Is it cheaper to book your vacation in advance or at the last minute?


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Experts from across the travel industry are gearing up for a hectic holiday season.

“Consumers are looking to make up for lost time during the pandemic and travel more than ever,” said Lauren Gumport, vice president of Faye, a company that provides travel insurance and more. “Especially in this holiday season.”

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So should travelers worry about booking now while there’s still time, or should they wait as long as possible to take advantage of last-minute deals? There are a lot of variables, but generally speaking, early risers will soon be glad they planned ahead.

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Waiting for end-of-season flights is a high-risk bet

Savvy solo travelers with flexible schedules and off-the-beaten-track destinations can get great deals by waiting until the 11th hour. The average family heading to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas, on the other hand, would be wise to get ahead of the crowds, especially in 2022.

“We are looking forward to an extremely busy holiday season,” said Veronica Hanson, owner of Nomad Veronica LLC. “Waiting to book your travel plans is a game of roulette. Some very specific travel destinations could potentially end up with great last-minute deals. However, the vast majority of vacationers do not have the opportunity to travel to these obscure destinations. Most vacationers have to go on specific dates and to specific places. For these travelers, they definitely need to book now. Air, land, hotel and all transportation has prices based on supply and demand as well as limited supply. Once that plane, that train, that hotel, or that car rental company is out of stock, no price can change that reality.

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If your trip involves the tropics, book yesterday

You should feel a particularly strong sense of urgency if you’re considering ditching the cold in favor of a high-demand tropical destination.

“For Caribbean hotels, which many of us love during the holiday season, book now,” said Lee Friedman, travel consultant and founder of Mango Tree Travel. “We are already seeing very many full hotels during the holiday weeks. High-end hotels, in particular, are booking up, even as prices are at record highs. So if you find an affordable rate, grab it.

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It’s not just the Caribbean. The most exotic US state is also filling up fast.

“If your upcoming plans for the holiday season include booking a trip to a popular destination like Hawaii, you may already be too late,” said Kayla Laatz, founder of Mountain Mamas NZ. “On the island of Kauai, homes and car rentals often sell out up to six months in advance. Prevention is better than cure – best to book as soon as possible.

The right time to book a flight depends on the distance traveled

If you are traveling by plane, plan according to the type of flight you are taking.

“Let’s break it down into two categories,” said Gareth Davies of family budget travel website CurlyExplorers.com. “Long haul and short haul. The latter can usually be booked at the last minute and saves money. There are so many flights these days that there are often several a day from place to place. Flights obviously get a little tighter at peak times, but you should be able to get what you want by booking reasonably close to the time – in a week or so – and prices shouldn’t vary too much. Long-haul is a bit different, and we’ve always found booking early a month or more gets the cheapest prices.

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What about car rentals, hotels and train travel?

While some experts said last-minute bookings might be able to land deals on flights, there was little disagreement over when to book train travel.

“This is the one where booking in advance seems to make a bigger difference,” Davies said. “Long-distance public transport like trains is almost always cheaper if you book in advance.”

As with flights, the right time to book hotels depends a lot on your destination.

“Hotel costs vary by destination,” said Agnes Groonwald of Travel on the Reg. “Popular vacation destinations – for example tropical getaways in the Caribbean and warm-weather winter destinations – will likely become more expensive the longer you wait. Larger cities with more inventory like New York and Chicago may see a price drop about two weeks before your trip.

In terms of car rentals, experts agreed that even though fleet inventory is in much better shape this year than last, you should still expect high prices no matter when you book.

“Just as the rest of the United States is experiencing rising costs, it’s no surprise that car rental companies are experiencing the same increases,” said Julie Flores, vice president of operations for the service management department. Rate-Highway car rental rates. “As a result, they have to pass the increases on to their customers, so many consumers are seeing a higher bill, due to the increased surcharges and fees.”

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Pro tips to take the stress out of planning vacation trips

Whether you travel by train, plane or rental car, you are not entirely at the mercy of airlines and hotel chains. Follow these strategies to navigate smoothly.

“No matter what kind of trip you’re planning, please get travel insurance,” said Lori Avirett-Mackenzie of women-focused travel site Dragon In Your Pocket Travel. “COVID is still with us, as is the seasonal flu. My travel companion and I had to book a trip from Atlanta to Disneyland because she tested positive for COVID the morning of our flight — and some things were unchangeable.

You can also protect yourself and streamline your trip by hiring a professional.

“Contact a travel advisor or agent,” Avirett-Mackenzie said. “It is much easier to entrust the research and the work to a professional who will watch over your interests than to try to think of all the eventualities yourself.”

Avirett-Mackenzie expects prices to rise after mid-October. If you wait longer, it is best to create some leeway in your itinerary.

“Be flexible with travel dates and times,” she said, citing examples like being willing to travel on Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Consider driving to another airport and buying two one-way tickets. Think laterally and check multiple nearby airports, dates, and airlines.

Another way to control costs is to book the right day of the week.

“If possible, avoid the busiest days for travel,” said Mercedes Zach, travel expert at ASAP Tickets, part of the Trevolution Group. “Normally it is the evening after the last working day, as well as the first and last day of holidays.”

The time of day also matters.

“Get a morning flight whenever possible,” Gumport said. “The delays get worse as the day progresses.”

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