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Updated: 5 Feb 2021

Is it true that UK holiday cottages and package holidays for summer 2021 are running out?

Which? research looks at availability of cottages and packages to see if there really is a looming holiday shortage
B&B with vacancy

Holiday companies are reporting a surge in bookings, now that the vaccine rollout in the UK has picked up speed, but some headlines have been implying people might miss out on a holiday if they don't book now. Is that true?

While bookings are rising, our research has found there are lots of holidays abroad and holiday accommodation in the UK still available from May and through the school summer holidays. There is no need to rush into booking a holiday.

It's unclear when holidays can restart again, and if you book with the wrong provider you risk not being able to go and not getting a refund either.

UK cottage and accommodation booking surge

Several holiday companies and holiday cottage firms have claimed booking surges over the past week or two.

Awaze, which owns two of the UK's biggest holiday cottage booking sites Hoseasons and Cottages.com, told Which? that bookings are up 52% for Whitsun week compared to the same time last year.

Which? Recommended Provider Forest Holidays, which offers cottages and cabins in forests across the country, also said it is 'currently 63% ahead of where they would expect to be for bookings in 2021.'

Forest Holidays and Awaze both told us that part of the reason for the increase was because many people who had holidays cancelled in 2020 had rebooked for 2021.

But does a surge in sales mean that cottages and UK breaks are really running out?

UK holidays are not running out yet

Cornwall beach

To find out, Which? checked in on the availability of properties on popular booking platforms for key holiday booking dates in 2021.

On Cottages.com we found 2,817 properties still available for two adults and 1,862 for two adults and two kids across England for one week commencing 29 May (May half term for many).

Even Cornwall had 203 properties for a family of four, and 312 for two adults, with even more available for the first week of the summer holidays.

Hoseasons had 3,722 cottages suitable for two adults left across the whole of the UK for 29 May to 5 June, and 2,585 for a family of four.

Awaze said that despite its clear growth in search activity and bookings for key summer and Whitsun periods, it 'doesn't mean the UK will 'sell out' completely in the next couple of weeks, but if there is a specific location or style of accommodation customers want - such as a hot tub, coastal or luxury property - then we would suggest they consider reserving their holiday sooner rather.'

Bookings will increase further when lockdown lifts, or the vaccine is rolled out more widely, but there's no need to panic-book contrary to some reports.

There are risks involved with booking early. If you book a cottage for eight people now and at the time of travel can only holiday with people from your own household, will you get a refund? And, assuming that the tiered system returns post-lockdown, what if you book accommodation in a tier 2 location and you are placed under tier 4 restrictions at the time of travel? You may find yourself fighting for a refund.

Booking with a reputable UK cottage company offering flexible booking policies will help. Take a look at our cottage company reviews to discover the companies Which? members rated most highly and how they've treated people during the coronavirus crisis so far.

Cottage companies with the most flexible booking policies

AirDNA data shows there are plenty of properties left for 2021

Data Which? has seen from AirDNA also shows that there are plenty of private accommodation properties available on Airbnb and VRBO right now.

We looked at data for some of the most-visited seaside destinations by Which? readers in the UK (based on our annual survey) and found that even the most booked up location, St Ives, still had 65% of listed nights available between 29 May to 5 June.

In Brighton and Hove 94% of listed nights are still available, while Conwy still has 75% and Suffolk has 86%.

This data is not a definitive assessment of Airbnb and VRBO bookings but gives a clear picture that there are still lots of breaks to book.

Package holidays abroad

woman laying on beach holiday

Several package holiday companies have also reported surges in bookings. Tui told Which? that half its holidays for May have gone. EasyJet and Saga have also reported an increase in bookings.

So should we worry about holidays abroad running out?

When we searched Tui package holidays to Spain from all London airports for the week of 29 May to 5 June (which incorporates the second May Bank Holiday) there were still 759 listings available for two adults, ranging in price from £542 per person to £3,522 per person. There were 598 left if you added two children and prices ranged from £457 to £2,833 per person. Each of these could be booked by more than one family too, so there are many, many thousands of holidays available.

Unsurprisingly, holiday availability reduced if you looked at specific areas, such as the Costa Del Sol. There were just 41 listings on Tui for two adults for the same dates.

If you are booking, take a look at our unbiased holiday company reviews to find the most reliable firms that also treated customers well during the pandemic. It's crucial you book with a firm that has a flexible booking policy.

Why you should wait to book

While the UK is in a national lockdown, non-essential travel is illegal. We don't know when this ban will be lifted or what restrictions will be in place later in the year. If you do book, you may find it difficult to get your money back if you're still unable to travel, or if the requirement to self-isolate, a positive test result or any number of other eventualities prevent you from taking up your booking.

Holidays abroad will likely depend on vaccinations. But we don't know if having the vaccine stops us passing on the virus to others. It means other countries with slower vaccine rollouts may not want UK residents to holiday there until they have also vaccinated.

How to book your trip smartly in 2021

Someone on laptop booking a holiday

While we advise not booking just yet, when you do come to book there are ways to protect yourself.

Choosing an Atol package holiday will help protect you financially if the holiday company goes under. This is less easy with UK holidays. Instead check a company's refund policies are flexible and in what instances they'll let you cancel.

Selecting a Which? Recommended Provider will bring peace of mind that the company is more likely to play fair. There are plenty of ways to protect yourself. Read our eight dos and two don'ts for booking.