London Olympics: Lodging Is All About Timing, and the Fine Print

Tourists cross the River Thames on a foot bridge, in London, in this file photo.

Snagging a hotel room in an Olympic host city is a tricky thing. Search too early, and it appears as if no rooms are available because the host committee blocks far more rooms than it will ever actually need. But wait until the last minute, and you run the risk of only finding a hotel far from the action.

Airbnb, a website that pairs travelers with empty rooms, is so sure there will be enormous demand for lodging during the Summer Games that it recently acquired its biggest competitor, Crashpadder. The deal has the potential to add 1,700 listings in London to the Airbnb database.

It might be a smart bet. The games, along with other events planned for summer 2012, are expected to draw millions of visitors to the city.

On the other hand, an analysis of London hotel rooms conducted by The Independent suggests hotels will be at less than 80 percent occupancy during the games. In a normal summer, occupancy would be closer to 90 percent.

Every savvy traveler knows that where there are empty rooms, discounted rates can't be far behind.

So when's the right time to book your hotel? April.

Eventually, the excess rooms reserved by the host committee are released back to the hotels and then, in turn, to the public. The first round of rooms was released in late January and according to Leon Baum, General Manager of The Stafford London, two more releases are expected, one in late March and one in early June.

The June release is not likely to be significant, said Baum. So, the sweet spot will likely be soon after that late-March release.

While The Stafford has rooms available to be booked for the games now, Baum predicts they'll be sold out for the opening and closing ceremonies, and as "as close to sold out as you can get" for the weeks between.

If you choose to buy airfare to London in April as well, you'll be ahead of the curve; airfare to London is purchased, on average, 92 days before departure, according to Travelocity.com's most recent flights data report.

Finally, it's expected that an influx of event tickets will hit the market in April.

Laura Matar, a marketing executive from Manhattan Beach, Calif. is "waiting for the new batch [of event tickets] to come out in April." She and her boyfriend already have a place to stay and are using miles to get to London. Her private en suite room at Royal Bayswater Hotel, across from Hyde Park, costs $134 per night.

"We're hoping to be living proof of Olympics on a budget," she said. Even if she can't score tickets, she said, "The Olympic vibe will still be amazing."

For those who only want to head to London knowing what events they watch and where they will sit, be aware of your hotel's cancellation policy. A hotel's normal, lenient cancellation policy is likely suspended during a large event such as the Olympics.

Hotels that don't typically require a deposit may require one during the games, still others may demand to be paid in full at the time of booking. It's important to be very sure of your plans (or very sure that your choice hotel has a flexible cancellation policy) before booking.

Finally, as the games approach, there will be unsold rooms. In a city the size of London, there are more than enough rooms to accommodate visitors. The hotels that have empty rooms will cut prices, but at that point, airfare will have gone up, and event tickets will be even harder to come by. Many already will have made other plans for the summer. So if you're willing to purchase airfare soon and play the waiting game on a hotel, you'll likely get a great deal – but at a room outside the city center.

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