There are those of us who like to book almost every part of a vacation—from plane tickets to hotel rooms to rental cars—months in advance. Then there are those of us who can be categorized as last-minute travelers, waiting until just a few days or weeks (or for some of you… hours (!)) ahead of a getaway to book rooms and flights.
We looked at the pros and cons of booking last-minute travel. There can be a lot to gain in waiting until the last minute, but there’s much to consider too. Many times, it comes down to your priorities.
PRO: You Can Score Deals on Airfare If You’re Flexible
When last-minute travelers are also flexible travelers, a win is on the way. Fly before 7 a.m. (when everyone else wants to be tucked into their beds), on Tuesdays or Saturdays, or into an alternate airport (e.g., Fort Lauderdale instead of West Palm Beach), and you’ll be much more likely to score a hot deal on a last-minute fare.
Even if you’re not ready to book months or weeks ahead of time, set up flight alerts with a free service like Airfarewatchdog. This service will deliver low fare email alerts directly to your inbox, making it easy to hop on a deal when you see a good price. Don’t forget about one-way flights too, which can save you money in some cases instead of booking a round-trip ticket.
CON: Booking Last Minute on Peak Travel Days Is a No-Go
It’s convenient to fly the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, everybody wants to fly that day too, and everybody wants to return home as quickly as possible. Airlines for America, a U.S. airline industry trade group, predicts that more than three million people fly the Sunday after Thanksgiving, making it the busiest travel day of the year. You won’t find any last-minute deals on high-demand travel days like that. In fact, you may end up paying way more than you would have if you had booked the flight way in advance.
As for the rest of the year, Mondays and Fridays are typically the busiest travel days of the week. On these days, it doesn’t pay to be a last-minute traveler. You’ll never find a deal and you most likely will be hard-pressed to find a flight.
PRO: Hotels Will Drop Nightly Rates to Get Heads into Beds
Hotels don’t want to leave rooms unfilled and are more likely to drop nightly rates for last-minute bookers in order to fill rooms. Travelers who can be flexible when it comes to hotel location (e.g., in the city vs. a few miles outside of town), room setup (two queens vs. one king), and amenities (i.e., free breakfast, indoor pool, etc.) are also in for a win.
One of the best times to book a hotel room is one or two days ahead of your check-in date—as in, the window when travelers need to cancel their bookings for the same stay dates and not get charged if their plans change. Every hotel wants to show high occupancy rates, so hotel managers will be eager to drop prices to fill rooms. (More about hotel pricing here, if that interests you.)
Similar to setting up airfare alerts, it’s wise to set up alerts for hotel rooms as well, particularly if you have your eye on a particular hotel or hotel brand. Set up price alerts with Roomkey, and we’ll monitor the nightly rates for you. When we find a better rate, we’ll let you know right away.
CON: You May Get Shut Out If You Wait Too Long
There are only so many rooms to go around. For example, if you’re attending a convention and everyone wants to stay at the hotel that’s hosting the convention, little good will come from being a last-minute traveler. You’ve got to plan ahead if you want to stay at that hotel.
Similarly, if you only want to book a larger suite in a certain section of town, you don’t want to risk waiting until the last minute to book your room. Nothing is worse than the “No Vacancy” sign (or simply a “we are sold out” message online).
PRO: There’s No Need to Make Tough Choices
For those who get overwhelmed when making choices—which seat to select (the front or back of the plane, window or aisle) or which room type (two queens or one king)—you’re in luck. When you book last-minute, there are usually only a few options remaining. There’s no need to weigh pluses and minuses. The choice has been made for you. There really is just one seat left on this flight. (It’s in the last row, but it’s available.) Or, there are only two rooms left, and both have one king bed. Decision made.
CON: Hello, Middle Seat
Unfortunately, when you wait to book at the last minute, you’re much more likely to wind up with a middle seat or a connecting flight (because all the direct flights are either sold out or are now insanely expensive). You need to book well in advance to get the prime flights by date and time, even by seat, that everyone else wants too.
You can expect much of the same when booking hotel rooms. For large families, for example, there are only so many hotel rooms with two queen beds and a sleeper sofa. If you want one of these prized rooms, you need to snap it up early before it’s gone.
Not to be wishy-washy, but honestly, it’s all about personal choice. You need to think about you. Are you OK with a middle seat? Will a garden view room work when you had your heart set on an ocean view room? Can you manage an early-early morning flight?
Whether you choose to book now or later, we’re here to help you book a fantastic hotel room with exclusive loyalty-member rates available to those who’ve signed up for free hotel rewards programs, like Marriott Bonvoy and IHG Rewards Club.
At Roomkey, we’re all about helping you find the best rates and the perfect hotel room for you, even if you’ve waited until the very last minute to book it. It’s cool. Sometimes it pays to be a last-minute traveler.
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