After more than a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions, many seemed to have doubled down on what was expected–or rescheduled. Personally, this has been the year of travel, and while I certainly planned a fair share of trips before 2020 rudely interrupted them, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of travel I would find myself doing currently. From rescheduled weddings to long overdue girls’ trips and family reunions, last-minute travel seems to be the only method of travel these days. While I’m certainly in favor of a packed vacation schedule, I’m not so much a fan of the incurred expenses that are often associated with last-minute bookings. Here are a few travel hacks for saving the next time you’re surprised with a last-minute trip.
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Use Flight Trackers to Watch Fares Drop
One of the first things I do whenever I have an upcoming trip (or even think I might have an upcoming trip) is utilize flight tracking resources like Google Flights. This is an easy way to monitor fares for a potential giveaway. I typically look six weeks out for domestic travel, as that has been the easiest and less restrictive travel option as of recently. This being said, I started to look around eight weeks out for my recent trip to Mexico (please note that I’m based in Texas, so traveling internationally to Mexico is flexible, with many flights available due to proximity). But what happens when you have less than a month to prepare for a trip? Luckily, Google Flights fare tracker can still be of great assistance even for last-minute travel. Here’s how I track (and often book) my flights using a flight fare tracker like Google Flights:
- Determine my destination. This might seem like the obvious first step but depending on where you’d like to travel, you may find a less-expensive flight in a nearby city. I typically pull up a map of the area, and depending on location, will check out other available flights to nearby airports. For example, if I’m planning a trip to Napa, California, I will look at fares from San Francisco as well as nearby Oakland and Sacramento. Here’s a great collective list of alternative airports for more travel options.
- If I have a set date that I need to be in a specific location for (wedding, bachelorette, etc.), I’ll plug in those dates. If I’m not restricted to a specific set of dates however, I’ll choose one of the many options like “X days in October” or even broaden my search to just a month.
- From here, Google Flights will populate flight options. I’ll select ones that I find most to my liking and simply hit the “track flight” button after selecting a flight.
- From here, Google Flights does all the work while I get to sit back and plan my trip. Google Flights will then email me updates about my tracked flights, including information such as fare increases, decreases as well as likely upcoming price increases.
As I previously stated, this is my first step when planning a trip. Another feature I like to utilize when going through Google Flights is the fare graph. Google Flights gives a detailed graph showing fare trends so that you can pick the exact dates that have the lowest prices. This is where I learned that many times only one or two days will be the the difference in hundreds of dollars for a flight.
Use Points to Offset Last-Minute Travel Price Increases
Recently I attended an out-of-town wedding and was shocked at home many guests used points to pay for *almost* the entirety of their trip. Paying in points is an obvious choice for saving money–as well as using rewards that you’ve technically already paid for. Points and frequent flyer miles can also be a huge relief when it comes to last-minute travel expenses. Booking last-minute travel items like flights and hotels can leave you with little options and big price tags. For those with points however, they can apply these rewards towards a purchase to lessen the overall cost–or even cover the entirety of a purchase.
From credit cards, to loyalty programs, to frequent flyer miles, there are a ton of ways to rack up points that can be used to pay for hotels and airfare. You can even sign up for programs like Orbitz Rewards, Booking.com Genius Rewards, and Travelocity Premium — just a few programs offered by the one-stop-shop travel giants. Each program is different and some require a purchase of a membership–however, these are not to be looked over. Personally, I found a great deal using Booking.com years ago, and since then I have continued to use their booking services simply due to low rates I’ve unlocked from being a Booking Genius member. Often you can get further discounts on rental cars and more.
Take Advantage of Airlines’ Last-Minute Travel Deals + Frequent Flyer Miles
Following up on the power of points, choosing a specific airline will also help accumulate frequent flyer miles quickly that can then be applied to future travel. While it’s not always possible, I typically try to always book using the same airline so that I can get credit for miles (and money) I’ll end up spending (and accumulating) anyways. It requires a bit of homework, but finding an airline that best suits your region and travel habits pays off in the long-run. Many airlines, like Southwest, will send promotional deals to frequent flyers for special weekend getaways offered at a discount.
I always take the time to check out these last-minute travel deals that otherwise would’ve been more expensive. Once again, sticking with one airline will help you accumulate frequent flyer miles that can then be applied to a last-minute flight–which typically carry big price tags.
Be Flexible With Accommodations for Last-Minute Travel
Thankfully, these days travel options are not limited to just hotels and hostels–and for last-minute travel, this can certainly be a good thing. Similar to earlier advice of sticking with one airline to accumulate points or frequent flyer miles, I apply the same rule of thought when staying at hotels. However, sometimes even with points, booking a room last-minute at a hotel can give you sticker shock, or even worse, there are no rooms available.
In these instances, I recommend checking out alternative accommodation options like VRBO and Airbnb. Because these sites operate with individual rentals and boutique locations, you’re much more likely to not only find availability but a lower price due to not having to fight with hotel-demand surge pricing. Another plus to booking through Airbnb and others is that you can nestle yourself directly into a location, giving yourself not only an immersed travel experience but the ability to tap into local resources that save money. For example, you can book near walkable restaurants and shops to avoid relying on costly rental car options.
