Savvy travelers know that finding a great deal on a flight can be a huge win. While the cost of traveling from place to place is always high, being able to score a fantastic last-minute flight deal can make even a short weekend trip worthwhile.
If you’ve ever found yourself looking at your calendar and wondering if you could pull off a spontaneous trip, you’re probably familiar with the frustration of not finding the perfect last-minute flight deal.
Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful tips and tools for those willing to try and beat the airlines at their own game.
Trying to book travel at the last minute often means dealing with expensive flight prices and accommodations. The airlines know that desperate travelers who don’t have much time will pay more for a ticket. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
This post contains everything you need to know about finding the best prices on last-minute flights, so plan accordingly and use these helpful tips today!
If you have more time, and really want the best deal, then read Top Travel Tips From Frugal Frequent Flyers.
Table of Contents
How to Find Last-Minute Flight Deals
Last-minute flight deals are not easy to come by. Airlines raise their prices 21 days before the flight’s departure for domestic travel and 28 days before the flight’s departure date for international flights. It is best to book your flights early.
Flexibility is a top tip when using flight tools to find last-minute flight deals.
Destination Flexibility is Key
You’ll need to be flexible with your destination to find the best last-minute flight deals. The longer you wait to purchase a ticket, the fewer deals you’ll find – and the more expensive they will be.
If you want the most out of your trip, consider venturing off to an off-season location.
For instance, while many people may dream of visiting Europe during the summer months when they have vacation time available, this is also one of the priciest times of year because so many tourists flock there.
Consider going somewhere that’s warm year-round and isn’t only at its peak during the summertime.
Look beyond one particular place or airport since any limitations here can make it harder for you to find a good deal.
Instead, widen your search and explore all the possibilities available for achieving your goals.
This way, you’ll have a better chance of scoring an off-season discount!
Be Flexible with Time and Travel Dates
Flexibility with your travel dates can allow you to find the best last-minute flight deals. Google Flights is a beautiful tool that will enable you to search for deals within a month. It allows you to choose the best date depending on the price.
If you are flexible with your time, you can choose the best date to leave for a last-minute flight, thus getting a better deal.
Your time and travel dates can be something that will either cost you money or save you money. It is better to be flexible.
Flying During the Week
Flight prices are usually higher when more people are traveling. People tend to be traveling on Fridays, Sundays, and even Mondays. If you want the best deal, fly during the week.
Flights with fewer travelers mean better deals. If you fly on a Tuesday, you will likely find a cheaper fare that can save you more money in the long run.
Use Flight Tools
Travelers often rely on Google Flights for finding affordable tickets, but there are also other comprehensive flight search tools such as Skyscanner.
And if you don’t like using that particular tool, there are plenty of alternatives, so you can always find the one that works best for you.
Consider searching with one to three flight search tools when looking for a good deal.
Online Travel Agents might have lower fares since they buy in bulk from airlines, but keep in mind that if your flight gets canceled, it could be harder to redeem the voucher or get a refund when booking through an OTA.
That’s why many travelers turn to Google Flights. Not only Google Flights offer competitive prices, but it also allows passengers to book their flights directly with the airline.
Skyscanner is a top-tier travel tool that efficiently scans all other sites for the best deals. Its sleek design and unique flexibility options make trip planning a breeze. With frequent savings of 5% or more, it's a must-try.
- Independence: Many other travel sites are owned by the same companies, so there is an illusion of choice. Skyscanner is unbiased. It just wants the best deal for you.
- Comprehensive Results: Skyscanner pulls data from numerous sites
- Transparent Pricing: Skyscanner is known for its transparency.
- Unique Features: Skyscanner's 'Everywhere' and 'Cheapest Month' features offer flexibility and spontaneity
- Price Fluctuations: As with any platform, prices can fluctuate. So when you see a deal, you need to book it quickly.
- Third-party Bookings: Many deals on Skyscanner redirect users to third-party sites, which could potentially lead to customer service issues.
Hotwire: A Savior for Last-Minute Travel
If you’re a spontaneous traveler or find yourself needing to book a trip on short notice, Hotwire can be an excellent resource.
Its ‘Hot Rate’ deals offer significant discounts on hotels, flights, and car rentals, making it easier to arrange travel at the last minute.
The booking process is simple and quick, allowing you to secure your travel arrangements in just a few clicks.
The platform’s extensive network of partners means you have a wide range of options to choose from, even when booking at the eleventh hour.
Score up to 60% off on hotels and grab rental cars from just $8.99/day with Hotwire's 'Hot Rate' deals. Cheap Flights too. Start saving big on travel today!
