Last-minute stays have always been popular among spontaneous travellers and cost-conscious guests looking for exclusive deals.

But since the pandemic, it has made it nearly impossible to book ahead. According to Expedia, the average booking window has reduced drastically to just 29 days out. Guests are now researching preemptively and then booking within a blink of an eye. 

This mindset shifted last year, as shown in the data below from HomeToGo and Transparent’s most recent whitepaper. Last year Europeans typically booked with much shorter notice in 2020 with the exclusion on the UK and Itay.

We can see this trend continuing into 2021, and our internal statistics show that in January 2021, 36.42% of all travellers booked 1-6 days out, compared to 24.39% in January 2019. Nearly 61% booked within 30 days of travel, which is a 12% increase from 2019. 

The last-minute travel trend is evident, but how can property managers take advantage of this trend and increase their occupancy with last-minute bookings?

This blog will explore the most effective vacation rental marketing tactics that you can use to attract last-minute bookings, monetise expiring inventory, and make up for cancellations. 

We give you tips on how to set last-minute discounts on large OTAs as well as introducing you to some of the best last-minute channels to get listed on. 

Jump to: 

How to increase your last-minute bookings

1. Set last-minute discounts on OTAs

When it comes to attracting last-minute bookings, pricing is critical. Travellers who book a few days out expect to find bargain prices on OTAs. 

From our internal statistics, we have noticed that booking prices are higher in 2021 compared to 2019 the more days in advance the booking is made. Last-minute booking in 2021, however, are still lower than last-minute prices in 2019. 

Average price per night January 2019 vs January 2021 | Jan 2019- Blue & Jan 2021- Orange

Making sure your last-minute deals are priced correctly is incredibly important. Especially as your competitors are likely to apply price reductions to their expiring listings – and if you want to stay in the game, you need to do the same. 

Setting a reasonable last-minute discount can have many positive effects. First of all, any booking is better than no booking, and some revenue is better than zero revenue – especially during times of low demand.

Secondly, discounts can help you rank higher in OTAs and increase your conversion rate. And thirdly, they can get you included in merchandising initiatives run by OTAs (for example, Booking.com’s deals page).

Airbnb last-minute discounts

Airbnb offers a last-minute discount pricing option so that you can reduce your nightly rate as the check-in date gets closer. 

If you set a true discount – at least 10% lower than your usual rate – the price will appear crossed out in search results and on the listing page. This is beneficial because it shows that your offering a deal and guests are more likely to book with you. 

You can set up last-minute discounts from your Airbnb account or from your channel manager if you’re using an Airbnb channel manager like Rentals United. 

Booking.com last-minute promotions

Booking.com created their promotions feature to help property managers get bookings when they need them the most. For example, when they’re trying to sell out last-minute inventory. 

Booking.com last-minute promotions are very flexible and easy to set up. You can choose your own discounts, guests stay-dates, and booking windows based on your particular needs. To use the deals strategically, you can even set up the deals to run for multiple weeks or months at a time, and they would be visible to guests during that period based on the criteria you set.

Booking.com has designed this promotion based on COVID-19 recovery patterns they identified in guest demand, and you can even see how much offering a promotion has increased your revenue in the Booking.com extranet. 

You can set up last-minute promotions by logging into Booking.com or using a channel manager like Rentals United that connects to Booking.com and has implemented the Booking.com Promotions API.

2. Send your last-minute offers to your mailing list

Property managers who had the foresight to build a mailing list in the past months or years will have an advantage when they need to sell properties last-minute. For example, if you managed to collect the email addresses of guests who have booked with you before, you can send them an email with special last-minute discounts. 

Staying in touch via newsletters, special offers throughout the year is an excellent opportunity to generate a repeat booking and lock in a last-minute stay at the same time. Not to mention that gestures like this build loyalty and brand awareness.

TIP: When sending out promotions make sure to use a subject line that entices your guests to open your email.

3. Use social media to promote last-minute deals

If you have a social media following, why not also share last-minute deals with your community. 

Just make sure you add a link to your website, so they book directly with you instead of an OTA and if you really want to motivate people on your social media following to help you find guests why not consider offering a referral bonus for new bookings. 

4. Get listed on channels that specialise in last-minute stays

Our last and perhaps most effective tip is to get listed on channels that specialise in last-minute stays. 

These bookings sites can get your listings in front of travellers who are specifically looking for last-minute stays.

The listings that stand out to them will be the ones that offer the best discounts and tick some other boxes too – like the amenities they’re looking for.

Here are two fantastic last-minute channels that can instantly increase your bookings and help fill the gaps in your calendar: 

Last-minute booking sites to get listed on

Whimstay

last-minute bookings

Market: USA

Whimstay specialises in helping property managers liquidate expiring inventory, providing them with access to a last-minute value-based traveller. 

“Whimstay is a complementary channel in a complete distribution strategy,” says Brad Solso, CEO at Whimstay. “It helps maximise your unit revenue, without adversely impacting your brand or your premium pricing for advanced bookings.”

Recently, Brad and his team have seen an increase in last-minute bookings due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. 

However, as he points out, last-minute travel as a category “continues to expand as the pandemic shifts travel to a more local model and different use cases (e.g. work from home, just not your home) emerge.”

The best way to prepare for last-minute stays, according to Brad, is to focus on your rentals’ cleanliness, as this is currently the most crucial concern expressed by travellers. 

It’s also important to know your customer – and consider their unique needs.  

“For instance, the needs of a remote worker may be considerably different than a family on a weekend getaway. At Whimstay, we reach out to every traveller to gather information about the trip and the traveller,” Brad says. 

We’re proud to say that Whimstay is among the 60+ channels that Rentals United users can connect to, so you can manage your listings on Whimstay directly from our channel management platform. Find out how to get listed with Whimstay here

As Brad says: “Our integration to Rentals United allows you to set your pricing in your property management system without any maintenance on the Whimstay site.”  

Snaptrip

last-minute bookings

Market: UK

Snaptrip is a member of the Rest Easy Group. Their portfolio of sites – including Last Minute Cottages, Dog Friendly Cottages, Big Cottages and the recently launched LateCottages – cater to a range of specialist niches. Snaptrip offers more than 60.000-holiday cottages, lodges, log cabins and apartments around the UK.

Focusing on last-minute bookings, SnapTrip helps property managers generate bookings for their properties when they otherwise go empty.

“Like the rest of the sector, we have seen a huge surge in bookings overall. Whilst the most-booked rural areas remain highly popular (Cornwall, Devon, North Yorkshire), the main differences we’ve seen in behaviour is more of a shift to last-minute (bookings within 30 days),” says Joshua James, COO at Snaptrip 

“Whilst we’ve always been focussed on last-minute, this has amplified during 2020 and 2021 as increased uncertainty and ever-changing government guidelines have made planning more difficult,” Joshua says. 

Joshua and his team have also noticed an increase in the average length of stay. Since people can now work from home, are unable to travel internationally and have holiday days saved up, they’re more likely to book longer stays.

According to Joshua, Snaptrip and the group’s other sites all target underserved niches and focus on giving customers the greatest choice and the best price. 

Joshua’s advice for property managers looking to increase their last-minute bookings is to work with Snaptrip and provide them with live availability. He also says to “be agile and have good relationships with owners to deal with super last-minute requests such as next day, or even same day check-ins.”

Did you know that Snaptrip is one of the 20 new channels coming soon to Rentals United

You’ll soon be able to update your pricing, availability and calendars automatically on Snaptrip with the Rentals United channel manager!

Are you ready to build a tech-based distribution strategy? Discover how our enterprise-level Channel Manager can get you more bookings.