airport booking

Book early or book last minute?

When planning a vacation on a budget, the time in which you book can have a big impact on the price. Booking early (i.e. about a year to 9 months in advance) can get you access to early bird discounts, however booking last minute (i.e. a couple weeks before) can also result in slashed prices on hotel rooms and flights.

Both options can save you money, but which is really the better option? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each, how you can find deals and whether it’s the right option for you.

Booking early

The pros:
  •         More time to prepare
  •         You can pay in smaller instalments
  •         There’s a higher chance of free upgrades
The cons:
  •         You have to commit to a destination a long time ahead
  •         If circumstances change you could lose your deposit/previous payments
  •         Early Bird deals tend to be not as cheap or as common as last minute deals

Many airlines and hotels offer early bird rates as an incentive to get people booking early. A major advantage of booking early is that you can pay over a longer period in smaller instalments, helping to make the holiday more affordable. There’s also a higher chance of getting a free upgrade – if you’ve always wanted to be upgraded to first class, booking your flight early could increase your chances. Similarly, hotels may reward early bird customers with free room upgrades.

Booking early, unfortunately, takes a lot of commitment. You need to be certain that you’ll still want to go to the same destination with the same people in a year’s time – this may be fine in the case of a family holiday, but not if you’re travelling with friends or a new partner. If circumstances change and you’ve already paid a deposit and several instalments, you could also lose all this money. You can avoid this by looking out for cancellation policies and taking out travel insurance.

Early bird deals aren’t usually as cheap as last minute deals, although can still be a bargain compared to booking normally. Airlines may offer 20% discounts or may offer free seats to children. Hotels can sometimes offer more dramatic price cuts, although these are often loyalty discounts – if you’re staying at the hotel, you may be able to pay much less by booking for next year there and then. Early bird deals are also harder to find – sales may only be on for a limited time. Sites such as this one offer some of the best deals worth taking advantage of.

Booking last minute

The pros:
  •         Freedom to be more spontaneous
  •         You can check weather reports online
  •         Often cheaper than early bird deals
The cons:
  •         No time to save up
  •         Less time to pack and prepare
  •         May not be able to take time off work due to short notice

Last minute deals can be ridiculously cheap – you may be able to find discounts of 50% or more online! Last minute deals also allow you to be spontaneous, which can add to the thrill. You can also take advantage of online insights to find out the best places to visit there and then. For example, you may be able to get a more accurate idea of the weather – you can check which beach resorts have the most sun and which ski resorts have the most snow. You can also look up currency rates and avoid destinations that may be experiencing natural disasters or political issues.

Of course, last minute deals require you to be able to get up and go. Most people have commitments such as work, children and pets which may need to be taken care of. You may not be able to book the time off work so short in advance. Of course, you can get around this by taking the time off work in advance and waiting until a couple weeks before to see which deals are around. You could also try a short weekend break and not have to book any time off work.

You’ll also have less time to save up. Whilst prices may be discounted, they may still be in the hundreds and you’ll have to pay the whole amount upfront. A loan could be a great way of taking advantage of last minute rates – even with interest fees attached you could save money overall. You can find loans based on income that don’t require lengthy credit checks. If you don’t want to borrow money, another option could be to save up money in advance and see in a few weeks/months time if there are any last minutes deals out there within your budget.

Last minute deals also give you less time to prepare. You may not be able to visit certain destinations that require vaccines several weeks in advance. You may also need to apply for extra paperwork in some cases – whilst most visas are pretty instant, some can take up to three weeks to process.

So which is the best option for you?

Early bird deals tend to be better for families and solo travellers. Because of the commitment, you need to be certain that you’ll want to go away with those people in a year’s time – if you’re in a new relationship, planning a vacation together a year ahead could be risky if you’re not sure you’re going to be together till then. Early bird deals may offer discounts to children and ability to book in advance makes it easier to arrange time off school. Early bird deals may also be better for foreign destinations that require vaccines.

Last minute deals are better suited to those that can afford to be spontaneous. It could be great for a romantic weekend away with a partner. If you’re uncertain on a destination, a last-minute deal could allow you to simply see what’s out there. You have to pay the whole amount upfront, so you may need to be prepared to take out a loan or already have savings.

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Founder of Turn It To Trvl. After being made redundant from my digital marketing job, in the UK, I decided I no longer wanted to work the traditional 9-5. I found a volunteer opportunity in Malawi in 2015 and am now freelancing from the warm heart of Africa. Curently building a portfolio of clients and trying to inspire more people to live a life of travel.
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