Conventional wisdom says that travel plans are best made as early as possible, partly because this makes you more likely to get better rates on everything. Unfortunately, there are just too many things that life can throw at you, leaving you with no option but to start planning for a trip on a short notice. And if this sounds like a familiar script, then you’re well aware of how expensive such endeavors can be.
That is, if you aren’t aware of any last minute travel hacks you could use to your advantage. Contrary to what you might assume, you don’t have to burn a hole through your wallet when taking a trip on a moment’s notice. Just keep in mind these points, and you’ll be able to save money on your travels:
1. Be flexible
Don’t obsess so much about a particular destination that you end up missing on other great deals. Just figure out what exactly you’re seeking from the getaway, then opt for suitable lesser-known spots.
2. Go solo
Spontaneous getaways work best when fewer individuals are involved, which is why you’ll want to travel alone if possible. This will give you the flexibility to pounce on almost all the openings that do come your way.
3. Be prepared
Most last minute travel deals have a very limited lifespan, which means you must be ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Start by outlining your packing list and make sure you know where everything is. This will help you depart sooner when the time comes.
4. Have a strategy
Ideally, you want to book your flight after you’ve secured a hotel room, particularly if you’re traveling during peak season. Planning will also make it possible to work around other elements that might not fall into place.
5. Cash out in time
When traveling to another country, visit your local bank for a currency exchange instead of using airport bureaus. The latter are more likely to rip you off, so make sure you have enough local currency when you first arrive.
6. Look for car hire coupons
Renting a vehicle is one of the trickier parts of spontaneous travel, so take advantage of any coupons you come across. Of course, you’ll want to ensure the offer includes your rental location before booking.
7. Cast your net wider
If downtown car hire agencies prove too expensive, head out to the suburbs where providers are known to charge less.
8. Try ride sharing
When traveling as a group, a car-sharing service will be much cheaper than buying several air/rail tickets or hiring a vehicle the traditional way. You can use Uber anywhere across the globe. Check out this list to see if Uber is available in the country you are travelling too.
9. Think about taking the train
Unless you’re taking a route where heavy demand necessitates early booking, last-minute tickets on trains can save you a substantial amount of cash. Keep an eye out for discounted tickets and promotions.
10. Start with single-seat tickets
No matter how many people will be accompanying you for the trip, it’s crucial that you start with individual tickets when searching for air fares. Carriers are known to bump prices when several seats are booked simultaneously.
11. Get social
When traveling on a short notice, keep an eye out for flash sales that might pop up on social media. Such deals are offered when operators need to fill up a few remaining spots by offering incentives. Besides checking the social streams of your favorite travel companies, you can also inquire directly by sending them a message.
12. Sign up for deals
To get travel offers, sign up for newsletters from a few airlines and travel companies. Check your inbox regularly to see if you can find any last minute travel deals among their regular offers. You can also subscribe for alerts from 3rd-party websites and destination-specific paid services, then opt out later on after your trip.
13. Look for packaged deals
Opting for an all-inclusive package (flight, accommodation, car hire, etc) is perhaps the most convenient way to save on last minute travel. When researching such deals, try not to think too much about the price of each item, but rather the value you’ll get from the package as a whole.
14. Scan for deals offered via credit card companies
Search through your card provider’s website and check your statements to see if there’s anything you could take advantage of. Should you come across a convincing offer, remember to pay for the reservation using your card to lower the cost even further. You’ll also want to pay off the amount before interest charges kick in.
15. Take advantage of transferable points
A sudden getaway presents a great opportunity to utilize any reward points you might have accumulated on other programs. Most airlines will only open up award spots on flights scheduled to take off within a day or two, and which still have some seats that are yet to be sold. If you have points spread across other programs associated with a certain carrier, why not consolidate them to maximize their potential? Just make sure you understand the redemption terms so you can pick the best options for your trip.
16. Be consistent
Air fares are known to fluctuate with time, as do the number of seats most airlines are willing to offer at the lowest price. Besides, it’s not unusual for someone to reserve such a seat for a while then fail to book. It’s thus important that you keep searching for deals over a long period, of course while making sure you’ll be able to pounce when there’s a deal. To make things easier, leave open a dedicated tab on your browser so you only have to refresh when searching, and complement your efforts using relevant apps.
17. Consult an agent
If you can’t find affordable options for your trip, consider working with a travel agency. An experienced agent will have the connections to get you seats that won’t show up on airliners’ sites, not to forget a last-minute reservation as well.
18. Delete your cookies
While searching for tickets, remember to clear out your browser cookies and cache, or use a different device altogether. Airlines are known to track consumers online and raise prices whenever interest around particular flights increases.
19. Book Flight Really Late
It’s true that when you book your flight really late, you’ll have a better chance of getting a super cheap flight ticket. Why? The later you book, the more desperate airlines are to fill the plane to capacity.
