There is a lot of debate when it comes to travel decisions, with everyone having their own personal opinion about what you should do to save money and have a better experience.
One thing that can’t be debated, though, is the fact that you should book your flight before your hotel – in most instances.
I have the evidence to prove it, too.
Table of Contents
- 1 Book Your Flight First to Save Money
- 2 Exceptions to Booking Your Flight First
- 3 What to Do If You Booked Your Accommodation First
- 4 When to Book Your Flight
- 5 When to Book Your Accommodation
- 6 Booking Your Accommodation At the Last Minute
- 7 What About Vacation Packages?
Book Your Flight First to Save Money
If you book your flight before your accommodation, you can save money for several reasons.
The most important reason, though, is flight prices volatility.
Flight prices drop and increase often, and are much more volatile than accommodation prices, whether you’re staying in a hotel or Airbnb.
So booking your flight first, but especially if you can be flexible with the dates you want to travel, can save you hundreds of dollars.
Let’s take a look at Google Flights to compare how booking just a few days later can save you over $100.
As you can see, for a roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to New York, waiting just 4 later to fly can save you $118 for the departure alone ($369 – $251).
What about if you’re flying international?
Well, you can save even more money.
In this instance, for a roundtrip flight from New York to Cancun can save you $185 ($442 – $257) if you can be more flexible with your departure dates by just 3 days.
Exceptions to Booking Your Flight First
Remember at the beginning of the article how I said that you should book your flight before your accommodation in most instances.
As with most things in life, there are a couple of exceptions.
Exception 1: Popular Events
If you’re planning to travel to a destination during a popular event like the Super Bowl or a music festival, even if you aren’t planning to go there for the event, you should still book your accommodation first and as quickly as possible.
This is because the best value accommodations will get snapped up as soon as possible.
I ran into this issue when I visited Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.
Due to work and other commitments, I only knew I could travel to Rio a couple of months before the Carnival started.
By this time, there were very few decent options available – and the accommodation that was available was much more expensive than normal.
I had an amazing time, but not booking my accommodation until so late definitely cost me in more ways than one.
You try staying in a form room in a hostel for the price of a luxury hotel, where you could be old enough to be everyone else’s mom!
Exception 2: Limited Accommodation Options
Some destinations have limited accommodation options.
These tend to be smaller places that have started to gain in popularity through word of mouth.
If you wait until late to book accommodation at one of these places, you will inevitably be paying more.
It all comes down to supply and demand.
What to Do If You Booked Your Accommodation First
If you’re reading this and have already booked your accommodation, but found a cheaper flight departing a couple of days earlier or later, don’t worry!
While you will have a near impossible time trying to get a refund on a non-refundable flight ticket, hotel and Airbnb cancellation policies tend to be much more generous.
So, if you found a cheaper price for accommodation, in many instances, you will be able to cancel your stay and rebook for different dates.
Even if there is no cancellation policy, you may have luck saying that your plans have changed, so you need to amend your dates if you would still look to book with the same hotel.
When to Book Your Flight
When booking your flight, it’s always best to use a flight comparison site, like Google Flights or WayAway, where you can easily see how the cost of flights differs on each specific date.
But if you want a general rule, book your flights six to seven weeks before your departure date for the best deal.
When to Book Your Accommodation
You now know that you can and should book your accommodation much later than booking flights.
But just how long should you wait to book?
Generally, this can range from two to three weeks before your planned dates.
Booking your hotel just a couple of weeks before your planned dates works out cheaper because most hotels are two-thirds full at any given time.
So hotels will reduce prices to fill capacity, unlike flights that tend to get busier and more expensive as the departure date approaches.
This was confirmed by NerdWallet by looking at 2,500 hotel room rates and discovering that you can save an average of 13 percent if you book 15 days in advance compared to if you book four months in advance.
Again: supply and demand is king.
While it might make some of you nervous to wait so long to book your stay, the reality is that you will be saving money.
If you really can’t wait until just a couple of weeks to book your accommodation, book earlier, so you have something lined up, and then cancel and rebook if you notice the price has dropped.
Of course, you will want to check your accommodation’s cancellation policy to make sure that you can cancel your booking and obtain a full refund.
Booking Your Accommodation At the Last Minute
Booking your accommodation at the very last minute can give you the best savings, though isn’t without its risks.
If you wait until the last minute, your preferred hotel may be fully booked, or all hotels in the area may even be sold out.
If you plan to book at the last minute for better savings, again, make sure that the place you booked has a free cancellation policy.
What About Vacation Packages?
Booking a vacation package where both your flights and accommodation, and even cars and activities in some instances, are booked for you, may sound like a good idea.
It is definitely the most simple, efficient, and often the cheapest option.
There are downsides, though.
Bundling means that your hotel and flight options are usually limited, so you might not like the choice of hotels you are given and/or the dates/times of either.
You also won’t be able to earn points and miles.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).