How to Get Cheap Last-Minute Flights

The past two years saw a lot of upheaval and uncertainty for travelers. Borders closed, airlines shut down flight routes, and airports became ghost towns. 

With things finally getting back to normal, we have new plans on the horizon. But not everyone may be ready to forget the disappointments that 2020 brought, and some of us may still be a bit shy when it comes to making plans six months down the road. 

We’ve all seen how things can change in the blink of an eye. 

If you’re still looking to book a great trip without the commitment of making plans for several months down the road, then read on to discover our tips to help you find cheap last-minute flights.

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Do Flights Get Cheaper Last Minute? 

Let’s just get straight into ripping off the bandaid, shall we?

The short answer is “no.” 

Flights don’t get cheaper last minute. In fact, they’re likely to get even more expensive.

Now, there might be some wiggle room if you’re thinking of last-minute flights as 1-2 months before your travel plans, but if your definition is closer to 1-2 weeks before you fly out, you might be looking at some pricey tickets for your next vacation.

Prices are more inclined to increase the closer you get to your departure date for many reasons—but this wasn’t always the case. 

Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for airlines to slap their lowest fare on an empty seat to actively encourage last-minute flyers to book with them and prevent those empty seats from going to waste.

Those types of low fares are a thing of the past. Airlines are far more likely to overbook their flights than underbook them these days. 

With advances in technology and pricing algorithms, along with the added bonus of better scheduling their flights and employee shifts, airlines are more incentivized than ever to reward travelers who book their plans in advance and charge more to those booking last-minute airline tickets.

How Can I Get Cheap Last-Minute Flights?

So, we’ve established that the airlines won’t be looking to offer cheap last-minute flights to get rid of seats. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways to find fantastic flight deals and score some savings on your next last-minute getaway!

Book As Early As Possible

Studies show that the prime window to book your travel is roughly 1-3 months in advance for domestic flights and 3-6 months before international flights. After that, it’ll only become harder to get ahold of a good deal, so if you already know you’re booking a last-minute flight, don’t wait any longer. It’s best to finalize your plans as soon as possible. 

Remember: The closer you get to your travel date, the more likely airlines will increase their flight prices.

Be Flexible with Your Dates and Destination

Your flexibility plays a key role in determining whether or not you’ll be able to find cheap last-minute flight deals. 

If you can be flexible on when you want to travel out or with your destination, the more opportunity you’ll have to take advantage of last-minute airline tickets. 

Even carving out just a tiny window of a few days, or being able to choose a more affordable but no less amazing destination, can boost your savings and help save your wallet from shouldering a more considerable expense.

Give the Airline a Call

If you have to make those unfortunate plans to travel for a funeral or other family tragedy, some airlines still offer bereavement fares. 

Policies differ between airlines, though, so be sure to check if an airline offers these tickets before you book and compare their bereavement fare pricing to the displayed fares on their website, along with other discount and savings opportunities they have available.

Because of how most airlines devise their pricing, their bereavement fares won’t always be the lowest fare available. If that’s the case, you may be better off booking a less expensive flight deal online or through another site.

Put Your Rewards to Good Use

Having trouble finding last-minute flight deals but still need to book your trip, no matter what?

Rewards. Rewards. Rewards.

Rewards are a great way to save on last-minute flights, especially when you have no other options. 

Putting airline miles or travel card reward points toward your plane tickets can remove a heavy chunk of the burden from your wallet, allowing you to take that last-minute trip without overspending.

If you haven’t already signed up for a rewards program, do so now. They’re free to join up, and you can start earning points right away. You can also look into the benefits of a travel rewards card if you don’t have one already and want to know what your best offers are.

Fly During the Off-Season

Airlines are well-aware of peak seasons and take advantage of these busy times of the year to increase their prices. 

It’s no surprise that fares increase in the summer for tried and true getaways like France and Italy and increase in the winter for balmy beach vacays in Hawaii and Mexico. 

The best way to find cheap last-minute flights is to look for deals in the off-season. 

Check out your potential flights destinations and ensure no significant events could affect pricing. And consider a quick check on the weather to confirm the great price you’re seeing isn’t because monsoon season is just around the corner.

Pro-tip: Consider booking your last-minute flight tickets for less desirable times, like early in the morning or overnight. These are priced cheaper than flights departing mid-morning and into the evening.

Follow Airline Newsletters and Social Media Accounts

Keep yourself up-to-date on the last-minute flights deals available directly from the airlines by signing up for their email newsletters and following the companies on social media. They often drop news of new offers for their followers first, so you can use those to your advantage when looking for cheaper flights. 

Don’t sign up for all of them all at once, though! 

You don’t want to bog down your inbox or homepage with too many offers and announcements, so be selective when choosing which airlines to track.

Because information overload can lead to fatigue, consider where you might be going and who can best cater to those needs before deciding. 

Another stress-free option is to let someone else do the work of monitoring the airlines and searching for those hard-to-find deals for you. For example, at Next Vacay, we hunt down the best prices available, scanning multiple airlines—so you don’t have to—and delivering quality deals directly to your inbox.

That means you get all of the best prices and zero of the inbox clutter!

Where Can You Get Cheap Last Minute Flight Deals?

