5 Tips for Snagging Last-Minute Airfare Deals

5 min read
Airplane ticket

Whether you need to travel somewhere on short notice or you’re just the spontaneous type, here are some tips for snagging the best deals on last-minute airfare.

5. Be Flexible

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Consider charter airlines. Chartered flights often have empty seats they need filled. Since tour operators won’t make money with empty seats, they’ll oftentimes offer them at a steal. “We’ve seen operators offer last-minute charter airfares to Florida for as low as $29 round trip, plus taxes and fees, and to Mexico for as low as $55 round trip, plus taxes and fees,” Toronto-based travel expert Brian Simpson told Reader’s Digest.

Be willing to fly really early or late. You’ll often find flights at good prices this way. In fact, it’s almost always cheaper to take a red-eye flight―a flight that departs late at night and arrives early in the morning―than it is to fly during the day.

Don’t have a specific destination in mind. Instead, choose destinations recommended for last-minute travel. These include major cities and established tourist resorts. A number of major airlines will be traveling to those destinations, so you’ll be able to take advantage of competitive pricing.

Be willing to fly midweek or off-season. Traveling during the middle of the week (e.g. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays) can help you save hundreds of dollars per ticket, even if you book in advance! That’s because most leisure travelers book weekend departures and most business travelers, who are frequent fliers, book on Friday evenings and Monday mornings. Great last-minute deals are also available to low- or off-season destinations. For example, winter is the off season in Europe. May through October is the low season for visiting the Caribbean.

4. Get Ahead of the Pack

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Chances are you’re not the only one looking for last-minute airfare deals, so you want to make sure you get a jump on the crowd. Subscribe to newsletters from airlines or third-party apps and websites like Skyscanner or Airfarewatchdog to stay informed about last-minute sales. Also, sign up for fare alerts. Again, you can do that on third-party websites like Airfarewatchdog or Kayak. Depending on the tool you use, you may be able to receive notifications when the price rises or drops so you can book your flight at just the right time. Lastly, follow your favorite airlines on Facebook and Twitter, where they may be likely to post or tweet about last-minute deals.

3. Consult a Specialist

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Travel agents have access to information that’s not available to the public. For example, they may be aware of seats that don’t show up on airlines’ websites. The good news is that these agents may not charge a fee for their service if they receive a commission on the booking.

Virtual travel assistants can also help in your search. One such assistant is “Hello Hipmunk.” Hello Hipmunk uses artificial intelligence to help you plan a trip. Simply message them your exact destination and travel dates and Hello Hipmunk will instantly show you bookable flights. Hello Hipmunk will also give you vacation ideas based on themes like “adventure”, “beach”, and “romantic”.

2. Use Points/Frequent Flier Miles

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Your credit card rewards and frequent flier miles can help you save money on a plane ticket. For example, a last-minute, round-trip ticket from Baltimore to Albany on Southwest Airlines in July 2017 that would have cost $400 cash ended up costing 15,000 miles, plus $11 tax. “Keep a bank of transferable points with programs like Citibank Thank You, American Express Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards,” MilesTalk.com founder Dave Grossman said in an article on TravelandLeisure.com. “Airlines often open up award space just a day or two before travel when there are unsold seats,” he added.

For help figuring out where exactly you can go with your frequent flier miles, you can use a website like UsingMiles. The website lets you add all of your loyalty programs to your personal dashboard, and when you search for a flight, UsingMiles will show you the lowest paid flights plus award availability in all of your programs.

WARNING: While it’s almost always cheaper to book using an award, some airlines charge you a close-in booking fee for booking a flight within 21 days of departure. But, there are ways around this. For example, you can avoid the close-in fee charged by American Airlines by using British Airways Avios. American Airlines and British Airways are partners, so you can book a flight with Avios miles. You can get Avios miles by transferring your American Express or Chase Ultimate rewards points to British Airways.

Another option is to chose an airline that doesn’t charge a close-in booking fee. These include Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and some international airlines like Aeromexico and Singapore Airlines.

Lastly, if you have elite travel status, you may be to avoid close-in booking fees altogether.

1. Go Solo

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You don’t have to travel solo, but it may be a good idea to purchase your tickets separately if you’re traveling with a group. You may find it a lot easier to score one well-priced last-minute ticket. For example, if there are four people in your group but only two well-priced seats available, everyone in your group will be given higher-priced seats.

Bonus Tips:

-Compare ticket prices on more than one website.
-Some package vacation companies sell trips known as cancellation vacations at a huge discount when customers cancel their getaway at the last minute.
-You can often find discounted flights on Sundays and Tuesdays for travel later in the week. “Including a Saturday-night stay generally results in locking in the lowest ticket prices,” Expedia spokesperson Alexis Tiacoh said in an article on TravelandLeisure.com.
-Look for package deals that bundle flight, hotel, car rentals, and activities. You may end up paying a little more for the ticket, but you’ll pay less on the trip overall.
-Use an airfare consolidator. “Airfare consolidators sell the types of fares that don’t require advance purchase, but most are on international routes and carry other restrictions, such as being totally nonrefundable,” Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica said in an article on TravelandLeisure.com.
-Consider one-way tickets. You may come out better purchasing separate one-way tickets on two different carriers than you would booking one round-trip ticket.
-If you’re looking for same-day flights, use the “Get the Flight Out” (GTFO) app from Hopper. You can search both major airlines and low-cost carriers , and prices are always good. Note: There is currently only a limited number of U.S. departure cities. They plan to add more cities as demand increases.


Have you ever booked a last-minute flight? Do you have ideas on how to save on last-minute travel? Let us know!