Booking travel at the last minute has become so commonplace that a virtual industry has sprung up to cater to these spontaneous shoppers.
And as travel companies and sites incorporate phrases like “last minute” and “tonight” in their moniker, it reinforces the perception that consumers can get whatever they want at the right price – even at the eleventh hour.
For travel agents this can be a mixed bag; some agents say that when last minute shoppers realize they’ll have to pay more, they’re less likely to haggle if they have their heart set on traveling.
But others say these clients consume more time and energy as the consequences of their procrastination sink in.
“Usually when people wait they are definitely going to pay more, especially with the air portion,” said Susan Berman, of Berman Travel, in Atlantic City, N.J. “If they are not very picky, that’s okay.”
Not only has Berman seen the trend increase but she’s hearing about it from a number of her suppliers.
“A lot more people are not planning ahead like they used to,” even for big trips, Berman said.
“Some people who used to contact us six or even nine months ahead of time, are now booking about two months ahead,” she said. “I’m even seeing it with things like destination weddings.
“I’m booking one for next February now, and that’s something I’d normally start working on more than a year in advance.”
Some clients are simply concerned about the economy, according to Berman.
“They are holding on to their money as long as they can,” she said, adding they might be worried about getting their money back if they have to cancel. “And a lot of millennials are moving around and changing jobs.”
Research bears this out. A survey of consumers commissioned by Priceline earlier this year found that last-minute getaways are the “favored trip type” for 2015, especially for younger clients.
Seventy-three percent of millennials said they were likely to take a last-minute vacation this year -- versus 58% of all of those polled.
On a positive note, Priceline found that these deadline-addicts are also “extremely flexible” and willing to compromise on factors like choice of carrier and room type. And they may come to a decision faster than a customer who has the luxury of more time.
“With last minute bookers, you don’t have a lot of time to explore a lot of possibilities,” said Sandy Anderson of Riverdale Travel, in Minneapolis. “There’s a good chance the air is going to be higher and you won’t get the hotel you want.”
With the improving economy, Anderson said she’s also noticing an opposite trend, at least with some clients: they’re comfortable they can afford a vacation and are booking well in advance.
But for those who don’t book in advance, Anderson finds that deals sometimes do open up closer to departure -- but not too close.
“There is sometimes a sweet spot about a month before you’re going, “ she said. “But I wouldn’t wait until the week before.”
Turning to agents
Other agents said that customers are getting wild ideas about what’s available by searching on the internet.
They then turn to agents when the deal turns out to be too good to be true.
“It’s the instant gratification thing," said Terry Regan, president of Berkeley’s Northside Travel, in Berkeley, Calif. “They call us because they see something online, and they couldn’t get it. So they call us.”
Still, such requests give full-service agencies a chance to win over new clients.
Regan said, for example, that he was able to help a customer who called at the last minute with an odd request -- he had a one-way ticket to Paris but no ticket back home and no plans for how to spend his time on the continent.
Regan got him an “incredible” $600 fare back to San Francisco from Naples -- via Istanbul with a two-day stopover -- and made all his arrangements to travel to Spain and Italy.
“I think he was happy,” Regan said.