Summer has nearly slipped by, but if you haven’t taken the time for vacation, it’s not too late. In fact, you’ll find some of the best last-minute vacation deals this month. As families shop for back-to-school discounts, crowds at vacation hot spots dwindle and prices fall as airlines, hotels and attractions roll out incentives to entice last-minute travelers. Read on to check out some of the best spur-of-the-moment summer vacation ideas and see how to cross some prime destinations off your bucket list.
1. Shop for Flights at the Last Minute
Save an average of 11 percent to 20 percent over summer ticket prices when you book during the second half of August. Although Aug. 22 marks the beginning of the autumn season for airfare that lasts until just before the Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll find some fares starting to dip as early as Aug. 10. This time of year, it pays to book flights at the last minute.
A flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Los Angeles prices out to $672 when you travel on Southwest Airlines on the first Sunday of August. Wait to take the same flight on Sunday, Aug. 27, and you’ll save more than 55 percent over the earlier date at a cost of just $300. Weekday prices for the flight start to drop on Thursday, Aug. 10, where you’ll pay $254 to take the flight instead of $346 just one week before. Snag the best deals during the last week of the month, when you can fly for under $200 on Aug. 26, 29 and 30.
2. Shop the Airfare Sales
Check major airlines for fall sales. Remember, autumn in the airline industry begins Aug. 22.
United Airlines rolls out fares as low as $59 when you fly on Aug. 22 or beyond. The cheap fares include Chicago to Cleveland, Detroit or Columbus, Ohio for $59 each way. Hop aboard a plane bound from Boston to Austin, Texas, for as little as $127, or change your destination to Kansas City, Mo. for just $2 more.
Alaska Airlines has deals from Boise, Idaho to Spokane, Wash. for $44 or San Francisco to Seattle for $77.
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3. Fly Somewhere Random
Find a great deal on airfare to a destination you’ve never considered. Pack your bags and take a spontaneous trip to discover new experiences.
Hop aboard a flight to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for just $854 economy class when you fly after Aug. 19 using a deal from Travelzoo. Google Flights lists the round-trip journey at $1,637 to $2,837, making the Travelzoo deal an amazing last-minute summer vacation idea. Air New Zealand’s economy class has reclining seats with fold-out leg rests, electrical outlets and USB and iPod connections. Flying somewhere random is just one of many ways to save on last-minute travel.
4. Everybody’s Got Baggage
Before you do a happy dance at snagging a bargain airfare, check the baggage fees. With airline baggage allowances getting smaller and smaller, it’s not unusual to end up paying for checked baggage or even a carry-on. With a little careful planning, you can avoid checked baggage fees in many instances.
- Fly Southwest. The airline is one of very few that still allows passengers two free checked bags with each ticket. Make sure each suitcase weighs less than 50 pounds and meets the airline’s size requirements, or you’ll end up paying $75 to fly each bag one way.
- Use the right credit card. Get an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, and you and up to six other passengers on your reservation can check a bag for free. Other airlines will also let you and a limited number of other people on your reservation check luggage for free if you have one of their co-branded credit cards, including American, United and JetBlue. Delta has the most generous baggage allowance, letting up to nine people on the reservation check bags.
5. Lounge Around
You can sometimes save a significant amount of money by ditching nonstop flights in favor of transfers in hub cities. Don’t fret about spending hours sitting in molded plastic chairs peering out the airport window at the tarmac, however. Check out Priority Pass, which gets you access to more than 1,000 premium airport lounges for just $69 a year.
The price of admission gets you more than comfier chairs and a haven away from the crowded departure gates. Enjoy complimentary drinks and fresh snacks such as fruit, cheese, small sandwiches and other bites. In Oregon, the Portland International Airport’s Concourse C is home to House Spirits Distillery, where you can sip craft-distilled spirits like Volstead Vodka, Westward American Single Barrel Malt Whiskey, Casa Magdalena Rum and Krogstad Aquavit.
6. Check Out Last-Minute Hotel Deals in Vegas
Las Vegas is one of the top spots for an August getaway, even in the summer heat. You’ll find some of the cheapest rates of the year. Travelzoo’s website and smartphone app let you pinpoint hot deals on hotels and activities with just a few clicks.
Book a night in a spacious suite at the Palms Place Hotel and Spa for as little as $70. The 600-square-foot suites boast floor-to-ceiling windows, gourmet kitchens and views that look out over the Strip or at the mountains. Head up to the sixth floor to relax in a cool pool with waterfalls and a stone fireplace surrounded by private cabanas.
How about a romantic Paris getaway? Spend a few nights at romantic Paris Las Vegas for as little as $59 per night. You’ll feel like you’re walking down a Parisian street as you stroll cobblestone walkways wending between shops and cafes. Sunbathe poolside in the shadow of a replica of the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by French gardens. Top off your experience with a Paris Date Night package for $59. View the city from 46 stories high at the Eiffel Tower Experience observation deck, then dine with open-air views of Las Vegas Boulevard at HEXX.
