By Charles Passy
Call them the Procrastination Games.
As the Summer Olympics kick off with Friday’s opening ceremonies in London, many Americans may be regretting that they never got around to planning that trip across the Atlantic. But as it turns out, it’s not too late to put together an itinerary and see the world’s premier sporting event. If anything, travel pros say those who procrastinated may find themselves in a better financial position — thanks to a number of last-minute travel deals.
Among the finds: round-trip airfares from the East Coast to London for under $1,000, stays at top-rated London hotels for below $200 a night, and package deals that combine flights and a week’s lodging for $1,500 to $2,000.
Most travel pros say that prices, especially for hotels, started dropping about a month ago, as it became obvious that the demand to attend the games just didn’t fully materialize. In fact, according to Hotels.com, room rates in London are now only about 12% higher than a year ago, when the city was in its normal summer mode.
The bottom line, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor of the Web site Travelzoo.com, is that “people may not be as priced-out as they thought.” And if they choose to visit London during the latter half of the games and then stay a few days beyond, when hotel prices are expected to drop further, Saglie says “it can really become a bargain proposition.”
Still, there are plenty of deals available during the height of event, which runs through Aug. 12. A weeklong package in early August that includes flights to and from the New York metro area (nonstop on United Airlines) and accommodations at the Sofitel London Gatwick (near Gatwick Airport) runs $1,495 per person through CheapOair, an online discount travel agency. (For travelers who prefer to be closer to the action, CheapOair has a package at the Hilton London Metropole for $2,007.)
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And the prices could go lower, especially for those who don’t insist on upper-tier hotels. Hotwire, another online discount travel source, has a three-star hotel in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood for a mere $70 a night. “In some instances, rates have dipped lower than last year” in London at this time, says Fulvia Montresor, a Hotwire senior director.
Of course, the last-minute Olympic bargains shouldn’t be completely unexpected, since the same discounting has happened at previous summer and winter games, say travel pros. “It’s a classic story: The host city has this expectation that the entire world’s population picks itself up and floods the gates and it never happens,” says Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, a tour operator.
Plus, the London games are coming at a time when the European economy is weak, so that has reduced the number of Olympic travelers within the continent, say industry insiders. The result is that airlines and hotels are paying all the more attention right now to luring visitors from the United States.
But will last-minute travelers still get to see the games? While millions of seats have already been sold to the hundreds of sporting competitions, there are plenty more available, according to several sources. In fact, demand for a few less-heralded events is so low that London organizers are contemplating dropping prices. And at one preliminary round of soccer matches that took place earlier this week in Glasgow, officials took to giving out complimentary seats — just to fill the stands.