacation to save on food and beverage costs while on the last-minute vacation. Added tip? Consider traveling to hot spots during their off-season (such as humid Savannah, Georgia, in July) for savings.
Sign up for last-minute travel e-newsletters to keep you aware of great vacation deals. Submit your email address online for free, weekly information–such as Clark Howard’s Travel e-Scapes or Air Tran Airways Net Escapes–and stay apprised of last-minute vacation offers (see Resources below).
Waive travel insurance. After all, you’re booking your vacation last minute, and you probably already know the weather and the number of your healthy, traveling party. In most instances, travel insurance is not necessary. However, consider buying basic medical coverage for the length of your trip, especially if traveling out of the country.
Last-minute bookings take off
The portability and immediacy of mobile devices seem to be driving a change in travel booking behaviour. Recent data from Hotels.com shows that 50% of travellers who book via mobile devices do so for last-minute or next-day stays. Similarly, Phocuswright has found that 30% of searches are on online travel agent (OTA) mobile websites, and nearly one in four on hotel mobile sites are for same-day or next-day check in.
The trend towards mobile bookings and the accompanying trend towards last-minute bookings represent a huge opportunity for hotels to sell their very final rooms, right up to the last minute. But only hotels with the right technology in place will be able to take advantage.
Many hotels are still operating on a manual, largely-uninformed inventory allocation model. With this method, the hotel allows each of its channels a certain number of rooms. This means splitting up inventory according to how much you think each channel will sell and reserving some for direct bookings. There are several drawbacks to this approach…
Firstly, you may overbook your rooms. For instance, you accept a booking over the phone, but within minutes the room is sold via a booking site before you can log in and update it, because your hotel doesn’t have a system in place to manage dynamic, real-time rates. With your room now double-booked, you have to upgrade your guests or turn them away completely. Many hotels keep back a number of rooms to avoid this happening, losing out on valuable revenue by holding rooms ‘just in case’.
This is not the only way the allocated inventory model creates waste. For example, you could give two channels 10 rooms each. Channel one sells them all, while channel two only sells one. Channel one could have sold all the rooms, but instead you have nine rooms sitting empty because you allocated them to channel two.
The answer is a pooled inventory system via an online distribution platform such as SiteMinder’s. This allows you to increase your revenue and reduce waste, by ensuring all inventory is available across all your channels in real-time and you can keep all available rooms listed right up to the last minute. When a room is booked – or, as importantly, when a room becomes available again due to a cancellation, for example – SiteMinder’s Channel Manager automatically updates it across all channels. You can also change the room rates across all channels without logging into multiple sites to make updates.
Tapping into last-minute bookings
One travel company in particular has built on the growth in mobile penetration and last-minute bookings to experience meteoric success. Downloaded nearly 14 million times, the HotelTonight app allows global travellers to secure low rates for hotel rooms booked from seven days in advance up to the last minute.
Through a new partnership, bedconnection.com last week joined more than 250 other distribution channels that are available via SiteMinder’s Channel Manager – including roomlia, another very exciting mobile travel agent. This means that as a hotel, you can now distribute your real-time rates and availability to the HotelTonight app via SiteMinder’s Channel Manager and have bookings automatically delivered back to your property management system.
Booking travel at the last minute has become so commonplace that a virtual industry has sprung up to cater to these spontaneous shoppers.
And as travel companies and sites incorporate phrases like “last minute” and “tonight” in their moniker, it reinforces the perception that consumers can get whatever they want at the right price – even at the eleventh hour.
For travel agents this can be a mixed bag; some agents say that when last minute shoppers realize they’ll have to pay more, they’re less likely to haggle if they have their heart set on traveling.
But others say these clients consume more time and energy as the consequences of their procrastination sink in.
“Usually when people wait they are definitely going to pay more, especially with the air portion,” said Susan Berman, of Berman Travel, in Atlantic City, N.J. “If they are not very picky, that’s okay.”
Not only has Berman seen the trend increase but she’s hearing about it from a number of her suppliers.
“A lot more people are not planning ahead like they used to,” even for big trips, Berman said.
“Some people who used to contact us six or even nine months ahead of time, are now booking about two months ahead,” she said. “I’m even seeing it with things like destination weddings.
“I’m booking one for next February now, and that’s something I’d normally start working on more than a year in advance.”
Some clients are simply concerned about the economy, according to Berman.
“They are holding on to their money as long as they can,” she said, adding they might be worried about getting their money back if they have to cancel. “And a lot of millennials are moving around and changing jobs.”
Research bears this out. A survey of consumers commissioned by Priceline earlier this year found that last-minute getaways are the “favored trip type” for 2015, especially for younger clients.
Seventy-three percent of millennials said they were likely to take a last-minute vacation this year — versus 58% of all of those polled.
On a positive note, Priceline found that these deadline-addicts are also “extremely flexible” and willing to compromise on factors like choice of carrier and room type. And they may come to a decision faster than a customer who has the luxury of more time.
“With last minute bookers, you don’t have a lot of time to explore a lot of possibilities,” said Sandy Anderson of Riverdale Travel, in Minneapolis. “There’s a good chance the air is going to be higher and you won’t get the hotel you want.”
With the improving economy, Anderson said she’s also noticing an opposite trend, at least with some clients: they’re comfortable they can afford a vacation and are booking well in advance.
But for those who don’t book in advance, Anderson finds that deals sometimes do open up closer to departure — but not too close.