1. Show me the cash!
The primary reason you should book early is price.
Airlines, hotels and car rental firms know that “price sensitive” travelers shop around, usually ahead of time, and have several options. To win this segment of the market, and your dollar, they need to be competitive. This generally means lower prices.
Another reason is cash flow: the certainty of your booking is worth something to travel companies and they are prepared to offer you a discount for that (particularly if you pay upfront and take non-refundable deal).
Hotels usually offer “early bird” discounts but are more forgiving if you book closer to your dates. The competition in the hotel market means that you stand a better chance of getting a last minute deal than you do with an airline or a car rental outfit.
Remember, as a basic principle, prices for same-week or same-day bookings are the most expensive.
The jury is out on when the best time to buy an airline ticket is. The issue is complex partly because the algorithms used to set prices adjust quickly to changes in consumer behaviour.
Generally however booking between 60 and 45 days out is considered optimum. While very early bookings can be slightly more pricey, you’ll still get a better deal than at the last minute.
2. Mental hack – keep yourself motivated
The second reason is more sentimental. Booking a holiday, as a reward for the future, gives you something to look forward to.
It’s a great way to put the spring into your step and make the work week more palatable. Just mark down “D” day (departure day) on your calendar and count down the days!
Some folks choose to set up two or three trips ahead of time. Even as one trip ends, they still have the next trip to look forward to. This is very doable. Low cost carriers, in Europe at least, offer deep discounts three or four months in advance, effectively allowing you to book multiple trips for the price of one. Many will let you book 11 months ahead of time, so have a look. Simple but effective.
3. Disappointment insurance
Availability is another key reason to book ahead of the pack and be a smart nomad. You’ll simply have more choice when you’re first in: airlines have more seats, hotels more rooms, airports more cars, etc.
This is all the more critical when dealing with bottlenecks: think the government permit to climb to the summit of Mount Teide in Tenerife (extremely limited) or a slot to beat the queue at the Eiffel Tower.
These are the things that slide when you do things at the last minute, and you may leave someone – not least yourself – a tad disappointed.
4. Give yourself some mental space
Time to plan. This is one of the things we like about reasonable lead time before a trip. Many destinations are intense, if you travel independently, and it’s best to have your game on at arrival. This way you don’t waste valuable holiday time on senseless logistics.
While Tripadvisor is great, it’s still not ideal to have your eyeballs glued to your iPhone planning your immediate next step (consider you could be already enjoying your next step). We’re not saying don’t be spontaneous, but reflect on your trip beforehand and plot out the basics.
If you know you’ve picked out a few treats ahead of time, you’ll build up a nice feeling of anticipation for your trip.
5. Getting some time to pay (or save)
If you’re on a package deal, you may actually have the option to pay later if you book ahead of time.
In the UK, for example, you can pay the deposit upfront with some travel agents and make smaller payments on full price of the trip. This can help smooth out the household budget. It’s important to check the terms and conditions of such an arrangement. You’ll want to avoid paying interest and getting into debt. The rule of thumb is that it’s always cheaper to pay for something upfront rather than to finance it.
Alternatively, you can book and save yourself – paying just the deposit – and knocking off the larger amount in one go later. Check with your travel agent for options.
6. Freebies, gimme!
Getting in early can get you a whole range of freebies. An extra night or two at the hotel, a suite upgrade or perhaps kids eat for free? Check these kinds of offers and don’t be afraid to push – most providers are willing to offer something for your early booking. The telephone works wonders here too.
Airlines offer little in this regard, so you stand a better chance of freebies from your hotel, resort, tour company or travel agent.
Discounts or freebies we’ve recently seen range from the usual free WiFi or breakfast to things like ski passes, regional train tickets and even skiing lessons. Again, it pays to ask.
Title image credit: dannymoore1973
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