One of the most important parts of a vacation is booking your hotel. Your hotel room can be your home base, your luxurious retreat or just a place to crash at the end of a busy day. But when is the best time to book a hotel? You don’t want to be caught out in the cold or be forced to pay exorbitant fees for a last-minute place to stay. The timing of when you book your hotel room can affect both the price of your room and the quality of the place you wind up staying.
To find out when the best time to book a hotel is, I spoke to Joanne Monahan, Director of AAA Northeast’s Travel Sales Center and a Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE). With Monahan’s help, we learned the tips and tricks on how and when to book a hotel room.
Booking in Advance
How far in advance should you book a hotel room? It depends on when you plan to travel. Monahan noted that the demand for rooms is usually higher on the holidays and school vacation periods.
“Even on long weekends, the demand is high,” Monahan said. “Usually for those times, it’s best to book it weeks or months in advance to make sure you get the hotel you want. And if demand is high, price is going to go up.”
When it comes to booking during other periods, though, things can change.
“Sometimes, if you’re not booking during a high demand time, closer booking may save you money,” Monahan said. “But in other times, it’s really a gamble if you wait. It’s always good to have a backup in case you don’t get what you want.”
So, when is the best time to book a hotel? For domestic travel, a good rule of thumb is at least a month in advance. That’s usually the sweet spot both in terms of price fluctuations and room availability.
For international travel, Monahan recommended planning a bit further in advance. “A lot of times, hotel rooms – especially in Europe – are different than they are here in the states. For example, it can be hard to get rooms with an occupancy of three or four people, like for a family traveling together. It’s really important to schedule that as much in advance as you can, so you get what you need.”
Hotel prices can also fluctuate depending on the day of the week. For example, Sunday-to-Sunday booking can usually turn out to be cheaper than making the first day of your stay a Friday or Saturday. Traveling on the area’s “off season” may save you money as well. Summer hotspots can turn into ghost towns in the fall and winter – and the pricing of the hotel rooms reflects that.
“Pricing depends on their inventory,” Monahan said. “It’s a gamble, you know. There’s no guarantee. Sometimes, when rooms are getting close to being sold out, hotels may even raise their rates. But if they have a lot of inventory available, they may keep their rates lower so that they’ll sell more rooms.”
Monahan recommended keeping an eye on any important local festivities or events, as they can affect the price of hotel rooms as well.
“Think of things like if there’s a festival going on, or other things going on in that town around that specific timeframe. Even just big concerts. Those nearby hotels are going to sell out, and they’re going to go higher if more people want them around the time when there’s an activity going on.”
The law of supply and demand continues to be a good rule of thumb when it comes to predicting prices.
Getting Your Money’s Worth
When it comes time to book your travel, booking through a third-party agency like AAA can help you save even more money by bundling the purchase of your flight and your hotel room. Sometimes, rates for AAA Members can be even cheaper than the hotel chain’s own member-only rates.
“It’s always good to contact AAA for your hotel reservations,” Monahan said. “We’ll get you the best deals out there, and make sure you get your member benefits for saving even more.”
When is the best time to book a hotel in your opinion? Do you have any stories about last-minute hotel rooms? Let us know in the comments below!