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How to Get Cheap Last Minute Flights (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Get Cheap Last Minute Flights (Step-by-Step Guide)

For people who love travel, there’s nothing better than finding out at the last minute that you’ll have a chance to take a quick trip somewhere fun!

Any free weekend or temporary break in work and other responsibilities is a cause for celebration, and taking a short vacation is almost always the best way to celebrate anything.

But, if you’ve ever planned a last-minute adventure then you know that prices for those kinds of trips can sometimes be a lot higher than you’d like. Wise travelers plan their vacations far in advance to ensure that they get good deals. However, when you’re planning a trip that’s only a few weeks or days away, then that time may seem like it’s long past.

One of the biggest and best ways to save money on any trip is to find cheap flights, and that may seem like a big challenge when your trip is so soon.

When it comes to any last-minute getaway, the cost of flights can make or break the trip. If flights to your desired destination are expensive, you may not end up going at all.

On the other hand, if you know how to find cheap last-minute flights, then not only will you go, but you’ll have extra money to spend on accommodations, food, and activities when you get to where you’re going, too.

Fortunately, it is possible to find deals on last-minute flights if you know the right tricks and where to look.

If you’re wondering how to get cheap last-minute flights, then read on. In this guide, we’ll tell you when, where, and how to find last minute flight deals that will enable you to go on more trips, more often, and sooner, as well.

General Tips for Finding Cheap Last Minute Flights

There are so many expert tips out there to help you find last-minute flights that are affordable and that work for you. Many people know some of them, but few people know all of them. However, it’s important to use all of them combined to find the very best deals.

Check out this great list of tips that we’ve put together for you. Surely, you’ve been using some of them for years. Others may be brand new to you. Give them all a try and you’ll soon be flying last-minute much more affordably than you’ve ever imagined.

Be Flexible About Your Destination

Placing Red Push Pins on a Map

We’ll lead with the biggest and best tip of all: to get a great deal on last-minute flights, you must be flexible about your destination.

If you are deadset on going to a specific place, through one particular airport, on a certain day, then you are going to be limited to the flights that go to that airport on that day. You won’t have any other options; the fares you see first are the price you’ll likely pay.

On the other hand, if your adventure is more open-ended, then you’ll have dozens if not hundreds of options available to you.

If you want to go to a beach, you can choose from beaches all over Florida, California, Hawaii, New England, the Pacific Northwest, the mid-Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America, or anywhere else in the world.

Or, if you’d like to go skiing, you can look at fares to airports in Utah, California, Wyoming, Colorado, the northeast, Canada, or even Europe

If you’d just like to go somewhere you’ve never been before, you’ll have countless destinations all over the United States and the world to consider.

The more places you’re willing to think about, the better deals you’ll be able to find. There are likely very cheap flights available for this coming weekend to many of the destinations listed above from your home airport right now. Take a look!

Use a Flight Map

If you aren’t set on a specific destination for your last-minute trip but have no idea where you want to go, then you might try using a flight map to help you find the cheapest fares.

Sites like Google Flights and Skyscanner both offer flight maps to help you view and consider the different options available to you for your selected dates from your home airport.

On the other hand, if there is a specific place that you’d like to go to, you can still use the flight map to your benefit. Use it to view the fares to several different airports close to your destination and then choose the price and airport that makes the most sense for your budget.

Also, Be Flexible About Your Dates

Travel metasearch engines like Kayak and others allow you to pick a single departure and return date or a range of dates.

If you’re looking for deals on flights at the last minute, then it’s wise to choose the latter. If you can only travel on very specific dates, then you won’t get the best deals.

Add one or two days before and after your preferred dates if you can, and you’ll see a wider variety of flights and fares.

Try Different Departure or Arrival Airports

Some airports are more popular than others. Also, as you surely know, some airports are much larger than others and have many more flights coming and going from them each day than their smaller neighbors.

Because of these reasons, it’s wise to search for flights at as many different airports as you can. Don’t limit yourself to a single airport on either end of your journey if you want to find the best deal.

