Booking your travel last minute can sometimes be advantageous, especially if you’re traveling during an off-season. If the airline has a large number of seats available as the departure date approaches, or if a hotel or cruise line has more vacancies than guests, you may find yourself getting an unbelievable deal you wouldn’t have gotten if you had booked well in advance. Other times though, especially during the holidays, playing airfare roulette can sometimes leave you paying three times as much, and sitting between a rock and a hard place (or in the much dreaded “middle seat”). Here are three last-minute travel tips to help you decide how long to wait to book your flight.
1. Keep an eye on price fluctuations.
There are many websites that offer price predictors for airfare, which make predictions as to whether the price for a particular flight will go up, down, or stay the same as the departure date nears. Many booking sites also have an option where you can “Watch this Trip” to receive daily notifications with the current price for a flight. If you have a budget in mind for how much you’d like to spend on the flight, you can wait to see if the airfare falls within your desired range and then buy when/if it does.
2. Visit websites that offer price comparisons and last-minute travel packages.
Sometimes a flight may be cheaper if booked as a package deal. If you know that you will also need overnight accommodations and a rental car, look for a package that includes all three, and compare it to the price you’d pay if you booked each separately. Also, while third-party flight comparison sites are helpful, look out for “booking fees” that aren’t always factored into the initial listed price. While their airfares may be lower at first glace, these “booking fees” are often added in at check-out, which could drive up the price to be higher than what you would have paid if you went through the airline to book directly.
3. If you’re traveling for a major event or during holiday season, don’t wait.
If you’re planning a trip to New York City to see the ball drop in Times Square for New Years or to savor a hearty beer in Munich, Germany, during Oktoberfest, your expenses are much more likely to increase than decrease the longer you wait. Similarly, holidays are not a good time to book last minute, as the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the most traveled day of the entire year, for example, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). Not only are prices likely to sky-rocket for holiday airfare, but your options for departure and return times are going to be very limited, if you can find a seat last minute at all.
What’s your strategy to find the best last-minute deals? Share it with us on our Google+ page.