Has the hint of a summer we’ve had given you a taste for the sun? Do you wish you’d been more organised last January when you should have organised yourself a fabulous holiday somewhere amazing for August? Or did you go and blow your holidays in June – like Pricewatch did – and now find yourself regretting your prematurity as you scroll mindlessly through your Instagram feed looking at sun-kissed pics posted by people you barely know?
Well, maybe it’s not too late. Maybe you can be one of those people who wanders into a travel agent or logs on to a last-minute website and comes away with an amazing deal. Or do such people and such deals exist? Can you really bag a bargain break at the last minute?
That, it would seem, depends on who you talk to.
Sarah Slattery runs a blog under the name The Travel Expert. It is a brave claim, for sure, so we thought we’d pick her brains about the last-minute deal. She is super-upbeat about our prospects.
“It is a great year for last-minute holidays. There hasn’t been this much availability since the recession,” she tells us.
It’s a promising start. “Over the past few years we were left with plenty of flight availability but very little accommodation,” she continues. “This year there doesn’t seem to be any bed shortages at all. Some say Brexit has a lot to do with it. Britons are not travelling as much, but our good weather is probably a lot to do with it, too, and possibly more and more people using Airbnb.”
Slattery points to one-week package deals being offered by Sunway with prices starting at €384 to destinations including Sicily, the Algarve, Menorca and the Canary Islands. “They include transfers and a 20kg checked bag. With Aer Lingus charging €110 and Ryanair €100 for a 20kg bag, they are exceptional value,” she says.
She also says that while Falcon Holidays does not have as many last-minute package deals available, it has lots of flights to places like Malaga, Salou, the Algarve and Palma starting at only €79 return with a checked bag costing €35 extra. It has flights to the Canary Islands and Greece starting at only €99 return.
And when should we go? Slattery tells us mid-August is always busy as it is just before those pesky kids go back to school. “Late August is always a great time for deals and then prices usually increase early in September before dropping back down mid- to late September.”
That all sounds very promising. And Pricewatch finds itself daydreaming of a cheap-as-chips trip somewhere awesome. Then we speak to Fionn Davenport, one of Ireland’s pre-eminent travel writers. It isn’t long before he tramples all over our dreams. In fact, he has slashed our holiday bubble into ribbons before finishing his first sentence. “The whole idea of a last-minute deal is really just a myth unless you want to go to Chechnya, ” he says, with a matter-of-factness which displeases Pricewatch greatly.
“Firstly, the tour operators are so good at what they do and they understand the Irish tourist so well that they rarely get it wrong when block-booking apartments and hotels in December ahead of their January sales. They use sales patterns going back years and get their numbers almost exactly right, so are rarely left with big volumes to sell this late in the season.”
The only exception to the rule, he says, is when there is a terrorist attack or some other appalling event in a particular resort or in a particular country, which can lead to unsold packages. “You could go to one of the really troubled areas, like Tunisia or Egypt, ” he says. “But all the official advice is against that, agents won’t sell into there and your travel insurance will not cover you, so that does make some places a no-go zone.”
His gloomy prognosis also takes in the airlines. “When it comes to getting cheap fares, nearly all the cheap seats go very soon after they go on sale and they get more and more expensive as the flying date approaches. There is no magic bullet or secret to getting a great deal, sadly.”
Nor does he think the dedicated websites, such as lastminute.com, will come to our aid when we are looking for a cheap holiday. “It is not a bad site – and it has a really great name – but it and the rest tend to operate off the same engines so they throw up the same results.”
After talking to Davenport, we need cheering up, so we get in touch with Janet Newenham, an award-winning travel blogger and apparent queen of the cheap deal. “I am all about last-minute holidays,” she told us. “I can’t remember the last time I booked a flight more than a month in advance.”
Her secret is Skyscanner. It is a website that allows you search for cheap flights to everywhere at the click of a mouse.