You may have to drive a bit for your departure or to your final destination once you land, but this can save you hundreds – and in some cases – thousands of dollars.

With this in mind, you should always search multiple airports at once on travel search engines when it’s an option. Most of these websites, including Google Flights and Momondo among others, have the option to search nearby airports on both ends of your journey built right in.

Take advantage of this feature whenever possible. You may not depart or arrive from or at your first choice airports, but you can save a bundle.

Fly During Less Desirable Hours

Night Flight

Everyone has different preferences about the times of day they like to fly.

Most people, however, like to get to the airport for departure relatively early (but not too early, certainly) and like to arrive at their destination at a reasonable time that is not too late.

As a result, many of the flights that you’ll see that meet these criteria are also some of the most expensive – especially when it comes to buying at the last minute. 

The cheapest flight you’ll find is not often going to be the one with the most ideal timing. The more willing that you are to fly during less desirable hours, the better deals you’re going to find and enjoy.

Consider taking the first, very early flight of the morning – which might mean you have to get up at 3 a.m. to go to the airport, but the savings will be worth it.

Look for flights that arrive very late at night, too – but be sure to have an advance hotel booking so you don’t have to scramble for one upon arrival.

Red-eye flights often offer incredible savings, and sometimes they’re rather empty, so you and your companions might be able to stretch out a little for sleep.

Also, Travel Midweek

Everyone wants to go away on the weekend. Most people work Monday through Friday and have the weekends off, so you’ll have a hard time finding last-minute flight deals that depart on Thursday or Friday and return on Sunday or Monday.

Instead, consider flying Tuesday or Wednesday to get good deals on airfare. However, the deals you’ll see or won’t see depend heavily on your destination; if the city you wish to visit is popular with business travelers, then weekday travel may not save you all that much.

Look for Last-Minute Deals on Social Media

Scott’s Cheap Flights Social Media Post
Example of Scott’s Cheap Flights Social Media Post

Every airline out there has multiple social media accounts. They use them to communicate with their customers and potential customers and this means they’re a great place to post-flight deals.

Almost all of the major airlines that you might fly for domestic or international travel post deals and sales on their social media accounts on a regular basis.

Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on. If you have to choose just one, Twitter is your best bet.

Use Your Points and Miles

If you travel even once or twice a year then you should be collecting points and miles through a credit card reward program like Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve or Capital One Venture or a card tied to your favorite airline.

These programs are a gift and there are so many ways to take advantage of all the perks that they offer. Perhaps the most common and well-known way to use airline points and miles is to buy airline tickets; this is a great use of your rewards anytime.

For last-minute flight deals, points and miles can be even more rewarding. The value of your collected points fluctuates based on flights, destinations, time of travel, and so on. It may be hard to know whether it’s wiser to buy with cash or with your points or miles; which is a better deal?

To figure out which will be the best bang for your buck, so to speak, you simply need to do a little math. In general, rewards points or miles are worth a penny each.

A $250 flight costs about 25,000 points or miles on most programs.

If you find a flight that looks good, divide the cost of the flight in dollars by the cost of the flight in points or miles, then multiply by 100. If your result is less than one, then paying in cash is a better deal. If it’s more than one, then use your rewards points or miles instead.

Sometimes the savings with rewards points or miles is huge, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Be vigilant and aware to ensure that you get the best deals every time.

Sign Up for Flight Deal Subscription Services

Scott's Cheap Flights Premium
Scott’s Cheap Flights Premium

One of the best ways to get cheap flights in general over the past decade is to use flight deal subscription services like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club.

These services do the work for you, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. Their literal job is to find flight deals for their members, and they’re very, very good at it.

All of these services offer free membership options, but you won’t gain a whole lot from those. The membership fees for the true memberships aren’t that expensive, though, and you’ll likely make back the money you invested with the very first flight tip of theirs that you use.

