Travel journalist Lucy McGuire asked some seasoned travellers whether last-minute holidays live up to the hype...
- 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
Why do we book last-minute holidays?
Plenty of travel companies have last-minute getaway sections on their websites, and the bargain hunters among us thrive on the excitement of bagging a cut-price holiday that starts tomorrow – especially when it's cold and grey outside, and we're craving some winter sun.
Flights, accommodation and even package deals are all available last minute from the right sites. Oh, and don't forget to buy your travel insurance before you start your trip. There are lots of reasons why we take last-minute trips, and the chance of grabbing a bargain is one of them. However, many travellers book 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. With mobile phone apps such as Jetsetter, which offer same-day hotel and travel deals, it's no wonder many of us are hooked on impromptu travel. But is a last-minute getaway worth it?
The pros of booking last-minute holidays
Professional travel writer and journalist Jill Starley-Grainger believes last-minute holidays are worth looking for, using sites like 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 per cent off.'
'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
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 ahead. If you're planning a skiing holiday and 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 can't offer late deals on some long-haul trips. When you book a last-minute break, there is a risk that your choice of hotels will be limited. If you were hoping for a luxurious 5-star, all-inclusive resort hotel, this might not be an available option when booking so close before your last-minute getaway begins. For those hotels that aren’t fully booked at the time of your reservation, there’s a good chance the prices will be higher due to them being in such high demand.
Let's not forget those special occasions like anniversaries and honeymoons either, which aren't conducive to the book-and-go approach. Sometimes, as Julia says, half of the joy comes from counting down to your holiday.
When to book a last-minute holiday
'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.
Check out our article on all-inclusive holidays; the good, the bad and the unlikely.
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