Last minute travel can be that business trip on which your boss insisted you go at the eleventh hour or that spur-of-the-moment romantic getaway with your wife, husband, or significant other. Last minute travel has that allure of spontaneity and exotic adventure. It also offers its own set of travel challenges.
Is Last Minute Travel Cheaper?
Contrary to popular belief, last minute travel is not always cheaper. The most popular cruise staterooms, airline flights, and resort hotel rooms go to those who book well in advance. Having said that, however, last minute vacation travelers can sometimes take advantage of unsold hotel rooms, cruise cabins, and airline seats at a substantial discount. The key is to be flexible. This is not a strategy for planning a honeymoon, a spring break vacation, or other trip that must be taken on specific days.
Finding Last Minute Travel Deals
Finding last minute travel deals can be a sort of game – or an art. To get started on your search, consider the following sources:
- Airline Internet Websites – Each week, most of the major airlines post “Internet-only” airfare between specific cities at a substantial discount over regular discounted fares. However, only a few city pairs are offered each week and the information is usually posted on Tuesdays for weekend travel, so you must be prepared to travel right away. For more information, check with airlines like United Airlines and American Airlines.
- Large Travel Websites – Large travel websites, such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity are also good sources for last minute deals. Many of these sites are owned or partially owned by airlines and have access to special pricing.
- Cruise Websites – Like airline sites, major cruise lines, such as Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Princess Cruises offer last minute specials on their website, usually within one month of departure. (With Princess, you must register for free before you can use their specials section.) Again, it’s a spotty selection; some weeks have no offers and not all cabin categories are available.
Traveling “On the Fly”
If you have a job that requires frequent last minute travel or if you are the kind of person that likes to pick up and go with just a few days’ notice, there are some things you can do to make your travel experiences more enjoyable.
- Keep your Passport Up to Date – That great airfare to Paris is no use to you if your passport is expired. To be able to travel at the last minute, make sure that you keep your passport up to date. Getting a new passport takes about four to six weeks, usually too much time to take advantage of last minute pricing.
- Consider Joining an Airline Club – Frequent travelers can make their journeys more enjoyable by joining one – or more – of the airline clubs. Members of Continental’s President’s Club, American’s Admiral’s Club, or other similar groups can take advantage of the “member’s only” rooms at major airports. (Clubs usually have rooms at the sponsoring airlines hub cities.) These rooms offer a more peaceful place to wait between flights, food and beverage service, and a variety of business services, usually including WiFi Internet access. Membership starts at around $300 per person per year.
- Develop a Relationship with a Good Travel Agent – A good travel agent, one who knows your travel preferences and budget – can be a real asset in locating “just before departure” travel specials. Because she works with travel all day, every day, she can alert you when she sees a special in which you might be interested and save you hours of scouring websites on your own.