When you think of last minute travel, one particular word comes to mind: stress. However, it doesn’t have to be a frantic situation that throws any travel planning enjoyment out the window. Booking a vacation in the weeks before departure can go just as smoothly compared to if you were booking it months in advance. It can almost be more exciting, as the added adrenaline and excitement kicks in.
From knowing which flights and hotels to book, to knowing when is the best time to book them, there are a lot of secret tricks that can make this process run smoothly. On the other hand, there are a ton of deals and coupons available if you take the time to do some research, as well as convenient hotel/flights combo deals that can get you bang for your buck.
The most important thing to do when booking last minute is to keep an open mind to several possibilities, and most importantly, to be flexible. There are so many options available to you if you simply go with the flow and not let concrete ideas of how you want your trip to be cloud all of the different routes there are available to you.
So, for your next last minute, sneaky vacay, keep these 20 tips in mind both before and during your trip overseas. Not only will you be saving yourself some stress, but also some coin. So sit back, relax, get researching, and get your spontaneity pants on. After your trip, you may not want to book a trip any other way!
20 Be open to different destinations
Let the deal determine the destination! If you are booking travel at the very last minute, you probably don’t have concrete plans in place since you haven’t been planning for months on end. Because of this, it is best to be open to different destination options.
There will likely be last minute deals available for specific destinations. If an airline is trying to fill seats or a resort isn’t as busy as they’d like to be, take advantage of these options. This is obviously more suited for spontaneous, fun trips rather than trips already laid out. If you aren’t too picky, the deals that are advertised are usually for specific destinations.
19 Be strategic with booking flights
When booking last minute, a day or two can make a huge difference in price when it comes to flights. Be flexible with your departure and return date, as you can save hundreds of dollars from one week to the next. Also, less popular flight times (such as very early morning flights) are generally a better deal than more convenient times. So, not being picky will be in your favour here.
The day of the week in which you book flights has a huge impact on the price you are going to pay. Airlines often discount flights on Sundays and Tuesdays for travel in the week following. Therefore, checking on these days rather than later in the week may be worth your while.
18 Go for a budget airline
Budget airlines will almost always give you better deals than more established ones, but won’t provide you with a ton of amenities like free food/drinks or complimentary checked baggage. However, if you pack all of the essentials in a carry on and aren’t too fussed about getting special treatment, it’s worth it.
While you won’t get the same experience as you would on major airlines, it won’t matter when you arrive at your destination. The travel from point A to B is going to be a drag no matter what, so just get through it and you’ll be relaxing on vacation in no time!
17 Do your research
While you are booking last minute and are likely time crunched, it’s important to still do your research when it comes to finding the best deals on flights, hotels, car rentals, and more. Don’t book the first thing you see just because you are under pressure. Sites such as Skyscanner and Kayak are awesome for searching the web to find the best deals possible for you.
Saying that, know when it’s a good time to book. If you see a good deal, generally speaking it’s a good idea to book it rather than wait it out for the deal to get better. Because it probably won’t. And if you wait too long, you could be forking out a ton.
16 Put flight alerts on
Sign up for every newsletter possible in the months leading up to the time you want to travel (don’t worry, you can unsubscribe later). Travel companies and airlines will send weekly blasts on deals that are usually catered to the last-minute traveller.
Also, if you have certain dates in mind, sign up for flight alerts that email you when the flight goes up and down in price. They usually send you an email every day since flights generally seem to always be changing in price. Hopper is a great app that tells you the best time to book flights and hotels based on your desired travel dates, and if you should be waiting to book or not.
15 Go see a travel agent
Travel agents are the experts, so take advantage of their resources. They know the ins and outs of booking travel and will likely have the best advice for you. They also have a lot of knowledge of what to do and what not to do while booking travel, and how people generally go wrong when planning a trip.
They also likely have connections that you would never have access to in order to get you the best possible deal on pretty much anything travel related. You can easily call a travel hotline or go into your nearest travel agency store, as they mostly deal with walk ins.
14 Incognito window is key
A lot of people are unaware of this, but your computer actually automatically tracks the things that you search on the daily, and will hike up prices on flights if they see that you’re looking. Have you ever searched something on the web and then you are scrolling through Instagram and an add pops up for that exact product? Well, it’s not a coincidence.
If you search a flight in both an incognito window and a regular window, you will likely get two different prices. To avoid paying more for the exact same thing, use the ‘incognito window’ option on your web browser, which will not track you or leave any history of your searches.
13 Have a concrete plan
Even though it’s last minute, make sure you have some sort of a plan in place before you go booking anything. If you book your flight too fast without looking at accommodation, you could find that the hotel options are extremely pricey for the dates you booked your flight (or worse, fully booked), and now you’re stuck. This is especially true during high season, as flight deals may be available but most hotels will be fully booked.
Do some research on all the components that will be going into your trip before booking each item separately. The key is to get both your transportation and accommodation to line up, therefore flexibility is important here.
12 Travel at the right time of week
Let the destination determine the dates! Different destinations will be cheaper on the weekend, while others will cheaper on the weekdays. Do some research on where you are going before hand, in order to know what time of the week is best for both price and crowds of people.
Travelling to New York City tends to be cheaper on the weekends, as there are a ton of business travellers that come and go during the week. Alternatively, Miami will likely have cheaper rates during the week, as tourists flock there on the weekend to take advantage of the nightlife. The ideal time to travel is different everywhere, and knowing when to go can save you a ton of money when booking last minute travel.
11 Don’t have expectations set in stone
It’s important to not have expectations too rigid when you are booking last minute travel. Having a detailed plan for what you want to do will cloud the possibilities that can come from spontaneous travel. Sometimes it’s the last minute adventures where you have little plan that end up being the best, so don’t get too bent out of shape if plans change.
