Thursday, September 3, 2009

Timing is Everything

It’s a conundrum all travelers will eventually have to face: book early, or wait to the last minute? Which form of trip planning will give you the best deals? There are those who swear it’s the early bird who catches the worm, while others will tell you it’s the last minute purchases that offer the biggest travel savings. As far as I’m concerned, both options can work to your advantage. You just have to know when to use them.

I recently got burned by waiting until the last minute to make important travel arrangements. When a friend told me she would be in Paris the weekend of September 12-13 I said, “Great! I’ll meet you there,” thinking I could wait until I was settled into life in Brussels before looking at ticket options and making my decision. By the time I got around to researching prices, round-trips were already too pricey for my weekend travel budget. To make matters worse, the train reservation sites were all advertising great Brussels – Paris deals…if you booked a month or more in advance. Nevertheless, there are travel websites out there that consistently offer great last minute deals. For example I’ve had success finding impressively low prices on normally out-of-range hotels with’s French site.

The Parisian weekend disappointment taught me a good lesson: if you have your heart set on a certain trip, book early. Start looking more than a month out, and if you see a price your comfortable with, go for it. What’s more, from what I can tell, booking early for train travel in Europe is almost always the way to get a good deal. On the other hand, if the mood to get out of town tomorrow strikes you, and you’re less concerned with the location than with the price, booking last minute doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay a fortune for your impulses. Have a few go-to discount travel sites on hand, be flexible, and get excited when you book a fabulous weekend jaunt without breaking the bank.

What’s your preferred travel style: book early, or buy last minute?


Greg Wesson said...

I think you've got it right. If you need to be some place specific on a specific date, you should book early. You could get burned, but more likely fares will rise and hotels will get booked.

If you aren't concerned about the when and where, especially for weekend trips, just wait and book the best deal last minute. That's what I did for recent trips to Cardiff and Liverpool - I decided to do a city weekend somewhere I could reach by train from London, and both were cheap options for places I wanted to go. In both cases, I started with Edinburgh as my destination, but in both cases Edinburgh turned out to be too pricey.

Nomadic Matt said...

speaking of booking early, how's my accommodation for 2 in brussels coming along? :)

GG said...

Last minute purchases have always been expensive when I had specific location in mind. However, the best deal I ever had was on a domestic US flight ticket purchased on the day before.

Zhu said...

Good question!

For airfares, I'm a relatively last minute person. Usually from a month to two weeks before departure for long haul. There is no week I can plan my holidays or travel time 6 months early anyway.

For hostels, we usually don't book anything and just show up. We had a really hard time in Paris because of that actually, two years ago... We only book if we know the place is very busy because of a special event (i.e Rio Carnival).

I always buy my train tickets last minutes in France, mostly due to lack of planning again. I don't find prices to be so different anyway.

Tanya said...

@Zhu The two times I waited to book hostels until arrival I almost spent the night sleeping out on the street. I hope waiting last minute to find accommodation works better for you than it does for me!