Last Minute Travel Deals: Planning on the Go

Shannon Whitney

There’s something beautiful about planning a trip a couple of months out. From physically circling the dates on your calendar, to researching what to pack and maybe reading a book or two to prepare, it creates a building excitement. All of this culminates with the actual beginning of the expedition.  The groundwork is almost as much fun as the execution. Almost.

In exact opposite fashion, those last-minute getaways can be equally as thrilling. A few texts on a Wednesday and all of a sudden you’ve packed up the car and headed somewhere new Friday after work. God bless a steal of an airline ticket a week or two out, because, why not?

Isn’t there something wild about those split-second decisions to up and go that makes you feel like a runaway?

But, now you’re on the way to wherever it is your heading with no plans. A completely blank canvas. This either has you salivating or stressing. Either way, here are some last minute travel deals for those trips you didn’t plan.

Flights

Usually the most expensive part of any trip, and one you want to commit to first, is the airplane ticket. This means fewer options just a week or a few days out, when airlines are counting on last-minute customers to pay full fare. Scoring a bargain isn’t totally impossible though.

Comparison is key. No matter how loyal you are to your airline, shop around. Luckily, there are web tools to make that easy. SkyScanner, Google Flights and Fare Compare will get you to the same place. This overview might reveal a wild steal, but most likely it will give a ballpark of fares between the two destinations. These sites don’t include any of the specifics of the ticketing though, and they will send you over to the airline for booking.

Points or miles are the biggest and best reason for last-minute travel. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em!

Flexibility is also key. Leaving on a Tuesday will be cheaper than Sunday.  Early morning flights are often less dinero than those at convenient times- You can take a nap on the plane anyway. If you have to get there at a certain time, you’ll be locked into that price.

Cheap Tickets– This site offers some specific packages if you’re ready to go and destination flexible.

Go Last Minute– It’s easy to peruse around for what’s cheap, or search your desired route.

Travel Zoo– If you’re looking for flights, hotels, and activities, this app has a little bit of everything.

Airfare Watchdog– Follow their twitter, or subscribe to updates, to learn about crazy flight deals. They don’t cover site-wide sales as much as point-to-point prices. I’ve watched a couple of friends book trips out of the blue thanks to a well-timed tweet on a rough day.

Lodging

Kayak, Hotels.com and Hotwire are starting points to get a feel for the price range in the area during your dates. Those tools provide a solid comparison of the costs as well as precious reviews of area digs. If you’re in a hurry it might be worth a quick look just to know what you’re getting into.

Expedia– This is my first choice. Besides the usual discounted rooms available,  I’ve had nothing but good luck with their blind booking tool. They will show you a map of the neighborhood the hotel is located in, as well as how many stars the joint gets. You book a nonrefundable stay and then receive an email with the actual name of the place. I’ve gotten some good deals on swanky places. Plus, there’s a thrill in the gamble.

Priceline– Similar to the other aggregators, this one boasts a “name your own price” tool. They also have a mini search site dedicated to last-minute bookings and an app.

Groupon– I have these delivered to my email each week so I can drool over the reasonably-priced packages; warning: this is dangerous! Groupon is a biggie if you’re looking for something all-inclusive or a cruise.

HotelTonight– While this app doesn’t always deliver the crazy deals they promise, it’s painfully easy to log in and book a hotel FAST. You can compare prices, while looking at a map and it shows hostels as well. If you’re in Europe, Hot Hotels is a similar app.

LastMinute.com– As you expect from the name, the aggregator and accompanying app pulls in deals from Trip Advisor, but with a heavier last-minute focus, and some cheaper options.

HostelBookers– The site is exactly what it sounds like. You can browse hostel options and read ratings before committing.  They don’t charge a hostel or hotel booking fee like some other sites. HostelWorld is very similar.

Jetsetter– This site offers discounts on unique properties, perfect for those looking to avoid the Best Western. They offer an app too.

While all these websites and apps are awesome tools to get a feel for the place you’ll stay, as well as what’s nearby, it’s always worth a call to the front desk or the owner. You never know if they’ll cut you a better deal just to fill the empty rooms. This is a great time to ask if they give discounts to AAA members, or people who work in your industry, or any other groups to which you belong. Give them a quick ring before you pay online because you never know.

Extras

iCruise has some inexpensive options if cruising is your thing!  Compare competing lines for the best rate.

Once the basics are booked, you’re ready to go.  If your trip is overseas, or to a place you don’t have cell coverage, be sure to download a way-finding app like Maps Me. Use the navigation off-line for detailed maps. Be sure to download the local map before you leave the land of 4G.

Also, Google Translate is a handy tool if you won’t be using your native tongue.  It’s not perfect, but nice to have in your back pocket before you go offline. Use it to tackle tough signs (snap a pic for translation) or ask someone to dance in Portuguese.

While planning can be as much fun as traveling, there’s something thrilling about picking up and getting out of town. Just because it’s the eleventh hour, doesn’t mean it has to be high dollar.

TL;DR

Throwing together a last-minute trip can be a blast, but zero plans can be stressful. The trick is to start with some high-level comparison whether it’s flights or hotels you’re booking. Shop around to get a feel for the price, and then give some of these tools a try.

 

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