We’re quite familiar with the last-minute wanderluster’s search engine prayer: How can I get a cheap, last-minute flight? As travel experts, it’s literally our job to answer this question on a daily basis. Those spontaneous last-minute flights are the best adventures a free-spirited wanderluster can ask for. Of course, this shouldn’t mean that your trip is hashed together too quickly, but we know that trying to find cheap last-minute flights can be a little trickier than planning in advance. Good news, friends, the process is far from impossible.
In asking how to get cheap last-minute flights, you’ll find that the answer is a combination of science, art, and practice in patient frugality (with a little bit of internet sleuthing thrown in). We’re here to help you get your spur-of-the-moment airborne vacay wheels up without laying waste to your wallet.
HERE’S HOW TO GET CHEAP LAST-MINUTE FLIGHTS LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB:
- Have Flexible Travel Dates
- Follow Airlines on Social Media
- Create An Email Address and Sign Up for Travel Alerts and Airline Subscriptions
- Check Flight Comparison Tools
- Take Advantage of Travel Rewards Programs
- Research Alternative Airports Near Your Arrival and Destination Points
- Read the Fine Print To Avoid Hidden Fees
To reach your destination with your wallet intact, you must cleverly avoid clickbait, dodge scam travel money grabs, and consciously search out genuinely inexpensive air travel. Fortunately, our travel experts are here to tell you how to successfully book cheap last-minute flights so those deals don’t elude you.
FLEXIBILITY IS CRUCIAL
We know that finding affordable flights can be one of the more frustrating travel processes, given all the results your search engine will spit out at you.
Yes, your search engine of choice may be able to deliver 1.2 million results in 0.012 seconds, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually find cheap flights.
Our first, and seemingly most obvious, bit of advice then is to increase your flexibility, the days and times when you are willing to take off and the locations you are willing to consider. Gone are the days when you could purchase readily available standby tickets and buy-and-fly tickets right at the airport, outside of special circumstances.
Here’s a quick tip: don’t bank on special circumstances.
Regardless of how last minute your flight purchase truly is, the research you do ahead of time, combined with your level of flexibility, will increase the likelihood that you’ll find the dream trip you didn’t yet realize was there.
HAVE FLEXIBLE ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE POINTS
Pay attention to a group of different destinations and local surrounding airports. This boosts the chance of finding available tickets at attractive ticket prices while giving you a broader spectrum of location options in the same last minute flight basket. Don’t limit your search to a single airport; search surrounding ones and you may find shuttles, car rentals, and public transportation options that are significantly cheaper than certain inbound airport locations. You can save money and help the environment by shortening air travel into different locations with well-connected public transit, rental cars, or generous friends.
In addition, an international calendar will keep you updated on holidays, busy times, blackout dates, etc. that might apply to other parts of the world you aren’t as readily aware of. One of the keys to cheap last minute flights is looking beyond your own locale and to your destination as more than merely a destination. Knowing point A, point B, and the other options in between helps encompass your geographic travel awareness wholly, making you able to apply that knowledge to getting a flight at the right price. Increasing the spread of where and when you travel will largely raise your chances of finding cheap last minute flights. Get funky with your friend group and maybe you’ll be shipping off to a paradise you didn’t expect and having the time of your life.
While we’re on the topic of flexibility, we advise you to be willing to fly weird hours and days. Most people actively avoid red-eye and pre-dawn/early-morning flights, but you’re not most people, so stay up late, get up early, and get in the air. You’ll find that these flights are almost always more affordable and less filled than a flight in the middle of the day. As far as days of the week/month/year are concerned, flights on weekends, holidays, and popular vacation dates (winter break, spring break, etc.) are more crowded, more expensive, and less readily available at a moment’s notice. We’re all about helping you get cheap last minute flights to Cancun, Mexico, but we can promise that a last minute flight on Spring Break will never be inexpensive. Set your calendars accordingly. Look for flights in the middle of the week while people are working.
