How To Book a Last-Minute Flight Without Breaking the Bank

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Researchers are calling 2022 the “year of the travel rebound,” and for good reason. A new TripAdvisor study shows that for people in the U.S., leisure travel abroad intent is up 6 percentage points compared to 2019.

But thanks to this increased travel demand — as well as rising fuel costs — the price of plane tickets is quickly escalating, too. The average domestic flight in May 2022 cost $403, up from $272 in May 2021, according to Hopper Price Tracker.

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With these price hikes, is it still possible to fulfill your travel dreams and book a last-minute flight without breaking the bank? Travel experts say yes — if you know how to find discounts.

Be as Flexible as Possible on Flight Dates, Times and Locations

When asked for their top advice for booking last-minute flights on a budget, several experts told GOBankingRates that being flexible is the best way to save money.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Most of the time, there is a reason that the flights are heavily discounted,” said Caleb Pasiuk, founder and editor of The Pazook Travel Journal. “Maybe this flight includes an extra-long layover. Perhaps the flight leaves really early or arrives very late at night. Sometimes, flights arrive at a nearby airport, such as Burbank, California, instead of LAX. Be flexible, and you will save a lot of money!”

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Find Flight Deals on Travel Search Engines

Another great way to snag the best deals for plane tickets is to regularly browse travel search engines. For example, if you can be flexible on your destination, you can find steep discounts on airfare through Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“Scott’s Cheap Flights tracks down secret deals and significantly discounted flights all around the world,” Pasiuk said. “Users choose their home airport and receive daily emails with newly discounted domestic and international flights. Usually, these flights are 50-70% off the standard rate.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Guadalupe Sanchez, founder of the money management blog Budgeting in Blue, has used Scott’s Cheap Flights to travel overseas at a bargain twice. She flew to Madrid, Spain, for under $400, and her flight to Lima, Peru, came to under $500.

“The price is specific to the airport you fly out of, so the estimated price is very close to what you end up paying,” she said. “The only caveat is that you have to book your travel within 24-48 hours, and the locations are specific to the deal.”

For those who prefer to browse flight options on their smartphone, the Hopper app is another helpful option.

“You can input your desired route, and Hopper will continuously track that flight, notifying you when there is a price hike or price drop and predict whether the price will go up or down in the future with 85% accuracy,” Pasiuk said.

Other popular travel search engines that experts recommend include Google Flights, Skyscanner, Expedia, Kayak and Momondo.

“Generally, Google Flights will offer the best deals, but remember that baggage fees are almost always excluded when looking at the price overview,” said Giacomo Piva, industry analyst and co-founder of global luggage network Radical Storage.

Make Your Money Work for You

Become an Airline Rewards Member or Book a Last-Minute Charter Flight

Big airlines often reduce ticket prices at the last minute, especially for rewards members.

“We have yet to find an airline that offers last-minute deals with any consistency,” Pasiuk said. “However, if you are a rewards member, Delta Airlines and Alaskan Airlines seem to keep their prices reasonable up until the departure date when you pay with miles instead of cash!”

If you can book a flight just a few days before departure, then charter carriers may be your most affordable option, Piva said.

“They typically reduce ticket prices as time runs down to the departure date, aiming for 100% occupancy,” he said. “It’s worth bookmarking the websites of carriers such as Elite Airways and Skymax to take a look into these.”

The downside is that charter flights’ departures and destinations can be fairly limited.

Use Credit Cards With Great Travel Rewards

Does your credit card offer travel points or discounted flights? If not, you might be missing out on some great airfare deals.

“You might be able to secure discounted flight deals with credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum or Business Platinum,” Piva said. “Such cards are offered with the incentive of exclusive access to reduced airfares on premium-class tickets.”

Other cards that offer great airline rewards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Citi Premier Card, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Card, the United Club Infinite Card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card.

If you’re loyal to a particular airline, Piva recommends getting an airline credit card to store up points for free or discounted flight tickets.

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About the Author

Jenny Rose Spaudo is content strategist and copywriter specializing in personal and business finance, investing, real estate, and PropTech. Her clients include Edward Jones, Flyhomes, PropStream, and Real Estate Accounting Co. As a journalist, her work has appeared in Business Insider, GOBankingRatesMovieguide®, and various smaller publications. She’s also ghostwritten a book and hundreds of articles for CEOs and thought leaders. Before going freelance, Jenny Rose was the online news director for Charisma Media, where she oversaw three online magazines, hosted a daily news podcast, and managed the editorial content for the company’s robust podcast network. In 2014, she graduated summa cum laude from Stetson University with bachelor’s degrees in Communication & Media Studies and Spanish. During her college career, she won two awards for her research and was named “Top Senior” in both her majors. Find her at jennyrosespaudo.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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