Scott’s Cheap Flights and others like it are known for offering a wide variety of flight deals but they also include cheap last-minute flights on their sites and in their email communications as well, and some of the deals you see are incredible.

From true deals to mistake fares, you’ll save a ton of money on travel when you sign up for one of these services.

Search One Seat at a Time

If you’re traveling with others, particularly a group or your family, you might try searching for only one seat at a time when using travel search engines.

When you search for two or more tickets, the system is set up to find two or more tickets together,  and will only give you a set of tickets that are all priced exactly the same.

The system may overlook a single seat that is priced for less in favor of two or three or four tickets that are the same fare class. If you search for one passenger at a time, you might find a better deal on at least one of the tickets.

Ask in Person

It may sound crazy in this digital age in which everything is done online, but you might be able to find a great deal on a last-minute flight if you go to the airport closest to your house and ask the desk agent.

Airline employees often can see seats and fares on their computer system that you can’t at home, and if you’re friendly and polite, they may just be willing to hook you up.

Try Hidden City Booking…If You Dare

Have you heard of hidden city booking? This type of airfare booking is a little bit against the rules, but that’s part of what makes it so much fun for the people who enjoy it.

Let’s say a flight from your home airport to your destination is very expensive.  Sometimes, a flight to another destination with a layover in your desired destination is cheaper.

To take advantage of this, the traveler would simply get off the first plane and leave the airport instead of boarding the second one.

This only works if you are traveling with a carry-on only, as your checked bag would continue on to your final destination, but if you play your cards right, hidden city booking can sometimes lead to some huge savings.

If you’re interested, Skiplagged is an entire website devoted to this practice. But, be careful; booking travel in this way is frowned upon by airlines, and you could get in trouble with some of your favorite airlines if you get caught.

Be Aware of Timing

There are last-minute flights and super last-minute flights. If you’re in the latter category, this tip won’t be of much help to you. However, if you’re in the former group, you should know that flights tend to start going up dramatically in price twenty-one days before departure.

Therefore, if you’re a month out from a kind-of-last-minute trip, and you see a good fare, you should buy it. It’s unlikely that prices will get better in the coming weeks unless you are very lucky.

Search One-Way Flights

In general,  round trip flights are a better deal than buying two one-way flights separately. However, on rare occasions, you can get an incredible deal by buying your flights one by one.

This often works best when you are willing to mix and match airlines. One may be cheaper on the way there, and another may be less expensive on your way home.

Book One Leg at a Time

A similar idea to the one above is that you book your flights to faraway destinations one leg at a time. You might take a flight on one airline from your home airport to a larger airport and then fly out of the larger airport on a different airline to your final destination.

This can be risky because if you are booking different pieces of your journey on different airlines, and one is delayed, you’re going to miss the second one with little recourse.

However, if you’re willing to take this risk, or are okay with giving yourself long layovers to have a buffer, this can be a great way to save money – especially when traveling internationally.

Consider Budget Airlines

Budget airlines can be uncomfortable and unreliable and not only do they not have any perks, but you may have to pay extra for basic things like seat selection and even non-alcoholic beverages.

However, they can save you a bunch of money if you’re willing to grin and bear all of the above.

Some travelers refuse to fly on budget airlines altogether but they are sometimes worth it if you’re willing to give them a shot.

However, be sure to check the airlines’ baggage fees before you pull the trigger; they can make a flight that looks cheap end up being more expensive than the others.

Try Multiple Search Sites

Don’t just check airfares on one website.

Instead, do the same searches on several different travel search engines to see what you get. Most of the time, the fares you see will be the same or close across the board, but every once in a while one site will find a fare that no other site did.

If you check fares day after day, also remember to clear your cookies now and then or use an incognito browser window. Sometimes fares “mysteriously” go up if you search them over and over.

Sign Up for Price Alerts

Many travel metasearch engines will allow you to set up alerts for flight routes on specific or general dates of travel.

These can be a big help when you’re looking for last-minute flight deals. If the price of your desired flight drops, you’ll get an email or text alert – but if you’re hoping to travel last-minute, you’ll have to move fast.

