When is the best time to book your holiday?

Tony Clayton-Lea says time is of the essence if you don’t want to be left behind - and early booking is crucial when it comes to popular sun destinations.

'WHEN is the best time to book your holiday' is an impossible a question to answer as ‘are we there yet?’, ‘How soon is now?’ or ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’ And yet timing is crucial when booking.

So the correct answer is now. Right now.

Statistically, there is a swing in attitudes towards the end of December each year — research into the following year’s holiday options surges from its lowest point to its highest.

There are obvious reasons for this; you have relaxed and eaten too much over Christmas, you’re bored because your work has been interrupted, and you’re tired of cold weather.

If, however, you can haul your weary bones in front of your computer, or into your local travel agent, before this upswing (which amounts to little more than a trend in booking), you will discover there is a vast range of accommodation on offer.

You will be able to select transport options (flights/ferries) from the most convenient hubs at (probably) the most suitable times and (probably) at the best prices.

Another important factor in booking early is that if you require advice or assistance, then travel agents and offices will be much less frantic and so will be able to provide more time to you and your questions.

THE BEST TIME TO BOOK…

Ski Holiday

There’s still time, you know — but you’d better be quick. In fact, if you’re an avid skier and/or snowboarder, then you’ve probably already booked for next year.

Research has shown that 70% of people book at least six months prior to travelling, and, if you love your slopes, then you’ll want to book a specific ski resort or accommodation.

Outside of low-season dates (that is, outside of January, February half-term, and Easter, which this year falls on the weekend of April 3-6), the closer to your preferred dates you book, the better the deal — but only if you don’t mind when you travel, to what resort/hotel, and what your accommodation is like. Above all holiday-specific travellers, experienced skiers know what they want.

Summer Holiday

So, yes, it’s well after Christmas, and it’s weeks since you’ve made your new-year resolutions. It’s freezing, too, and when it’s freezing thoughts turn to warmth.

Of course, if you’re an organised and efficient parent (hands up?), you might already have booked your family summer holiday.

If you haven’t, we’re advising you to do it quickly, so you can take advantage of tour-operator offers, such as low-deposit schemes and/or free child-places. Most hotels issue early bookings of up to 30% off, although such offers expire by February.

For popular sun destinations, such as Spain and Greece, early booking is crucial.

You might think that arranging it yourself at the last minute (or even week) is the best option, but even low-cost carrier flights can be expensive and are rarely discounted. If your bottom line is just to find the very cheapest holiday, irrespective of where it is, or the type of accommodation, then book the day before you travel.

For summer holidays, in the region of Australia and New Zealand, travel before the first week of December, as the cheapest fares are often set upon as soon as they are released (which is up to ten months in advance).

The lowest fares to these destinations, by the way, are in that region’s winter (May/June).

For summer holidays in the Caribbean, the best time to travel (and also when you’ll snap up relative bargains) is between May-September.

During this time, hotels have the best special offers and flight prices are at their lowest.

Tip? You’ll need to have exact dates, you’ll need to commit to these dates well in advance, and you’ll need to book flights as soon as they go on sale.

For summer holidays in Asia, the best value tends to be in May, June and October — low air fares, hotel rates and promotional offers, such as free nights, can be combined to produce the best booking results. Of course, by all means travel during July-August, but be prepared to pay an extra €400.

Self-Catering

According to website www.holidaycottages.co.uk , the majority of family bookings are snapped up in January, so the sensible thing to do is to book as early as possible to get the accommodation you want.

Last-minute bookings, generally, offer up small cottages only, and some of these might not be ideal.

City Break

Holidays aren’t always about the sunshine, you know — many people like to have the proximity of streets, buildings, restaurants, museums and as much nightlife as they can handle on their doorstep.

For European city breaks, the best time to book is from now (like, right now!) to the end of March. From late spring onwards, prices increase in line with the temperature.

Other good times to book? August and the second half of December, which is when business travel decreases.

Last-Minute Deal

Well, yes, if you’re lucky, and if you know exactly what you’re doing in website checking and booking. Sadly, however, the days of hundreds, if not thousands, of last-minute bargains are few and far between.

The reason for this is that tour operators (which were caught off-guard years ago) are now much better at assessing the number of holidays they are likely to sell, as well as their accompanying hotel rooms and flights.

This said, you can definitely nab a last-minute deal if you’re flexible with your time of departure, and if you can, ideally, travel when demand is low.

There are also last-minute deals with operators that specialise in small group tours.

These are often discounted within two months of the departure date, because, typically, small group tours have up to 12 seats, so tour operators need to fill as many places as they can to cover costs, such as transport and tour leaders.

Flights

Received wisdom tells us that Tuesday is the best day to fly out because, traditionally, it isn’t a day when business travelers are out and about.

You will also find that the cheapest flights are from Tuesday to Thursday.

Another handy tip is to fly out as early as possible — morning flights are often cheaper, and there are fewer opportunities for flight delays, as first flights out (generally) always depart on time.

USEFUL TIPS

You’re a braver customer than most if you think you can haggle with tour operators, but at least you’ll be first in line if you join loyalty schemes or sign up for e-newsletters with your preferred hotels, airlines, and so on. Best of luck — it’s a jungle out there! (especially in remote parts of Borneo).

TRAVEL DIGEST by Barry Coughlan

First-time visitors to Australia

First-time visitors to Australia can avail of Trailfinders’ three-centre holiday to include Sydney, Uluru and Far North Queensland. Although the 11-night trip is short, a lot is packed into it via a variety of tours. Priced at €2,499, it is valid for May departures, but must be booked by Saturday next (February 28); www.trailfinders.ie 

Five-night holiday in Dubai

Next Saturday is the deadline for booking a five-night, five-star holiday in Dubai, on the books of Tropical Sky, who have slashed the price by €630. It is now €889 for a stay at the Iberotel Miramar Al Aqah beach resort. The deal includes direct flights from Dublin, with Emirates, and private transfers. Visit www.tropicalsky.ie  or call 01-664-9999.

Nine-night tour in India

The Spice Lands of Kerala, a fully escorted tour, is the latest offering from Incredible India. The nine-night tour is for travel between now and September and costs from €1,407, but with a further €310 in taxes. Travel is from Cork or Dublin and includes four-star hotels, English-speaking guide, transfers and tours. Telephone 0818-300204 or visit www.incredibleindia.ie 

Coasting for 2,500km

Since its inception last year, the Wild Atlantic Way has proven to be one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions. The 2,500km coastline not only boasts spectacular scenery, but also some of Ireland’s best golf courses. Carr Golf Travel have put together two golf experiences in the vicinity. Phone 01-8226662 or check out www.carrgolf.com 

Local delights in Killarney

Foodies visiting Killarney at the end of June will also be treated to a huge range of music and comedy. The Killarney Festival of Music and Food is something approaching the full Monty. Sixteen more acts have been added to the festival, this week, and full details can be checked out on www.killarneyfestival.ie . Put aside the weekend of June 27 and 28, if you’re interested.


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