Finding a great deal on a flight is a massive win for savvy travelers. Traveling from place to place can be costly, but being able to score a last-minute flight deal can be worth it for something as simple as a weekend trip.
Travelers may look at their weekend calendars and wonder if they can quickly book a spontaneous trip. They will scour the internet looking for a great last-minute flight deal, which usually does not come to fruition. But the savvy traveler has many tricks and tools to score these last-minute flight deals.
If you have planned a last-minute trip, you may know that flights and accommodations can be super expensive. The airlines raise their prices and the hope of going on a new adventure gets squashed.
Just because that has been your past experience, however, doesn’t mean all hope is lost. This post contains tips and tricks you can use to find a last-minute flight deal. Plan to find the cheapest flights and use these helpful tools.
How to Find Last-Minute Flight Deals
Last-minute flight deals are not easy to come by. Airlines start to 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.
We’re often not planning to travel. Therefore, it is a must to know how to find those last-minute flight deals to make sure we have an enjoyable experience.
Flexibility is a top tip when using flight tools to find last-minute flight deals.
Destination Flexibility is Key
You must be flexible with your destination if you are looking for a last-minute flight deal. The time to score a ticket decreases the longer you wait. Think about off-season places as you look at the calendar and the destinations you would like to go to.
Most people venture off to areas that are in season, visiting Europe, for example, during the summertime when they have vacation time to take off during their kids’ school breaks. Because of this, it is also a time of year when Europe’s prices go up for tourists. So if you want to find a better deal, look for a destination that is not in season.
So how do you do this? For example, if you want to do one type of activity, consider all the places you could go. Say you want a tropical experience. Think about where you can go that is tropical year-round and isn’t only warm during summer. This will ensure that you’ll have a better chance at an off-season deal, but you’ll still enjoy the climate you want during your trip.
If you focus on one place and one airport, you will be limited to the prices set at that location. Instead, look at the various other places that can achieve your goals and plan to open up a range to find the best deals on flights.
Be Flexible with Time and Travel Dates
Having 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 whole 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
Flight tools like Google Flights are an asset to many travelers. Another one of the most comprehensive flight tools is Skyscanner. It helps scan the internet for the best deals around. Not all people like to use Skyscanner, and therefore there are numerous Skyscanner alternatives, which help you have the best flight tool at your fingertips.
While most people may not search more than one flight tool for the best fare, picking one to three flight search tools you enjoy using to find the best deals can be more manageable.
Online Travel Agents (OTAs) may have cheaper deals because they buy bulk from airlines, but also be mindful that if your flight gets canceled, it could be harder to get a voucher, refund, or credit from the airline. That is why Google Flights is a great tool – it allows people to book direct with an airline.
Look For Error Fares
In a world of computers, remember that individuals input airline fares into the 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 multiplies 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 being 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 have an option to 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, and, therefore, it is unlikely to score a deal. However, it is possible that a fare may drop within 24 hours to sell more seats.
Wait it out 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. If you use our ten tips to help you book a last-minute flight deal, you 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.
Cummings is the founder of the personal finance blog The Frugal Expat. As a traveler and expat, he has learned a lot about how to save money, live frugally, and invest for the future. His mission is to help people in saving, investing, and reaching financial independence.