If you are looking for a hotel deal, it may pay off to wait until the last minute
d3sign | instant | Getty Images
When it comes to booking hotel stays, Aesop and his legendary ants may have gotten the upper hand – it can actually pay off to wait until the last minute to book.
While conventional wisdom dictates that travelers get better rates for accommodation, flight, and other vacation components by booking early, NerdWallet search found that 66% of the time they would save more by waiting to book a hotel room up to 15 days before arrival, compared to four months.
The idea that it’s best to book early has always been more about choice, said Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet.
âIt’s less about ‘buy earlier for better deals’ and more about the opportunity cost of not booking early – you could significantly limit your options while you wait,â she said. “Booking in advance means you have more options to book the hotel that truly fits your budget.”
More from Personal Finance:
How travelers could benefit from the challenges of the hospitality industry
Travel app offers price freeze feature to finicky hotel guests
Hotel rates rise as travel begins to pick up
NerdWallet studied over 2,500 hotel room rates in 2019, 2020 and the first half of 2021 at hotels around the world, by price range and by brand, comparing prices for 15-day and four-night nights. month.
From 2019 to 2021, the average rate for a room in North America booked for 15 days was $ 203, while that for a unit booked for four months was $ 233, according to NerdWallet, a difference of 12.7% . Internationally, the respective rates and difference were similar at $ 201 and $ 232, a difference of 13.5%.
“International trends are mostly in line with national trends,” French said, adding that it was “heartwarming to know that you have no shortage of even better international deals.”
The average rate at all upscale hotels, meanwhile, was $ 302 when booking 15 days before travel, up from $ 386 four months in advance, a difference of 21.6%. The difference is even greater – 50%, according to NerdWallet – when comparing rates for 15 days in advance with 11 months in advance.
However, “cheaper” is a relative term, French noted. As an example, she pointed to the pre-pandemic nightly rates at JW Marriott Los Angeles LA LIVE, which were $ 1,110 when booking 11 months and $ 450 just 15 days before.
âStill, $ 450 is more than most people will pay for a hotel night,â French said. “So while you can get a ‘better’ price at this hotel, it will often be more expensive than a mid-range option.”
The savings of mid-range and low-end hotels were meager, at 9.4% and 5.5%, respectively. French said NerdWallet found that “budget” hotels, such as the $ 100-a-night Best Western Market Center in Dallas – which never deviated from that rate during the study – are less likely to vary. in price, even until the last minute.
“But what if you think it’s okay to procrastinate, and all the budget hotels are sold out because a huge festival or conference was in town?” said the French. âYou may have no choice but to book the Ritz-Carlton, which often costs over $ 1,000.
âIt’s a $ 900 mistake for waiting until the last minute,â she said.
Has the pandemic and the resulting travel slowdown helped keep fares low? French said prices fell about 33% year-over-year in 2020, but are now 30% cheaper than in 2019, meaning they are on the rise.
“As more and more people get vaccinated and countries open up to tourists, I expect this trend to continue,” she noted. “If you feel comfortable traveling now, do business while you can, because I don’t expect them to stay.”
Travelers may consider booking directly with the hotel of their choice, either online or over the phone. It’s less a question of price than of flexibility, according to French. “Numerous hotels have super generous cancellation policies these days, but it’s often only honored when the reservation was made with them, âshe said.â It’s less of a guarantee that you’ll get a full refund if you book with a travel agent or third party site. “
In addition, according to the French, most hotels will match the cheapest rates for the same room and same travel dates, or travelers who have booked in hotels with flexible cancellation policies may cancel more expensive reservations made. earlier and book again at lower rates. That said, booking through online sites is “definitely faster and more convenient,” she added.
Destinations with cheaper hotel rates include Bangkok and Tokyo abroad – where rates are still more than 50% lower than 2019 prices – and, in the United States, business centers like New York and Philadelphia. , according to French.
Where to avoid?
âI see a lot of hotels – especially in more remote domestic destinations – that have actually gone up in prices,â she said. âTwo different luxury hotels in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch and the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, both averaged about 80% more in 2021 over their 2019 rates. ”