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7. Ditch the Hotel
Renting a vacation home doesn’t have to be an expensive experience. Book a unique lodging through Airbnb for about the same or less as you’d pay for a hotel room. Tuck into a cute one-bedroom cottage in Wimberly, Texas, for $120 a night, or enjoy a creekside vacation in a fully restored Airstream trailer with deck for $145.
Get to know a local by renting a comfy room in someone’s home. Grab a room in the O2Haus in Portland, Ore., one of the world’s most eco-efficient homes, for $84 per night. You’ll share bathrooms, the sunset view deck and other common areas with other travelers and visit with your local hosts.
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8. Sleep Free With Couchsurfing
Stay with a local absolutely free when you sign up through Couchsurfing. Ever wonder what makes a native New Yorker tick? Or what it’s like to live among the stunning red rocks of Sedona, Ariz.? Spend a night or two as a gratis guest and get big-city insight from someone living the life every day. Hosts are verified through the site, and you can read about the offered accommodations, scan your host’s bio and skim Couchsurfer feedback before you book your stay.
Not quite brave enough to spend the night with a stranger, verified or not? Get your feet wet by meeting up with a local for drinks or a hike through Couchsurfing Hangouts. The app lets you know about locals nearby who are available to meet up with out-of-towners.
9. Camp Out
Get back to nature with a campout that will stretch your vacation budget while you relax in the great outdoors — there are lots of low-cost camping spots across the U.S. Find campsites for under $12 per night with the Free Campsites app. It lets you know what amenities each site has and can map campgrounds near your location. Sites include spots with restrooms and fire rings as well as dispersed pack-in, pack-out locations.
For more amenities, check out ReserveAmerica, which has both an app and a website. The site brings together reservable private, federal and state campgrounds in one location. Check out campground maps, see which amenities are offered and read thorough descriptions of each campground in the ReserveAmerica inventory. You’ll also find cabins, yurts and tepees at some listed campgrounds.
10. Get Away to a Dream Stay
Affordable last-minute getaways don’t have to give you the choice between a campsite and a low-budget hotel. Look on Travelzoo for dream destinations at late-summer discounts and recharge at an affordable retreat.
Feel like you’re in a castle when you stay at The Pointe at Castle Hill Resort for just $142 per night midweek. The Vermont mountain escape serves up a daily continental breakfast, a $25 credit per person toward a 50-minute massage and $25 toward a preset dinner for two. Relax in the resort’s indoor pool and hot tub, head to nearby villages to go antiquing, or just enjoy the historic mansion’s elegance.
11. Ride a Megabus
Want to take a road trip but don’t want all the driving? Hop on a Megabus and travel between more than 100 cities in the U.S. in comfort and style. The double-decker buses have WiFi and individual electric outlets at each of the roomy, reclining seats. Best of all, ticket prices start at just $1. Look for the $1 deals on the Megabus Facebook page as each new date opens up.
Megabus connects with other transportation options at local destinations, so don’t worry about having to rent a car once you get there. Hook up with a $10 weekend Metrolink pass in Southern California that will take you anywhere the system travels for the entire weekend. Head to Providence, R.I., or New Bedford, Mass., to connect to the Seastreak Ferry that will take you to New York, New Jersey and beach destinations.
12. Get a Lyft
Use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to get your whole crew to where you’re going for one price. Both companies let you see fare estimates before summoning a driver, and you pay securely from your smartphone. Get up to $20 in credit to use on your first Lyft rides with coupon codes found on the company’s website.
Although both ride-hail services let you see pictures of your driver and the car you’ll be riding in to make sure you don’t get in the wrong vehicle, Lyft’s light-up dashboard signs make finding your driver after dark a cinch.
Remember you might pay surcharges when heading to or from the airport. Some airports allow only drop-offs, and a handful of airports disallow ride-hailing services to operate at all within their boundaries.
13. Get Deals on Wheels
Don’t pay full price for rental cars. Travelzoo offers Avis car rental discounts up to 25 percent off and a complimentary upgrade. Or rent a full-sized four-door car from Budget for three consecutive days and get a free weekend day.
Costco Executive Members can earn a 2 percent reward on car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget and Enterprise. Members get the fee waived to add an additional driver and a reduced fee for GPS rental when selecting Avis or Budget cars. The club also waives the additional driver fee for Alamo and Enterprise.
If you’re not a Costco member or are visiting an area not served by those car companies, AAA rolls out discounts through Hertz. Promotions include a free rental day when you join the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, free use of a child safety seat and discounts on satellite radio, GPS and fuel.
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14. Hop On, Hop Off
Hop-on, hop-off bus tours offer an affordable way to see a city’s sights without having to worry about traffic or parking. Double-decker buses let you see over traffic as you move through the city. Make the most of your hop-on, hop-off pass by riding the full circuit first thing in the morning to get a feel for what you want to see and plan where to have lunch. Then hop back on and ride to the destinations of your choice to explore them on foot.
Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas and New York City are just a few places you can enjoy a hop-on, hop-off experience with one- to three-day options. Search “hop-on hop-off bus tours” on Travelzoo to find great deals for getting to the attractions. Take advantage of a $15 New York hop-on, hop-off ferry that will give you a view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty along the way.
