• Booking last-minute package holidays can help you save
  • Smart phones are turning us into spontaneous travellers
  • January and ‘Cyber Monday’ are great times to find a bargain trip

Many travel companies have ‘last-minute’ sections on their websites, and the bargain hunters among us thrive on the excitement of bagging a cut-price holiday that leaves tomorrow – especially when it’s cold and grey outside and we’re craving some winter sun.

And it’s not just holidays that can be snapped up for a more reasonable rate last minute – flights, accommodation and even package deals are all available last minute from the right sites. The one thing you shouldn’t book at the last minute is travel insurance – buy it at least 24 hours before you leave to make sure it’s activated.

But is last-minute travel worth it? Lucy McGuire (@LucyAMcGuire) asks the experts to find out.

Why do we book last-minute holidays?

There are various reasons why we take last-minute trips and the chance of grabbing a bargain is definitely one of them. But Research by ABTA found that only 15% of late holiday bookers were motivated by price. Many travellers booked late trips due to personal circumstances and the simple fact they ‘hadn’t had the time’ to book earlier.

Technology has also changed the way we look at holidays. A trends report published by Mediahawk claimed smartphones have made us more impulsive when we plan our trips. With mobile phone apps such as Jetsetter and Late Rooms – which offer same-day hotel and travel deals – it’s no wonder many of us are hooked on impromptu travel. 

But what are the pros and cons?

The pros of booking a last-minute holiday

Professional travel writer and journalist Jill Starley-Grainger (@jet_set_jill) believes last-minute holidays are worth looking for, using sites like Cruise Deals, Travel Zoo and Booking.com.

‘Booking late means you can swoop in and get some amazing deals on hotels, cruises and package holidays, giving you more value for money than if you'd booked ahead,’ she says. 

‘I used the app HotelTonight to nab a beautiful room at the Franklin Guest House in New York. I'd checked the room rates for weeks ahead but decided to book last minute and got 30% off.’

She adds: ‘Flights are nearly always more expensive at the very last minute. However, packages and hotel room rates will, at some point, reduce from their first published price. 

‘Predicting how and when this will happen is as much art as science, but it can really pay off.’

The cons of booking a last-minute holiday

A study in 2010 found that the ‘holiday countdown’ can affect our levels of happiness. More recently, Psychologist Dr David Holmes created a scientific formula that suggests holidaymakers should book their trip at least 120 days in advance to get maximum happiness. So do last-minute holidays bring us as much joy as we think? Freelance travel writer Julia Hammond (@juliamhammond) doesn’t think so.

‘I used to be a teacher so I had to plan my holidays well in advance,’ says Julia. ‘Old habits die hard, I guess, but I still prefer the anticipation of a trip over a last-minute decision. Trip planning is something to be savoured, not rushed.’

There are, of course, practical reasons for booking your holiday ahead. If you’re planning a skiing holiday and are taking your own skis, you’ll need to get them serviced ahead of your trip and make sure you’re feeling physically fit – which you can’t do if you’re booking late. Some top destinations also require advanced itinerary planning, otherwise you could miss out on the best attractions.

‘When I travelled to Chile, I managed to rent a 4x4 to drive the gravel roads of the Torres del Paine National Park and get a front row seat to the incredible Inti Raymi celebrations in Cusco,’ Julia says. ‘These things sell out fast but I booked ahead and it really paid off.’ 

It’s also worth remembering that travel companies simply can’t offer late deals on some long-haul trips. Which is perhaps why the Compass Report by Cheap Flights found the average pre-booking period for destinations like Asia and Oceania is three to six months. 

Let’s not forget those special occasions such as anniversaries and honeymoons either, which really aren’t conducive to the book-and-go approach. Sometimes, as Julia says, half of the joy comes from counting down to your holiday.

So when is a last-minute deal a good option?

‘You’re always better off looking for a last-minute holiday outside peak travel times,’ says Jill, ‘especially if you book in January and on Cyber Monday when you can find some really good deals.’

Sarah Slattery (@TravelExpert_IE), founder of The Travel Expert, also has some useful tips: ‘Be flexible and consider using a travel agent. Chances are they will know instantly what the best value last-minute trip is for that time of year.’

In her post offering top tips to find a last minute deal to the sun, Sarah also suggests looking at mid-week flights and reading online reviews of a resort or hotel before you spontaneously book – especially when they’re part of a package deal.

So whether you’re searching for a last-minute skiing holiday, a city break or a trip to the Caribbean, there are always great deals to find. Be flexible and go with a sense of adventure – and you’re bound to have a fantastic trip.