‘Our biggest Boxing Day sale’, ‘prices slashed’, ‘50% off everything’; airlines and travel agents will be promising the earth to get you to book this January sales season, but research by Which? Travel in recent years has found travel deals don’t always offer a genuine saving.
Which? Travel has conducted three investigations since 2017, where we tracked ‘book early’ deals, last-minute deals and Black Friday promotions. We found that in around half of cases the deal price was the same – or cheaper – after the sale period had ended.
Investigations, impartial reviews and independent advice from the only UK travel magazine that takes no freebies – find out more about Which? Travel
‘Book now’ deals: why you shouldn’t
Limited-time deals promise holidaymakers bargain prices if they book their holiday or cruise before a certain time or date. But when we tracked 30 of these deals back in 2017 we found 16 of them were the same price or cheaper after the sales period had ended.
In one example, resort hotel chain Sandals promised customers they could ‘Save up to 60%’ in its ‘Summer Mega Sale’. But you had to act quickly; ‘Hurry! Only one day left’, it said. Yet the £1,465 per person, seven night, all-inclusive Jamaica break we tracked actually went down £50 in price a day after the sale ended – so no need to hurry after all.
A spokesperson for Unique Caribbean Holidays Ltd, the UK tour operator for Sandals, told us the company does not intentionally pressure sell or create false book-by dates, and that all its packages are fairly promoted. It added: ‘We clearly state our sale terms and conditions on our website, which do not breech any advertising guidelines, and in turn do not mislead our customers.’
Read more about our book now deal investigation
‘Book early’ deals: don’t bother
We carried out a similar price tracking exercise on 10 early booking deals in 2018. These typically claim to offer a saving if you book several months or even a year in advance. Again, we found many deals were nothing of the sort; four were exactly the same price eight months after the initial promotion ran and two more were only deals at a generous stretch of the imagination.
In the worst example we found tour operator Canadian Affair offered an early bird deal on its 16-day Alaskan cruise for £2,836 per person if you made a reservation over a year in advance. But, when we checked the price for the same cruise seven months later, the price hadn’t gone up as you would expect – it had, in fact, been reduced by £161 per person. For a couple who had purchased this ‘deal’, they would have spent £322 more.
When we contacted Canadian Affair, it claimed that the two prices we recorded related to different departure months. This wasn’t made clear on the website when we checked and is therefore impossible for us to verify. A spokesperson agreed this was a ‘limitation’ and told us plans were underway to display live pricing.
Read more about our book early deal investigation
Black Friday deals: not with Ryanair
In late 2018 we tracked the Black Friday flight and holiday deals offered by five airlines and travel agents. The results were more mixed on this occasion, although few deals lived up to their promotional billing.
EasyJet, for example, was offering online ‘Black Friday Orange Weekend Holiday Deals’, claiming holidaymakers could save £50 on 60,000 short city breaks. Yet eight of the 21 holidays we tracked prices on were actually cheaper two weeks later.
There were even fewer real deals over at Ryanair. It promised 25% off a million seats if you booked by midnight and travelled between January and April. The catch? Not one of the flights we tracked prices on was more expensive two weeks later – most were the same price and two were actually cheaper.
Read more about our Black Friday holiday deals investigation
January sales deals: should you buy?
Our investigations show that travel deals, whenever in the year they are advertised, only offer the cheapest price around 50% of the time. So don’t be pressured into booking a holiday this January by promotional sales language and advertising promises.
The best advice is to shop around for where you want to go on holiday. Use travel comparison websites, such as Skyscanner for flights, and set up price alerts. These will let you set a target price for the destination you want to travel to and automatically email you when the price of a flight drops. Although the best way to save on flights is to book at the right time.
For holidays, comparison sites, like Icelolly, are also useful in looking at which travel agents have the best price for the holiday you want. But it’s also worth phoning up travel agents to ask them to beat or match a price you have found – even when they can’t beat the price they might throw in a free upgrade or better hotel room.