/ Travel & Leisure

How do you bag a last-minute holiday bargain?

Brightly coloured flip-flops

Apparently, holidaymakers are waiting until the last minute to book the best bargains available. There’s just one problem – there aren’t any deals to be found.

Booking a last-minute holiday should be easy at this time of year.

First there are the travel companies desperate to shift ‘stock’ and fill up the spaces they’ve bought on planes. Then there are budget airlines who always offer better deals at the last minute. Not to mention private owners looking to squeeze out the last of the summer bookings before Autumn sets in.

At least, that’s what I thought before I started searching for a holiday this week. I want to go at the start of September, so families are heading home and prices are dropping, right?

Er, wrong. I’ve found the budget airlines offering three-figure prices for many single flights – and that’s before adding the endless extras like baggage and meals.

Deceptive holiday deals

There are some good looking last-minute deals with tour operators, but at the checkout I discovered the quoted price excluded many ‘extras’. I’m not a luxury traveller, but I’d expect that a holiday price would include a baggage allowance for each passenger. Apparently not.

Am I looking in the wrong places? The press would certainly have me believe so. Heathrow Airport is attributing its busiest month ever to the surge in last-minute holidaymakers booking the ‘best deals’ possible.

Meanwhile, both Thomson and Thomas Cook have spoken out this week to announce slumping sales. The former says it’s due to holidaymakers opting for cheap, last-minute deals. The latter thinks it’s down to Brits holidaying at home.

Flexibility is the name of the game

But where are all these great last-minute deals? In desperation, I quizzed my colleagues in the travel team for some words of wisdom.

‘It is possible to get some great deals if you wait until the last minute,’ says Amanda Diamond, Which? Holiday’s Deputy Editor. ‘Flexibility is key though – essentially it depends on what you’re looking for. If you can be flexible on travel dates, flight times and your destination, you could save a lot of money and get a great holiday at the same time.’

That probably explains my difficulties. While I’m reasonably flexible about where I go, and can switch dates by a day or two, I’m looking for self-catering accommodation, which seems to be a pricier option.

Still, I’m determined to bag the right bargain so it’s back to the search for me. Otherwise I might be forced holiday at home.

Do you ever book last-minute holidays?

No, I prefer to book in advance (51%, 37 Votes)

Only when my trip can be flexible (26%, 19 Votes)

Yes, I often get a better deal that way (22%, 16 Votes)

Total Voters: 72

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I think the problem is that the last-minute sites have been a victim of their own success. When they started out it was on the (clearly very sensible) basis that aeroplanes with empty seats were effectively free for airlines to fill – so whatever they could get for them would be great. Likewise with rooms in hotels – better to get someone in for half the price, then leave the room empty because nobody will pay full price.

But now the airlines, hotels, etc., have all got much better at filling up spaces – they’ve had to in order to compete – and that means the bargains that made use of that extra capacity gets squeezed!

Jeff Hughes says:
12 August 2010

We thought we’d go for a last minute option in early September. We also assumed with kids back at school we’d be able to bag a great deal. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be the case. We saw some discounts but nothing outstanding generally using the net to scour for deals.
So we’ve managed to found a week somewhere within the UK, we’ve booked the holiday but I think we were fortunate with availability and actually didn’t really make much of a saving. We’ll probably go back to just booking holidays a couple of months in advance. No savings but I guess at least we know where we’re going!

Tracey Sellick says:
14 November 2011

My daughter and I are looking for cheap deals.
We live on a tight budget so cant afford to take chances.
I get sent lots of offers from companies to my computer.
Can you please tell us if travel zoo is up front and reliable
and if you have a list of who is good to book with and who to avoid.
thanks muchly
Tracey x