How to get the best last minute hotel deal on New Year’s Eve - or any other night
Is it ever worth leaving your hotel booking until the very last minute? Here's how i fared a couple of years ago trying to bag a bargain for New Year's Eve.
Ever since lastminute.com introduced us all to the nailbiting thrill of leaving our hotel booking until the final moment it’s generally been assumed that’s the best way to get a bargain. But does it work on one of the most heavily booked nights of the year, New Year’s Eve, especially in a top destination like London?
Until recently I imagine we’ve all thought ‘last minute’ means a day or two before the night we want to stay but the rise of websites like Hotel Tonight* suggests the best deals are to be found on the same day, even a couple of hours before you walk through your hotel bedroom door.
I’d planned to spend New Year’s Eve in London with my daughter. Neither of us are great party animals so we thought we’d go out to lunch and then bunker down in a four star hotel room with trashy TV and room service.
A preliminary scan of the main UK booking sites including Trivago, hotels.com, booking.com and lastminute.com revealed that rooms were still quite pricey but the exercise was useful in terms of getting an idea of the sort of places we should be looking for and what we’d have to pay. Despite the fact that the hotels there were offering better deals we didn’t want to go to the City (CBD) or Docklands or places that were way out of the centre like Ealing or Wembley. We wanted to be in the West End. But most rooms were still upwards of £300 ($460) a night. The best deal we found was the smart-looking Eccleston Square hotel in Belgravia which was offering a room with a king bed for £205 if you booked two nights. If we hadn’t needed a twin it would have been a good buy (prices subsequently went up to £309 a night).
Things hadn’t moved much on the 29th though the sites were offering wildly different prices for the same hotel. One hotel I was looking at - I can’t remember which now - was £216 on Trivago but £495 on Expedia. The Rosewood varied between £325 and £600 on Anoma. I resisted the temptation to blow the budget on the Café Royal which was down from £1640 to £500 on one site (but still £1000 on Expedia which consistently had the highest prices).
By the 30th things were hotting up with prices shooting up as well as down.I found a twin at the Westbury off Bond Street for £274 then found it was for that night not the 31st. Damn! It was getting nervy. ‘775 people are currently looking at hotels in London’ said hotels.com. I obviously wasn’t the only one taking it to the wire.
By 8pm the Taj owned St James’ Court hotel near Victoria had gone down to £210 for a room with a king size bed. It seemed like the best bet. Everywhere else I fancied was resolutely sticking around £400. I rang them to see if we could get a twin. Reservations didn’t open until 8am. By 11.45 it had gone up to £570. Even the Comfort Inn in Buckingham Palace Road was up to £350.
On the morning of the 31st I hit hotels.com. Blimey! Prices had rocketed overnight. The Dorchester, £500-odd the previous day - not that I was thinking of booking it, was up to £1785, the Athenaeum, £295 on the 28th, to £1010
I panicked. I was due to meet my daughter at 12.45 for lunch and wanted to check in wherever we were staying first so I rang the Beaumont which you may remember offered us a night’s B & B in our last competition. (Under my married name, not courting a freebie, I hasten to say.) A suave gentleman called Oliver told me their standard room was £395 including continental breakfast but offered an upgrade. Far more than I had intended to pay but cheaper than some other perfectly ordinary hotels let alone the big names. I succumbed.
I rationalised it on the basis that we could easily have spent that much on a weekend away but were just blowing it all in one night. That we weren’t splashing out on champagne or an expensive evening meal (we had a very good burger and hot dog on room service). That no other hotel was better placed for the sales. And that the room and bathroom were awesome - surely as good as the Dorchester down the road?
What was interesting was that the level of occupancy and prices charged on New Year’s Eve were obviously so high that hotels didn’t need to offer spectacular last minute deals. True, prices came down from the giddy morning heights, but not by that much. That at least was some relief.
Things returned to normal on the 1st - well, actually better than normal. I was able to find a twin room at The Lancaster near Lancaster Gate tube for £129 which is less than you’d pay for a midweek booking. The St James’s Hotel I’d been looking at was down to £107. If I’d been prepared to go to Canary Wharf - though why would you on New Year's Day? - the Britannia would have only been £65.
So, what have I learnt? That it’s difficult to get a bargain even at the last minute on New Year’s Eve - no surprise there really - but that on other days if you hold your nerve you can find some great deals (as this reporter for abc news also discovered)
It’s not for everyone, there’s an element of gambling involved and you need a plan B (ask Twitter/phone a friend) if you don’t find a room for the price you’re prepared to pay but if you like a bargain it’s a great way to stay in a better hotel than you could normally afford. Try it!
Top tips for last minute booking
* Do your research. Get an idea a couple of days ahead of what prices are being charged for the type of hotel you’re looking for. Make a shortlist and keep tracking the prices on those hotels. Bigger hotels tend to have more deals than smaller ones, obviously.
* Check the rival booking sites as prices for the same hotel can vary wildly (you also need to check if the price quoted includes tax and breakfast) I found the best deals for London on hotels.com and trivago.co.uk which links you to all the main booking sites.
* Register with a couple of the booking sites so you don't have to faff around doing it once you spot your bargain
* Check the hotel’s own website or, better still, ring it and ask what is the best price they can do. Yes, pick up the telephone! That’s also the best approach if you have specific requirements like a twin-bedded room or a bath or want to try negotiating a cheeky upgrade.
* If you see a fair price at a hotel with the right facilities in the right place. go for it. I missed a couple of perfectly good deals and spent more than I intended by hanging on until the very last minute. You may find a better price in a few hours - on the other you might not.
* But if prices have suddenly shot up dramatically leave it an hour or so. Unless it's 9pm, of course ;-)
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