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How to book a last-minute holiday

Conor Pope: Be flexible, shop around, and remember cheap doesn’t always mean good value

Given the “summer” we have had, many people might be looking to escape the greyness and the rain even for a few days, with the holy grail being a last-minute holiday. The good news is there is value to be found, although you will have to put in the leg work and manage your expectations.

Talk to the experts

The easiest thing to do is ring your local travel agent or log on to their website and see what they have on offer for the weekend ahead. If you are flexible about where you end up and are not overly bothered about the accommodation you get, you might be able to bag a decent holiday for less. If you are looking for a holiday in a wildly popular destination and have very specific demands such as the need for children to be accommodated you might, however, struggle.

Don’t be tied to weekends

Most package holidays start on weekends for obvious reasons, while most business travel takes place on Mondays and Fridays. If you are happy to fly away on Wednesdays or Thursdays, you will give yourself the best chance of snagging a good deal.

Be alert

Sites such as Google Flights, Skyscanner and Kayak allow you to track prices to certain destinations — or indeed any destination — and then email you if and when they reach a certain level. Ryanair also has a fare finder that will allow you to set a budget for a flight.

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Go direct

Hotel websites are worth checking out to see if there is any deal on offer. Consider calling them directly to see if there are any deals they might be willing to do over the phone that are not available on their website. Also, check out hotwire.com. The site allows you to book hotels for less with the catch being you don’t know exactly where you will be staying until you pay up. You can set parameters such as broad location and star rating, however, which should give you some comfort.

Don’t believe in miracles

You might not be able to find the perfect two-week holiday in the perfect destination at the very last minute, but you might be able to get a five-day break in a nice sun-kissed-city-on-a-beach type place at a decent price. If you do find such a deal, then take it.

Be patient and do your research

Don’t just pick the first cheap spot you find. Look at the reviews of the places you are considering — to make sure they are not truly horrible — and spend some time googling them to see if you can find cheaper prices elsewhere.

Value first

While many people booking a holiday at the very last minute look at the bottom line, it is important to remember that value should always come first. A really cheap all-inclusive is only good value if you are happy to eat in the place you have booked, while a cheap room is only good value if it is a place in which you are happy to stay. An all-inclusive that serves vile food is a waste of money, while a resort that is miles from anywhere you want to be can also prove to be spectacularly bad value.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor