January has long been the most popular time for summer holidays. The approaching Christmas, gloomy weather, and punitive health regimes often lead us to think of happier times and sunnier climates. And in turn, tour operators tempt us with promotions and discounts at every turn.
However, in recent years, January sales have lost some luster. The online era has encouraged more last-minute bookings, cemented by the lingering “don’t plan too far ahead” pandemic mentality. Today’s plethora of flight options and destinations also means travelers are less worried about missing out. Couple that with the arrival of other “shopping events” such as Black Friday, and looming economic uncertainty, and it’s reasonable to assume that the New Year’s Sale could turn out to be something of a damp squib in 2023.
Nevertheless, tour operators are outdoing each other in January discounts, with many claiming that this remains their biggest booking period. Moreover, trade organization Abta predicted a sales boom on “Sunny Saturday” (January 7) – typically the most popular day of the year for holiday bookings. Her recent research also suggests that around a third of travelers plan to book earlier than usual to get the best price for their vacation.
Is the traditional January travel sale really going down? Do advertised holiday deals still offer good value? We look at and give tips on how to ensure a decent deal all year round.
Is January still a good time to book a summer holiday?
Telegraph Travel consumer expert Nick Trend suggests that rumors of the death of January deals are somewhat exaggerated. “January is still a key time to book summer holidays and an important time for travel agents to gauge demand – especially for school holidays – and get some much-needed cash. All major operators offer incentives of some sort, from simple discounts to “free” extras.
“The problem for the consumer is assessing whether prices can continue to fall if they hold off on booking now. My advice is always the same: look at the bottom price you’ve been offered (rather than the size of the supposed discount) and instead of trying to guess if it’ll go up or down, decide if you think it offers reasonable value right now. If so, why not book?
Of course, there are other reasons to book in advance besides securing the lowest prices. “The advantage of committing now is that you have the largest selection of accommodation and flights to choose from, and once you’ve booked, you can relax and look forward to your summer vacation knowing that everything is taken care of,” says Nick.
Many travel agencies are still screaming about their New Year’s offers. British Airways Holidays says January remains the “biggest sale of the year” with easyJet promising to save up to 20 per cent on more than 1.7 million seats on its network. It’s also worth noting that both easyJet and BA are offering an extra £300 off some holidays until early next week as an added incentive to book now.
It can be seen, however, that the predominance of January reservations has certainly weakened. Thomas Cook brand director David Child reveals: “Last year, July was the busiest month (although January was very close to the latter) as people were buying last-minute summer getaways.”
However, he added that the benefits of booking now include more choice and “price lock-in, especially if you book all-inclusive, so you don’t risk missing out on the holiday you want if it goes over your budget.”
How to find a good deal in the January travel sales (and beyond)
With so many deals and deals hitting our inboxes, it can be hard to know what constitutes good value. Jo Rhodes, acting assistant editor of Who? Travel, says while there is certainly some bargain shopping to be had at this time of year, holidaymakers should do some research before booking.
“Limited-time offers are not always everything they promise – when are they really? has analyzed these types of deals in the past, we found that more than half of the times they were the same price or even cheaper after the sale ended.
“As with any major purchase, make sure you do your research and don’t make a hasty decision. Reviews can be a good indication of what to expect. Just be suspicious of fake comments: clusters of reviews containing repeated language or many reviews from accounts that have never been posted before are often red flags.
“Choosing a company with a flexible booking policy and purchasing comprehensive travel insurance from the day you book should be a priority to ensure you are covered in case you are unable to travel. Also, take the time to review your insurance policy carefully to ensure it meets your individual needs.”
The limited-time nature and flashy taglines of the sale may panic shoppers, but experts say savvy travelers can find decent deals year-round. Nicky Kelvin, head of aviation website The Points Guy UK, suggests several ways to find cheap flights, including subscribing to newsletters, setting up price alerts and using online tools.
“You can search the internet for cheap flights and holiday deals whenever you want. Google Flights is a great tool to help you find amazing deals all year round – not just in January. It also allows you to search for a wide range of dates and multiple destinations at the same time, as well as check historical prices.”
Kelvin adds: “Low-cost airlines tend to sell their cheapest seats first, so getting in early will get you the best deals. Other airlines’ prices can fluctuate significantly throughout the year and it’s always a good idea to set up alerts on Google Flights and wait for the big sales that come up every few months.”
Which? Jo Rhodes of Travel echoes this phrase: “The new year is definitely not the only time you can take advantage of the discount; for example, you can find cheap tickets on routes where airlines are trying to fill seats. If you can be flexible with travel dates and destination choices, setting up price alerts is a good idea as costs will fluctuate throughout the year.”
So the message is to do a lot of research online, but for the Luddites among us, outsourcing that admin to a trusted travel agent remains a good option if you give them your parameters. Abta CEO Mark Tanzer says: “Our number one piece of advice is to book with a reputable travel company, such as an Abta affiliated travel agent or tour operator, who can help you find the vacation you’re looking for at a price you’re willing to pay.”
Which destinations offer the best value for summer 2023?
As travelers are more price-conscious than ever, booking patterns have already changed in January. Thomas Cook’s David Child says: “Greece remains the most popular with our customers for the summer, but we’re seeing countries like Egypt and Tunisia emerging as alternative options for families who still want a five-star experience, but at a lower price. In addition, Fuerteventura is a cheaper Canary Island than the more famous ones and is ahead of Gran Canaria because people take advantage of the cheaper deals.”
It is also worth considering the costs on the ground before booking. Going for an all-inclusive trip will now likely prove to be a money-saving move, but if you decide to take a self-catering break in a typically expensive destination, you may end up canceling out the savings you made on flights and overnight stays. This is especially important given the gloomy economic outlook and the weak pound.
As a result, many tour operators have focused in 2023 on destinations where local costs are low. Tui and Jet2 have added several options to the Balkans, with the latter launching new flights to Tivat, Montenegro later this year from Stansted and Manchester. Jet2’s summer 2023 holiday options include an all-inclusive stay at the 4-star Melia Sunny Beach Hotel in Bulgaria from just £565 per person. On the Costa del Sol, most comparable options offered by companies were at least £400 more expensive for a couple.
For any destination, check the exchange rates and consider whether you might need to rent a car – something that has skyrocketed after the pandemic.
Ultimately, if you’re planning to book a vacation this ‘sunny Saturday’, take the time to compare deals, check reviews, booking policies, and consider possible extra costs. And if you decide to hold off, that doesn’t mean your dream summer vacation is off the charts.
Where are you going this summer? Do you have any tips for wrapping Christmas occasions? Let us know in the comments below…