Here’s how to get cheap last minute flights if you need to get out of Dodge and fast!
Don’t let last-minute travel prices ruin your plans!
In an ideal world, we’d always be able to follow the best travel timeline to score the most savings while picking a flight. But unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned.
Life happens, and whether it’s a flight that gets canceled last minute, a family emergency, or an impromptu getaway, we’ll all find ourselves in need of a cheap, last-minute flight at one point or another. It’s hard to figure out the best time to buy plane tickets, especially when it’s a last-minute flight, but we’re here to help.
Plus, the Black Friday of travel deals is around the corner, and we’re sharing what you need to know to score a jaw-dropping price on Travel Tuesday!
These short-notice flights are usually significantly more expensive than the ones you have time to plan way in advance.
Luckily, we have some tips and tricks for the best time to buy plane tickets and how to get cheap flights last minute!
1. Take advantage of “Travel Tuesday” deals.
Travel Tuesday is the Black Friday of travel deals. If you’ve been hoping to gift yourself or someone else an experience this year, Travel Tuesday is the day to purchase. In addition to cheap flights, you’ll find deals on other travel needs like lodging and car rentals.
This year the event takes place on November 28, 2023, so mark your calendars! The web will be lit up with travel deals all day long.
Last year we saw discounts like 30% off Southwest Airlines flights, $100 off Aer Lingus flights, and $91 one-way tickets on Hawaiian Airlines. 😍 We don’t know the exact deals for 2023 yet, but we’ll certainly pass along any good ones we find!
We also recommend checking TravelDealTuesday.com as the date approaches. This website is run by the travel company Hopper and will be updated with several exciting deals!
2. Instead of booking through a third party, call the airline directly.
Not everyone is traveling for fun or vacation. In some cases, airlines will accommodate certain folks who need a quick flight for bereavement purposes and offer lower fares for those traveling for the loss of a loved one, a funeral, etc. If this is your situation, this is one way to get cheap last-minute flights. These prices aren’t usually advertised online or while booking through third-party websites, so that’s why it’s best to call the airline itself.
Here are a few airlines that don’t usually advertise those special prices on third-party sites:
- Southwest Airlines doesn’t advertise its fares on many third-party sites.
- Allegiant doesn’t offer bookings through Orbitz or Expedia.
- Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines often show up on Google Flights, but not always on other booking sites.
According to Going.com, a site that can help you save between 40% – 90%, there are also several Asian airlines you won’t find unless you book directly. These include Air China, China Eastern, Thai Airways, and Philippine Airlines. There’s a good chance there are several more as well.
Note: Most airlines who offer bereavement fares do so in the form of coupons, flat-rate discounts, waived fees, etc. However, each company will have its own unique policies, so be sure to browse their requirements.
3. Check third-party sites for mistake fares and other fantastic deals.
There are several great sites you can use to find ridiculously cheap “mistake” fares, and if you’re lucky enough to find one going to your destination, you can sometimes save up to 90%! These mistake fares are often a result of human error, communication or technology issues, and currency conversion miscalculations. They aren’t super common anymore but they do happen every few weeks.
Just keep in mind that since 2015, airlines are not mandated to honor the mistake. However, they aren’t able to charge you more without your consent. According to Going.com, these mistake flights are only canceled about 10% of the time so it’s not a bad idea to try to scoop the low rate!
Regardless if you find a mistake fare, these third-party sites are worth a look as they also promote legitimate deals and cheap airfare.
Some of our favorites are Going.com, SkyScanner, and Google Flights – just note the list in tip #1 if you’d like to book through any of those 3rd party sites not advertising fares for specific airlines.
While we find that Going.com is generally more useful for people living near larger cities or airline hubs, Google Flights can show you some surprisingly cheap airfare prices if you’re willing to move the dates around by a day or two. And it’s able to find deals departing from anywhere, so it’s super helpful for people who live far away from large airports.
Hip Tip: We’ve been checking Going.com for years, and see a lot of departures from the D.C., New York City, and Boston areas. If you live in one of those cities, definitely check them out!
4. If you want a last-minute vacation and don’t care where you go, Google Flights Explore is the best tool out there.
We mentioned Google Flights in the last point, but their Explore feature is so neat that it deserves its own section!
