When should you book a summer family holiday?
If you're organised you may well have booked your family summer holiday already. If you haven't it's Best Buy to book sooner rather than later to take advantage of tour operator offers, such as free child places or low deposit schemes. "Most hotels issue early-booking offers of up to 30% off, with expiry dates in December-January, or sometimes February," says Emma Barnett, co-founder of family specialist Totstoo. "In rare situations, when the hotel hasn't yet released their next year's rates, we can sometimes guarantee the same price as the current year's rates, avoiding (typically) a 10% increase."
When is the best time to book a camping holiday in Europe?
Predictions that the UK economy is set to outgrow the rest of Europe should lead to some competitive prices at European campsites, according to Dan Yates, founder of outdoor accommodation specialist Pitchup.com, so those planning an overseas camping holiday should book now to take advantage of the keen pricing and early-bird specials.
That's not to say there won't be last-minute bargains too, particularly if the UK has a good summer. "If holidaymakers decide to stay in the UK, site owners and tour operators will be keen to offload inventory," says Yates.
The best time to book a Eurocamp holiday is between now and 5 March, when there are a number of special offers available, including a 20 per cent price reduction at selected sites during July and August. A selection of parks, including St Avit Loisirs in the Dordogne and Playa Joyel on the Costa Verde, are currently available at Easter for £35 per party for a family of two adults and up to four children.
Michelle Betley Jones, national sales manager at Eurocamp, advises, "Where possible, opt for ferry travel as a cost-effective way to reach your holiday destination. Midweek Dover-Calais ferry crossings can be included in a Eurocamp holiday package at a cost of just £55 per family (based on a mid-week Dover-to-Calais crossing with P&O Ferries for one car and up to nine passengers).
What sort of deals can you get last-minute?
"The days of hundreds and thousands of last-minute bargains are over as tour operators are now much better at assessing the number of holidays they are likely to sell and pre-book rooms and flights accordingly," says Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta).
But if you're flexible with your holiday plans and can travel when demand is low, then a last-minute deal can be a good option. For example, seven nights' all-inclusive at the Vergina Sharm, Sharm El Sheikh costs £193 per person, flying from Luton on 3 February through the Holiday Discount Centre.
Michael Edwards, regional director of Intrepid Travel, says small group tours are often discounted within eight weeks of departure. "The reason is that small group tours typically have just 10-12 passengers, so they need to fill as many places as possible to cover fixed costs, such as transport and the tour leader." Intrepid currently has a range of tours on sale with a 25% discount.
Should you book a Christmas/New Year's Eve/Valentines cottage a year in advance, or wait for a last-minute deal?
Again, book as early as possible, especially if you want a larger cottage in a particular location. Late-availabilty cottages tend to be for smaller groups. See the Guardian Travel's guide to cottage companies.
Is there a cheapest day of the week to fly?
The industry tends to say that Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly because it's not a big day for business travel, but Maire Bonheim, publisher of Travelzoo, says typically the cheapest flights are Tuesday through to Thursday. Andy Washington, managing director of expedia.co.uk, advises people to "fly early - early morning flights are often cheaper and there are fewer chances of delays."
When is the best time to book a ski holiday?
Every skier and snowboarder wants to be near the slopes and lifts, so your ideal hotel, chalet or apartment will be snapped up fast. Research by Crystal Ski shows that over 70% of families book at least six months before travel. If you've set your heart on a particular resort and accommodation or are locked into dates book as early as possible," says Crystal Ski's product director Ian Davis.
"For the low-season dates [ie outside of New Year, February half-term and Easter], the closer you book, the better the deal - but only if you don't mind which resort, accommodation or when you travel - and don't be surprised if there's nothing suitable available," adds Davis.
If it's a transatlantic trip, for example to Whistler or Banff in Canada, then the early bird always gets the worm, says Craig Burton, managing director of Ski Solutions. "Hotel, flights and lift passes will all be at their cheapest if you book before 31 August for the season ahead."
While February half-term 2014 is almost fully booked, there is still good availability for Easter 2014 because it falls at the end of April, according to Burton, although he advises booking a higher altitude resort, or north America so late in the season.
