Is January really the best month to book a holiday?
A flood of ads featuring bikini-clad sunbathers, intrepid explorers and kids splashing about in the sea can mean only one thing: the summer holiday sales are in full swing.
Tour operators, hotels and airlines are urging us to bag a bargain, and the thought of getting an exotic escape in the diary is highly appealing during one of the greyest months of the year.
“As we enter the new year and Blue Monday and winter weather hits home, it’s no wonder January is always a popular time to book a holiday,” says Sebastien Texier, travel expert at Hopper (hopper.com)
But is now really the optimal time to secure a summer getaway – or could you save money by waiting for a last minute deal further down the line?
We asked travel experts to weigh in and offer their tips on how to make the most of the January sales…
Book early to avoid disappointment
Travel gurus are in agreement: there’s no time to waste if you want to lock in your dream holiday at the lowest possible price.
“Definitely get on and book quickly,” suggests Cat Jones, founder and CEO of slow travel company Byway (byway.travel).
She says the last two years have been “complete mayhem” with people waiting until the middle of the year to book their summer holiday. “People have gone ‘Surely I must be able to go somewhere in Europe in August’, and it’s just not been possible.”
Lee Thompson, cofounder of solo travel company, Flash Pack (flashpack.com), agrees, saying: “Waiting to book your holiday until later in the year means you have fewer options, and might have to choose lower quality hotels at a much higher price point in destinations that aren’t as exclusive.
“For example, our trip to see the popular cherry blossoms in Japan for April has already almost sold out. In fact, around 20% of all our January bookings so far have been for December next year.”
Indeed, if you can plan ahead for 2024 now you’ll fare even better, says Texier: “The cheapest time to bag a holiday bargain tends to be at the end of the year – in November and December – when demand is at its lowest.”
But you can still take advantage of new year savings for this summer, he says, citing European city breaks as an example: “Prices for trips to Krakow or Berlin are set to rise 30% between now and April.”
Compare before you buy
“A word of warning on so-called deals,” says Jessie Moore, founder of luxury travel blog Pocket Wanderings (pocketwanderings.com).
“Often travel companies will inflate their prices after Christmas, only to then add a big discount. So although it may look like you’re getting a great deal, that’s not always the case.”
That’s why it’s important to compare prices instead of leaping at the first offer you see. “My best piece of advice is to simply shop around, so you can gauge whether you’re getting a genuinely good deal or not,” Moore says.
Planes, trains and sustainable travel
If you’re not opting for a package holiday, Thompson says it’s best to look at flights first. “Flights are extremely expensive right now, so looking for the best options through companies such as Jack’s Flight Club (jacksflightclub.com), will help guide you on where you can travel to at a price you can afford.”
Some airlines use dynamic pricing, meaning ticket costs vary in the run up to departure. Texier advises: “Some apps and websites let you set price alerts for the destinations and dates you’re looking to jet off to, so you’ll always know when holidays are at their cheapest for your dates.”
If you’re keen to take the low-carbon route, it’s worth knowing popular train routes can sell out months in advance.
“There’s been a huge rise in demand for sleeper trains over the last year or two,” says Jones. “[Rail companies] are introducing new routes, but there aren’t enough routes yet to meet the demand that there is – if you can book in January, you can [hopefully] grab those trains.”
Hotels and booking sites
There’s one exception to the ‘always book early’ rule, and that’s with hotels, says Moore. “Aggregator sites like booking.com often offer an option for a 24 to 72 hour cancellation policy. As a result, hotels frequently get last minute cancellations, opening up cheaper stays to last minute bookers.”
However, there are some advantages to reserving rooms direct with the property.
“Booking sites charge hotels hefty fees, so hotels will do what they can to encourage you to book direct – and this often means more attractive prices,” Moore continues. “If you do finder a cheaper price elsewhere, then I recommend contacting the hotel to see if they will price match.”
You’re also more likely to get a room upgrade if you book direct, but on the other hand you could take advantage of booking site loyalty schemes: “They often have their own loyalty programmes, saving you money in the long-run if you book with them regularly, meaning you’re not limited to one particular hotel brand to gain loyalty points.”
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