Last minute holidays – the best way to book

Does a package holiday beat booking yourself? And where to find the best deals. 

As a kid I remember the days of Teletext, watching the late holiday deals pages go around, frantically scribbling down the phone number and prices before the pages disappeared. It was a bit of a pain, and it took ages! Fortunately, it’s all so much easier to nab a last-minute holiday now. Here’s what you need to do to get the lowest prices possible.

Isn’t it better to book early?

Well, if you have set dates you need to travel, a destination you really want to visit or requirements that need to be met, then yes. The later you leave it, the less choice you have.

But if you’re happy to be flexible where you go then you might be able to pick up a cut-price trip by booking anywhere up to one or two months before you want to go away.

You can increase your chances of getting a bargain by travelling out of season, so heading somewhere cooler when everyone is off to get some sun for example. But if you do want sun you can still save during peak beach season. Yes school holidays are expensive, but you can pay less if you go away towards the end of August rather than as soon as schools break up.

You’ll save if something is less convenient too. Getting flights early or late in the day or departing midweek can help make your holiday cheaper, as can departing from less popular airports.

Packages vs DIY

I’m a fan of the DIY holiday. It gives me more choice where I go and what I do. And I’m not one for lounging on the beach for more than one day either! In fact you can often get exactly the same holiday you’d get with a package by booking the components yourself for less.

But when you’re looking at a beach or resort destination, there’s a good chance you’ll get the lowest price via a travel agent or tour operator website. And this is even more likely if you are booking last minute.

When holiday companies produce their package, they commit to the flights and hotel rooms. This gives some decent buying power that means they can offer competitive rates – or make a tidy profit. But if any seats on the planes or rooms in the hotel are empty then they could lose money. So it’s better to sell them at a lower cost or offer extras such as free upgrades. You might even be better off going all-inclusive if the operators are keen to fill spaces, so don’t rule them out.

And of course, there’s added protection when booking a package if something goes wrong thanks to ATOL and ABTA.

How to pick your holiday

The more flexible you are, the more choice you’ll get. That’s not just in terms of dates, but also the airport you fly in and out of.

Yes, price is going to be a big indicator – but there’s no point choosing something you can’t afford. Please don’t be tempted to whack it on a credit card – it’ll cost you even more in the long run! And don’t forget to check how much things cost when you get there. Turkey for example will likely be cheaper than Spain.

But cheap doesn’t necessarily mean good. Always read the reviews. A quick google of the hotel should bring up some results, and there’s always TripAdvisor.

You should check your rights too. With packages sure the holiday provider is ATOL protected. We’ve seen a few holiday companies go bust over the last few years, but if it’s part of ATOL you’ll be flown back, or refunded if you haven’t travelled yet. If you’re booking it yourself use a credit card (as long as it costs more than £100) to give yourself some additional cover – though you should get travel insurance too, however you book.

Where to find a last minute package holiday

You can check prices and offers direct with different operators or agencies such as Tui or Virgin Holidays, or use a comparison site. I’ve read that Ice Lolly is one of the best to use, while there’s also TravelSupermarket.

You can also check out deals sites such as Holiday Pirates and Travel Zoo, while Teletext still exists online.

Compare the package price to a DIY booking

Before you book anything, I do think it’s worth seeing how much you can get the same trip for by booking each part yourself. Use comparison sites Skyscanner and Kayak to compare flights and hotels. It’s worth looking at AirBnB as well to see if you can get a private apartment or villa rather than a resort in the same destination. Just make sure you have the right insurance to protect you if there’s airline failure or similar.

And while you’re at it, look for any destinations you fancy which aren’t offered by the travel operators. You might be able to pick up a fantastic late deal.

In this video I bring down the price of an all-inclusive on Shop Smart Save Money

Not a fan of packages? Check the prices anyway

If, like me, you think a package destination isn’t for you, you probably won’t even look at the likes of Tui and Thompson. But you should.

You can sometimes get packages cheaper than separate flights, something I discovered only after I’d booked my Virgin flights to Cuba some years ago. You don’t have to stay at the package’s hotel, or you can use it as a base for holidays where you’re planning on moving around a lot.

More tips for booking holidays

These articles and videos should help you bring down the price even further.

Getting the best value hotel rooms

How to get the best value hotel rooms

How to find cheap flights

My tricks to save money on flights

All inclusive – is it for you?

In this clip from series three of Shop Smart Save Money I explain some of the pros and cons for all inc hols.


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