He adds, "The dates for 2014 New Year's Eve ski packages fall at a good time, with most departures this year on Saturday 27 or Sunday 28 December, perfect for those wanting to have Christmas at home before escaping after Boxing Day. New Year 2013 was almost fully booked by October, and we expect even more demand next year."
When is the cheapest time of the year to book and travel...
Winter sun: " January is a good time to pick up a bargain - there are currently some great winter-sun deals to the Canaries, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco," advises Steve Campion, managing director of the Holiday Discount Centre. "But the best time to get a cheap winter break is to travel at the end of November or early December, before the busy Christmas and new year rush."
Summer sun: The earlier the better is the mantra, especially if you want to guarantee a particular area or specific accommodation. Chris Wright, managing director of Sunvil, says: "For destinations that are popular - Greece, for example, is set to be very popular again in 2014 - then booking early is a must. Putting something together yourself at the last minute is tricky, as the low-cost carriers' flights will generally be expensive and rarely discounted. If you don't care where you go or where you want to stay, then for the cheapest holiday book the day before you travel."
Australia and New Zealand: The Antipodes are always popular over Christmas. It's cheaper to travel before 9 December or thereabouts, advises Maire Bonheim from Travelzoo. But the cheapest fares are often snapped up as soon as they are released (10 to 11 months in advance - click here for our guide to when seats are released for sale). The lowest fares to these destinations are in their winter (May/June).
The Caribbean: The best time to travel for the cheapest deals is between May and September. Edward Light of Caribtours says, "This is when the hotels have the best special offers, and airfares are at their cheapest. Generally speaking, the weather at this time is good - yes, the odd tropical shower but hot, sunny and certainly better than the UK."
Light reiterates the need to book as early as possible: "If you know your dates and can commit in advance, book as soon as the flights go on sale. There may be occasional sales, but usually this is as cheap as the flights are going to get."
US: January and February are considered the peak season for booking long-haul flights as most airlines launch special offers. The off-season months, normally September to March (avoiding festive period), are when prices to the USA are the most keen, according to Karen Niven of Bon Voyage. "It's best to book for this period as early on in the year as possible (January-February), as the major airlines release their special offer fares then. Unlike European holidays, American holidays are not normally reduced in price for last-minute bookings, as the lower airfares have already been gobbled up at the beginning of the year. The nearer the departure date, the higher the airfare," says Niven.
If it's a city break, you will nearly always be better off booking a package rather than going independently. For example, Trailfinders is currently offering Virgin Atlantic flight-only return to Boston for £441, but the same flights plus seven days' car hire costs costs £485.
Asia: "In most tropical areas, the months of May, June and October tend to be the best value as this is generally when the lowest air fares/hotel rates and promotional offers - such as free nights - all kick in together," says David Kevan of Chic Locations.
Once you move into July to mid-August, the air fares zoom up, as tourists and overseas students from Asia all want to travel then. "As a guide, the difference between travelling on 30 June and 1 July, for example, would be at least £250 per person," says Kevan.
"Most of the Far East resorts tend to have a flat rate from May to October, however there are some notable exceptions such as Bali, Koh Samui, east-coast Malaysia - all places where the weather is particularly good in mid-summer and their hotels tend to apply a supplement from July to mid-September."
Self-catering: "The majority of family bookings are made in January, according to Holidaycottages.co.uk, so it makes sense to book as early as possible. "We do get new properties on our books so a late deal can arise, but it's best to book early to avoid disappointment. It tends to be just small cottages left last minute," says Emma Seymour-Sloan, marketing manager of Holidaycottages.co.uk.
City breaks: "For European city breaks, you'll probably get the best prices from now until the end of March," says Maire Bonheim of Travelzoo. From then onwards prices tend to go up because the weather starts to improve. August and the second half of December, when business travel drops off, are also good times for city break deals in the UK and continental Europe.
Can you ever haggle with a tour operator or travel agent?
You're unlikely to be able to haggle with a tour operator, but if you join a loyalty scheme, you'll be the first to hear about offers. "Sign up for e-newsletters with your preferred airlines, hotels or travel portal, as they'll often alert you to offers and sales before general release as well as flag their best offers, so cutting down on your browsing time," says Steve Campion, managing director of the Holiday Discount Centre.