Our Travel Agent Weighs In On The Best Time To Book Your Holiday Travel Hotels

When the holidays approach, some may be scrambling to figure out travel plans, while others have already booked everything from flight to hotel years in advance. The holiday season is a crazy time indeed, and a much-needed vacation will surely soothe the stress. But when is "the time" to book a hotel for holiday travel to ensure a guaranteed room and a good bang for your buck?

To help clear up this holiday hotel booking conundrum, we've reached out to Victoria Fricke, an Indiana-based travel agent and owner of Vic's Vacations. She has given us some invaluable tips for booking a hotel room before, but this time, we are focusing on hotel bookings specifically for holiday seasons like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even spring break — the routine spells when everyone catches a travel bug. According to a survey by Deloitte, nearly 50% of Americans are taking a holiday trip in 2023, with more than half of those travelers planning to stay in paid lodging. 

With such fierce competition, you may wonder how far in advance you should book your hotel. "Holiday travel is hands down the time when you want to book as far out as possible," Fricke exclusively tells us. "Not only do rates get higher as the year goes on, but availability becomes very hard to get." If you are traveling with family or a big group, the competition gets even more intense. "Family Suites sell out far in advance at most desirable locations," Fricke explains. "Some of them can be booked up to 3 years in advance."

Early bird gets the room vs. last-minute bookings

As it seems, the early bird gets the room. But what about those illusive money-saving last-minute holiday travel deals? Some travelers swear by these. As the holiday dates draw near, some hotels may slash their prices to ensure full occupancy, with various websites and apps specializing in discounted last-minute travel. But are these offers even worthwhile during the holiday season? Well, we hate to break it to you, but not really. 

Victoria Fricke explains that "the inventory just isn't there to support hotels giving away rooms. 2021 was the year of travel deals, and unfortunately, those days are long gone due to the demand for travel." Although there are last-minute bookings, Frick cautions, "Don't expect last minute rates to be deals. Holiday travel is typically double if not more the cost of other times of year so your 'deal' might just be less of a sting." Moreover, the last-minute strategy is risky, as popular destinations may book up completely, leaving procrastinators stuck with less desirable options or exorbitant prices.

Her ultimate advice is to prepare "1-2 years in advance for all major times of travel ... it is always in your best interest as a consumer to book far out." The main reason is that hotel rates are determined by supply and demand, as with anything else travel-related, from insurance to flights. Unless you want a last-minute round of hotel booking roulette for the holidays, it's best to be an early bird and hit that "Book Now" button.

Destinations, travel agents, and more expert tips

While the recommended timeframe to book your holiday travel hotel matters, your chosen travel destination also makes a difference. It's no secret that New York City is the quintessential American holiday spot with its dazzling Fifth Avenue displays and magical Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. For cold-averse folks, Cancun, Montego Bay, and other sizzling Caribbean countries are a popular respite.

However, if you're considering going to these places, so is everybody else. Instead, Victoria Fricke suggests going "Off the beaten path or [visiting] destinations that are out of their main season for tourism." She recommends domestic locales like Maine and North Carolina — popular in the warmer months but just as magical in the winter and less crowded. 

For a truly stress-free experience, she also recommends that you "work with a professional who can identify the best way to book to maximize deals, availability, and pricing." Hiring a travel agent to take care of all your holiday trip needs will ensure the right room at the right price — and peace of mind. "Many resorts will allow a price modifications booking, which means [your travel agent] can book far out at the time what the best rate is, then we can modify the rate should it drop later." Aside from Fricke's super helpful self-booking portal, she also has many more helpful travel tips — for holidays and beyond — on her Instagram