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When to Book Your Last-Minute Flights to Get the Best Deals

Think booking a flight at the last minute means emptying your pockets? Think again. People often think that last minute flyers get stuck with hefty price tags, but we’re here to change that narrative.

Indeed, airlines are strategic. They understand the booking patterns of most travelers and are aware that those in urgent need to travel from point A to point B are willing to pay a premium. There’s a flip side to this story.

Occasionally, airlines need to fill seats to ensure a flight’s profitability, and that’s when they offer irresistible discounts.

So, are you destined to overpay, or are last minute flights cheaper? Well, the entire process is not as straightforward as you might think. Luckily, there are ways to navigate this tricky landscape, and we’ve gathered insights from flight deal gurus and frequent travelers to ensure that you always get the best bang for your buck.

It might require some flexibility and smart strategies, but snagging great last minute flights deals, even at the eleventh hour, is entirely possible.

We have many strategies to share to ensure the clock does not dictate your wallet and plans.

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Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of booking last minute flights.

Introducing The Art Of Booking Last-Minute Flights

Seasoned travelers comprehend the intricate dance of effective flight booking. Traditionally, domestic flights are ideally booked between 1 and 3 months in advance, while international travel calls for a longer lead time for optimal savings – 3 to 6 months in advance.

The artistry here boils down to finding the pattern in pricing. The first two weeks after airlines release flight schedules (usually around 11 months in advance) are known as the “Goldilocks window,” a period during which prices are not too high or too low. 

However, after the 105-day mark, prices enter a “free-fall” stage, descending into more affordable ranges. This window is the precise moment when the savvy globetrotters, waiting in the wings, seize the opportunity to capitalize on it. 

But what happens when wanderlust kicks in and you want to climb the air-stairs immediately? The golden rule is that the prices of flights may drop when a flight is three weeks away from departure, with a slight caveat. As the day of departure approaches, prices may skyrocket rather than dip, making last-minute travel an expensive endeavor.

Extra Tip: If you book a flight that was initially priced at $400 and prices dip afterward, you can rebook the same flight and have the difference allocated to flight credit with the respective airline. Almost all major airlines offer such services with no change fees, and you can rebook if you desire to do so. 

If you want to discover all the secrets to grabbing the cheapest airfares, check out the in-depth guide where we debunk all the myths and focus only on tried and true booking methods without breaking the bank.

How to Book Last-Minute Flights

As mentioned, the golden rule for securing last minute flights without draining your wallet is to book them at least three weeks in advance. This strategy is crucial because airlines tend to increase prices when the flight is less than 21 days before departure, capitalizing on travelers who need to reach their destination urgently. 

This is often the case for business professionals who must travel on short notice. By adhering to this three-week rule, you can avoid paying premium prices and keep your travel budget in check.

In some instances, we saw prices of flights just 24 hours after the 21-day mark skyrocket from under $500 to upwards of $700. So, when you really have to find a flight, but the clock is ticking down, try your best to stick to the golden rule to ensure that you do not pay through the nose, a price that can seriously impact the experience you can enjoy on your planned journey.

There are a lot of other tactics you can incorporate to further save on all the impromptu or urgent itineraries you want to take, so let’s get down to the more complex aspect of last minute flight booking.

Flight Search Engines and Comparison Tools

Whether you’re a seasoned globe-trotter or a budding adventurer eager to uncover the world’s breathtaking panoramas, online tools are the ultimate gateways to effortless travel planning.

Perhaps you’re not a frequent flyer, but familiar names like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia likely ring a bell. Yet, soaring above them all is Google Flights.

Google Flights invites you to chart the uncharted as it’s more than just a tool; it’s your personal flight concierge, tirelessly searching for flights that align with your preferences. Be it an imminent departure or a future expedition, Google Flights is the best site for last minute flights search. 

Moreover, it allows you to customize your search to a tee, ensuring you only see flights that perfectly match your needs.

Setting your preferences is a breeze. Head to the filter tab and let Google Flights know what you want. 

To ensure you are always flying without breaking the bank, master Google Flights and unearth the strategies for optimizing your flight searches to discover the most affordable airfares. Dive into our comprehensive Google Flights guide, designed to equip you with expert knowledge on the intricacies of this indispensable travel planning resource.

Ready to save 90% on your next flight? Get the best airfare deals delivered to your inbox by signing up for Matt’s Flights flight alerts for free.

Flexible Dates

Travelers who embrace flexibility often find themselves reaping the most benefits. The quest for last minute flights can inevitably lead to high-stress situations. Still, it’s crucial to acknowledge that even a slight shift in your travel dates could potentially save you hundreds of dollars if you can afford it.

