No holiday? There’s still time to take the plunge
Don’t worry – there are plenty of deals left this summer. Nick Trend introduces our four-page guide to last-minute getaways
There are two types of holidaymaker. Type one is the super-efficient and organised person who plans and books their summer holidays months in advance. When January comes – often even before that – they get straight online, hunt down the early booking offers, the cheapest flights or the most attractive looking villas, and they snap them up. Then they relax and look forward to their holidays.
Then there is type two. They can’t relax because they still haven’t booked, even though there is only a little over a month to go before the school holidays start. Perhaps they lead more complicated lives; perhaps they were worried about Brexit or the election and didn’t want to commit too far ahead. Perhaps they just feel they are being canny and will be able to bag a last-minute bargain. Maybe they just enjoy the thrill of spontaneity and are happy to take what they can find at the last minute and still expect to have an excellent time. Whatever the reason, there are still hundreds of thousands of you out there who plan to take a summer break, but haven’t taken the plunge. Why so many? And what are the prospects of still finding a decent break at a reasonable price? The first point to make is that there are far more type twos than there were, say, 20 years ago. Back then, tour operators would expect to sell about 35 per cent of their entire stock of summer packages in January. Last-minute deals – at least during the school holidays – were an afterthought, a way of selling the last few remaining seats on charter flights. Now, January is still the busiest month, but it only accounts for about 20 per cent of summer sales, as more and more of us leave it much later before we commit. The travel industry hates this shift in booking patterns, of course. It is bad for business because tour operators not only like to get their hands on as much of our money as early as they can, they also want to be able to match supply to demand. By leaving it until the last minute, we make it much harder for them to plan.
But then we don’t rely on tour operators as much as we used to. One reason for the increase in the numbers of late bookers is that we all feel much more empowered. We don’t have to go to a travel agent to help find a few remaining seats on a charter flight in order to get to the Med. We have far more choice of flights, and if the hotels are booked out, we can search Airbnb or any number of accommodation websites for an alternative. And we are prepared to leave things startlingly late. Google sees two distinct annual peaks in searches related to travel – one in January, and one in mid-July.
Figures from the fares comparison website skyscanner.net are even more revealing. They show that last year two thirds of bookings for summer flights were made in June, July and August. Fewer than six per cent were made in January. And bookings for this year are following a similar pattern. Of course, these are flights bought by independent travellers – those who are booking travel and accommodation separately, not ready-made package holidays from a tour operator. But it is still a remarkable insight into the mindsets of today’s holidaymakers and how late they are prepared to leave things.
But does brinkmanship like this end up costing extra? You might think, especially with the way that airlines try to increase fares the nearer you get to departure, that it would. But data – again from Skyscanner – suggests that for many destinations, booking close to the departure date can actually get you the best fares. The data shows that the best time to book summertime flights to its five most popular destinations in the Mediterranean is between four and seven weeks in advance – that’s around now for August departures. As our table shows, a family of four buying flights to the Algarve could save £100 on the average fare by booking a few weeks rather than months ahead.
It’s much harder to judge whether you save on package holidays by booking this late, because there is no way of getting at the data, and as already explained, operators will never confirm that it is cheaper to book late. But, whether you are travelling solo, as a family or as a couple, you certainly won’t be left high and dry – there are still some great options out there. Overleaf we have picked out 20 of the best deals still available this summer, and we also set out our five-point plan to help you find others.
And if you are feeling really brave, you could take inspiration from Rhiannon Edwards on p12 as she extols the virtues of spontaneous travel and makes up a summer tour of Romania as she goes along.
Booking a holiday in the summer in advance doesn’t always mean you get the best deal. Better prices on family holidays are often found weeks before departure