Be open to different opportunities that may arise before and during your trip. Just because it’s not what you had laid out in your head, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be just as amazing, if not better. If you are booking last minute, you are probably already a pretty easy-going, spontaneous individual, because if you weren’t you would have had things planned months ago. Not being too picky is ideal in this situation.
10 Remember the 14-day rule
Did you know there is a magical ‘travel window’ where you can get significant discounts? This is known as the 14-day rule window, which means that if airlines, hotels, and cruise operators are not fully booked, there are often huge discounts available two weeks in advance of travel departure. Is there anything more perfect for the procrastinating trip planner?
If you are booking last minute, chances are it might be in this window, which means you may actually get a better deal than you would have if you had booked very early in advance. So, keep an eye out around two weeks before you are wanting to jet out of the country.
9 Don’t travel in peak season
Booking last minute travel in peak season is generally a very bad idea. Prices will likely be high no matter what, with high demand leaving little room for discounts. Hotels are likely booked up and prices for tours are hiked as well. To be honest, it’s a bit of a recipe for disaster for last minute travel unless by some fluke you get insanely lucky.
Alternatively, if you look for deals during low season or shoulder season, this is when airlines and hotels will offer deals because there is a low demand for travel and they want to fill up spots. Travelling in off season will also provide discounts on car rentals, activities, and pretty much everything else. And bonus, there are less people around.
8 Look into combo deals
Want to travel in style on a budget? Booking combo deals that offer both airfare and hotel at a discounted packaged price are ideal if you are looking last minute. Not only are you getting a good deal, but you don’t have to worry about looking for accommodation separate from the dates you want to fly in to make sure they line up.
They also save you a ton if you were to book airfare separate, since last-minute airfare can fluctuate so much. I’ve heard of people buying packages and not even using the hotel, because it was THAT much cheaper than buying the airfare alone. Combo deals are also quick and easy and generally don’t have much planning involved in them, so you’ll be sorted and can focus on getting excited for your trip!
7 Look into all transportation methods
At times, buses and trains can be cheaper than flying from one place to another. Sure, you are sacrificing convenience (since it will definitely take longer), but can save you a ton of money if flights are looking too close to the departure date. After all, you can’t be too picky when you leave it until the last minute!
While they take longer, buses and trains may be a great way to see different surroundings on the way to your destination, especially in places like Europe where the scenery is so diverse. You can catch up on your favourite book, write in your travel journal, or enjoy the relaxing time where you have nowhere to be!
6 Avoid non-stop flights
Once again, this is where you will have to sacrifice convenience to get a good deal. While a direct flight may be tempting, it will cost you an arm and a leg in the weeks before travel. Non-stop flights can cost up to double the amount you would pay if you had one or two stopovers. While this is an annoying price to pay, it’s likely worth it to snag a last-minute deal. Inconvenience will save you money in this case.
A pro with stopovers for long distances as it gives you a bit of a refresher between legs and allows you to stretch your legs and take a bit of a breather. It can also be a good time to snag some airplane snacks, as we all know that the hike up in price on airplane food is pure insanity.
5 Bargain with your host
A lot of people don’t realise that you can actually bargain with your Airbnb host, or any rental where you are dealing directly with the property owner. Rates can be negotiable depending on the time of year and how much availability they have. If they have a ton of availability, it may not be as high of a demand. This is especially true if you are travelling at the last minute, since hosts would rather fill the spots rather than have no one there at all. Some hosts may not be open to negotiations, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Use the fact that you are booking last minute to your advantage!
4 Skip travel hot spots
There always seems to be destinations that are ‘on trend’ that one person will travel to and then everyone jumps on the bandwagon. For example, Iceland recently became a recent hotspot for travel, and now Tulum, Mexico is becoming an Instagram bucket list item. The power of social media has a huge effect on which destinations are popular to travel to.
Rather than opting for a favoured, well-known destination, you can cut costs by going for a similar, less-known destination that offers pretty much the exact same thing. Demand is not as competitive, but you will still receive the experience you are hoping for. Just because everyone is going there, doesn’t mean that is the ONLY option.
3 Reach out to hotels directly
Last-minute travellers can often score the best room rates by calling the hotel directly rather than booking online. The hotel staff are aware of the online mark-ups out there, and will likely discount accordingly if the availability is there. Not only that, but you are more likely to receive an upgrade when you are talking to someone directly, as that is obviously not possible online.
You can also talk to them about special requests, late check out times, and anything else that cannot be found online. All of the room deals I have gotten have either been from a face to face conversation with a hotel employee, or a direct phone call.
2 Coupons, coupons, coupons!
It’s worth your while to take a look at Groupon vouchers catered to your destination, as there are tons of deals out there for accommodation, dining, and activities. While sometimes these vouchers are only available for specific dates, this could sway your travel dates in the right direction if you find a stellar deal.
Also, Honey is a recent development in the discounting world that automatically searches for discount codes across the web whenever you go to book or buy anything online. It’s a free extension for Google Chrome that is handy in finding deals so that you don’t have to. It essentially does all the work for you—what more could you ask for?
1 Once you arrive, be flexible
The most important thing to remember when you are planning a last minute vacation is to have flexibility in mind not only in the planning process, but during your trip as well. Once you arrive in your destination, be open to different possibilities that may arise, and don’t expect everything that you have in your mind to pan out.
The most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind at all times, because the beauty of spontaneous travel is that you don’t exactly know what you expect… and that’s okay! Don’t stress and enjoy your vacation. The things you didn’t expect to happen are probably going to turn out to be the best experiences. Appreciate all of the amazing, out of the blue occurrences that come from last minute travel.