February 27, 2016 8:40 am
Updated: February 27, 2016 9:06 am

Book early or last minute? Tips for getting the best travel deals

Where is your paradise?

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Admit it: While planning a trip you’ve watched the prices of flights rise and fall, fall some more, then spike just as you’re about to book.

The price of travel fluctuates wildly, and it can really put a damper on your trip before you even get off the ground.

A recent study of more than 1.3 billion U.S. air fares found that 54 days before your flight is when you get the best price, according to Cheapair.com.

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In Canada it’s more of a “moving target,” says TravelOnly president and CEO Gregory Luciani.

“Our sandbox is so different compared to the rest of the world.”

History is a decent indicator, and Luciani agrees the 70 to 21 day window is generally a good bet.

“There’s is somewhat of a crystal ball but there’s so many little nuances, it’s difficult.”

Whether you’re hopping to another province or another continent, here are some guidelines to getting the best price when it comes to booking travel.

Watch for incentives and bonuses

Room upgrades, excursions, credits: if you’re going to book anyway, you might as well get a bonus.

“One is in October or September when tour operators launch their early booking bonuses,” Luciani says, adding that’s one of the best times of the year to book travel.

READ MORE: How to score best deal when booking a hotel: tips from travel experts

When you see price drop protection offered, you really can’t lose.

“You’re getting exactly what you want but also the assurance that even if the price should come down…you get the difference anyway.”

Sign up for travel reward and incentive programs.

“Make sure you take advantage of your points,” says travel expert and Planet Blue Adventure blogger Parmjit Parmar, who has been to “50 or 60” countries. “I sign up for all the programs.”

Frequent travellers reap rewards, and exclusive travel deals can be sent right to your inbox (if you don’t mind the extra emails).

WATCH: Travel scams to avoid

Book travel for mid-week and off hours

If you have the flexibility, mid-week flights are often the best bang for your buck, says Parmar.

“The key is to travel during the week and stay away from the weekends. The prices are lower mid-week.”

READ MORE: Top 10 most common mistakes made by travellers

The airports will also be less busy, and if the flight isn’t full you might even be able to talk yourself into a free seat upgrade.

Change up which websites you use when looking for travel, and even the day of the week and time of day you search.

Don’t wait until the last minute if you’re picky

Last minute deals do occur, but don’t bank on them, especially if your heart is set on a certain destination or experience.

“Waiting until the last minute, there is a 10 per cent chance you’ll get the best deal and the hotel or destination that you want to go to,” says Luciani.

“In reality, 90 per cent of the time the best stuff always sells out early.”

This rule can prove especially true when booking over a holiday or a high-demand destination, such as Costa Rica or Hawaii.

READ MORE: The top 5 credit cards in Canada for travel rewards

Reach out to fellow travellers

Look to the online community for awesome travel destinations, tips, or deals — and what to avoid.

“You can engage with people…that is the way you are going to find places off the beaten path.”

Posting questions or contacting people through online travel forums, Facebook pages and even through Instagram hashtags can connect you to places and experiences you might never have thought of, Parmar says.

“There are many social media communities,” says Parmar. “Put it out in a forum: Who’s been to Greenland, what advice do you have?”

Don’t forget to give back and share your own tips and tricks.

Opportunities arise from tough economical times

The loonie tanking isn’t exactly a secret, and some tour operators and even cities are offering at-par deals to Canadians.

“Some of the most high-end cruise lines in the world are selling the same product south of the border for the same price in US dollars as they’re selling it to a Canadian today,” Luciani says.

WATCH: Some US destinations using at-par deals to entice Canadian travellers

It can also make an exotic locale far more within reach. Greece, for example, has been struggling economically for years and needs all the tourism dollars it can get.

“Prices to Europe this summer are some of the best they’ve been in years.”

Bonus tip: Explore Canada this summer

WestJet declared earlier this year it is lowering prices due to a slump in sales, and new low-cost carrier NewLeaf is knocking at competitors’ doors.

“I can tell you with assurety that this summer will be your best time to fly within Canada,” says Luciani. “You will never see the deals as good as they’ve been.”

So get exploring, eh.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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