Intrepid Travel has slashed deposits to £1 in the peak sales period as mainstream operators also cut downpayments in a bid to secure early bookings.
The adventure travel company will run the offer until February 15, following “phenomenal success” during its pilot last January.
Operators such as Jet2holidays and Olympic Holidays offer deposits of £60 and £49 respectively year‑round, but other players have lowered upfront payments for turn-of-year campaigns.
Thomas Cook, as well as some cruise lines, is offering £50 deposits during the peaks, while Thomson and First Choice are running £75 deposit schemes.
Intrepid Travel’s UK managing director, Michael Edwards, said: “We had a record January last year and this scheme’s doing even better, with a 60% increase in take-up on 2015 since the launch.
“Trade bookings have overtaken those last year [for the six-week campaign] and we’re only a week in.”
Edwards said despite concerns that low deposits can lead to a rise in cancellations, Intrepid’s fell from an average level of 4%-5% to less than 2% following last year’s campaign. The operator normally charges deposits of around £150.
“We do a good job of following up,” he said. “We absorb the risk and the full balance is payable at the normal time – 56 days before travel.”
One agent was less positive. Jenny Jackson, of Travel-PA, said agents, who are often not paid commission until shortly before travel, regarded low deposits as a “risk”.
She said: “I think £1 is too low – it should be higher. It will encourage people to carry on shopping around or, worse, try to do it themselves and then cancel. It could be seen as a bit desperate.
“But if it means more people booking, I suppose it’s a balance.”
At Thomas Cook, full deposits of up to £250 have to be paid within eight weeks of booking, with the balance due 14 weeks before departure.