Travel Booking Trends

When I first started traveling and then as a travel agent, I noticed that people, including myself, booked far in advance for their vacations.  It wasn’t uncommon to book a cruise nearly two years in advance, the moment the cruise line opened bookings for another season.  We normally had to wait for what seemed like forever to purchase our airfare, as it just wasn’t available that far out.

Each year as a travel agent, I had a list of clients waiting for released cruise and land packages to be released because they were ready to book.

I can’t say that there aren’t still people who can’t wait to start planning their vacations, but I have noticed that more often, people are waiting just a little bit longer to book.  There a few reasons why I believe this is happening.

The main reason has to do with the economy.  While I don’t see droves of people canceling their vacations due to financial reasons like we did a couple years ago, I do see many changes in booking habits.  More often, bookings are done on a more short-term basis with a major emphasis on discounts.  I believe that people don’t want to put down a deposit, even if it is refundable, because once you plan the vacation, you don’t want to have to scale back or cancel later.  By delaying the decision until you are sure you can go on the vacation, you avoid the disappointment of having to cancel or downgrade later.

Unfortunately, this is causing another couple issues.  For example with Disney World vacations, in the past they had “typical” times of year when rooms and discounts would be released.  Because people were scaling back though, it seems that Disney released discounts and promotions earlier than normal.  The guests, however, did not get this and figured it was just a way for Disney to get people to book earlier and they weren’t going to change their ways.  When the “typical” dates came up, these guests questioned when the discounts and promotions would be released.  The answer?  They already were and those promotions are over.  When people found out they could no longer get the promotions they were used to getting, they just didn’t book.  Now what we are seeing is the lowest prices when you book much further out than in the past.  However, once the discounts expire, we are seeing new discounts for the same dates, though not as good as they were originally.

The most disappointing change has been with Disney Cruise Line.  This is a change we have not seen with other cruise lines.  Disney claims that the best pricing is available when you book early, which in general is true.  However, Disney has been releasing period discounts that only apply to new bookings.  Unfortunately, some of these discounts aren’t released until after the penalties have set in.  In many cases, it was still a discount to cancel with penalty and rebook a reservation with the discount, however, it was a penalty that in my opinion shouldn’t have to be paid.  This policy has caused some to rethink when to book a cruise vacation.  After all, the pricing could be less closer to the sale date, so why book in advance?  We have seen some changes to this recently where the discounts were released a bit earlier on some recent promotions so maybe they have learned that people aren’t willing to pay the penalties, especially when they are still planning to take the cruise.

The bottom line is that people’s booking habits have changed.  Is this the case for you?  Do you still book as far in advance as you used to or have you modified your booking habits?

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