Travel Tuesday: When is the Best Time to Book a Hotel Room?
I don’t know about you but for me, one of the most stressful parts of booking a trip is finding the right time to make my purchase. While part of me wants to lock my plans in as I make them, another part of me knows that being a bit more strategic can yield good results in terms of the price I’ll pay. With that in mind, today I want to kick off a mini-series look at what some of the data suggests about when to book travel. To start things off, let’s talk about hotels.
How Far in Advance Should You Book a Hotel Room?
What the Data Says
In my mind, I always figured that I should book my hotel early. Alas, it seems as though last-minute bookings can actually be money savers — depending on your destination. According to data from Hopper released in May 2021, it’s true that prices can fall as the date of the booking nears. On average, nightly room rates in big cities fell by 13% when arrival dates were less than two weeks out. Moreover, a graph of average prices in five large cities shows prices trending downward from around 80 days out. Of course, this assumes availability and so it certainly wouldn’t apply in the case of event weekends, holidays, etc.
On the other hand, it’s a very different story when it comes to specialized destinations. For example, Hopper’s pricing graph for rooms in beautiful Sedona, Arizona show rates climbing significantly within the 100-day window. Meanwhile, other leisure destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando saw rates remaining fairly steady.
As for other ways to save on your stay, some are fairly obvious. For one, Fridays and Saturdays are typically the most expensive nights to stay whereas Sundays (when weekend travelers have already headed home) are typically much cheaper as are the subsequent weekdays. Naturally, this might not be the case when it comes to holidays and the like. In a similar vein, the time of year and the destination will also play a big role in dictating room rates.
So what about the best day of the week to actually book your hotel? According to SkyScanner’s 2020 analysis, Friday is the best day to book a domestic hotel room while Thursday is best for international bookings. That said, the advantage may not be as strong as you’d think as savings amounted to just 2%. International savings were a bit stronger at 6%. Again, they also found that “the week of” was the best booking window for both domestic and international stays… which sounds scary to me, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.
My Experience and Tips
Book direct early, try third-party late
As someone who used to swear by third party services like Expedia for my bookings, I’ve since changed my tone. With the exception of using Amex Travel to book Fine Hotels & Resorts stays, I now prefer to book directly with the hotel for a few reasons. First, with my Platinum card earning me Gold status with Hilton and Marriott, I want to be able to take advantage of these perks by booking directly (the same goes for Caesars and MGM bookings in Vegas). More importantly, though, booking directly often affords you more flexibility in terms of cancelation. Thus, if you do check back and see that a price has fallen, you could theoretically cancel your original booking and rebook at the better rate. This is actually something I did on a recent Vegas trip, saving myself about $50.
Of course, I do still see aggregators such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, etc. as being helpful for last-minute bookings — especially if you’re not too picky about where you’re staying. On that note, while it’s been a while since I used it, I previously relied on Hotwire to book affordable accommodations near Disneyland back in the day. I imagine similar experiences are still possible and could be worth a shot if you’re looking for an impromptu getaway.
Do some monitoring of your own
When I get ready to book a trip, I check prices fairly frequently. In doing so, I do sometimes observe some fluctuations. For instance, there have been times when I’ve seen that prices are higher when I run my search on a Saturday than they are when I look again on Tuesday. I should also mention that I run these searches while in “Incognito mode” so that my searches aren’t saved on the site. These mini-research stretches won’t help you to predict the future but could give you a better idea of what your final target price should be.
Don’t stress yourself out
If you’re traveling and want to stay at a specific hotel, is it better to just book the room at a price you’re comfortable with or hold out for a deal? Personally, I’d have to go with the former option. Saving 13% is great, but not if it means me stressing out about prices potentially going the wrong way or, worse, the property booking up for the dates I need. Therefore, I’m more inclined to just book when I’m ready and not have to worry.
When it comes to booking a hotel room, there are several factors that will dictate when the best time to book is. From destination to dates — and of course demand fluctuations due to the pandemic — it’s hard to say for sure what experience you’ll be in for. Ultimately, what matters most is that you find the accommodations you want at a price you’re willing to pay. But, if you’re inclined to gamble by waiting it out, your bet may just pay off.
Also published on Medium.