How to assess the January sales for travel: For off-season travel, you can afford to wait

There are no old-model fridges or poor-selling winter coats to offload; travel focuses on the future, particularly the May to October season

Travel firms love January. Many of us wake up on New Year’s Day with little to look forward to beyond returning to the same old routine. With dismal days and long, gloomy nights, what better than to buy into the dream of a holiday? No wonder we are so receptive to the messages from the travel industry.

This year, there seem to be more deals around than ever, from “bogof” (buy-one-get-one-free) bargains to free booze (thrown in on cruise packages). With a bewildering array of discounts, and promises of “free child places”, surely this is the time to buy?

Well, that all depends. The travel industry is unlike normal business. There are no old-model fridges or poor-selling winter coats to offload; travel focuses on the future, particularly the May to October season. So, ignore those claims of enormous discounts from notional prices. Each travel company knows what it expects to earn from each holiday: if you want a week in Benidorm, flying from Manchester on the first Saturday of August, expect to pay £400 per person for self-catering.

If you are constrained to travel during the school holidays and know where you want to be this summer, then by all means start shopping now; it is unlikely that peak-season trips will get cheaper. But make sure you compare like-with-like. If headline prices for Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson vary wildly, it may be simply that they have dressed their deals up differently. So work out the final totals.

For off-season travel, you can afford to wait. In particular, sales are notoriously weak during big football tournaments. During the Euro 2016 football finals in France (10 June to 10 July), the holiday firms will sell off spare capacity a week or two ahead at low prices. The one January travel purchase you should make: long-haul flights for Christmas 2016. In this particular market, the early buyer (almost) always gets the best deal.

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