If you’re a procrastinator by nature or like the thrill of finding a last-minute travel deal, there are some things you can do to make sure you really are paying the lowest possible price. Since you haven’t given yourself much time to compare rates across a few weeks in a given season, or keep tabs on prices with a smartphone app that delivers price alerts, you’ll need to explore other ways to snag a great deal on that weekend getaway or last-minute retreat. Here are some of your best bets for booking last-minute travel on the cheap.
1. Go Mobile
You might be used to making travel plans and reservations on your desktop computer, but doing so means you could be paying more than you need to for those last-minute reservations.
“The best way to secure those last-minute deals is through mobile websites, mobile apps and by calling in,” said Mahesh Chaddah, co-founder of hotel reservations website Reservations.com. He recommended making full use of apps because “many hotels offer limited discount rates to mobile users only.”
2. Shop Alternate Dates and Airports
If you have some flexibility in your schedule, you need to use that to your full advantage, said Keith Nowak, director of communications at Travelocity. He said last-minute rates typically are higher. He recommended shopping for similar trips within a few days of your original trip dates so you can take advantage of lower prices, secret offers or bargain fares.
The Travelocity Bargain Fare, for example, gives you pricing options. The box pops up when you open your search up to connections where you can shop fares from more origination airports. The option might not pop up with every search, but when it does, you can save up to 25 percent or more as a result. If you can shift your trip dates, you can knock down those prices even further.
3. Check Out Groupon Getaways
If you already shop Groupon for local deals or even merchandise, don’t overlook the option of booking travel on the cheap as well. Since you need to make a reservation at the last minute, you might be able to find a great deal that is expiring soon as Groupon works to clear its inventory of deals with travel dates that will be passing soon.
You can use the search feature or browse some of the top packages by interest and destination. For example, a four-night trip to the Bahamas with an all-inclusive package at Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort is only valid for bookings made by Aug. 12. Groupon dropped the price from $699 to $549.
4. Book Flights Earlier in the Week
If you’ve been waiting for the weekend to start your search for those flight deals, or have Friday off from work to take care of personal errands, don’t plan on booking your last-minute travel package just yet. To save the most money, you should search for flights early in the week — preferably a Monday or Tuesday morning, said Tom Spagnola, SVP of supplier relations at CheapOair.
“Mondays and Tuesdays will typically return the lowest fares,” he said. That’s the prime time “after the airlines have processed demand for flights over the weekend.”
5. Commit to Nonrefundable Flight and Hotel Packages
Booking your flight and hotel together will almost always save you money, according to Orbitz, but you can save even more money if you agree to follow through on the booking. Nonrefundable flights and hotels are usually priced lower as an incentive to close the sale quickly. If you’re shopping at the last minute anyway, there’s a good chance you’ll find a great deal on the fly — no pun intended.
6. Take Advantage of Last-Minute Car Rental Offers
Some car rental companies, like Alamo, have a dedicated section of their website for last-minute car rentals. You can just enter your pickup location and dates of travel to reveal the latest rates. These specials are available in as little as one hour’s notice, so you could save this booking for last and book the very same day if needed.
7. Book Vacations Through the Airline
Some airlines have a dedicated vacations department where they put together itineraries that include airfare, hotel stays and other travel perks. If the airline is still trying to fill up empty seats on certain routes, you might be able to hop onboard with a last-minute fare and add on your hotel for a complete package.
For example, United Vacations offers a best-price guarantee that your complete vacation price is the lowest on the market. If you end up finding a better deal for the exact same itinerary — say, from a third-party travel site — United will match the lower price so you get the lowest possible price on that last-minute booking. The catch: You must contact United for a price match the same day you book your travel with them or the deal won’t apply.
8. Shop the Warehouse Club
If you have some travel dates in mind but need some inspiration, don’t forget to check out your warehouse club for travel deals. Costco posts last-minute cruise deals to the Caribbean, Bermuda and other top travel destinations. If you have a Costco card, you could be cruising to the Bahamas on the Norwegian Sky for three nights and sipping on your favorite beverage, starting at just $279.
From GoBankingRates.com: How to book last-minute travel plans on the cheap