Booking early for the best price does not require a crystal ball. No one can really tell the future of travel pricing. Neither can your stock broker, financial planner, real estate or insurance agent.
But here are some general “rules of thumb” that apply for booking early for the best price:
BOOKING EARLY TO GET THE BEST PRICE
Christmas / New Year’s school break period: This is pretty much a global peak period for travel and affects all aspects – flights, hotels, cruise lines, tours, etc. It starts even a couple of days before the first weekend of the school break, and goes a couple of days after for returns – parents will not hesitate to pull their kids out of school for a couple of days to save a bit of money. There is overflow at the last minute to these nearby dates because the main dates are sold out or very expensive. The sooner, the better for choice and pricing.
Spring Break Weeks: Spring Break is a North American phenomenon. For Americans, it tends to be around the Easter Break, and this can affect hotel pricing and availability even if it is not Spring Break in Canada (example, Cancun). Each province has different spring breaks that can affect pricing. Flights, and flight included packages will be affected by your Spring Break and other boards as well, sometimes including other provinces. Cruises are often great value for Canadian spring breaks because our demand will not affect the overall North American cruise pricing. If you book your flights well in advance and a cruise, you will not pay the huge Spring Break premiums on vacation packages from Canada.
University & College Reading Weeks: There are two primary weeks in February where most Canadian University and Colleges offer breaks. These are high demand weeks as well, as professors, teachers, students and their travelling companions fly back home to visit friends and relatives, head south for sunshine, or even to ski-hills and chalets.
Long Weekends: Any North American long weekend or short week (Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Victoria Day, Family Day, etc.), you’ll find demand for flights within Canada (visiting friends and relatives), short stays in the US for weekends (New York, Chicago etc.), and even one week packages that include a holiday (less holiday time off work).
The best deals will occur on Canadian specific long weekends, as there will not be any bump in weekend prices from Americans competing for hotel rooms. So Victoria Day, Civic Holiday, Canadian Thanksgiving, etc. are great weekends to hop over the border for a 2 or 3 night getaway to the USA.
US Thanksgiving: This is the biggest peak travel period in the US and Canadians always forget it. It is bigger than Christmas with people all over the US returning home for the Thanksgiving long weekend. Americans are stingy with holiday time, and so the couple of days before and after straddling the weekend are also in hot demand. Remember, it’s the third Thursday in November and keep in mind all the craziness of Black Friday.
High Season in Destinations: Some destinations have definite high and low seasons, for example, July and August in Europe and February and March for sun destinations. There are exceptions to this that can occur from one year to the next based on market supply, but generally, destinations with high seasons should be booked ahead for the best choice and pricing. This one is trickier to predict.
Small Hotels, Upgraded Rooms: When supply is limited, it is best to book early. Not only that, a number of suppliers may have the policy of upgrading people to higher categories if they have to put rooms on sale to avoid unhappy customers. With cruise ships, distressed pricing will often come with a “guarantee cabin” – meaning, no specific cabin assignment. When you want premium rooms, suites, butler service rooms, etc, or the hotel or resort you are going to is small or boutique, book ahead.
Airports Serviced by Small Aircraft: If you live in a small community with connector service to a major airport, you should book ahead. The connector fares are unbeatable value compared to buying separate tickets and the number of seats available for those low connector fares are very limited. If you are connecting from a larger airport (let’s say Ottawa or Halifax) through Toronto or Montreal, while there may be more seats, you need to look at how many flights make the connection work – often there is only one. Better book ahead – that connector flight will sell out first as it is likely feeding many more flights from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver.
If you are flying into a destination serviced by small aircraft (Anguilla, etc) or limited air service, you need to book ahead.
Peak Times of Day / Cruises: Want the 7am weekday flight from Toronto to Montreal and the 5pm return? How about the 7pm flight Friday night to New York and the 6pm flight back Sunday night? If you are meeting a cruise ship in Florida or San Juan, you’ll find that the flights arriving in the morning and departing in the afternoon are at a premium. There’s a reason – they know they will fill them no problem with the thousands of cruise passengers going onto those ships. If you are flying the same day of your cruise, book early.
Conventions / Big Events: If you are going to a convention or if you are going to a destination when a big convention or event is in town, it goes without saying – the earlier the better. There are always people that wait until the last minute to book and they end up staying a long way away or getting soaked with very high prices at the last minute.
Regularly Scheduled Flights and Hotels to Cities: Scheduled flights (those operated by the big airlines) and hotels in major cities (that have a business clientele and worldwide leisure travellers) are best booked in advance as opposed to the last minute. For hotels, it’s almost never too early. Often you can book hotels without paying anything in advance, and it’s about getting the best rate with no cancellation penalty. Sometimes the non-refundable prepaid options are a great deal and they are offered in advance. For flights, other than the dates and exceptions listed above, you can actually book too early. We find that for non-peak times, booking too early can result in a high fare which is not protected if the price drops. For average seasonality, we find prices in the 60-30 day range to be quite competitive. Seat sales will occur in advance, and if you can get a seat sale fare well in advance, it is usually worth booking.
Limited Competition: If you’re looking for the hotel in Yellowknife, or a route serviced by only one or two airlines, it’s best to book ahead. Bear in mind the note above about booking too early for flights and seat sales…but in general, do not leave this to the last minute.
When you have to be there – no matter what: Meeting a cruise ship the same day? Going to a wedding? An important business meeting? A medical appointment? Peace of mind is worth something – book ahead and avoid a scramble at the last minute that will cause you more stress than you can imagine. It’s seldom worth it. And in these cases, remember to watch for the tight connection or the flight that only operates once a day – get in a day early!
For insight on when booking last minute can save you money, click here.