The best-laid plans: Is there even such a thing when it comes to business travel? Last-minute travel is not only unavoidable but inevitable. It is often out of your control – meetings change, flights are delayed or canceled, clients need you. According to a SAP Concur report released last year, these eleventh-hour bookings can cost you more for flights, but last-minute hotel bookings buck this trend. Looking at booking windows of 0 days, 0–3 days, 4–7 days, 8–14 days, 15–30 days, and 30+ days, SAP Concur’s 2017 hotel data for EMEA shows that the lowest median rates can be found 0–3 days out, but most rooms are booked 15 or more days out. Quite simply, travelers are losing money by booking earlier than when prices are at their lowest.
Booking Trends in EMEA
Figure 1 is a simple summary of the percentage of room nights booked, by days prior to the stay, for EMEA in 2017. The largest share of bookings is made between 15–30 days before the stay. However, further data shows that the best rates are to be found when booking between 0–7 days before an intended trip, so there is a balance between inventory and price to be struck when booking.
Figure 2 charts the pattern of room rates per quarter, relative to the median price in 2017. While booking 4–7 days before the intended stay may save money as prices dip below the average, if you book within Q1, the room rates are already below the median price and will only fall. The significant difference between Q1 and Q2–Q4 is likely explained by the higher rate of travel towards the end of the year, as we found in our previous research around busiest travel days. The savvy traveller could save money by travelling in Q1.
Last Minute Bookings for Quick Trips
From figures 1 and 2, we can see that people booking last-minute rooms are getting a good rate for doing so. Providing further context, the above (figure 3) details the average length of stay for each booking window. Those that are booking last-minute, between 0–3 days before a trip, stay on average only one to two nights, suggesting that these types of stays could be trip extensions. With the savings on offer, this data could prove the basis for full, slightly longer trips to be booked closer to the time rather than merely extensions – useful information for trips where room availability is expected to be high.
Booking Habits in the U.K., Germany, and France
Below, we can see the breakdown of room rates for the U.K., France, and Germany by booking window. While the prices across all three countries gradually drop to around the median rate leading up to 8–14 days before booking, interestingly, rates in Germany hold slightly higher than the median until 4–7 days.
All three countries then experience a significant drop between 0–3 days. However, prices in Germany are only 13% below the median whereas the U.K. sees a larger drop to -26%. Germany certainly holds truer when it comes to price fluctuation, but travelers and travel managers would do well to book later there in comparison to France and the UK.
We can delve into this data on a more granular level by looking at the type of hotels that are being booked from 30+ to zero days before a stay, splitting between high-end, medium, and low-tier establishments in London (figure 5), Frankfurt (figure 6), and Paris (figure 7). We define high-, medium-, and low-tier hotels within each city by dividing the average daily rate into three equal tiers.
While prices in high-end Paris hotels see a consistent drop in prices with a slight peak at zero days before a stay, the average rate is between 50% and 90% above the median – far higher than the percentage above the median in both Frankfurt and London and worth avoiding if possible.
By comparison, the rates in Frankfurt suggest that travelers who are booking late will opt for a mid-tier hotel, therefore driving up demand and bringing the average price up to within nine percent below that of the price of a high-tier when booked at zero days. With the duty of care balance in mind, it could fare travel managers well to bump those on the move into high-tier hotels.
For those looking at London, lower-end hotels are noticeably cheaper than the average price in either of the other two cities and hold a remarkable consistency in comparison too – making this a worthy option for travelers with the experience to find a good establishment in that bracket.
Scoring the Best Prices at the Last Minute
Despite travelers’ best intentions, they don’t always have control over how far out they book a room. Therefore, here are some things to keep in mind to get the best room rates:
- Book within the cancellation period: A hotel’s cancellation typically falls between 24 to 48 hours in advance making more inventory available for lower rates.
- Sign up for hotel loyalty programs: Regardless of when you book, loyalty programs often offer upgrades not available to others.
- Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. As the data shows, last-minute hotel trends vary from city to city, so use this data accordingly. Plan ahead for times of the year such as November, when last-minute travel is more likely.