“I pretty much end up flying to wherever I can find a good flight deal,” she says. “Last November I flew to South Africa for about €300 and booked the flight only a few weeks before taking off. There are so many great travel apps that help last-minute travellers get cheaper deals. Obviously Airbnb is great, but there are other apps like HotelTonight and BidToTrip where you can get great deals on hotel rooms.”
She says the trick is you have to be flexible. “I was in Mexico in February and my aunt was planning a holiday to Dubai. I persuaded her to book a last-minute package holiday to come out and meet me in Mexico instead. I sent her some links to Irish travel sites and she was booked and ready to go within 48 hours.
Tanya Airey is the managing director of Sunway Travel, one of the most enduring tour operators. She says that, unlike last year, there are plenty of last-minute deals out there. She accepts Davenport’s point that algorithms and experience help tour operators get their bookings right, and points out that “we are never going to get it 100 per cent right. It tends to be cyclical, and if we have two or three or four good years, then the amount of packages available creep up until there is a year that is not so good, after which we pull back.”
She says Brexit is having an impact on supply this year, with many British people not travelling to their traditional sun-spots. Sunway has packages leaving from Thursdays to Sundays, and Airey says if people are flexible about where there go they can travel for half nothing. Week-long packages to Turkey are available for less than €300 while packages in other countries can be had for under €400, and this price includes flights, accommodation, transfers, baggage and reps. “We have found Sicily, which is beautiful, a tough sell this year,” she says.
So, what last-minute holiday deals can I get right now?
We asked some tour operators to suggest some bargains for the weeks ahead. This is what they came back with. All prices are per person.
SUNWAY Algarve, Portugal – seven nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €564. Departing July 28th Kusadasi – 4-star Golden Day Wings for seven nights, B&B from €699. Departing July 29th Gran Canaria – seven nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €614. Departing July 29th Sicily – seven nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €549. Departing July 29th Fuerteventura – seven nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €754. Departing July 29th Kusadasi – 3-star Esat Hotel, seven nights B&B from €299. Departing September 30th
Algarve Bayside Salgados – seven nights 2-star plus self-catering apartments from €349. Departing September 1st/9th
Lanzarote Puertocarmen – seven nights 2-star plus self-catering apartments from €399. Departing September 2nd/9th/16th/23rd/30th
Sicily Carmen Miosotis – seven nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €399. Departing September 2nd/9th/16th/23rd/30th
Saboia – 3-star Estoril Hotel seven nights B&B from €499. Departing September 2nd/9th/16th/23rd
Sardinia San Marco – seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €499. Departing September 2nd/9th/16th/23rd.
Costa Dorada – 3-star Hotel Cala Font, seven nights half board from €699. Departs Ireland West Airport to Cap De Salou August 1st.
Algarve – Ouratlantico Apts, Praia D’Oura, seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €599. Departs Dublin August 27th
Gran Canaria – Villa Del Mar, Palalavaca, seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €459. Departs Dublin August 27th
Zakynthos – Pallas Hotel, Laganas, seven nights 3-star all-inclusive from €799. Departing Dublin August 29th
Lanzarote – Hyde Park Lane, Puerto Del Carmen, seven nights 3-star B&B €659. Departing Dublin August 31st
Ibiza – Fiesta Milord Hotel, San Antonio Bay, 14 nights 4-star, half board, from €1,029. Departing Dublin July 27th.
Majorca – Protur Bahia Azul Apartments, Cala Bona, seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €619. Departing August 29th
Costa Dorada – Belvedere Hotel, Salou, seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €639. Departing August 29th.
Gran Canaria – Puerto Plata, Puerto Rico, 14 nights 2-star self-catering apartments from €579. Departing August 24th
Bulgaria – Silver Springs, Sunny Beach, seven nights 3-star self-catering apartments from €489.Departing September 11th
Tuscany – Castelvecchio di Preci, Safari tent (sleeps 6) seven nights from August 20th €850.50
Corsica – Marina d’Erba Rossa Campsite, 2-bed mobile home seven nights from August 19th €795
Languedoc – Le Beach Garden Campsite 2-bed mobile home seven nights from August 29th €843 These prices are for accommodation only