Turns out there’s a sweet spot for booking hotels cheaply. Contrary to what you might expect, a recent Nerdwallet study concludes that it’s cheaper to book a hotel 15 days before your stay — not months before, as is the conventional wisdom. However, there are trade-offs to consider, not least of which is ensuring that the hotel room will still be available when you try to book.
Rooms booked 15 days in advance are about 13% cheaper
Nerdwallet studied hotel rates worldwide between 2019 to 2021 and found that the average rate when the room booked four months in advance was $US233 (A$310). This was higher when compared to the average rate of $US203 (A$270) when the room was booked 15 days in advance — a difference of 13%.
The study looked at other variables, too. In terms of luxury, the average savings was much higher for high-end hotels, as rooms were 21.6% cheaper when booked 15 days in advance. That effect was dampened for mid- to lower-range hotels, however, as they were only 9.4% and 5.5% cheaper, respectively (which makes sense, since they have fewer frills to offer).
As for international versus domestic hotels, there wasn’t much difference between properties in North America (12.7% savings) compared to all other countries (13.5% savings).
Should you be booking all your hotels 15 days in advance, then?
Not necessarily. You might get a cheaper rate by booking 15 days later, but that comes with an increased risk of a hotel being unavailable when you need it, especially during a peak travel period (e.g., hotels can fill up fast when there’s a convention in town). Plus, you’ll likely have other bookings to change or cancel if your hotel doesn’t work out, like for airfare, car rentals, and vacation days. And considering all the planning and unknowns that come with international travel, you might be happy paying for a room that’s been reserved well in advance.
On the other hand, if you have maximum flexibility about when you travel, then booking 15 days in advance to get a cheaper price makes more sense. As Nerdwallet points out, many hotels also offer free cancellations, up to 48 or 72 hours in advance, which means that you could book ahead, cancel with 15 days remaining (if the posted rate is actually lower), and then book that hotel again (although, again, there’s a slight risk that the hotel room won’t be available) — especially for luxury hotels. That said, the 13% discount is an average, so the actual savings will likely vary and possibly not be worth the hassle.