Obviously, it is wise to do this but there is another way to search that can produce much greater savings.
Instead of searching for the cheapest prices on the dates you want to go, try searching for the cheapest dates.
By this, we do not mean hunting around to discover that the cheapest time to visit Ibiza is in November: it may be cheap then but it is no good at all if you want to get an August tan.
You do not need to search for months at a time, because you can save large sums just by shifting your plans by one day.
Some of this is fairly obvious.
Most people know that a Monday morning or Friday evening flight to Europe will be expensive and that a small saving could be achieved by travelling on a Tuesday or Thursday.
However, hotels have the biggest price swings, and many of these are hard to predict.
Many hotel chains allow you to see an availability chart for each of their hotels with the lowest rate shown for each night.
Here are some figures taken two weeks in advance: Mercure Shakespeare Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon Monday: £118 Tuesday: £59 Wednesday: £135 Thursday: £152 Prague Hilton Monday: CZK8,250 Tuesday: CZK4,250 Wednesday: CZK4,250 Thursday: CZK4,800 Hilton Jumeirah Beach, Dubai Monday: AED900 Tuesday: AED1,250 Wednesday: AED1,100 Thursday: AED1,050 There is no obvious logic to these patterns.
In some cases, the lowest midweek rates were lower than rates at the supposedly cheap weekend.
You would expect the differences between nights to increase nearer to the arrival date, as the hotels get full for some dates, but this is not always the case.
In October, we checked the Hilton Jumeirah Beach for a week in mid-January and found rates varying from AED1,200 to AED1,600 over four consecutive days.
There are some fairly obvious lessons here: · Hotel rates can vary by more than airfares so it makes sense to look at hotel pricing before booking a supposedly cheap airline ticket.
· Not all hotel chains or individual hotels have availability calendars on their booking pages.
Accor (Sofitel, Novotel, Ibis etc.
) and Hilton have them (click on the availability box for Accor and tick "flexible date" for Hilton).
If you cannot find a calendar for the hotel you want, it could be an idea to go to either of these sites to check its pricing.
While individual hotels will have their own booking patterns, it is quite likely that a busy night for the Mercure in Stratford or the Hilton in Prague will be busy at neighbouring hotels.
You can also use the booking chart at www.
com, which lists all hotel rates for a month at a time so you can get a clear idea of which dates are best for your destination.
· Hotels vary about how they charge for longer stays.
Some hotels will simply add up the per-night rates but, on occasions, a hotel will let you stay on an expensive night at a lower rate as long as your stay covers other cheaper days.
This will normally only work if your stay begins on a cheap night.
Starting a three-night stay on one of the most expensive nights can lead to a high overall rate.
· You will save far more by searching for the best date than you will by searching through agents or hotels of the same category to get the best deal.
The Mercure in Stratford-upon-Avon goes from £59 to £152 in just two nights.
The very most you are likely to save by shopping around is 30%, and so it is clear that shopping by date is the most sensible approach.