Do you book travel early or wait for last minute deals? While there can certainly be good last minute airfare or hotel deals if you're not particular about where you go or where you stay, there are many reasons to plan key parts of your travel well in advance, even if on the trip itself you prefer spontaneity and plenty of free, unstructured time. Here are 5 reasons we plan all of our major travel, especially international trips, about 1 year in advance:
1. Better Chance of Finding First Class and Business Class Award Seats for Our Dates
As with many families, we are constrained by school vacations in terms of when we can travel while not having our son miss school, or at least no more than a day or two. That means we have a narrow window for departure and return dates, and we need to find 3 seats for us using our available miles and points. By searching when the award calendars open and if needed, monitoring later to improve our itinerary, we give ourselves the best chance of securing first class and business class award tickets that work for us.
And by using award tickets, if something does come up and we have to change or cancel, we pay less to cancel and redeposit our miles to use for a future trip, than if we'd booked a paid non-refundable ticket.
2. Better Chance of Paying Fewer Miles
In addition to better chance of procuring first class or business class award availability, booking well in advance can mean the difference between paying fewer miles and paying more miles. I don't just mean United MileagePlus or Singapore KrisFlyer saver award space vs. standard awards, or AAdvantage MileSAAver awards vs. AAnytime awards. There are also great deals such as Brussels Business Class roundtrip from NYC to Brussels roundtrip for just 36,620 Etihad Guest miles (see Book Brussels Airlines Business Class with Etihad Guest Miles) that can necessitate booking months in advance to secure, particularly for a couple traveling together.
3. Reserve Luxury Hotels at Better Rates
Similar to first class and business class award seats, popular luxury hotels, particularly Aman Resorts such as Amanpulo with only a handful of casitas and villas, can book out and rates can rise. This is especially true if you wait too long to book, particularly during holidays or high seasons that offer better weather. And, assuming you book a refundable rate, you can always rebook if a lower rate does later become available. The reverse, of course, isn't true–if you've waited too long and the resort sells out or rates are higher, you can't travel back in time to book.
And if you have a large group or extended family, you'll similarly want to have your travel advisor seek to negotiate the best possible terms and perks for a resort buy out or large group booking of suites or villas. I find I have the most success negotiating this with a resort about a year in advance.
4. Secure Our Preferred Airline Seats
Since I usually travel on the same flight with my son and he prefers a window seat, I usually aim to book two window seats one in front of the other. These aren't necessarily available if reserving close to the date of travel, so booking in advance gives us the best chance of our preferred seating.
5. Book a Private Guide
For us, private guides have really brought to life Florence (Walks Inside Florence), Pompeii, Rome, and Angkor Wat and the other Angkor Temples in Cambodia during our stay at Amansara. We see and learn more with a guide than we ever would on our own, even with a guide book or app. Later this year we're looking forward to seeing Tokyo and Kyoto with a private guide, and these were arranged months ago.
6. Secure a Table at Hard to Book Restaurants
Even if you're not trying to book 3 Michelin Star El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (reservations open 11 months out, on the 1st of the month, and are snapped up quickly), many of the best restaurants can be hard to get into if you wait until the last minute. We reserved our dinner at Le 1947 at Cheval Blanc Randheli well in advance, knowing that it's small and can book up, and I also am sure to make Paris reservations at places such as David Toutain and Le Cinq weeks in advance.
I've found advance planning to be especially critical when planning client travel to Tokyo, where many great sushi places are tiny, with just a few seats.
7. Look Forward to the Trip
Part of the fun of travel is planning and anticipating the trip, and booking well in advance gives us longer to look forward to it. We also enjoy reading articles and watching movies related to the country we'll be visiting, as well as learning a few handy words and phrases if we don't speak the language.
For your travel, do you plan ahead or book last minute, and why?
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