Booking at the Last Minute for the Best Price

You need to be very flexible on where and when you travel to find the 4 or 5 star at the 3 star price.  Remember, whatever you buy at the last minute, did not sell in advance.  I know this sounds obvious, but you are picking amongst “the leftovers”, not unlike going to the bakery or farmers market at the end of the day, or to the clothing store at the end the season for a clearance with limited selection and sizes.  If you intentionally wait until the last minute for a deal and watch the market throughout, you will see prices going up and down and things selling out.  The best values, the best quality and scarcest hotels, and the best flights go first.

You need to be prepared to go this day or that, this week or that, to this destination or that.  In fact, in order to be a true last minute buyer, you should not lose an ounce of sleep if you go nowhere because there was no good deal, or things sold out.  If you are not this flexible, you should not intentionally wait to the last minute.   A vacation should be a fun experience, including the searching and booking process.

There is value in “being booked” in advance that many people don’t consider – the value of waking up every day and looking forward to a certain vacation.  How does this affect your happiness?  If you get as much happiness from being booked 4 months in advance as a cup of Starbucks coffee a day, that’s 120x$3 = $360.  We think it’s at least worth that! People forget about the benefit in the anticipation of the trip, taking the trip, and the memories; getting what meets your needs is more important than the price itself.  Saving some money and not getting what you want or expect is a waste of money.

That said, if you can check your mind out until the last minute, here’s when the best times are for last minute deals.

Low Demand Periods for Canadian Travellers:  There are some periods of time for airlines and tour operators out of Canada that are difficult to sell year after year.  The last minute price dumping that occurs can vary year to year based on changes in supply.  For example, in December 2014, Canjet Vacations flew from Toronto to Sun Destinations (and closed shop at the end of April 2015) and these seats added extra capacity to the market.  Those seats being gone, 2016 may have less last minute distress pricing for the Toronto market.  At any rate, the following are the times:

Sun:  June and September:  You might be surprised that it is not July or August.  Most Canadians figure this would be the lowest season to sun destinations but it’s not.  The pricing and availability is a function of both flight availability from Canada and hotel availability from a worldwide market.  Aircraft come off the sun destinations and head back to Europe for summer travel in May, and don’t typically return to Canada until November or December.  The large change in supply from April to May affects pricing, even though the demand for sun destinations falls in May.  It’s still not sun tanning weather in Canada in May, so the price doesn’t drop much.  But warmer weather in June, and kids coming out of school in July/August mean that June is a tough sell.  Same with after the kids go back to school after Labour Day.  September is also peak Hurricane season, and while the chance of a hurricane is remote, weather systems in the fall have an effect on demand – it’s a buyer’s market at this time, save and except all of the caveats we have mentioned in the book early list of favourable times (small aircraft, etc).

Sun:  First two/three weeks of December, First Two/Three weeks of January:  Christmas shopping and various Christmas social events during the first two weeks of December really create a dead zone in leisure travel destinations everywhere.  If you can skip the socials and get your shopping done early (or late) you can get a great deal.  Watch the start of the school break as the cutover point – it goes way up in price for the school break.

The first couple of weeks of January depend on when the school break falls.  If a full week falls in January, then the low time will be two weeks in.  If kids are back in school early in January, the first three weeks are tougher to sell.  Why?  Credit cards are maxed out and people are “holidayed-out”.  This is a fantastic time to get great last minute deals if you are not choosy, and at a time of year that is great.

Sun:  April / Except for Easter:  As winter comes to an end and the snow melts, the airlines and tour operators still have flying market conditions in Canada that are better than Europe.  Demand will depend on when Easter falls and how the weather is at the end of March.  If winter is going out like a lion, it continues to sell well.  If it is warm, you can expect deals.  The tour operators and airlines know this well in advance and often price group travel (destination weddings etc.) very aggressively in advance to fill seats and rooms in April.  So this is an “iffy time” to wait.  You could end up disappointed depending on how flexible you are.

What about Vegas?  It’s hot there June-September and convention season picks up towards the end of September and October.  Flights stay in place year round from Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, so this with aggressive hotel prices make for great pricing.  Between US Thanksgiving and Christmas break is a tough sell (many shows are not offered during this time) and during January and February the weather is not very warm.

Europe Late Fall / Winter / Early Spring:  Some airlines fly year round, and if not filled with heavy business traffic, there are seats to be had at good fares during the period from late October to the end of April, excluding the Christmas period.  Some seasonal flights only operate from May through September or October, and these seasonal flights have great rates and availability during this time.  Since the season is known to be low, airlines will have seat sale activity in advance – if you see a seat sale for travel during this time it can be advantageous to book ahead, but it is usually not much of a problem getting space at a decent fare during the low season.

Cruises?  Not a good idea to book last minute.  Cruise lines price on a North American and worldwide market.  They may dump in their drive markets like Florida at the last minute.  The big reason to not leave a cruise to the last minute is not only cabin choice but mostly the implications of leaving the flights to the last minute.  The flights are far more limiting factor for Canadians than the cruise itself.

Tours and River Cruises: Coach tours and river cruises sell well in advance and are not typically discounted at the last minute.  The same issue applies for flights – you don’t want to be scrambling to find matching flights, especially in good weather months in Europe.

For insight on when booking early can save you money, click here.