The average travelers plan their leisure trips several weeks, sometimes months in advance. I know I do. I already have my plane ticket and hotel reservation for my Virgin Islands trip in December, four months away. Somehow we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the only way to get the best deal is to book early. But often, you might find deals with substantial savings if you aren’t tied to a strict timetable. If your sister is getting married in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on January 11th for example, you probably don’t want to wait until January 5th to begin booking your reservations. That’s when you want to book as early as practical. But if your travel dates are flexible and you’re not working on a specific timeline or traveling to a specific event, last minute travel can be to your financial advantage.
Let’s start with the airfare. The best source, in my opinion, to finding the best flights at the best fares is either Last Minute Travel or Orbitz, which will almost always be better than calling the airlines directly. I have found these two sites to offer better deals than competing sites when traveling last minute. Once you have completed your search and you see the various fares and flight options, go ahead and call the airlines directly before booking just to check what they have to offer you. When there are empty seats, you can sometimes get one of them at a very good price. They’d rather let you pay less than the going rate than to fly the plane with empty seats. If you have a couple of hours, also go down to your local airport and talk to a rep in person. The important thing to remember is, a no doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes it does. Many times it does. But there are occasions in which you can squeeze through the airline’s pricing back door. Be nice and friendly when talking to the rep. He or she has a lot of leeway to help you, not just in finding you the right flight if one is available but also in waiving fees and offering you a lower price; so throw on the charm. If there’s a back story to why you’re traveling last minute, go ahead and tell the rep. I don’t advocate lying, but a little embellishment can’t hurt.
For the hotel, check out Hotel Tonight. This is actually an app for your mobile device. When you visit the website, it directs you to download the app. It can save you lots of money. I have seen savings or 30% or more. A friend of mine once booked a Hilton in Washington, DC on a Saturday night for $88, that’s a big savings off the normally higher price of $149. But if you’re traveling at peak times or when there are big events going on in a particular city (i.e., the Essence Festival or Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the Trumpet Awards in Atlanta), you’ll be lucky to get a room at all let alone getting one at a discounted price. So keep this in mind. But if you’re traveling at a time of year with a low percentage of tourism, then you may end up with a nice discount. But just like with the airlines, call the hotels directly. Be sure to call the local hotel as well as the main, Toll-Free number. Each one may have different information than is available to the other.
Traveling can be fun and exciting. Don’t pay more than you need to merely because you’re traveling at the last minute. Take a few minutes to do a little leg work and you can save some of your hard-earned money.