While this method probably isn’t the best for those set on a particular destination, it’s absolutely perfect for flexible travelers who want to go on vacation ASAP & don’t have a specific place in mind. In fact, being flexible on your destination makes finding last-minute deals on flights a cinch!
Here’s how to find cheap flights:
- Visit the Google Flights Explore page. Note that there’s no Google Flights app, so this is probably easiest to access on a desktop.
- In the upper left-hand section, determine your travel parameters: round-trip or one-way, number of passengers, departing airport, price range, etc.
- Click the calendar icon to determine travel dates. You can be as vague or as specific as you’d like. If you want a flight for a specific week, you can add those dates. Or you can go to the “Flexible Dates” section and let Google show you all your options based on the chosen price range.
- Check out the top filters. You can filter out flights based on the number of stops, travel mode, interests, airlines, carry-on bag restrictions, and more! Of course, the fewer filters you apply, the more likely you are to find more results fitting your price range.
And that’s it! It’s worth it to play around with the features and dates until you hit the sweet spot that fits your budget. We’ve had team members use Google Flights Explore to get super cheap, last-minute (we’re talking like 2 days’ notice 🙃), round-trip tickets to San Juan, Miami, Phoenix, and more. This is especially a steal if you’re located near a smaller airport (though we’ve seen deals for large airports, too).
Plus, we always use this search tool for flights–even ones that aren’t last minute! It’s the perfect tool for figuring out the best time to buy plane tickets no matter what you’re schedule looks like.
5. Check sites like Skiplagged, TravelZoo, KAYAK, and Hopper for cheap last-minute deals on flights, and don’t forget to set price alerts.
Skiplagged is a site many of our readers recommend. It finds crazy good deals on flights that are typically hidden. Many times it’s due to layover flights where the layover may be your destination. Did you know sometimes it’s cheaper to book a flight to Florida with a layover in DC rather than booking a flight directly to DC?!
This isn’t always the case, but Skiplagged is a great resource to find out if this method is the best deal for you. Just note you won’t be able to check a bag if you land on one of these layover flights, otherwise, your luggage will end up at the final destination without you!
We’ve also used Hopper for flights, hotels, and even car rentals! It has a great feature that tells you whether or not a flight price you should wait for a price drop or buy now. Although we have no idea how they have these spot-on predictions, it’s always been accurate. Even if you find a better deal elsewhere, it’s helpful to use Hopper so you know when to buy!
Other sites to find last-minute deals on flights are KAYAK (similar to Hopper) and TravelZoo which posts some pretty fantastic last-minute travel deals on vacations, hotels, airfare, and car rentals. For example, at the time of this article, TravelZoo had an offer for a $499 4-night all-inclusive trip to Punta Cana with airfare. This site is best used when you want to go somewhere but are flexible on the destination.
Most of these sites allow you to sign up for price alerts. When the price of a fare drops, you’ll be the first to know. If you’re looking for cheap last-minute flights, definitely make sure to sign up for these notifications!
6. Check rates at each airport near you.
One simple way to find cheap flights is to check all the surrounding airports in your area. Just because they are close, does not mean the rates are the same! You might just find some easy savings by driving a few extra miles to the next airport.
7. When packing light, book with discounted airlines.
If you’re traveling with just a personal item and don’t care where you sit, discount airlines such as Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant may be your best friend! These airlines feature a random seat, personal item, and usually a very discounted price. If you’re traveling light, this is one of the easiest ways to get cheap flights.
Note that sometimes additional charges for bags, seats, wifi, and more are significantly higher than typical airlines, so if you’re planning on purchasing that, it’s best to consider an airline ticket that may already include a seat and carry-on luggage.
8. Consider getting two one-way tickets instead of round-trip as a means to get cheap last-minute flights.
It might seem strange, but when checking for last-minute flight deals, don’t forget to search the prices of two one-way tickets instead of going straight to round-trip. This is a huge tip for scoring cheap last-minute flights!
When it comes to cheap last-minute flights, you’ll sometimes find that two tickets cost less than one entire travel plan, especially if you’re browsing between multiple airlines. This also allows you to extend your trip more easily if need be.
