How far in advance should you book your travel plans? Is it possible to book too early? How late is too late?
A question that often comes up is “how far in advance should I book a trip?” You definitely don’t want to start your travel plans for a 2-week long European vacation the day before you leave, but how much time should you allow?
I recently was talking to a Travel Agent that stopped taking booking requests for 2022 back in June. While that may seem extreme, it does show how high travel demand is at this time.
So how far in advance should you book? The answer will depend on several factors. It will depend on the time of year you wish to travel, what you want to do while you are there, and what may be happening while you are there. In this post, I will review some of the things that need to be considered.
Ocean and River Cruises
In short, for cruises of any kind, but especially a river cruise, as soon as you decide you want to go, plan to book your cruise as soon as sailing dates are available. For some river cruises, dates even a year out may already be sold out. That is because there are only a finite number of cruise itineraries and the passenger capacity of these watercraft are low.
The same can be true for ocean cruises, especially when you consider that cruises have been largely non-existent for the last few years. Pandemic restrictions are easing and many cruise lines are offering very favorable rates to get people back on board.
My advice is to book as early as possible and be flexible on your dates. 18 months in advance is not too early.
Booking an escorted tour may be a little more flexible, but they can be affected by several factors.
For example, what may be happening at the time you want to go? Tours to Scotland in August will often include admission to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. European tours in December will be focused on the Christmas Markets. If these are events that you want to attend, again, plan well in advance.
Traveling on your own can be the most flexible, but even then, it can be affected by several factors. For example, if you want to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, be prepared for the fact that several million other people have the same idea. The beer tents require reservations. You will need to plan as much as a year in advance, not only to get access to the Oktoberfest, but also to get a hotel room in the Munich area. And the room rate will be much higher than regular or off-season rates.
Holidays and dates with religious significance can also affect travel plans. For example, attempting to visit Vatican City during Holy Week is going to require advanced planning.
And, lastly the time of year is going to affect your plans. If you want to go in the summer months, hotel and venue availability is going to become more scarce the closer you get to the travel date.
You may be thinking “but what about these last minute deals where tour operators and hotel operators are offering large discounts?
That is true, these exist. But think about what these are. Typically, the tour operator has a few slots left to fill on a tour to reach capacity. These offers are generally last minute, cannot be be counted on, and have a very short window to get your reservations in. Hotels are doing the same, and chances are the rooms will be the least desirable rooms in their inventory.
My advice when it comes to these offers is to be extremely flexible in your travel plans and highly tolerant in your room selection.
But What About Last Minute Travel Deals?
When planning that “perfect and memorable” trip, especially one to celebrate a significant event in your life, plan on booking ocean and river cruises as much as 12 – 18 months in advance. For escorted tours you should be planning an absolute minimum of 6-8 months in advance.
For independent travel, 3 months is the absolute minimum, and even then, prepare to be limited in the availability of venues, hotels and even transportation. Here again, six months is a much more workable time frame.