It takes a little more spontaneous flexibility to be able to fly out on, say, a Tuesday, but it’ll surely be cheaper.
CHEAP, LAST MINUTE FLIGHTS LIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS
Social media is one of the most powerful travel influences in existence. Among the billions of users, travel bloggers are a source of coveted travel locations for social media scrollers around the world and back again. In fact, many of us can no longer imagine traveling without the help of technology. Not only can travel bloggers and social media channels expose you to new and interesting destinations around the world, it’s easy to research and plan the perfect itinerary using online travel tools.
While some Baby Boomers like to complain about how younger generations are glued to their phones, those phones are actually one of the most advantageous pieces of technology that help you keep your finger on the pulse of international travel, find cheap last minute flights, and experience the world through the eyes of others. You probably already do some of this involuntarily, but there are strategic ways to use the international travel community’s social media presence to help you jet-set sharply.
If you’re smart about travel, here’s who (and what and where and how) you should be monitoring religiously:
- The Transportation Security Administration updates their Twitter and Instagram accounts all the time. If you’re leaving from the United States, TSA will have updates regarding travel checklists, security, danger levels, destination activity, and a near real time ticker of what you need to know before you get in the pre-flight security line.
- Both domestic and international airports constantly update their social media accounts. This falls in line with your increased flexibility from earlier. Not only should you be monitoring destinations as a locale, it’s important to see what’s going on in the actual place you’d be flying into. Treat a location as if you already live there and really learn about where you’re going. If you’re monitoring travel trends from your home airport, a smart traveler should be doing the same with multiple airports around the world. Connect the dots, then connect the flights. This way your knowledge isn’t one sided.
- Airlines Social Media:
- If you really want to know how to get cheap last minute flights, then you’ll find some of the best travel deals by following airlines like JetBlue and Southwest on Twitter and other social media channels. This is especially true of cheap last minute flights. Airline deals bank on the fact that people aren’t as spontaneous as an airline deal might demand them to be, but they didn’t know they’re dealing with you, valiant wanderluster. Preferred airline or not, don’t be limited in your last minute travel accommodations, because deals come just as fast as they go. Keep the airlines’ social media alerts on blast and you might find yourself in the sky over a tweet.
- News and weather:
- Between the variability of human behavior and Mother Nature, keeping your eyes on what’s happening in the world and in the weather is a prudent travel prerequisite. Awareness of developments on both of these fronts (get it?) will keep you privy to places that might not be best to travel to at a given moment in both certain geo-political and literal climates.
- One person’s spam is another’s treasure:
- Most people don’t like their email inboxes being flooded with promotional offers, but they’re a great place to discover cheap last minute flights all over the world. Email has evolved enough that you can organize the contents of your inbox based on the type of mail you receive, so that’s a good place to start. We’ve even heard of people who open email accounts wholly dedicated to airline subscriptions, promos, offers, deals, price hacks, and travel bloggers. Think of it like coupon clipping for the digital age, but now your promo only email address has all the would-be inbox fluff in one place. This way,j you can sift through spam and deal seek. It seems tedious, but, again, many of these companies blast deals knowing that most people aren’t watching closely enough, are too lazy to read, and aren’t spontaneous enough to take the plunge. Prove them wrong!
- RSS feeds can do a lot of grunt work for you. Otherwise known as Really Simple Syndication, RSS feeds are wonderful ways to filter through the content of multiple different sites. Flights and ticket prices change at a nearly constant rate, but RSS feeds offer a simple solution. RSS feeds take a grouping of sites of your choice and provide simple text updates concerning changes in content. If you’re monitoring 15 different sites aside from CheapOair (which we totally understand because you wanderlust wisely) for cheap last minute flights, you’ll see updates as they happen in your RSS feed, rather than having to navigate manually to each site and re-enter a search query. Convenient, right? We certainly think so. RSS feeds are a good complement to following social media accounts and your promo email coupon book.