9. Tap into your rewards to get last-minute deals on flights.
If you need to catch a flight like yesterday and don’t have time to fuss around with trying to save a dollar here and there, it’s the perfect moment to tap into your credit card rewards and use up those miles. Even if the flight is on the pricier side, using your points will likely shave a good chunk off of the total price.
If you’re not sure which credit cards offer the best travel rewards, check out Nerd Wallet’s round-up of the best travel credit cards or our round-up of the best credit card rewards.
10. One way to get cheap last-minute flights is to book a time when no one else wants to fly.
If you don’t have any wiggle room when it comes to the day of departure, try compromising on your takeoff time. Flights that leave either really late at night or super early in the morning are sometimes cheaper than those leaving at a more conventional hour.
That said, it’s sometimes possible to find great deals on cheap, last-minute flights leaving around dinner time (about 5-7 pm), so take a few extra minutes to shop around.
11. If you can avoid it, don’t fly on the weekend.
This is one of the golden rules of cheap airfare in general, but flying on days like Friday and Sunday is almost always going to be pricier. Sunday may not be a good time to fly, but it generally is a good time to check rates and buy a ticket.
If you can swing it, fly sometime between from Monday through Thursday to avoid paying even more on top of the last-minute fare prices. Domestic flights leaving on Tuesday or Wednesday usually have the lowest fares. As for international flights, departing on a Wednesday or Thursday tends to be the cheapest.
12. Flying in a group? One way to get cheap flights is to search for each ticket separately.
Are you traveling with multiple people? You might not find the best last-minute deals on flights when searching for multiple tickets at once. Instead, search for a single ticket. That’s how to find cheap flights. You might have to sit separately or fly at different times, but you’ll most likely save some bucks!
13. Consider splitting up your payment.
Have you guys heard of Buy Now, Pay Later services? They’re essentially short-term loans that allow you to buy something right now and pay it off in future installments. It’s sort of like a credit card, except the BN/PL services usually nix the interest rates.
Several airlines, including Southwest (who now uses Uplift to split payments) and Alternative Airlines, are now allowing folks to use Buy Now, Pay Later services to purchase flights. It’s a really neat service, and while it doesn’t necessarily make flights cheaper, it does remove a bit of the sting that comes from paying more for last-minute flights.
Note: While every airline may not offer this option, Buy Now, Pay Later services are becoming more and more popular, so it’s worth it to call and ask about the service even if it isn’t explicitly offered while booking online.
14. It’s tempting to skip travel insurance, but it can really save your last-minute trip.
Having to up and leave last minute is stressful enough. Spending a little extra for travel insurance is, in many cases, totally worth the peace of mind you get from knowing your plans are protected. Plus, it usually won’t set you back too much. Every airline will have different policies, so be sure to check their individual programs to see if travel insurance is worth the cost.
15. When you just can’t find cheap last-minute flights, look for savings elsewhere.
So maybe you had a family emergency come up, or your work plans changed last minute, and you really need to catch a flight but it’s just not possible to find a deal no matter what you try.
In that case, look into reducing the costs somewhere else!
Plenty of hotel chains, like those owned by Intercontinental Hotels Group, Hilton Hotels, or Hyatt Hotels, offer rewards and points for frequent visitors & rewards program members. And if you travel a lot for work, chances are you have some hotel loyalty points saved up. If you can’t avoid paying extra for a flight, try redeeming your hotel points to at least reduce the cost of your stay.
Another way to save is to check about last-minute upgrade offers. You can ask in person or check the airline’s website. Cheap upgrades don’t happen that often, but they still happen! Ask and you might just score a deal on a better seat. You can also eliminate your TSA PreCheck fee using your credit card rewards.
Another money-saving trick is to check the price of your already booked flight. Many airlines have done away with change fees. That means if you booked a flight for $450 and the price is now $300, you might be able to get an e-credit for the $150. According to The Points Guy, you can score an e-credit at several major airlines!
And lastly, if you’re going on a shorter trip, eliminate luggage costs by only bringing a carry-on bag. This has been a game-changer for Collin! That one step alone can save you anywhere from $35-$50 per person. 🙌
Pssssst! We happen to have some tips to keep you from overpacking. 😉
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