The art of booking last-minute flights boils down to shrewdness. Again, Google Flights can come in and save the day. The calendar feature allows you to preview flights up to 12 months in advance and, at the same time, compare prices on specific dates.

This interactive feature is handy as you can input your desired dates, see flights to your desired destination, and compare prices in a flash.

As you can see, one-way flights that are even a month away from departure are dirt cheap, while those that are ready and waiting to take off come at a significant 59.26% difference in price.

Checking Surrounding Airports 

If your destination is a city blessed with multiple airports, don’t limit yourself to just one. Cast your net wider and consider all available options. Simply enter the city’s name in your Google Flights search bar, and it will present you with a selection of all the airports in the vicinity. 

This approach broadens your horizons and significantly increases your chances of landing a more affordable fare. For instance, if you’re jetting off to New York, don’t just have tunnel vision for JFK. Newark and LaGuardia might just have the deal that fits your budget. Similarly, if London is calling, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, and even Stansted are all viable options. 

This strategy, echoed by travel experts across various platforms, underscores its effectiveness. So, the next time you’re racing against the clock to book a flight, remember to check surrounding airports. You might even enjoy additional savings by paying fewer fees than you usually would with big airports.

There are various reasons why jetting off from one airport can cost less than from another. Some of the major ones are:

  • Flight frequency: Airports with more frequent flights to your destination may offer cheaper fares due to the higher supply.
  • Hub status: If the airport is a hub for a particular airline, more flights might be available, potentially leading to lower prices.
  • Passenger demand: Airports in larger cities or popular tourist destinations might have higher demand, leading to higher ticket prices. Conversely, airports in less popular areas might have lower demand, leading to cheaper flights.

Bereavement and Emergency Fares

Very rarely do adventurers rely on last minute flights to sate their wanderlust. Last minute flights are more often than not a resort when emergencies strike, and one of those can include the loss of a close individual.

During times of loss and grief, airlines such as Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa, and WestJet understand the importance of sensitivity, empathy, and compassion. 

In an effort to provide support and assistance to passengers experiencing bereavement, these airlines offer emergency fares and bereavement assistance services. Eligible passengers must provide proof of their relationship to the deceased and the date and time of the funeral service.

Upon eligibility, passengers can benefit from reduced fares and flexible booking options tailored to accommodate the unpredictable nature of these circumstances. Furthermore, some of the airlines outlined above will also offer additional support services designed to ease the stress associated with travel during such a difficult time.

Bear in mind that certain airlines do not offer such services. For instance, American Airlines does not offer any bereavement fares, as they discontinued these types of services in 2014. 

However, they may waive change fees if your travel plans shift due to the passing, or imminent passing, of a loved one.

Use Points and Miles

Now, let’s talk about mixing cash with point redemption. Frequent travelers often amass air mile points and miles by spending money, which can then be redeemed to reduce the cost of last minute flights which sometimes can be exorbitant. As an airline credit card holder who earns travel points, it’s important not to let them go to waste (don’t worry, they don’t expire).

But rather than just letting them sit there, take advantage of them whenever you feel the urge to hop on a plane and explore a new destination. In particular, mixing cash fares with point redemption offers flexibility, allowing travelers to optimize the use of their resources. 

This strategy can sometimes unlock premium seating or routes that would otherwise be unaffordable. Get in touch with your preferred airline for potential upgrades. Some offer excellent opportunities for travelers who want to get the most out of their time in the air.

The Strategy of Booking Two One-Way Flights

Sometimes you need to think outside the box when you’re pinched for time. Booking two separate one-way tickets instead of a standard round-trip can give you more control over your travel plans and sometimes save you cash. This approach can allow you to choose different airlines, mix a cash fare with a points redemption, or even switch up your departure and arrival airports. 

The goal? To save a few dollars, or maybe even a few hundred!

For instance, if an airline has many unsold seats on a particular flight, they may offer discounted one-way tickets to help fill the plane. And rather than paying a premium price for a round-trip, you can reach your destination with a one-way budget flight and then find another reasonably priced flight that will take you back, potentially saving yourself a few hundred dollars.

If you are planning to travel to Europe, this is one of the best tips out there. For instance, rather than booking a direct flight to Eastern European countries, book a one-way flight to a nearby area that’s reasonably priced and then book another one-way flight to your planned destination for much less.

This tactic is most effective when you fly with budget airlines rather than some of the biggest names.

Get Cheap Flights
Save up to 90% on airfare

Stop overpaying on flights. Get the best deal for your trip!

