Bargain holidays - when to book, when to travel

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There's nothing like a holiday to revitalise, re-energise and relax, but no one wants to pay over the odds for their getaway. If you're desperate for a spot of rest and relaxation, here are some tips on when to book, and indeed when to travel if you're after a bargain break.

When to book
The rules vary according to what kind of holiday you want and your chosen destination.

Package holidays
Package holidays are almost always discounted late in the day, because tour operators have already booked the charter flights and hotel rooms - if they don't sell them, they're losing money, so they'll be keen to get rid of them, often at a much-reduced rate. The earliest you should look for late deals is eight to 10 weeks before departure, but if you're flexible about dates and destinations, you'll often get an absolute bargain by leaving it until the week before travel.

On the other hand, if you're planning a family break during the school summer holidays, it's best to book in December or January. This is when travel firms are offering early bird discounts and other incentives such as free child places, which could save you a bundle on your booking.

Research carried out earlier this year revealed that if you're booking a summer flight, the cheapest deals are on offer as late as five or even three weeks before you travel, particularly for popular European destinations like Spain or Greece. Charter flights in particular are often cheaper if you leave it late, since they'll be keen to put bums on seats.

It is also thought that many of the cheapest offers are available on Tuesdays, because it tends to be less busy with business travellers - and early morning flights not only have the benefit of a cheaper price, but you're less likely to face delays.

For those who have specific dates and destinations in mind, screen scrapers like Skyscanner, Travel Supermarket and Kayak are a great resource for finding the best deals, but do use at least two to be sure you really are getting a good price.

When to travel

Winter sun
While there are often good deals to be had in January, the best of the winter sun discounts happen towards the end of November, beginning of December. You'll be before the Christmas and New Year rush and might just snap up a bargain.

School holidays
It's a well-known fact that holiday firms cash in when school is out, but if you leave your summer family break until the end of August or early September, you'll have missed the big rush and will therefore get a better price.

Long haul
As a general rule, you'll get a much better price travelling to long-haul destinations if you travel during the quiet season. Flights to the USA, for instance, are typically cheaper from September to March, while there are good promotions to be had in May, June and October if Asia floats your boat. And if the Caribbean is your dream destination, try to travel between May and September, when the hotels and airfares are at their cheapest. Clearly you'll want to double check that you won't be turning up in the rainy season, but in many cases it's possible to get some fabulous weather at a greatly reduced rate by leaving the peak seasons to those who want to splash the cash.

If you don't have a particular destination or date in mind, it's possible to find amazingly cheap deals with the help of technology. Money Saving Expert, for example, has an Flightchecker tool that will tell you when and where the cheapest deals are, while Momondo's Flight Insight comparison is another great tool for picking up a bargain break.

Are you a holiday bargain hunter? Do you leave it late, or book as early as possible? Leave your comments below...
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