How to seal a late sun deal
Travel companies will never be completely straight about how well their summer holidays are selling. It's not in their interest -- they want you to believe that you should book your summer holiday as early as possible.
However, by now -- with the school holidays well under way -- it becomes financially critical for them to sell as many of the flights and accommodation they still have left, even if that entails heavy discounting. So they start to become much keener to promote the possibility of last-minute offers.
This year, as so many of us have held back from booking because of the economic uncertainty, it looks as though there are plenty of discounts for those who are still looking to grab a late break.
All the tour operators and villa agents I checked with had holidays or properties available throughout the school break, and the majority were discounted.
Here is a guide to finding the best last-minute breaks to the classic European holiday destinations this summer.
Be sceptical about the advertised savings. While there are lots of discounts out there, the way they are presented -- "Save 40 per cent", for example -- can be misleading. Most package holidays -- especially beach holidays sold by the mainstream tour operators -- are not priced in a stable way. The cost can alter from day to day according to how well they are selling.
If you are booking this late, there is a good chance that you are fairly flexible about where you are prepared to go. If so, make price comparisons as broad as possible. You might be searching for holidays in Greece and find a big discount. But you might find even better value overall if you compare prices of similar holidays in, say, Spain.
Check what is included
In-flight meals, transfers, breakfast, half board -- many elements that were once included as standard in package holidays are now charged as extra, so make sure you look at the bottom line when comparing costs.
Avoid 'allocation on arrival'
One critical piece of advice I always give on late offers is to steer clear of any that specify only a certain standard of accommodation -- you don't hear exactly where you are going to stay until you get to the arrival airport. Better to spend a little more and know exactly where you will be staying. One area where you are at a clear disadvantage when booking late is flights. Scheduled airlines nearly always raise their fares the closer you get to departure, especially during the summer holidays.
This isn't a problem with packages, of course -- they come with flights (normally charters) included as part of the deal.
All the tour operators and agents I spoke to made the same point: the more flexible you are, the more chance you have of getting a good deal. Consider flying from a regional airport for example. Not being overly fussy about destination and departure date will also give you a huge advantage when it comes to self-catering holidays.