Several domestic and overseas travel providers indicate that 2023 will be busier than pre-pandemic levels as leisure travel has fully recovered at many destinations. While the planes and hotels will be fuller, there are still multiple tactics to find last-minute travel deals for an affordable vacation. Here’s how you can score some last-minute travel deals.
Being flexible is the cardinal rule for finding last-minute travel deals worth buying. Flexibility carries several different aspects:
- Destination: Maybe you’ll go to a different beach, city or country than usual. You may wind up at a place or a U.S. National Park overlooked by most travelers but with comparable amenities.
- Travel dates: You may need to travel mid-week instead of over the weekend to find cheaper flights.
- Travel times: The most desirable flight times and layover windows have likely been claimed. Therefore, the price gap between an early morning or late night departure versus a primetime flight can be even wider.
If you’re not picky about where you go or when you leave, an open-ended travel itinerary helps you pay the lowest price. For example, you may take a road trip or hop on Amtrak instead of flying when there are no decent flight options.
Book One-Way Flights
A one-way itinerary can make comparing prices to various destinations easier as you’re not bound to a recommended package. It’s still worth getting quotes for two one-way fares and a round-trip itinerary with the same flights to ensure you get the best price.
Compare Fares During The 24-Hour Flight Rule
Most last-minute flight purchases can also be eligible for the 24-hour cancellation rule. However, you may need to book your seat at least 48 hours before departure to have refund capability. The 24-hour rule is handy when looking for deals, as flight prices fluctuate in the final days before departure. If you find a desirable price, you can book that fare but continue to shop for a better offer.
You can refund your first plane ticket if you find a better deal. Basic economy fares are eligible for refunds during the 24-hour period too.
Compare Connecting Airports
You may have your heart set on going to a specific destination, but there can be several different airlines and connecting airports to choose from. While it’s wise to avoid delay-prone airports when possible, some connecting airports can be cheaper than others.
Depending on your schedule, you may be able to make an extended stopover before flying to your final destination. This travel strategy may require booking one-way fares with multiple airlines to pull off.
For example, you might fly on a legacy carrier from the U.S. to Paris and then book a European-based discount airline to visit Rome. You get to see two of Europe’s most beloved cities and potentially save several hundred dollars in the process.
Consider Alternative Destinations
Visiting “second-tier” vacation destinations can help you spend less and avoid some of the crowds while enjoying similar experiences. While you may not sip wine in Napa Valley or visit the Louvre, the alternative can be cheaper and just as exciting. For example, Central and Eastern Europe can be cheaper overall than Western Europe, which tends to have more tourists and higher travel costs.
Search Deal-Finding Websites
Online travel agencies and third-party booking sites have a “Deals” section. Depending on the platform, you may need to create an account to qualify for more significant discounts. Anticipate most savings offers to be on hotels and other non-flight purchases like car rentals or cruises. Vacation packages with two or more travel types can also be discounted.
Flight discounts are also possible, but you can be more successful booking discounted last-minute flights directly from the airline as this is a competitive market. In addition to looking at curated deals, third-party travel search engines make it easy to compare travel options from several carriers to a specific destination.
Google Flights goes a couple of steps further. First, you can browse prices for multiple destinations from your home airport. Second, select bookings are eligible for a flight price guarantee to get automatic refunds if the price drops later on.
Book Directly From The Airline Or Hotel
Joining an airline or hotel loyalty program can have perks, as you can be eligible for member-only pricing. It’s not uncommon for carriers to keep the best deals to themselves. You might be able to find deals that you can pay for with cash or points.
In addition to potential upfront discounts, there can be promotions to save on future travel through the carrier. Traveling regularly with that particular carrier can make these specials worth it. Here are the flight deals websites for these major airlines:
Another benefit of booking directly with the carrier is having more negotiation power if you need to rebook or cancel your travel plans. This event is less likely when booking at the last minute, but it’s still something to consider if it’s a busy weekend or there is unsettled weather.
Negotiate With Hosts
In addition to comparing rates at chain hotels, you might be able to negotiate nightly rates on Vrbo or a vacation rental agency. A host might be willing to offer a small discount by booking at the last minute instead of letting the place go vacant for a week. Hosts have been less likely to offer a price break in recent years as travel volumes are higher. Still, it’s worth trying to save up to 25% during your stay.
Sign Up For Travel Newsletters
Travel newsletters can provide curated deals that are hard to find by searching by yourself. These offers can differ from the first to be advertised on a third-party booking site or a travel provider’s deals page. Travelzoo is a long-time favorite for deal seekers as you can find discounted flights, hotels, cruises and vacation packages.
Going (previously Scott’s Cheap Flights) can monitor flight prices from your home airport to over 900 destinations. The service sends alerts when they spot below-average fare deals or mistake fares.
Finding last-minute travel deals requires a little research, but many tools make it easier to find cheap flights, hotels and experiences. Having a flexible travel schedule and being open-minded about where you travel can also open up more affordable destinations.