Bag a last-minute bargain

Getting a cut-price holiday is harder than it used to be, but it’s still possible for those in the know. Here are our top tips…

Be flexible

One thing that hasn’t changed when it comes to getting a real bargain on a last-minute break is the importance of flexibility. Don’t set your heart on a specific location, but instead keep an open mind and be willing to consider destinations you may never have picked out yourself.

Resorts in less-established destinations, such as Turkey or the Balkans, are more likely to offer up a great deal than eternally popular holiday spots such as the Algarve and the south of France.

Most importantly of all, try to allow yourself leeway with dates and times. This can be tricky if you need to arrange time off work or school, but it can pay dividends.

Prices for the same flight route can vary by hundreds of pounds depending on the day of the week, airport and take-off time. So even if that lands you with a mid-week dawn flight from Luton, it may be worth grinning and bearing it in return for extra spending money.

Negotiate

Don’t be embarrassed to push for a better deal. In many cases, travel agents and tour operators will be authorised to give discounts on excess capacity in danger of remaining unsold – but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. You’d be surprised at how easy it can be to get a deal on a hotel room simply by ringing up and asking politely – this is one area where the human touch of a phone call usually achieves far more than an email.

And even if you’re shy about negotiating, you’ll be pleased to know there’s an app for that. Hotel Tonight will do it for you, pushing hotels for their best last-minute rates and displaying them on the app for you to choose from.

Be daring

The longer you can hold out, the better chance you stand of catching a holiday company at a moment of desperation.

Think of the process as a staring contest between you and the tour operator or airline, and try not to look away first. TripAdvisor’s “cheap flights” section, and Expedia’s list of ultra-last-minute packages are great tools for those who dare to play the waiting game.

Of course, last-minute holidays aren’t always for the faint-hearted – hold out too long and you risk having to choose between a midnight flight to Bucharest with two stopovers or going home empty-handed.

Is last minute always cheaper?

Not always. Many tour operators can no longer afford to take the financial hit of offering last-minute bargains, so they are much stricter about managing their stock. If it is a package holiday you are after, wait too long in the hopes of a cut-price deal and you risk being shut out altogether or facing exorbitant prices which could have been avoided by booking sooner.

Whether you are an independent traveller or looking for a package, last-minute bookers will run up against the same problem – you are choosing between the leftovers.

Sometimes this can turn up a hidden gem, but the risk is not for everyone. With far fewer options to choose from, if you are dreaming about your perfect holiday, you would do better to book early and get exactly what you want.