How to secure your dream winter sun holiday as bookings surge

·6-min read
how to book holiday 2021 - Hans Harms/iStockphoto
how to book holiday 2021 - Hans Harms/iStockphoto

Travel companies are reporting a huge jump in bookings following the latest travel announcement, which will see the much-maligned traffic light system scrapped, and the testing rules relaxed for fully vaccinated travellers.

Skyscanner reported a 103 per cent increase in bookings on Friday, when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed the changes, compared to the previous week, while a Thomas Cook spokesperson this morning commented that this weekend “was our best weekend [for bookings] this year.”

TravelSupermarket reported similar trends, with demand for late summer trips to European hotspots – Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Portugal – among the most popular. Turkey, which will be removed from the red list on Wednesday, has leapt to become the website’s second-most searched for destination.

But while this is wonderful news for the industry, how will it affect your holiday prospects? Is it too late to bag an October half term bargain – and how to avoid the inevitable price hike?

Here are five tactics to secure your perfect holiday this autumn and winter – and which destinations are hotting up for bookings.

Tips for booking holidays abroad

Stay flexible on dates

Of course, prices are already sky-high for half term – even without last week’s glad tidings. So for those without school-age children, it’s a no-brainer to avoid that final week in October if possible. On Monday, a search for Antalya holidays on Jet2.com returned a seven-day break over half term (October 22–November 1) from £581pp, including flights. A week earlier, the same holiday costs from £326pp; the week after half term, the price falls to £272pp. It’s a similar story wherever you look. In short, don’t expect to find a bargain for that week – you’ll be disappointed.

Sunrise, Roman Forum, Rome - joe daniel price/Moment RF
Sunrise, Roman Forum, Rome - joe daniel price/Moment RF

But there are other timing tactics you could employ. The relaxation of testing rules for fully vaccinated UK arrivals has triggered a new appetite for short city breaks, various tour operators have reported, because “now [passengers] won’t incur additional testing costs,” says an EasyJet spokesperson. At Thomas Cook, some 15 per cent of bookings made this weekend were for short breaks to Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Krakow and Rome.

If you’ve got similar plans, consider avoiding weekends to keep costs lower. On Skyscanner, a search for London to Rome return flights in November puts week-day tickets around £9 one way; at the weekend, that rises to around £30 – or £129 at the end of half term.

For many destinations in Europe, bookings in October-November tend to decrease dramatically after the peak of summer. Temperatures drop, resorts become quieter – and holiday companies decrease their prices to capture those final few bookings. This year, things will likely be busier than usual – but if you can forego a few precious degrees Celsius, bargains are easier to come by.

Look for plentiful flights

Airlines are already increasing capacity for some destinations, adding new flights to cater for the higher demand – which should help to temper price hikes, as they strive to shift the seats without pricing-out customers. EasyJet, for example, will be adding 51,000 seats for its departures from the UK to beach destinations this October, with a particular focus on Spain (Alicante, Majorca and Tenerife), Portugal (Faro), and Turkey (extra flights to Dalaman and Antalya from London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol Airports).

Jet2, too, will be restarting its flights and holidays to Antalya and Dalaman from Thursday September 23. Its chief executive Steve Heapy has cited “phenomenal demand for late-summer sunshine, October half-term breaks and winter sun”, and promised “great deals to be had”.

Oludeniz beach, Turkey - Olena_Rublenko/iStockphoto
Oludeniz beach, Turkey - Olena_Rublenko/iStockphoto

EasyJet and Jet2 won’t be alone in this approach, though of course some destinations are easier to ramp up than others – particularly shorter-haul routes to hub airports with more available landing slots, and those with proven demand in the winter months. So while Oman is a welcome addition to the ‘safe’ list, and an excellent winter sun prospect, the likes of British Airways will no doubt be weighing up how probable it is for Britons to choose it over the likes of old-time favourites Maldives and Dubai. If they deem demand not to be high enough, chances are flights will remain at a premium.

Expect demand to increase

The past 18 months have taken their toll on consumer confidence, and thousands of us have been burned by last-minute changes to the rules. So, for every holiday-hungry person who booked a trip immediately after Friday’s announcement, there will be many more who prefer to hold off until closer to October 4, just to be sure that the testing rules for double-vaccinated travellers do indeed ease. In short, the rise in demand isn’t over: as confidence increases, competition for that perfect holiday will rise.

“The cost and admin surrounding PCR tests has been a major barrier to travelling,” says Emma Coulthurst from holiday price comparison site, TravelSupermarket. “Once the date for the PCR test costs are removed from the travelling equation, this is going to be a major game changer and will see people prepared to give travel a go.”

So, if you’re planning to book a trip in the next few weeks, ask yourself: why delay? Most operators are offering their most flexible booking policies ever, with free rebooking as standard in most cases. The longer you hold off, the more likely you are to hit problems with availability, or an increase in prices.

View of Pyramid complex of Giza, in Cairo Egypt - Kitti Boonnitrod/Moment RF
View of Pyramid complex of Giza, in Cairo Egypt - Kitti Boonnitrod/Moment RF

Put those PCR savings to good use

According to analysis by HolidayExtras, the average fully vaccinated holidaymaker will save £144 per person in testing costs after October 4 – as well as eight hours of admin. So while holiday and flight prices may rise, you may well still be quids-in once the final fee is calculated.

Book now for Christmas

Right now, the focus is on half term – but Christmas will be the next pinch-point. And after last year’s festive travel disappointments, demand will likely be higher than usual, particularly for family reunions and indulgent trips. If you’re hoping to get away this Christmas, you should get plans (and deposits) in place promptly. “People are looking ahead to Christmas and New Year,” says a Thomas Cook spokesperson, with demand for Greece, Turkey and Egypt remaining strong into December.

“Prior to last week about a quarter of our bookings were for the next fortnight (and a third for summer 2022),” the spokesperson continues, “but now it’s much more spread across the typical three-month booking window as clearly people feel more confident that the new rules are not going to change.”

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