It’s something travelers are horrified by and you may have experienced it yourself. The vacation that you have been saving for and planning on all year is just a couple of weeks away. You’ve worked hard and need a break from it all and can’t wait to hit the beach and relax with fruity umbrella drinks in hand and then you see it… the same trip available for hundreds of dollars less than what you booked it at. You feel cheated, almost like you have missed out on something and in a way… you have.
So how is it that your friend, neighbor, or even that loud guy on the plane that keeps bragging about the great deal he got, paid so much less than you did? The answer in a nutshell is simple supply and demand. When Tour Operators send out their brochures, they generally have the seats on the plane and the hotels already in place for the upcoming season. They set their price point according to their profit margin and offer different incentives such as early booking bonuses, free gifts or upgrades to get these seats and rooms sold early. As the date of travel nears however, rather than taking a loss and letting rooms and seats go empty, they reduce the price of the trip sometimes by several hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately for you, you opted for the free travel pillow by booking early 4 months ago and missed out on the bigger savings. You can’t do anything about it as once you booked you locked yourself into that price and the vacation is non-refundable (sort of the same way you can’t go to your stockbroker and say “I meant to buy shares in Apple when it was cheap so can you adjust the price?”), but at least you have a travel pillow to cry into.
Playing the waiting game to book that last-minute vacation can be very rewarding as the savings can give you extra money to buy tours at your destination, a few more rounds of golf, to upgrade your room, or even a few more nights out. Even more rewarding is just the feeling that you won and that now you get to be the loudmouth on the plane or around the pool bar bragging about the great deal you got! Beware however, there are risks involved and certain rules do apply when attempting to score a cheap last-minute vacation. For starters, you have to be VERY flexible. Rule of thumb is if there is a certain resort you have to be at on a certain date, then it is advisable to book early, secure your spot and avoid all travel advertising until you get back. For example, if your best friend or a family member has decided to get married at a resort and have chosen you as the Best Man or Maid of Honor, you probably don’t want to wait just to save some cash. The risk is that it’ll sell out and end up costing you more to courier the ring to the Caribbean or Mexico while the rest of the bridal party is throwing back shooters at the pool bar than you would have saved in the first place (Don’t laugh… It’s happened). Other times you should avoid trying last-minute travel are March Break, Xmas, or anytime there is a carnival or big event going on. For the most part these dates sell out early and you’ll be lying on your couch in your living room watching the Travel Channel instead of lying on a beach enjoying the scenery. If you are planning on traveling in a group, again- not a good idea as often there are only a few seats left on the plane by the time the price drops to rock bottom. Sure, the hotel says they have rooms available but how are you going to get there if the flight is full?
So what if you just need a last-minute flight from Toronto to Boston or somewhere the charter airlines don’t fly to? Well, for the most part, you are out of luck. The scheduled carriers generally work the opposite way in that the closer to the departure date you get, the more you’ll pay. Just ask a business traveler that has been called away to fly across the country last-minute about how many great deals he has gotten. That brings me to my next point; it also depends on the type of vacation you are looking for. The packaged tours, (usually an all-inclusive resort with flight) are your best bet as this makes up for the bulk of a tour operator’s inventory and also represents a larger profit they stand to lose if it doesn’t sell. Cruises offer great savings but usually don’t include the air while Escorted or Guided coach tours, don’t offer a lot, if any last-minute savings.
So there you have it, a bit of insight into last-minute travel and the reasons why and when you should go for it as well as some of the risks that are involved by doing so. If you have the flexibility and patience, you can save a bundle but my last bit of advice is that when you come across that great deal… Book it right away and secure your price as you never know when it’ll sell out. The other reason to grab it immediately is that although the Tour Operators can drop the price at any time, with supply and demand, they can raise the price back up as well and that can put you right back in the seat on the plane beside that guy bragging about the great deal he got. Still have that travel pillow?