How to Save Big on Last-Minute Travel

By Jason Steele on 21 June 2018 0 comments

Do you need to get out of town in a hurry? To find the best deals on travel, you usually have to make your reservations at least a few months in advance. But sometimes, it just isn't possible and you'll have to be on the lookout for last-minute deals. Thankfully, there are some types of travel reservations that go on sale within days, or even hours of use.

Here are a few of the most popular ways to save money on travel booked without advance reservations.

Look for frequent flyer awards

Whether you earn your frequent flyer miles using travel credit cards or by flying, in my experience, the two ways to receive the most value from your frequent flyer miles is to book expensive flights in business or first class, or to travel on otherwise expensive tickets booked without advance notice. Actually, you can often use your rewards to do both and realize a value of several cents per point or mile redeemed. That's the kind of value worth cashing in for. (See also: Which Airline's Frequent Flyer Miles Have the Best Value?)

For example, Lufthansa tends to only release its business and first class award seats to Star Alliance partner airlines within two weeks of departure. To book these seats, you could use miles from United Airlines, Air Canada, or Singapore Airlines. Other airlines that are good at offering last-minute award flights include Delta and British Airways, neither of which charge close-in booking fees.

On the other hand, United does charge a close-in booking fee for flights booked less than 21 days before departure, but it will let United credit card holders and those with elite status book any available seat as an Everyday award. Those awards cost at least double the miles of the harder-to-find Saver awards, but there are more of them available. The extra points it will cost you is often worth it to snag a very expensive ticket at the last minute.

Thankfully, I've even been able to avoid United's $75 fee by booking a flight I didn't want that's outside the 21-days advance purchase window. Then I immediately call the airline and change the flight to the date I actually do want, which is within the 21-day window. Everyone has the right to change their flight within 24 hours of booking without incurring change fees. For some reason that $75 close-in booking fee also doesn't get charged if you make this change by phone — but it won't work if you try to change the ticket online. (See also: 20 Secrets of Last-Minute Travel)

Use the right app or website

When it comes to last-minute travel, several apps and websites can be your best friend. Here are a few of the top ones:

1. icruise

is a website and app with a special section for last-minute cruises being offered at steep discounts.

2. GTFO

stands for Get The Flight Out, and this website lists some of the cheapest last-minute flights out of nine top cities in the U.S.

3. HotelTonight

is an app that lives up to its name by offering discounted rooms up to a week in advance or as late as the same day. This service searches available properties in over 1,700 cities.

4. Last Minute Travel

offers discounted hotels, flights, cruises, rental cars, and more to those who pay a $50 annual membership fee. It claims to offer discounts of up to 65 percent, as well as personalized offers by email.

5. One:Night

is an app that offers hotel deals in select major cities after 3 p.m. local time. (See also: 7 Best Websites for Last-Minute Airfare Deals)

Negotiate

Long before apps were invented, resourceful travelers would take it upon themselves to find the best last-minute deals possible. Today, you can still strike a great deal under the right circumstances. When it comes to hotels, you can call around, or even visit the front desk to find the best rate. To start, simply ask what's available and what their best rate is. Then, ask if there's any way that they can do better. Try to find out if the person you're speaking with has the authority to offer a lower rate and if not, don't hesitate to ask for someone who does.

It can also help to have a good reason for booking a room at the last minute. For example, if you're traveling because of an emergency, or you need a room for the night because your trip was disrupted, share that information with hotel staff, and they may offer you a distressed traveler rate.

Rental car agencies will be less flexible, but managers of local franchises may have the discretion to offer lower rates during periods of weak demand. Sadly, you're unlikely to achieve these results if you attempt to bargain with airline staff, but there's little harm in asking them to help you find the best possible price once you've exhausted all other possibilities. They may not be able to bargain, but if you're nice, they might share some tips or tricks you didn't know.

Consider last-minute cruise deals

Just before a big cruise ship leaves port, unsold cabins are sometimes offered at a steep discount. If your travel plans are flexible and you can make it to any of the major ports, then you can find some great deals. (See also: 10 Little-Known Secrets to Saving Money on Your Next Cruise)

To find these last-minute cruise tickets, there are several places you can check. First, the websites of the cruise lines themselves have special sections for last-minute deals. A few to try are , and . Next, look at third-party sites that specialize in last-minute deals, such as , and even .

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