Other travelers may have the same or a similar flight alert set as well, and there may only be a few seats available at a particular price.

One app you might use for searches and flight alerts is Hopper. Hopper will not only tell you when a flight goes up or down in cost, but it can also make some fairly accurate predictions about which way it will go based on the data the company is always collecting.

See Related: Skyscanner vs Hopper: What’s the Difference?

Book Very Last Minute

If you’re brave and are okay with the idea of possible immense disappointment, you might wait to book a flight until the very last minute – as in, less than twenty-four hours before departure.

Often, very last-minute flights like these are the most expensive, but every once in a while, you can score some incredible deals by doing this.

Just have your bags packed and be ready to go to the airport, but don’t be surprised or upset if you end up staying home after all.

How to Get Cheap Last Minute Flights: Step-by-Step

Hey now – that’s a lot of tips! Each and every one of them can lead you to big savings on last-minute flights to anywhere you want to go.

These tips will work best if you use them together, but what’s the best plan of attack?

If you’re looking for a great last-minute fare for an adventure this weekend, in a few weeks, or in the next month or so, here’s the step-by-step strategy you should use to apply these tips so you can experience fantastic results.

Step 1: Decide When to Go

Small Calendar

The first thing you need to decide is when you want to go on this last-minute trip.

The more possible dates you can travel the better, but even if you have just one forty-eight-hour period to go on a quick getaway don’t worry, there are last-minute flight deals out there for you, too.

Make a list of possible departure and return dates, and write down how long you’d like to go away for, too.

Step 2: Decide Where to Go

Book with Written Travel Plan

As mentioned many times above, you’re going to get the best deals if you are flexible about your destination, but if you are deadset on one spot, you still may be able to get a fare you’ll love – even at the last minute.

If you are flexible, though, make a list of destinations that you’d consider. Do a little research and figure out which airports serve each of them as well.

Step 3: Search on Google Flights

Google Flights Logo

Google Flights is a good place to start because it will give you a general idea of the prices you can expect to fly to the places on your list on the dates you can travel.

Do your first searches with no filters and keep the search terms as wide as possible.

This way, you’ll get to view all available fares – even the ones that are at less desirable times and those that are offered by budget airlines. Remember to search only one seat at a time if you’re traveling with others.

If you don’t like the fares you see, look at fares on adjacent dates. Try other nearby airports. Try other destinations altogether. Take notes on what you find.

Step 4: Search on Other Travel Search Sites

Next, try your searches on other travel metasearch sites like Kayak, Momondo, Hotwire, Priceline, and others. You may find a cheap fare on one or more of them that you didn’t see on Google Flights. You can also search your favorite airlines’ websites directly.

Step 5: Check Your Rewards Programs

You may be able to get a better deal on a cheap flight you found by using your reward points. Also, credit card members can sometimes see fares on airlines’ websites that non-members cannot, so be on the lookout for those.

Step 6: Check Your Subscription Services

Dollar Flight Club Premium
Dollar Flight Club Premium

If you’re a member of Scott’s Cheap Flights or Dollar Flight Club or another similar service, you should check your email alerts and the websites to see if any last-minute flight deals have been posted.

You may find a mistake fare or other fare that you haven’t seen elsewhere that will be perfect for you.

Step 7: Repeat

You may not find the last-minute flight of your dreams on your first go-round, but if you keep at it you will likely find something that works for you.

Keep trying and be patient. You never know when a great deal is going to pop up. 

If none does, then you need to make a decision: do you want to pay the prices you see, or do you want to decide to do something else instead?

Maybe you can drive to a closer destination, or maybe you can have a nice staycation at home this time around; there’s nothing wrong with that.

Now that you know how to look for great deals on last-minute flights, you can use these skills to find cheap airfares in the future. Armed with all of these tips, you’ll surely find a fantastic deal worth taking advantage of in the very near future.

Good luck!

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