Nov 26, 2014

    Tips for a last-minute holiday getaway

    PLANNING to travel over the holidays? Still haven't made reservations? It's not too late to find an affordable Christmas getaway. This procrastinator's guide to holiday travel is for you.


    If you want to take a vacation during the holidays, head to Europe.

    "Europeans tend to stay at home for the Christmas holiday," said Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at Travelzoo. That means there are hotel deals to be had in popular destinations.

    "The big secret for Christmas is it is absolutely true that airfare is more expensive but hotels are a lot cheaper," said Sarah Gavin, a senior editor at Expedia.

    Travellers who waited until December last year to book a hotel room saved about US$60 (S$78) a night compared with those who booked a room last August through October, according to research by

    Alas, flights to Europe are not as affordable. To compare fares, try Google Flight Search, which also tells you how much money you'll save if, say, you depart a day earlier or fly into a different airport.

    If you prefer to vacation in the United States, visit a major business city like New York or Chicago. "Big urban destinations really rely on business travellers," Ms Gavin said. And during the holidays, leisure travellers can snap up great prices at the high-end hotels that usually cater to executives.

    "Christmas can be a bargain proposition because the business traveller is not booking those hotels," Mr Saglie said.

    To help you decide where and when to travel, use airline fare calendars.

    "Just because it's cheap airfare doesn't mean it's the most affordable flight," said Mr Saglie. You have to factor in incidentals like the cost of checking bags. And multiple stops, which can make flights cheaper, may also ruin a trip because you're gambling with winter weather.


    Airfares and hotel room rates are typically lower during the week. And fly early, when many families are home sleeping. "Take the 5.30am or 6am flight," Ms Gavin said, "because so many people are travelling with kids. You can get much better deals on those flights than a 9am or 10am departure."

    You can also get a deal by flying on a holiday. If you can't do that, try travelling before or after a holiday.

    Airlines often have sales on Tuesdays, and last-minute bargains are not out of the question. For hotel rooms, try a last-minute booking app like Hotel Tonight. Such apps can save you 15 to 40 per cent, said Ms Gavin. If flights are not full in the days before Christmas, you might nab a deal on airfare, but be prepared to have a middle seat, a flight at the crack of dawn, or multiple stops.


    Airline competition is great for your wallet.

    "The regular, non-peak rates are so low that the peak fares are reasonable, even for holiday travel," said George Hobica, founder of


    "Sometimes, package deals are cheaper because they don't have seven-day or 14-day advance purchase requirements on the airfare," Mr Hobica said. He recalled a JetBlue hotel and flight package that was so affordable, it paid to buy it even though the traveller who purchased it only used the flight portion.

    One reason for the big discounts is that hotels can put their rooms on fire sale yet not reveal the nightly rate.

    "They can give a really good discount and still protect that public pricing," Ms Gavin said.

    Mr Saglie also likes bundling, but advises travellers to research the hotel part.

    "Just make sure that where the company is sending you," he said, "is a place you would have picked anyway."