The deals are out there. You just have to know where to look to find them. Narrowing your focus will cut down on needless searching and put you right square in the middle of where you’re likely to find the best last-minute airline deals.

Bigger Cities

Major cities generally have multiple airports you can fly into and out of. This means more airlines servicing that area, which can often lead to price drops on plane tickets as airlines compete for travelers.

Check out any regional airports in the area and compare their prices with the major international airports to see if it might be cheaper to fly into the smaller airport to save money. 

For international travel, a great option is to book the cheapest international flight you can find flying across the ocean. From there, you can then easily book a regional flight to your final destination on a budget airline offering cheap flights. This brings us to the next point…

Budget Airlines

Don’t—we repeat, don’t—forget budget airlines. 

They often offer cheaper options than major airlines to amazing domestic locations. Of course, they can offer these cheaper rates by charging for things that normally would be included on a major airline:

  • Carry-on baggage
  • Seat selection
  • In-flight food/drink
  • Printed boarding pass 

There are some ways to get around these additional fees, though, such as packing light, printing your boarding pass beforehand/going digital, forgoing seat selection, and bringing your own food and drink on your flight.

If you’re planning a short trip, where you don’t need to bring much, the benefits far outweigh the detriments to booking your flight on a budget airline. 

There’s not much more to say here. The savings will speak for themselves.

Search Engines

Rather than painstakingly searching each airline website for the cheapest flights on specific days, you can use a search engine to do all of this at once. 

On a search engine like Google Flights, you can enter multiple departure airports and destinations to figure out which route is the cheapest or use their Explore feature to see a map overview of the cheapest flights available out of your airport at any given time.

The majority of search engines also offer a price alerts feature, so you can request a notification when prices drop for a specific destination. Consider if your flight is only a week or two out though, this feature likely won’t be of much help.

You can stick to one main search engine if that’s most convenient, but remember, most search engines won’t have the best price 100% of the time. They don’t always include fares from low-budget airlines either, so you won’t necessarily see all the last-minute airfare deals available.

It may pay off in a big way for you to compare multiple search engines and fare calendars from low-budget airlines for the best last-minute flight deals.

But … It Might Not Be the Best Idea to Book a Last Minute Flight 

While some last-minute flights just can’t wait, and there are ways to find super helpful savings for those, let’s not forget to consider if that next trip can’t wait a few more weeks. 

Last-minute flights have their downsides, and before you get too far down the rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect deal for one, be sure to step back and consider what you may be missing out on.

You Might Find Yourself Going Nowhere at All

Flights sell out. 

As we went over earlier, it’s very unlikely for airlines to underbook their flights, and if you end up waiting too long trying to book that perfect last-minute deal, you might find it sold out before you know it. 

So, rather than enjoying a cool drink on the beach or wandering the streets of an old city, you might end up spending your free vacation time at home for a staycation instead.

Last Minute Flights Mean Last-Minute Plans. Yikes.

Let’s say you’ve scored that cheap last-minute flight, props to you for deal hunting like a pro, and now you’re jetting off to your destination. What are your plans for when you get there?

Of course, there’s lots of entertainment to be had in bustling cities with lots of attractions or quiet oases with parks and wildlife to explore. But now more than ever, many places require a reservation to participate in tours and activities. Even some restaurants now require advance reservations to accommodate capacity and safety protocols. 

Keep in mind that while your schedule may be flexible enough to fly last minute, what you can do at your destination might be limited by the advance notice you can give for the things you want to do while there. 

Lack of Flexibility and Freedom

With last-minute flights, you have less flexibility for when you can travel, which means less freedom in your choices for where you can go, stay, etc. To get the best deal, booking last minute might mean you have to make some sacrifices in other parts of your trip:

  • Your destination
  • The length of your stay
  • Your accommodations
  • And more

Cheap Flights Don’t Always Guarantee a Cheap Trip

Even if you manage to book a great price on a last-minute flight, you may not have had time to shop around and see that your preferred accommodations have doubled in price, or even worse, are sold out! 

You may find that you end up paying more for your stay than you had planned, and those savings you racked up from your cheap last-minute flight have disappeared faster than a jet trail.

Next Vacay Can Deliver Deal Alerts to Your Inbox for Cheap Flights

There are times when booking a last-minute flight is your only option. Be it for a business trip, a family event, or trying to take advantage of some unexpected vacation days, there are times when you need to make a last-minute trip work.

When it comes down to it, though, the further out you can plan for your trip, the better.

Even booking your travel just one month in advance instead of 14 days can help you avoid the dreaded price hikes that come with last-minute flights. 

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

Whenever you end up booking, you still have the opportunity to grab some fantastic deals on cheap flights!

With the help of Next Vacay, you can get all the benefits of great bargains delivered right to your inbox without the burden of spending time and effort trying to find those deals yourself. 

Set up price alerts and have your inbox flooded with notifications? Or simply select your home airport and receive curated, round-trip flight deals that consider pricing, layovers, and more with your convenience in mind?

On top of the clear time, money, and sanity-saving benefits, Next Vacay also considers deals available from nearby surrounding airports and includes those in your notifications, so you never miss out on an opportunity to travel.

So, are you ready for your Next Vacay?

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