No matter how organized you are with your travel planning, last minute changes can happen out of a whim or unexpected situation. It’s ok; it’s part of the travel experience. The general notion is that as the departure date draws closer, flights and accommodation become more expensive. While that is correct, it is not an absolute truth.
If you know where to look, you can find much better last minute deals to either save the trip after an unexpected change or to plan a last minute getaway. Of course, having trip cancellation insurance is also a great way to protect your travel plans in case of emergency.
Two of my favorite airfare sites are Kayak.com and Skyscanner.com. Besides often showing the cheapest flights, they give you the flexibility to search flights to "everywhere," allowing you to pick the most affordable or most exciting destination on the list. On both sites, you’ll either see a list or map with the cheapest flight options based on the date range you picked. Using sites like these, I managed to find last minute flights for $15 from London to Berlin and $50 from San Juan to New York. The key is flexibility in dates and to keep a constant eye, or set fare alerts, to know when the fares go down.
Let’s hope this never happens to you, but accidents, ailment, or death of a companion or family back home can occur while traveling. Should you need to change plans due to an unexpected death of family back home, some airlines offer bereavement fares, which are discounted tickets for family members of the deceased who need to return home immediately. If you have travel insurance, depending on your coverage, this fare could be reimbursed to you.
Are you a frequent flyer or have credit card miles and points? These could save you a lot of money on last minute flights. While you can use your miles to pay for flights, be aware that availability of "award seats" are often limited and that some airlines charge a reservation fee when these are last minute bookings. Compare how much it costs you to book the trip both with miles and cash to choose the best one. Value your miles as a currency, so if the price difference between the award seat and the paid seat is not that much, you could save your miles for another trip.
To continue with the previous point, airline and credit card miles can also be used to book hotels. With some airline programs, you can book the hotels straight through their platform. With others, you can transfer your points and miles to the hotel platform and book there.
Some sites list accommodations after late cancellations for you to snag them at a fraction of the cost. Among these are Roomer.com and Cancelon.com. Have in mind that all the available reservations on these sites already have a set date, so you have to accommodate your itinerary to fit them.
On the other hand, if you have a hotel reservation you can’t use, you can sell it to these websites to get a partial refund of what you paid.
Most sites have a dedicated page for last minute hotel deals, but some of them stand out. Booking.com automatically slashes prices up to 50% off or more on some of its listings for same day reservations, or even within the next couple days. Priceline.com also has an "Express Deals" page where they give up to 60% off on accommodation. The difference between Priceline and Booking is that with Priceline, your hotel and its exact location will be a mystery until after you book.
Apps like Hotel Tonight come in handy if you need to book a last minute room for tonight or within the next seven days. The app is available for iPhone and Android.
Sometimes going "old school" and calling a hotel (or even an airline) can get you cheaper rates. Sometimes, hotels and airlines keep secret, unpublished rates reserved only for callers.
Groupon.com and Livingsocial.com are good starting points to find travel deals and coupons. In some cases, they even offer full vacation packages at ridiculously low prices, so it’s good to keep and alert eye or to subscribe to their newsletters to not miss them.
Airbnb.com, on the other hand, allows you to rent a room or apartment from a local at your destination. While it is recommended, and polite, to book with at least a few days in advance, some hosts do accept last minute reservation with the "instant book" button on the site. Often, Airbnb accommodations offer more for your money compared to hotels.
What do you think? Ready for a last minute trip?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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