Search for Last-Minute Travel Bundle Deals
If you find yourself having to quickly throw together a last-minute trip, take a look at last-minute travel bundle deals that are offered by travel giants like Orbitz, Booking.com, Travelocity and more. Travel bundles are a great way to secure flights, hotels, rental cars and even tourist excursions all at once–and for a discount. This also takes out the stress of running from site to site searching for the best deals. If you don’t have an upcoming trip but have the itch to getaway, these bundle deals can still be utilize to package a last-minute trip in just a few clicks.
Take Advice From Locals on Where to Save
Whether you’re jetsetting to an overseas destination or remaining domestic, advice from locals is one of the best ways to ensure a unique experience–and likely for less. As you might have guessed, popular tourist destinations overcharge simply because they can–and unless you’re willing to find alternatives, you’re often stuck paying high prices–especially when booking excursions and tours last-minute. This being said, just because you find yourself dealing with last-minute travel doesn’t mean that you have to bypass popular tourist spots and experiences altogether.
For example, when I visited New York City for the first time years ago, I chatted with my waitress about what to see and do from a New Yorker’s perspective. She promptly told me about what is worth the time and money and also what I should skip altogether. She gave me the great advice that while visiting the Statue of Liberty is certainly a cool experience, it’s not worth the cost of booking a tour. Instead, she directed me to catch the free Staten Island Ferry. Knowing no difference, I opted for the ferry ride and was shocked at the much better view of the Statue of Liberty I was given, compared to the small, crowded tour boats nearby. All in all I could say I got to experience the mighty sight and saved money in the process.
Explore Last-Minute Travel Discounts (If You’re Truly Flexible and Spontaneous!)
Last-minute travel doesn’t always have to mean you’re scrambling to figure out trip itineraries and cheap flights. In fact, last-minute travel can be exciting if you’re a fan of spontaneity. Last-minute travel discount sites can be an exciting way to travel, as their last-minute deals are constantly changing and often are destinations (or amenities) you wouldn’t have even thought about. Last-minute travel discounts can cover anything from deeply discounted hotel rooms for the night or weekend, to deep discounts on car rentals (an awesome way to explore on your own terms while also avoiding the cost of Ubers, Lyfts, taxis and other transportation) and even bundle deals on flights, hotels and car rentals. Typically, last-minute travel refers to trips within 14 to 10 days out, meaning these are special rates based on factors like availability and demand.
Hotwire Last-Minute Travel Discounts
Hotwire is a great last-minute travel resource as it allows you to be in control of the price you’ll pay. Simply put, you decide on the grade of hotel, price you want to pay and any other destination or accomodation specific details and Hotwire finds the best deals to match your checklist. Booking with Hotwire is simple and easy–plus you could even score Cash Back and additional discounts if you have RetailMeNot’s free Deal Finder browser extension downloaded.
HotelTonight Last-Minute Travel Discounts
We’ve all been there–it’s the last night of your trip but you’ve decided to extend your stay. Charging another night last-minute at your current hotel can be quite expensive. This is when HotelTonight saves the day. Whether you’re looking to extend a trip, find yourself making a quick one-day trip or simply want to take a weekend off, HotelTonight offers exclusive rates at a plethora of hotels across the country for last-minute bookings. HotelTonight features exclusive discounted rates on hotels with same-day, next-day and weekend availability–plus an app that can conveniently book while you’re on the go.
Alamo Last-Minute Car Rental Discounts
Rental cars can be one of the most expensive parts of a last-minute trip and often you’re stuck with whatever inventory is on hand. By using Alamo’s last minute car rental discounts, you can luck out with deeply discounted rates. Simply input your upcoming destination and Alamo will populate any special deals that can be applied. Please note that Alamo’s last-minute car rental discounts must be rented for a one-day minimum and for up to a four-day maximum. Additional information about Alamo’s last-minute car rental discounts can be found here.
Expedia Last-Minute Travel Deals
Expedia is one of the largest and most trusted travel booking sites–and they offer last-minute travel deals. If you’re in the mood to travel, check out Expedia’s featured last-minute travel deals to popular destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando and more. These deals are rotating and change frequently, so you’ll always have a mix of discounted travel options to choose from. Expedia last-minute travel deals apply to travel being made within two weeks of booking.
Join AARP For Travel Discounts
I 100% have Twitter to thank for this last-minute travel tip. Did you that anyone can join AARP? Did you also know that it only cost $12 to unlock discounts on travel and beyond? Because I certainly did not. I (like most) assumed that to qualify for AARP you need to be of a certain age–but boy am I glad I was wrong. Starting at $12 for your first year or $9/year for 5 years, you’ll get access to AARP members-only travel discounts plus bonuses like curated travel guides on where to shop, eat and stay. AARP members currently save up to 15% at popular hotels including Hilton, plus discounts like 30% off Budget rental car base rates and off-airport parking discounts. With just one booking AARP pays for itself.
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