20. Look for and take advantage of errors online
Airlines are far from being perfect; even established operators post erroneous fares from time to time, and there are experts online dedicated towards helping consumers find them. While such deals are often for last-minute flights, they’re only valid for the duration it takes for the mistakes to be fixed. You can follow these experts on Twitter or Facebook or through an email subscription. If you follow them on Twitter, you can get them instantly by setting up push notifications on your phone in the account settings:
21. Look for consolidator tickets
A consolidator is an agency that has contracts with multiple airlines to sell tickets that come from a special pool. While most of them will be on international routes, these deals can save you quite a handsome amount, as long as you have no problem with their restrictions (no changes allowed, and no frequent traveler miles earned). It would thus be prudent to examine the small print closely to see if the deal suits your circumstances. I would try Cheaptickets.com and STA Travel (if you’re a student).
22. Shop around
Remember to keep an eye out for cheaper fares even after you’ve booked your flight. This means you’ll need to understand all the costs attached to each offer and, as a result, make sure you’re getting the best deal currently available. Should you come across a better deal, see if you can switch by canceling the remaining portion of your trip.
23. Purchase tickets in local currency
Air tickets tend to be more expensive when the price is quoted in converted rates, which is why you want to purchase them in the local currency. Here, you’ll need to book directly with the airline on their native website, or via international aggregator platforms.
24. Make good use of your air miles
Frequent flier miles often come in handy when fares spike, and the thresholds can actually be lower than what you think. Some carriers offer last-seat availability on local flights at less than 30 000 miles, even around the holiday season, which is the kind of deal you need to get value for your accumulated mileage.
25. Skip round-trip tickets
Today, purchasing two one-way tickets into and out of the same city (preferably on different airlines) often proves more cost-effective than booking a single return ticket. You’re also more likely to get favorable arrival/departure times with the former. Keep in mind that you’ll be required to provide proof of your return flight when crossing borders, so make sure to carry along the relevant documents.
26. Take a different route
Rather than book an expensive non-stop flight, consider taking advantage of the ‘hidden city ticketing’ technique. Here, you’ll start by looking for a multi-city flight whose stopovers include your preferred destination but cost cheaper than booking a flight directly to your destination where you pay more. Here’s an example: Let’s say you want a book a flight to Chicago from New York. A plane ticket going to Los Angeles from New York cost $300; but, stops mid-way in Chicago, whereas a planet ticket from New York to Chicago cost $400. Obviously the flight to L.A. is cheaper so you’ll just get off at the stopping point as opposed to the ticketed destination, saving a tidy amount in the process. It’s worth mentioning that method involves taking on a bit of risk, so tread carefully. You can read some of the drawbacks here.
27. Opt for carriers who offer refunds
If tickets fall in price after you’ve paid, you’ll obviously want to get a refund for the difference. This will depend on the policies of the carrier in question; while some will have no problem issuing vouchers to refund the entire sum, others will apply hefty fees and as a result wipe out any savings you’d have made.
28. Timing is crucial
Even if you’ve figured out the destination and time of departure, don’t make the mistake of booking too early. Air fares vary considerably during the months leading up to a flight, so be patient. Depending on how flexible your dates are, searching within the +5/-5 date range will yield a variety of rates for you to consider.
29. Consider switching airports
As you search, try switching up the hubs to see how it affects the price. Some sites will show you the various options you could use to lower your price, besides notifying you when bargains pop up.
30. Try to avoid business travelers
To save on your last minute travel flight, take advantage of the mid-week discounts offered by most airlines. The rule of thumb here is to stay away from premium-paying business travelers, which means sticking to flights scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and, at times, Saturday.
31. Consider taking an opaque reservation
To help fill rooms that would otherwise have gone empty, hotels will at times offer huge discounts via online agencies. The only catch here is that you’ll only get to know the name and address of the hotel after completing the non-refundable reservation.
32. Try hotel-hopping
Commonly used by last minute travel deal seekers to save on accommodation, this technique involves staying at more than one hotel by booking each night separately. There are several sites you could use to look for great multi-night deals, taking into account your preferences and the number of times you’re willing to switch hotels.
33. Check out newly-opened facilities
Taking advantage of offers from hotels that have just opened is another way to save on accommodation for your spontaneous getaway. Here, you can actually save more than 50% on your stay, but make sure you act quickly, since the deals are only available for a limited period.
34. Ask for deals directly
Before booking, contact the hotel and ask if they have any deals currently on offer. You never know — they may offer a free upgrade, a discount, or anything else that will make your stay there worthwhile. This is something you should always look into when staying in one city for more than a week.
35. Be persistent
Do you know that you can actually negotiate with hotels for better rates? This might not be what immediately comes to mind when planning a sudden getaway, but it gives you the perfect opportunity to use your unique attributes to your advantage. Most hotels will have no problem lowering rates for military and government personnel, as well as seniors. As mentioned, persistence is the name of the game here.
36. Explore cheaper alternatives
Can’t find a hotel within your budget? Start exploring other options, including condominiums, boutique motels, hostels, Airbnb, bed & breakfast establishments and home-based providers. Such facilities often provide great services for much less than the going rates of the cheapest hotel rooms in the same locality. Besides, each of them will have you dealing directly with the owner, which translates to more negotiating power for you.
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