Antarctica: how soon should I start planning my trip?
If you wait until a few months before, in the hope of getting a last minute deal, you are likely to pay substantially more for your trip than someone who booked earlier.
Booking early is an essential part of planning an Antarctic trip. The location is seasonal and with growing demand from the US, China, Brazil, India and Europe, demand can outstrip supply quite quickly. Certainly if you don't book in time, you can run into problems with:
- Date availability;
- Ship availability;
- Cabin type availability;
- Accommodation availability;
- International flight availability; or combinations of the above.
Published by Simon Mustoe
BE ORGANISED AND BOOK EARLY
Honestly - when considering a trip like this, the first thing we do is ask an expert. That's why we're teamed up with a specialist, so you can get the advice you need. After reading this article you'll understand that there is little or no advantage in seeking a 'cheap deal'. Most likely it isn't a cheap deal at all (when you add in additional costs) and it may not be what you're looking for.
Everything we know about Antarctic travel suggests that booking late is disadvantageous. Booking early can mean up to a year or so before. The best flight deals are available from about 11 months in advance. Booking through the wrong code share or airline can also mean significantly higher costs. Our experts know the current state of the flight market and can advise you where booking online, you have no way of knowing if you are getting the best or most appropriate deal.
If you decide to book late, you run the risk of losing out on the most affordable experiences. While you're searching for a last minute deal, people who paid a deposit 12 months ago are finalising their payment on voyages that aren't available to you.
Earlybird specials are available on some trips but these are usually a year in advance. For example, earlybirds for next year's season are starting to be booked as early as the middle of the year before.
The problem with last minute deals
Last minute deals are what’s left when everyone else has bought what they want - including international and local flights, local accommodation and add-on experiences. The price saving you could make on the Antarctic portion may be subsumed by the additional costs incurred for booking late on other aspects of your trip. A last minute ‘deal’ may not save you money and most certainly won’t give you the best experience possible.
Many of the vessels also have triple or quad-share cabins and shared bathrooms. This might not worry you but a 'from' price is usually going to be the lowest level of accommodation.
Flight costs escalate the closer you get to the Antarctic season
The best available flight deals are issued 11 months before travel. At that time, you can get flights for perhaps $1,500-$1,700 return (sometimes less). By the time last minute deals are in place, these flight prices are commonly around the $3,000+ mark. There are also savings to be made by knowing which codeshare to book through. These are all things our specialists can help you with.
Remember, Antarctica is a low-volume travel destination with very high demand.
The first voyages that fill up are the ones that run from mid-December to the end of January.
Early season (mid October and November) and late season (late February and March) voyages usually take longer to fill up but conversely, these voyages tend to also cost less.
Smaller vessels need fewer clients to fill up. This also applies to the expedition ships. The larger 200 passenger vessels, simply by having more cabins, will be available later into the season, withstanding that mid-December to the end of January will fill up first.
If there are many cabins in a category this is less of an issue but if there are only one or two in the class you want, then booking early is essential, unless you're prepared to accept you won’t get the cabin you want.
Of course, the most affordable as well as the most luxurious can be in short supply - it really depends on which vessel (this is what we can help you best understand).
Travellers from all over the world visit South America, particularly Patagonia, as it’s only during our summer that you can visit. So all accommodation, particularly the smaller (10-20 room) boutique lodges, fill up first. To get a good choice and selection of places to stay, it's important to book early.
International flight availability
Flights and accommodation in Santiago/Punta Arenas (Chile) and Buenos Aires and Ushuaia (Argentina), fill up quickly and cost more the closer you get to Christmas and New Year.
The later in the season you leave it to book, the more you will pay for the same booking class as planes fill up. The route from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia can be problematic, if booked late. There is a risk of having no availability.
***WHAT DO OUR SPECIALISTS RECOMMEND AS THE MOST COST-EFFICIENT TRAVEL PLAN? ***
The way to make the most of deals on offer, with the greatest certainty and least risk, is to:
- Pay a deposit to secure your spot about 12-18 months before travel (or as soon as any earlybirds are announced).
- Buy the most cost-effective flight possible, 11 months before travel.
- Pay your balance, 120 days before travel.