Civil Aviation Authority data suggests a fall in late bookings that confounds a supposed long-term trend. Ian Taylor reports

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures challenge the widely held belief that more consumers than ever wait until the last minute to book summer holidays and thereby enjoy lower prices.

Data from the CAA’s risk management department suggests a substantial rise in peak-season prices since 2009, accompanied by an increase in lead-in booking times.

The figures come from forward-booking data supplied to the CAA by tour operators that provide almost 90% of Atol-protected holidays. The figures do not include Flight-Plus sales, which date only from the end of April 2012. There were 17.3 million 
Atol-protected sales in the 12 months to March 2012 and 
18.5 million the previous year.

The proportion of customers booking and travelling in August declined by almost half between 2009 and 2012, down from 14.6% to 7.7%.

Bookings for travel in the same month declined in all months over the period bar January and October. The decline in July between 2009 and 2012 was from 13.2% to 9.6%, in June from 11.2% to 6.7% and in September from 11.5% to 6.8%.

These peak summer months showed year-on-year falls in late bookings each year through the period.

At the same time, the proportion of bookings more than six months in advance rose progressively year on year – most sharply for departures in August, from 30.3% in 2009 to 34.7% in 2012. June saw an increase over the period from 25.4% to 27.7%, July from 23.3% to 25.3% and September from 25.2% to 26.8%.

Winter booking lead-in times moved in the opposite direction, with declines in the percentage booking more than six months in advance from October to January. However, the overall trend – reflected in the 12-month rolling average – showed a clear rise in the proportion of customers booking earlier.

The increase in average prices was even more pronounced – although the CAA data extends only to 2011. It shows a 25% rise in prices for travel in July and August between 2009 and 2011, and increases almost as big in June (24%) and September (23%).

Average holiday prices rose by one-fifth or more in every month except March, when the increase was 12.5%.

Part of the overall rise reflects inflation: the consumer price index rose about 8% over 2010-11. Sales of higher-priced all‑inclusive holidays have also increased. Yet the price increases also reflect a decline in capacity that has mostly hit the bottom end of the market.

Any trend towards earlier bookings within a month would not show up in the CAA figures. However, the increase in the proportion made more than six months before departure and decline in bookings for travel in the same month suggest a pattern. A CAA spokesman described the trends in bookings more than one month but less than six months before travel as “pretty static”.

The Air Travel Insolvency Protection Advisory Committee report in July referred to the CAA data but gave no figures.

Travel journalist Simon Calder sparked anger among agents when he suggested in July that late deals this summer were available for as little as £300 (Travel Weekly, July 25). There may be deals, but industry analyst GfK has reported a sharp fall in holidays sold at below £600.