TALK TO YOUR BANK AND BEYOND
Travel, last minute or not, is an investment of time and money. If you’re a dedicated globetrotter, having some financial kickbacks in the travel department is a worthy route to take. Now, it’s obviously important to keep a sharp eye on your financial situation, credit score, and savings, but many banks, airlines, and credit card companies have accounts built specifically for frequent travelers. Talk with your bank and look into what options they provide to help enhance your travel experience.
How can cards do that?
- Travel heavy credit cards attached to airlines compile air miles with purchases. Use your rewards. If you have credit cards dedicated purely to travel, those miles stack up quicker than you think. Especially for the last-minute flier. Rack up those miles, use them as often as you can, and keep track of your progress, because the only things better than cheap last minute flights are free last minute flights. Your card use is in your hands, though, so stay on top of the fine print. You wouldn’t want to lose out on free airline miles because you forgot to pay attention to your perks, would you?
- Sometimes, it’s easier to get travel packages that have flights and accommodations included in the price. In this case, travel accounts and credit cards may feature perks/rewards on accommodations, flights, or both. Most cards are one or the other, but some of the better ones are full travel accounts with both features attached.
- If you don’t have a travel account, remember your cashback on purchases. Most people have a credit card, and if you’re using it year round, you’re earning cash back. Look into what you can do with your cash back rewards. Many people allocate the cash they get back on purchases specifically to travel expenses. It may not seem like much, but if you’re taking a chunk out of the cost of a flight, you’re using your head more than those who let their cashback rewards sit idle.
- Ah yes, concierge services. Similar to concierge services at hotels, these ones are attached directly to your credit account. What can your concierge do for you? They can do a lot, but it depends on the credit company you’re working with. You have to ask them, of course, but many of them can do anything from planning international travel, flights, hotels, entertainment, a whole bunch of things that’ll save you time and money. These services often come free with credit accounts or are included in your annual fee, so if the service is there for you, take advantage of it as a travel ally. After all, your time is valuable.
LOOPHOLES, FINE PRINT, AND COVERING YOUR BASES
For those of you who are unaware, private chartered flights are private jets for small groups. Once assumed to be reserved for business elite and the exorbitantly wealthy, chartered flights are becoming more accessible. Before you get on our case over how cheap last minute flights and private jets are being used in the same sentence, this loophole, along with every other loophole must be handled warily.
Some private jet companies offer short term, next-day deals for people to take empty leg seats on private flights for a fraction of the price it would usually cost. Time and destination aren’t very flexible, but the opportunity to fly on a private chartered jet is open for the taking.
While we’re addressing the loopholes available to help ease the expense of travel, not falling victim to shortsighted travel planning will keep your wallet safe from careless fine-print victimization.
The most expensive part of last minute travel is often the big bolds words cheap last minute flights, which eclipse the cursed, microscopic print hiding the other fees attached to your seemingly too-good-to-be-true ticket price.
Here’s a good rule to live by in the travel world:
If it seems to good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true.
You are responsible for navigating the fine print, research, and deal sleuthing. It’s the least glamorous part of learning how to get cheap last minute flights, but it’s arguably the most important part if you’re looking to keep your expenses down. Bad deals wrapped in gold prey on people searching for convenience. Don’t let your last minute search stresses turn you into a travel victim. Take your time and read up. Falling for this brand of travel trickery is a mistake that can tie up and trip even the most experienced frequent flyers. Stay vigilant.
Without being too harsh on the older, more material oriented generations, one of the main things that prevents people from traveling far and wide is the fear of leaving their comfort zones. Sometimes, it’s not even fear so much as the inconvenience of planning, getting there and back again, and just doing it.
Don’t settle for the comfort of your front yard. You’ve been there before and, though it may be beautiful, we firmly believe that everyone should be a citizen of the world. That’s why we’re here! To help you hop across the world and see the magnificence our lovely planet has to offer. And if we can help you save some money as you learn how to get cheap last minute flights, then we’ve lived up to our name. Now you have to live up to yours, wanderluster.