  • Save $1,000s on airfare annually
  • Get personal 1-on-1 flight planning support
  • Save hours of flight planning time

Save up to 90% on airfare

Budget Airlines And Last-Minute Bookings

The travel industry has been transformed by budget airlines, making air travel more affordable and accessible than ever before. However, like any service, there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider when booking with these low-cost carriers.

Advantages of Choosing Budget Airlines

  • Affordability: By offering significantly lower ticket prices than traditional airlines, budget airlines can find one-way fares for as little as $50. This can result in up to 80% savings when booked in advance.
  • Safety: Despite their lower prices, budget airlines adhere to the same safety standards as their traditional counterparts, ensuring peace of mind for travelers.
  • Modern aircraft: Many budget airlines boast a fleet of new planes, allowing passengers to experience state-of-the-art flight technology and amenities without breaking the bank.
  • Economical airport parking: Budget airlines often utilize smaller airports where parking fees are typically more affordable than those at larger airports.

The Cons of Choosing to Fly With Budget Airlines

  • Reduced service: It is commonly known that traditional airlines provide a wider range of services compared to budget airlines, so you may not receive amenities such as food and drinks, Wi-Fi, and other conveniences.
  • Hidden costs: Budget airlines often have extra costs attached to things like printing your boarding pass, paying for hold luggage, etc. Check the fine print to ensure you are not getting ripped off.
  • Baggage restrictions: These airlines usually have strict baggage restrictions regarding dimensions and weight​​.
  • Inconvenient departures: Budget airlines often choose to fly at times that are not popular in order to reduce their costs and offer lower prices to customers.
  • No seat allocation: Many budget airlines do not assign seats ahead of time.

Tips for Finding Last-Minute Deals on Budget Airlines

Budget airlines and last minute flights might be just the perfect combo for budget-conscious travelers.

  • Subscribe for Email Alerts: Almost all airlines produce special offers on their web pages, which are updated frequently. Others supply travelers with special promotions via email blasts announcing the fare cuts that exist for only hours at a time​​.
  • Monitor major airlines: This can be your ace-in-the-hole strategy. Even though flying with major airlines comes at a higher price, they often lower fares to compete with budget carriers. However, these lower fares don’t last long, so be prepared to act quickly​​.

Secrets to Scoring Last-Minute Flights

While the internet is rife with so-called ‘foolproof’ strategies for securing the cheapest airfare, many of these methods are unreliable. You may stumble upon advice suggesting that the waiting game is the key to snagging the best deal, but this is a common misconception.

In reality, as the departure date looms closer, flight prices are more likely to surge, barring a few exceptional circumstances. Airlines occasionally struggle to fill seats, prompting them to drop prices in a bid to ensure the flight remains financially viable.

The strategies we outlined, such as following the three-week rule, being flexible with booking dates, checking the prices of alternative airports, redeeming your leftover points, and booking one way rather than round-trip.

To make your last minute flight search even better, here are some extra secret tips that only expert travelers know:

  • Hidden City Ticketing: This strategy involves booking a flight with a layover at your actual destination, then skipping the last leg of the trip. However, use this method with caution, as it can violate airline policies.
  • Airfare alerts: Set up airfare alerts on platforms like Skyscanner or Google Flights and get updates as soon as prices dip straight into your inbox. Of course, if you are relying on Google Flights, you have to be registered with a Gmail email address.
  • Social media: Follow airlines on social media platforms. They often post about flash sales and discounts on these platforms.
  • Travel light: Airlines charge extra for checked baggage. Traveling light can save you time at the airport, as you won’t have to wait for your luggage at the baggage claim. It also reduces the risk of your luggage getting lost or delayed. If you can manage with just a carry-on, you’ll be more mobile and less burdened during your travels.

To avoid any confusion regarding the actual price of your ticket, fine-tune your search tool to include the total cost. 

Although there may be a plethora of other strategies available, these specific tips have proven to be effective in saving money for travelers worldwide. They cater to those who enjoy affordable yet thrilling travel experiences, enriching the lives of those who take to the skies in search of adventure. Don’t rely on the myths that say there are best days to book flights. Just follow the strategies that expert travelers leverage.

Keep your wallet safe with these tips and allow Matt’s Flights to help you travel with hand-picked flights that don’t break the bank.

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Source List

Image by Matthew Smith

Image by Mitsuo Komoriya

Best Airline Credit Cards by Forbes 

Bereavement Flights: 5 Airlines That Offer Discounted Fares by U.S. News

Booking Flights with Google Flights