Call me a grumpy old man if you like, but modern technology is both a blessing and a curse...
While it's true that nothing stays the same, there's always that old adage (among my wife's favourites) that when one door closes, another opens. I like to tease that we could always just jump out the window!
Last Minute Travel Deals, where'd they go?
There was a period in time when last-minute was seen as among the coolest ways one could travel, not only was there a bounty of savings (perceived) to be made, but it also added an element of spontaneity that really pairs well with travel!
I recall even in 2016 enjoying a business trip to South Florida when my now former business partner and her mother decided they might like to escape to the Bahamas or even Cuba on a last minute cruise departure.
While I'm unsure what they found or even claimed to have found, I know that no one went on a cruise - although I did get a bit of tourist time in stroking one of Hemingway's cats in Key West
Lastminute.com, what is it?
Many years ago, while I was still living in the UK, I myself enjoyed a couple of budget city breaks booked on discount site Lastminute.com. These were packaged as though they were the left-overs of unbooked flights, hotels, and more - the site has since even pushed into theatre and spa experiences.
The idea was - or at least that which was heavily marketed - was that a travel proprietor would rather see anyone in a hotel room / on a flight / sitting in a theatre / etc. at a discounted rate than forego a day or night of revenue.
The site is still running and seems to be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Not really surprising, given its popularity managed to infiltrate even colloquial language. Even the most mundane of tasks might have sparked you to do a "last minute dot com shop" for nearly anything you'd pretty much forgotten or procrastinated to the point of near-failure!
Enter the people's champion: Technology
The blessing: technology has allowed travellers to go further, stretch budgets thinner, and generally do more with less all over the globe. It really has been a unifying feature in getting people out in the world just doing more!
The curse: as with any change, there are always entities looking to exploit opportunities. This works both ways and has seen that travel companies are putting best use to the tech to ensure loss is minimal.
What does minimal loss mean for your booking?
As the famous Lastminute.com suggested, no one really wants to operate a hotel with empty beds, a flight with empty seats, or a tour / cruise with empty spaces or staterooms. So far we're all on the same page...
What's missing from the savings equation is the public offering.
Travel companies are so tied to their data there isn't any longer a need to offer much up at last minute as it doesn't get that far to begin!
What's more, many companies have lengthy bookings histories which allow them to better navigate their own successes and failures of seasons passed, alongside trends and real research into their investments and revenues.
The coveted last minute cruise just doesn't exist anymore
Arguably the need for increased security sparked the transition, but cruise lines have such depth of bookings history that they really don't sail at a loss regardless of the season or trends.
Managing stateroom stock with Guaranteed rooms, offering out discounts to high-tier reward status holders, and other such encouragement has seen the last-minute cruise disappear to obscurity.
Enter the EBB
Early Booking Bonus is a sort of pre-emptive strike on the last-minute crowd.
I suppose the industry would far rather reward those who invest early than encourage those who'd wait for the scraps, as it were.
The leftover bookings offered up at a discount might be less desirable in the first place, possibly a reflection of a bad deal or even just a mundane coincidence of cancellations.
However, it really does make sense to have a set of motivated travellers ready to commit their time and money - even if there may be a bevvy of refundable options or other get out of jail free cards for your non-refundable deposits.
Early Booking Bonus varies greatly
Ask a room full of people what "early" means to them and you're bound to get a very diverse set of answers.
The same holds true for travel suppliers in their description of early. Although it may be better reflected in the respective nature of each market.
For example, a spring Early Booking Bonus for families looking to escape to Europe during summer holidays or enjoy a beach escape the Caribbean to enjoy an all inclusive resort. This timeline makes more sense for such travel as there is ample stock and the destinations can certainly accommodate traveller volumes.
Tours and river cruises tend to book 4-6 months in advance or more, especially those river cruises featuring a theme, holiday event, or include a particularly popular destination in the itinerary.
For example, a Christmas Markets of Europe river cruise itinerary might be sold in the same calendar year or just prior to the Christmas season of the year preceding sailing.
What's REALLY early?
Possibly the earliest of all early bookings falls to the cruise industry. Especially in 2018 as the cruise market's capacity continues to grow at an incredible pace this year and into the next decade.
Celebrity's EDGE ship won't enjoy its inaugural sailing until later this year in November of 2018, but those staterooms have been long sold out - we're looking now at bookings into 2020 at this rate!
I was at the CruiseWorld event in November of 2017 where Celebrity announced their new Expedition ship, the Celebrity Flora - engineered specifically for the Galapagos Islands. The ship had only just been named and already sales were 18-months out!
Why book early?
It can be hard to commit your time, I understand. But if you can spare a week at some point later this year, later next year, or even further out - maybe it's time you made your investment to ensure you get your foot in the door on the experience, let alone the savings!
While so many passengers are distracted by price, a very valid reason to be distracted, I might add, often overlooked is the availability.
I myself visited the Pyramids of Egypt in 2011 as a sort of prediction of my own that their popularity would precede the comfortable enjoyment as crowds built to extreme levels. I booked in 2010 as soon as I was able to see my work commitments and knew I'd have the time free to travel.
Now, my prediction wasn't exactly correct in that the current issues making some travel to Egypt more difficult aren't related to the destination's popularity, however I'm happy enough to have enjoyed the trip before such changes to the security situation there.
Now I encourage clients to visit the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and much of Southeast Asia before crowds from nearby China forever alter the dynamic...
Think about Peru's Machu Picchu, Italy's Cinque Terre, or even the Eiffel Tower in Paris. All victims of their own success, a sort of lottery system or advanced ticketing is proposed or becomes necessary to keep the crowds at a level which won't destroy the beauty of those very locales.
I thought we were talking savings, Shy...
Back to finances, there's the obvious savings to be had - Early Booking Bonus, right? Often travel companies are selling their all inclusive vacation packages or adventure travel tours at a rate easily recognized as a savings.
To further motivate savvy travellers to commit, in addition to instant savings sometimes additional perks or amenities are offered. This can include spa / resort or on board credit, a complimentary excursion, or perhaps something small and material, such as a bottle of wine or goodies for the kids!
What about unseen savings?
There are further savings to be made which may not reveal themselves at all, but are worthy of note nonetheless.
Reduced volatility in price of airline tickets is a big one, by securing a package early there's no fear of a change in policy or price as your fully paid-for seat should provide you some assurance of an earlier price point compared to that at the time of actual travel.
Less exposure to changes in fuel price or industrial action - although there is of course still a chance that a labour dispute can disrupt your travel plans, the price shouldn't be affected as you'll have secured yours already.
What's more, if you book with a company such as Odyssean Travel, we're TICO registrants and our business falls under license that entitles most of our client bookings access to the Ontario Travel Industry Compensation Fund.
That means that even if a labour dispute or other action causes the insolvency of your supplier, there's further financial backing independent of your travel insurance and other coverages.
Taxes & fees, inflation... still saving!
The reality is that you are hedging your purchase against fluctuations of currency and changes in market conditions that might affect your trip.
Savings is seen against inflation or the general trend for tours and activities to increase in price with time.
While sometimes fuel surcharges are exempt, such as in certain river cruise itineraries, the majority of your early purchases set your price and allow you to comfortably forget about the politics of the world affecting your adventure!
Today is early when compared to somewhere! Book your early booking bonus trip now so you can get ticking those items off your travel list.