New Normal Travel Booking Tips & Travel Guide

As travelers get back out there, what do they need to know when booking their next big vacation?

Adit Damodaran - Jul. 8, 2021

Summary:

Flights

When to Buy

  • Tip: A good rule of thumb is to book no later than three weeks in advance of your intended departure date. Prices spike in the two weeks leading up to a flight’s departure, rising 25% two weeks out and another 30% in the final week. 

  • The specific day and time you buy your ticket doesn’t really matter

  • Use Hopper’s Price Freeze feature and lock in a good price on flights and hotels before they rise, and book at a later date. 

When to Fly (Depart and Return) | Domestic

  • Tip: The cheapest days to fly are typically midweek, departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday. The day you return matters a bit more, with midweek departures saving you around $20/round-trip and midweek returns saving you around $30/round-trip on average. 

  • The absolute cheapest combination is to depart on a Saturday and return on a Tuesday, which can save you around $50 compared to departing on a Friday and returning on a Sunday. 

  • No matter when you are traveling, be sure to take advantage of flexible booking options, such as Hopper’s Flexible Dates or Refundable Ticket Plans, so you can easily cancel or change plans without penalty if you need to. In fact, over 40% of Hopper users are paying for additional flexibility and protection over their trips when booking summer travel.

When to Fly (Depart and Return) | International

  • Tip: Similar to domestic, you can save by not flying on the weekends. Depart early in the week (Mon-Wed), and return midweek (Tue-Thurs) for the best deals, which can save you around $70 compared to the most expensive days (departing on a Friday and returning on a Sunday). 

  • Tip: Try not to return on the weekend, Saturdays and Sundays are by far the most expensive days to return. 

  • If you have to depart on a weekend, Sunday is the best day to do so. But Sundays are the most expensive day to return. 

When to Fly (Dates of Travel)

  • Tip: If things are looking expensive this summer, departing in late-Summer to early-Fall could help you save. We estimate this could save you about 12% (around $100) on average, and nearly 20% (around $150-200) compared to traveling Fourth of July weekend. 

Hotels:

Choosing a Destination

  • Tip: Several destinations may offer similar vibes, so we suggest being open to new places and comparing hotel rates before you book. Hotels in Miami, Florida run an average of $272/night, compared to an average of just $115/night in Ft. Myers-Naples, Florida, resulting in savings over $150/night. Hotels in Santa Barbara, CA go for $264/night on average, compared to $204/night in Monterey, CA. 

When to Check In

  • Tip: Sunday and Monday night stays are the cheapest check-in-days most of the time, saving you around $30/night. Fridays and Saturday nights are usually the most expensive. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, you can save by taking a long weekend and checking in on a Thursday, which still saves you around $20/night.

When to Buy

  • Tip: If you’re headed to a big city, consider booking last-minute. We see nightly hotel prices in big cities fall 13% on average in the final two weeks leading up to check-in. 

  • Tip: If you’re headed to a smaller vacation destination, book at least a month in advance. With resurging travel demand, we’re seeing lower availability in popular vacation destination towns and higher prices on last minute bookings. If you’re headed to a smaller vacation destination, we recommend booking your lodging at least a month in advance. 

  • Choosing a Hotel 

    • Tip: Headed to Orlando or Las Vegas? Take a Look at 5-Star Hotels. We compared the average premium for a room at a 5-star hotel compared to a 3-star hotel at various cities across the country. In Orlando, you can snag a 5-star hotel for just $45 more per night, and about $100 more per/night in Las Vegas. 

    • Tip: To save and find better availability, look for lodgings further from the main attraction. If you’re headed to a popular tourist destination like a beach town or national park, you can save a lot by being flexible with your lodging’s location. Hotels near West Yellowstone for example average $350/night, compared to $250/night near the north entrance. If you’re headed to a beach in Florida, you’ll pay close to $350/night on average to stay along the beach, compared to $140/night if you stay 5-10 miles inland. 

    • Tip: Aside from motels, Hotels usually have the cheapest prices, but check other types of lodging too. In U.S. cities, on average hotels were cheaper than other forms of lodging 70% of the time, and were cheaper 60% of the time even when we only looked at hotels above 3 stars. But in some vacation destinations with hot hotel markets (such as Miami Beach, Key West, Santa Barbara, and Virginia Beach), you’re more likely to save on your stay with alternative forms of lodging such as a Bed and Breakfast Inn or Vacation Rental.  

Cars

  • Tip: Book your rental car at the same time as your flight to guarantee availability Rental car prices are up 100% from the start of the year to average $100/day as of June 2021. Be sure to book early to get a good price & guarantee in availability especially in the most popular U.S markets: Los Angeles, Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami.

  • While there is some variation, rental car prices generally do not fluctuate much with how far in advance you book. We recommend booking early more to ensure availability than to get the best prices -- prices do not spike even for last minute rental car bookings. 


Air Travel

When to Buy?

A good rule of thumb is to book no later than three weeks in advance of your intended departure date. Prices spike in the two weeks leading up to a flight’s departure, rising 25% two weeks out and another 30% in the final week. 

Domestic Air Travel

Travel Days

If you can be flexible, fly midweek to save. 

We looked at the Top 10,000 domestic routes to figure out the cheapest days to depart and return. The cheapest days to fly are typically midweek, departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Cheapest Places to Fly among Top 10K Domestic Routes
Cheapest routes

The numbers within each cell represent the number of routes for which that specific departure/return pairing was the cheapest. If two or more pairings were the cheapest for a route, they were all tallied. Tuesday/Wednesday departures and returns are distinctly the cheapest days to fly, with Saturdays also making an appearance. 

