(Forbes) When it comes to booking vacations, have we been doing it wrong all this time? For many of us, planning a vacation typically means choosing a destination, doing some research, comparing prices, and then reaching for a credit card. Once we’ve got our ducks lined up in a row, we go ahead and book our flights and hotel. A significant percentage of travelers always buys a package that bundles the flight and hotel together because conventional wisdom says that packages save you money.
Except that's not true, says Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, a platform for last-minute hotel booking platform. That’s because the optimal time to book the various different elements of your trip happen at different times – and this is the crux of how to save. “If you don't book your flights early, you're going to spend a fortune. With airline tickets, prices shoot up a lot if you wait too long,” says Shank. “But it’s the exact opposite with hotel prices, which decline the longer you wait.”
In other words, it makes zero sense to book your flights and hotel at the same time. To get the best price on both elements of your vacation, you should book flights six to seven weeks ahead and wait until much closer to your travel dates to book your hotel. This is a particularly good strategy if you’ve chosen a destination with a lot of hotels and your heart is not set on a particular property during the peak travel season.
Shank’s advice is founded in stats. The average hotel is only two-thirds full on any given night, so unless there’s a convention or some other major event going on, there is likely to be plenty of inventory available in a destination even on your arrival day.
You can book a hotel up to three months in advance on the HotelTonight website or app (available for iOS and Android), but the longer you wait, the more you save. Booking a week out nabs you a better price than if you book a month out, but the biggest savings of all go to last-minute Charlies who wait until the same day, when hotel rates are, on average, 10% less than the day before, says Shank.
Have you been told that travel packages always save you money? Again, you are booking your flight and hotel at the same time and only one of those elements will be at its optimal price. “Unbundling helps you save because you can get the benefit of booking the flight early and the hotel late,” says Shank.
There’s another benefit to booking your flight and hotel separately. “The selection of hotels included in these packages is often limited, so you're often not able to choose the perfect hotel for you,” says Shank. “By unbundling, you're going to get better choice as well.”