Booking a summer vacation in February may seem premature, but travelers planning to attend the Summer Olympics in London could be fast approaching the deadlines to grab a good deal.
Experts say prices for travel to cities hosting the Olympic Games typically rise 20% to 30% in the months leading up to and during the games as millions of athletes, organizers, diplomats and other visitors descend on the area. London, which expects a crowd of roughly 65 million, could see an even steeper increase because summer is already a peak time for tourism there, says Jason Clampet, senior online editor for Frommers.com. "Prices are only going to go up from here," he says. "The longer you wait, the less likely you are to be able to get a room or a flight."
In previous years, for example, East Coast travelers flying to London during late summer saw prices as cheap as $1,000 booking this time of year, says Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com. Currently, the best deals start at $1,250, a 25% premium, and he expects prices could hit $2,000 for travelers who wait until late spring to book. "You're going to get a crowd starting in May figuring, that if they can get tickets, why not?" he says.
But event tickets are already largely sold out, which may leave some early bookers at a price disadvantage, says Andrew Young, web editor for sale site Travelzoo. Games organizers say the official ticket resale program won't start until later this spring. Travelers making arrangements now can purchase packages ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 which include access to a few events as well as hospitality tents with food and seating. Or they can try their luck on the secondary market.
But booking early is just part of the savings strategy:
"If you were going to go, the opening weekend tends to be the most expensive," says Young. Travelers visiting during the last week of the games are likely to see better hotel and airfare availability and pricing as crowds thin out, he says. Travelocity currently lists round-trip airfares from New York starting at $1,156 for a July 25-31 trip, while an August 8-13 trip is $1,098. Nightly rates at higher-end properties are also running roughly $50 cheaper for the later trip.
Add on other stops
The London games may prove to be a silver lining for travelers headed to other European cities during late summer. "Tourists who would generally go to other places in Europe may go to London instead," says Clampet. Tourists may see somewhat lower hotel prices or fare sales to cities such as Paris, Rome and Dublin, as well as smaller crowds at popular attractions. And for those who do want to make a stop at the games, plenty of low-cost European carriers have cheap fares into London, Seaney says.
Book and rebook hotels
Last week, London's organizing committee released 120,000 room nights that had been blocked off for games workers and the media, but weren't needed. That makes it a good time to book a convenient room, although prices won't necessarily be cheap. "Hotels aren't discounting, and they probably won't for some time," says Young. Many properties still allow penalty-free cancellations up to a few days out from arrival, so travelers may find it beneficial to book now and periodically look for cheaper rooms, as well as alternatives like vacation rentals, as the games approach. Sales may show up in early July if hotels have extra capacity, he says.