Returning midweek saves more than departing midweek

The day you return matters a bit more than the day you depart, with midweek departures saving you around $20/round-trip and midweek returns saving you around $30/round-trip on average.

Airfare by Day of Departure/Return
Airfare prices by departure and return date

Saturdays are the cheapest day to depart on the weekend 

If you can’t leave midweek, Saturdays are the next best time to fly. Fridays and Sundays tend to be the most expensive days to depart and return. 

Domestic Travel Dates

Can't swing it this summer? Consider a late summer/early fall trip instead

If things are looking expensive for July 4th in particular, departing in late-Summer to early-Fall could help you save. We estimate this could save you about 12% (around $100) on average, and nearly 20% (around $150-200) compared to traveling Fourth of July weekend. 

International Air Travel

Travel Days

Similar to domestic, if you can be flexible, fly midweek to save. 

We looked at the Top 5,000 international routes to figure out the cheapest days to depart and return. Similar to domestic flights, avoiding Friday departures if you can be flexible will help you save the most. Monday through Wednesday typically have the cheapest departures, with occasional deals appearing for Sunday departures as well.

Cheapest Days to Fly among top 10K international routes
Cheapest Days to fly internationally

Saturdays and Sundays are by far the most expensive days to return.  Depart early in the week (Mon-Wed), and return midweek (Tue-Thur) for the best deals, which can save you around $70 compared to the most expensive days (departing on a Friday and returning on a Sunday). 

Airfare by Day of Departure & Return Among Top International Routes
Airfare by day of departure and return for international routes

Hotels

Save by Considering Similar Vibes that are Less Popular

Several destinations may offer similar vibes, so we suggest being open to new places and comparing hotel rates before you book. Hotels in Miami, Florida run an average of $272/night, compared to an average of just $115/night in nearby Ft. Myers-Naples, Florida, resulting in savings over $150/night. Hotels in Santa Barbara, CA go for $264/night on average, compared to $204/night in Monterey. 

Save on hotel rooms earlier in the week

We looked at daily price changes for over 9,000 hotels in the Top 200 most searched domestic destinations this summer. With higher demand for weekend stays, Sundays and Mondays are the cheapest days to check-in to a hotel, while Friday and Saturday stays are unsurprisingly the most expensive. If you’re still looking for a cheap weekend getaway, give a Thursday night check-in a shot if you can take a long weekend. 

Cheapest Check In Day
Cheapest Check In Day for Hotels

Sunday and Monday night stays are the cheapest check-in-days most of the time, saving you around $30/night. Fridays and Saturday nights are usually the most expensive. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, you can save by taking a long weekend and checking in on a Thursday, which still saves you around $20/night.

Average Cost of Check-In Day for Hotels in the U.S
Average cost of check-in day for hotels in the U.S

If you’re headed to a big city, consider booking last-minute

We see nightly hotel prices in big cities fall 13% on average in the final two weeks leading up to check-in. 

Note that this isn’t always true, and depending on the hotel and city you may want to book further in advance. This is sometimes the case for hotels in popular tourist destinations such as Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando. 

Hotel Average Nightly Prices by Days in Advance of Check In
Hotel average nightly prices by days in advance of check in

Headed to Orlando or Las Vegas? Take a Look at 5-Star Hotels We compared the average premium for a room at a 5-star hotel compared to a 3-star hotel at various cities across the country. In Orlando, you can snag a 5-star hotel for just $45 more per night, and about $100 more per/night in Las Vegas. 

Click here for a full-size version of this interactive chart.

Below are the Top 10 destinations where nearby 5-star hotels weren’t that much more expensive than 3-star hotels.

Top 10 Ranking of 5-star hotels vs. 3-star hotels
Top 10 ranking of 5-star hotels vs. 3-star hotels by destination

Look for lodgings further from the main attraction

If you’re headed to a popular tourist destination like a beach town or national park, you can save a lot by being flexible with your lodging’s location. Hotels near West Yellowstone for example average $350/night, compared to $250/night near the north entrance. If you’re headed to a beach in Florida, you’ll pay close to $350/night on average to stay along the beach, compared to $140/night if you stay 5-10 miles inland. 

Florida Hotel Prices
Florida Hotel Prices

Aside from motels, Hotels usually have the cheapest prices, but check other types of lodging too. In U.S. cities, on average hotels were cheaper than other forms of lodging 70% of the time, and were cheaper 60% of the time even when we only looked at hotels above 3 stars. But in some vacation destinations with hot hotel markets (such as Miami Beach, Key West, Santa Barbara, and Virginia Beach), you’re more likely to save on your stay with alternative forms of lodging such as a Bed and Breakfast Inn or Vacation Rental.  

Rental Cars (Domestic)

Book your rental car at the same time as your flight to guarantee availability

Rental car prices are up 120% from the start of the year to average $110/day as of June 2021. Be sure to book early to get a good price & guarantee in availability especially in the most popular U.S markets: Los Angeles, Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami.

Car Rental Advance Booking
Car rental prices by advance


Air Travel

When to Buy

A good rule of thumb is to book no later than three weeks in advance of your intended departure date. Prices spike in the two weeks leading up to a flight’s departure, rising 25% two weeks out and another 30% in the final week. 

Section 1.1: Domestic Air Travel

Travel Days

If you can be flexible, fly midweek to save. 

We looked at the Top 10,000 domestic routes to figure out the cheapest days to depart and return. The cheapest days to fly are typically midweek, departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday. 

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