How to save on last-minute holidays
Worried you’ve left it too late to book your holiday? There are some great last-minute deals out there – you just need to know where to look
Comparison sites trawl the market for the best air fares and when booking last minute, it pays to be flexible. Momondo’s search tool will find the cheapest destinations for your dates if you simply add ‘anywhere’ as your destination (or ‘everywhere’ with Skyscanner). Meanwhile Kayak's Explore button will filter results by budget. Type in your home airport and set your top limit in pounds, keeping your dates/duration as broad or as narrow as you like. Our guide to the best and worst comparison sites will help you find the most reliable deals.
Try a package deal
Booking your flight and hotel in one hit can save you money, particularly if you find a late deal on sites like Travel Supermarket, Holiday Pirates or icelolly.com. Prices tend to drop within two to 12 weeks of travel, as travel agents rush to fill empty spaces. Also consider packages with your meals and transfers thrown in, particularly for destinations like the Caribbean where the cost of eating out is high. Last year, a Which? Travel investigation found that holidaymakers could save up to £700 per person by choosing all-inclusive for a week’s holiday in Barbados.
Hurry deals, early-bird deals and sales; we’ve investigated them all, so we can tell you the truth about whether you’re really getting the best price on your holiday or flight. Find out more about Which? Travel
Sign up for discounts
Adding your email to airline or discount-club mailing lists means you’ll be the first to know when there’s a sale. Secret Flying and Jack’s Flight Club are free to join and send out bargain alerts to members. However, for more frequent updates you’ll need to pay an annual fee of £35 with the latter. These include error fares, where technical blips cause flights to be flogged at rock-bottom prices. Founder Jack Sheldon told us that roughly 60% of these are honoured by the airline – otherwise you’ll receive a full refund. He advises waiting two weeks before booking hotels or tours, as tickets are rarely cancelled after that period.
You can find cheap Eurostar fares up to one month before travel on its deals and offers page online. Here promotional returns can be a steal, even for one-way trips – just throw away the second portion of your ticket. Eurostar also sells through tickets to a number of European cities, which can be cheaper and more convenient than splitting the journey. For multi-stop trips consider the ‘any Belgian station’ (ABS) ticket, which allows you to continue your journey from Brussels for an extra £6 – as long as you get to your final destination within 24 hours.
Unlock secret hotels
Choosing ‘secret hotels’ on booking sites such as Lastminute.com and Hotwire.com can save you up to 60% if you’re willing to take a gamble. Here, discounts on ‘mystery’ unsold rooms are available – with just the star rating, general location and a brief description revealed. You’ll only find out the name of the hotel once you’ve parted with your cash. However, with a bit of detective work, you can often uncover its identity beforehand. Many of the descriptions are taken directly from the hotel’s own website, so try googling a few key phrases to see what pops up.
Free walking tours and attractions
A free walking tour is a great introduction to any city and you can tip as much or as little as you like. With a little bit of forward planning, you can also save a bundle on some of the top sights. Many Paris museums are gratuit on the first Sunday of each month, including the Louvre (from October to March), while entry to the Vatican museums costs nothing on the last Sunday of the month. You can even book a free audience with Pope Francis every Wednesday morning (papalaudience.org/ tickets). Dodge the ticket price at Schindler’s Factory in Krakow on Mondays – excluding the first Monday of the month when it’s closed. Madrid’s Prado museum is free every evening from 6pm-8pm (Sundays 5pm-7pm). For details of what’s free, and when, check tourist board websites, Time Out or Lonely Planet before you go.