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It pays to book early: how to save on holiday travel

Hardly any other price seems to be subject to such strong fluctuations as the price of travelling. The price differences are often enormous when travelling by train and especially by plane. It is not uncommon to pay umpteen different prices for the same seat category on the same mode of transport.

The ARAG experts provide information on how to book a really cheap trip online and whether early booking guarantees the best price.

Why prices vary so widely

Empty seats on an aeroplane or empty hotel beds cost money. That's why the providers try to fill as many seats as possible. However, as not everyone is willing or able to pay the same price, there are different prices for different needs. The aim is to appeal to students who have a tight travel budget, but who plan flexibly and, above all, for the long term, as well as frequent travellers who are on business trips and who are relatively indifferent to the price if they have a short-term business appointment. Even if companies are allowed to set their prices flexibly, the ARAG experts point out that online providers must state whether the prices are influenced by an algorithm or the use of personal data.

Tips and tricks for online bookings

There are actually a few tricks that holidaymakers can use to save a lot of money when booking a trip online. According to the ARAG experts, the most important factor is time. And this is true in several respects: firstly, because you need to take time to observe the market and compare prices when booking online. Those who know the price trends are less likely to fall for supposed bargains or mega-deals that aren't really bargains at all. The ARAG experts advise caution when using comparison portals. The differences in commissions and brokerage fees can be considerable, so you should invest some time in finding a portal with good conditions.

Holidaymakers can also save money if they are flexible in their choice of destination and travel period. If you are dependent on the school holidays, you may also be able to save by choosing an airport in a federal state where the holidays are over or have not yet begun. Departing on a certain day of the week can also be cheaper.

And the ARAG experts have another technical savings trick up their sleeve: if you regularly delete your cookies, it makes it more difficult for algorithms to calculate individual profile characteristics, such as online purchases, willingness to pay or booking behaviour. The following applies here: the stricter the privacy settings and the less a device reveals about the user, the better the prices can be.

The advantages of early booking

Providers want to boost demand as early as possible by offering favourable prices. And the earlier you book, the greater the selection of offers that can be cancelled free of charge. The best early booking offers are available around six months before the planned trip. So if you know where and when you want to go on holiday, you can benefit from some discounts as an early bird. For families with children, for example, there is a free hotel night in the parents' room or a favourable fixed price for the children travelling with them. Other advantages for early bookers include discounts for senior citizens or inclusive services such as train to flight. However, the ARAG experts advise making sure that you have the option of cancelling for as long as possible and free of charge if you fall seriously ill, your professional situation changes or the trip has to be cancelled for other reasons that could not be foreseen at the time of booking.

According to the ARAG experts, it is no longer worth looking for early booking offers from April onwards, as the early booking season for summer holidays is usually over by then.

By the way: If you're looking for last-minute bargains, you shouldn't get your hopes up too high. According to the German Travel Association, what paid off a few years ago for particularly flexible holidaymakers is now the exception rather than the rule. This is because there is hardly any excess capacity that is sold off cheaply. Package holidaymakers have already had to dig deeper into their pockets this year and pay an average of around ten per cent more for their trip.

Be aware of these pitfalls when booking your holiday

Time and again, offers appear whose prices are relativised with an "from" and thus made non-transparent, although this is prohibited and violates applicable competition law and the Price Indication Ordinance. The ARAG experts advise taking a particularly close look here, as the actual, current price only appears at the end of the booking. With this tactic, providers adjust their prices until the very end, depending on demand.

This article is from the 1/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.