20 Secrets of Last-Minute Travel

by Nora Dunn on 23 October 2013 2 comments

Last-minute travel can afford you some screaming deals, and it's an exciting way to go — not knowing exactly where you're going or what you'll be doing until shortly before you depart. (See also: Top Travel Reward Credit Cards)

There are a few tricks in mastering the art of last-minute travel; here are 20 secrets to get you on your way for your next last-minute trip.

Researching and Finding Deals

Here are some ways to do your last-minute travel research and tap into the latest deals.

1. Subscribe to Newsletters

Sign up for your favorite airline and travel provider newsletters. A quick scan can sometimes reveal a last minute show-stopper among their regular deals.

2. Track Social Media

Follow the Twitter and Facebook streams of your favorite travel providers and airlines; sometimes they offer social media specials for followers.

3. Be Flexible

Searching for flights with tools like ITA Matrix and Kayak allow you to view fares for the calendar month, based on how many nights you can spend at your destination (such as 5-7 nights).

4. Flight Alert Services

Track your preferred flights. Services like Yapta will send you fare alerts if there's a change in price.

5. Consult With Travel Agents

Ask a travel agent. You never know what last minute deals they have access to.

6. Subscribe to Deal Alert Services

Subscribe to last minute vacation newsletters and deal alert services, such as TravelZoo.

7. Follow Fare Alert Services

Take some of the guesswork out of discerning which destinations are cheap when with a fare alert service like Airfare Watchdog.

Last-Minute Flights

Here's how to take advantage of last-minute flight deals.

8. Book Within 24 Hours of Departure

Sometimes, if a flight has lots of seats left within 24 hours of departure, they'll release a new batch at low prices. However, this is a risky strategy if you have your heart set on a specific route; the price can just as easily go the other way in the last 24 hours as well.

9. Spend Rewards Points Within a Week of Departure

Flights only have a limited number of reward seats for people paying with frequent flyer miles. If you want to fly on your frequent flyer miles, then you either need to book your ticket a few months in advance or at the last minute. If the airline still has unsold seats within a week of departure, they'll open up additional reward seats. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Frequent Flyer Miles)

10. Book on Tuesdays for Flights That Weekend

Planning a weekend getaway? Airlines that don't have full planes will often start reducing prices on Tuesday.

11. Go Stand By

Hitch a ride on an airplane; these fares are hard to come by, but they're often free — and last minute. (See also: How to Hitch a Ride on an Airplane)

Last-Minute Hotels

Hotels offer some of the more dramatic last-minute deals; you can find many of them using the tips for researching and finding deals above, in addition to the following.

12. Always Call for a Reservation

Even if you're standing across from the hotel, call them to make a reservation. By calling first and asking for a discount, you stand a better chance of success than by walking in last-minute and asking in person.

13. Research Package Deals

Don't forget package deals; some of the best offers are for last-minute flight+hotel or all-inclusive packages. A little comparison shopping might reveal the hotel is practically free with the package deal! (See also: How to Book an Amazing, Affordable Vacation Package)

Other Last-Minute Suggestions

From knowing your bag to knowing yourself, consider these suggestions, so you can have the best last-minute travel experience.

14. Pack Early

Know your packing list well, so you can pack quickly, pack well, and know where everything is. It will make your trip much smoother, and will help you get out the door faster once you know where you're going!

15. Act Fast

Most deals (such as promotional tweets) have a short time span. Be prepared to jump in when the opportunity feels right, even if it feels impulsive.

16. Travel Solo

Last-minute travel works best for solo travelers. You have the ease and ability to book on a whim without consulting anybody, and last-minute openings or unfilled spots are more easily filled with singles.

17. Plan at Least a Little Ahead

"Last-minute" travel generally refers to booking anything within two weeks of your departure. The braver you are, the longer you might be willing to hold out for a deal — but the outcome could go either way.

18. Let the Deal Be Your Guide

Don't focus too much on one destination or type of vacation. If your heart is set on a given place or activity, you might miss out on dozens of equally exciting — but different — deals. The gift of last minute travel is being flexible with your plans. Tools like Kayak Explore allow you to open your mind and see where you can fly for how much money.

19. Don't Quit Your Day Job

Last-minute travel isn't right for everybody. People on business trips, or with limited vacation time should ensure time away is maximized by planning ahead. (See also: Ways to Keep Long-Term Travel from Ruining Your Career)

20. Don't Skimp on Research

Even though you might be doing this last minute, you want to get the most from your trip. Research your destination's climate, culture, things to do, and places to eat. You don't have to lock in any specific plans; it's simply nice to know what's possible.

What are your last-minute travel secrets?

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FrugalCat

My mom did this a few times after she retired. She and her husband would pack suitcases and go to the cruise ship terminal (they live about a hour north of Ft Lauderdale) and go to the check in lines to see if there were any cancellations or unsold cabins. They got some FABULOUS deals but there were times they just went home instead.

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Isaac

Great tips... Travel Zoo is a personal fave. Another good tip while traveling is to make your reservations via open table. They often have 1,000 point tables. The kicker is, you get $10 back in a rewards check everytime you rack up 1,000 points.