- Affordable Deals
- Price Match Guarantee
- Travel Packages: Comprehensive packages combining flights, hotels, and car rentals are available.
- No Cancellation or Refunds
- The specifics of 'Hot Rate' deals aren't revealed until after purchase.
- No Rewards Program
Look For Error Fares
Remember that individuals input airline fares into the computers in a world of computers. Sometimes mistakes happen. When these mistakes happen on flight fares, they are called “error fares.” It is an excellent time to snag some last-minute deals.
An error fare is when an airline mistakenly puts down a fare for a meager price.
In late December of 2018, Cathay Pacific released an error fare of a round trip ticket from Vietnam to New York in Business class for $675.
That fare would typically be around $16,000, but it was a mistake that many travelers took advantage of.
Some of the best ways to take advantage of these fares are to sign-up for some programs like Scott’s Cheap Flights or follow specific flight sites like Airfare Watchdog, Secret Flying, or The Flight Deal through Twitter, and other social media feeds.
They will alert you of any error fares or great flight deals.
Find Deals Using Points and Miles
Credit card companies and airlines allow you to collect points and miles while traveling. Even if you fly once, charging that flight on a credit card will allow you to collect miles or points, which may translate to airline tickets depending on the availability of the award seats.
Credit card companies like Chase, American Express, Citi, and Captial One have excellent travel credit cards to help you gain points to travel more.
Last-minute flights can be costly, but you can use points and miles to buy a ticket. These miles can be worth anything from 1.2 cents to 1.5 cents a mile. If you can redeem them for a business class seat, they may be worth more.
The best way to determine if you are getting the best bang for your buck is to take the cash value of the ticket and divide it by the number of miles it takes to get that ticket for free, then multiply it by 100.
For example, if your ticket costs $800, and you need 49,000 miles to get the ticket for free, then divide 800 into 49,000 and multiply that by 100 to see how much it costs. In this case, it comes out to 1.6 cents per mile. That is much better than paying cash for that flight.
Take advantage of the miles you collect and use them to travel for free or a great last-minute deal.
Find One Way Tickets
Conventional thinking is that round trips are usually cheaper than booking one-way flights. For most flights, that would be true, but search one-way flights to see if you come across a good deal.
Try to mix and match different airlines if you notice that one airline has a cheaper flight to your destination while another will have a cheaper flight back.
Use Budget Airlines
Budget airlines are not most people’s first choice when looking for cheap last-minute travel deals. But some lesser-known airlines, like AirAsia, and Scoot, have great options to explore Asia.
Even if you book spontaneously one week ahead, you can find an excellent round-trip ticket for $200, depending on where you are going.
In the U.S., budget airlines are not viewed as glamorous, but they do the trick when you want to get away. Southwest offers great deals all around the country and is a great airline.
Do not overlook budget airlines when searching for a last-minute deal.
Sign Up for Price Alerts
One of the best things to do when looking for flight deals is to turn on price alerts. Kayak and Hopper can turn on alerts that will notify you when a price goes up or down.
These alerts can come from emails or text messages. The flight deals will quickly disappear if you are not quick in snagging them.
Book at the Very Last Minute
Lastly, if you can wait to book until the very last minute, there is a slight possibility you may snag a flight deal.
These last-minute flights are typically the most expensive because seats are sold, so it is unlikely to score a deal. However, a fare may drop within 24 hours to sell more seats.
Wait until 24 hours before you want to travel, and if a fare drops, book it! Fares sometimes fall, and you may get lucky.
As a traveler, I have had this happen to me once or twice. My inexperience in planning allowed me to luck out.
Yet through gained experience and travel knowledge, I have learned that it is better to be flexible and plan instead of waiting till the last minute.
Still, there are plenty of last-minute deals out there. You simply have to look for them.
Finding last-minute flight deals can be a difficult task. It takes time, flexibility, and the ability to think outside of the box. Using our ten tips to help you book a last-minute flight deal will increase your opportunities to travel.
Don’t get disappointed if there are no deals. Sometimes because of the year or season, tickets may be expensive. But if you have flexibility in time and location, you should be able to plan accordingly.
Traveling can be fun; plan and use your new knowledge to find the best fare.
Next Up From ChaChingQueen
- Angel Fire Resort and Angel Fire, New Mexico Winter Review and Video
- My Secrets: How To Get Amazon Coupons, Discount Codes, Promo Codes, Free Stuff, and Deals
- The Airport Departures Pickup Hack: How To Avoid Waiting At Airport
- The Best Silver Dollar City Review And Discounts
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Coupons, Discounts, Free Tickets, Review
Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
Disclaimer: Any Financial Tips on ChaChingQueen are general and informational. Speak with a professional about your specific situation.