15. Find the Free Options
Before renting a car, check for free or cheap transportation options at your destinations. More than 20 U.S. cities offer fare-free rides.
In Savannah, Ga., the “dot” provides fare-free transportation around the city’s historic district. The Savannah Belles Ferry lets you ride fare-free between City Hall, Waving Girl and the Trade Center on Hutchinson Island.
The Santa Fe Pick-Up in Santa Fe, N.M., has two routes visiting the city’s historic district and museum district. Book a hotel in the historic district to be walking distance to one of the shuttle stops, where you’ll get picked up in under 15 minutes. A transfer station lets you easily shift from one route to the other.
16. Take the Hubway
Summer days are ideal for pedaling through town and seeing sights up close without having to deal with getting stuck in city traffic. Large metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Phoenix have bike-sharing programs where you can gain access to a network of bikes for a day or more at a time.
Hubway in Boston offers 24-hour and 72-hour passes that let you check out a bike for unlimited 30-minute rides during the length of your pass. Buy a pass for $8 for a 24-hour pass or $15 for a 72-hour pass. Receive a code to unlock the bike. When you get to your destination, return the bike to a nearby Hubway dock until you’re ready to ride again.
In Phoenix, you can get a single hourlong ride for $7 or buy access to the Grid Bike Share for $10 per week with up to 180 minutes of ride time. Grid lets you put your bike on “hold” when locking your bike to a rack if you just want to stop for coffee or pop into a shop for a few souvenirs.
17. Take a Pass
CityPASS offers a cost-effective way to see local attractions in a dozen major cities across the U.S. Pay one fee to get a CityPASS booklet that admits you to several attractions for less than you’d pay buying each ticket individually. In Boston, visit the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science and Skywalk Observatory plus a choice of either the Harvard Museum of Natural history or a Boston Harbor Cruise, all for $56 — a 45 percent savings.
Look on Travelzoo’s website for discounts on these already low prices. Score a nine-day CityPASS to top Seattle attractions for just $79, a 45 percent savings off the regular price of $144. The pass gets you into the Space Needle, the Seattle Aquarium, a one-hour Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour and more.
Find more all-for-one-price discounts with Go City Cards covering 12 U.S. cities. Get an all-inclusive pass for a specified number of days and visit as many participating destinations as you like during the time your pass is valid. In Orlando, choose from 29 attractions including Legoland, Gatorland, the Florida Aquarium and a selection of tours and cruises.
18. Head to the Library
Libraries offer more than books. They can also be your free ticket to local attractions with a complimentary culture pass, if you qualify for a card. Most libraries require patrons to be residents of the state or another extended library network, meaning you don’t necessarily have to live within the city where the library is located. Other libraries have no residency requirements.
Each culture pass lets you visit one attraction during specific hours. In Phoenix, a pass is good for two people to visit an attraction like the Arizona Science Center or the Desert Botanical Garden. Denver posts an online calendar where you can reserve a pass up to one month in advance for attractions that include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and behind-the-scenes tours at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Grand Rapids, Mich., offers a free culture pass when you book at certain hotels. The Grand Rapids pass won’t get you in free, but it offers discounts like buy-one-get-one-free at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
19. Take an Art Walk
Just about every city in the nation has a collection of public art that offers insights into city culture. Find maps and photos of public art displays on city websites, or search your destination on Atlas Obscura, Roadtrippers or RoadsideAmerica for unusual displays. You might just find yourself face to face with smiling bronze insects at Phoenix’s “Social Invertebrates” display or snapping a selfie in front of the world’s largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Ill.
Discover even more public art when you download the All Public Art app. The user-generated content includes uploads by local artists, citizens and travelers giving the heads up to works that might not be discoverable through public art project websites. Share your love of art with others by uploading pictures and descriptions of public art that isn’t on the app yet.
20. Feel Festive
Festivals are a great way to put your finger on the pulse of what makes a vacation destination tick. Head to Florida for the colorful Festival of Chariots based on an ancient event originating in India. The festival rolls into Jacksonville Beach on Aug. 19 and Orlando on Aug. 31 with vibrant processions, music, performances and food. Search for festivals on the Travelzoo website for discount festival entrance fees. Head to California’s Huntington Beach Beer Festival on Aug. 26 with half-price VIP tickets for just $25, or get the same deal for Oregon’s Portland Beer and Music Festival for its Saturday, Aug. 19 date.
21. Enjoy Free Entertainment
Seeing a national act in concert can be a fun but costly addition to your vacation budget. Check out free music at free summer concert series in cities throughout the nation through Labor Day. Cleveland hosts free concerts every day of the week featuring local legends and national acts. See the Rumours Band, a tribute to Fleetwood Mac, on Aug. 20 at the Summer Sunset Concert in Rocky River at the City Hall Park Gazebo. The concert even has the added bonus of free hot dogs. Or catch free concerts throughout New York City. Dance along to salsa, merengue, pop and rhythm and blues at the Bronx Summer Concert Series at Orchard Beach on Sunday afternoons or check out the monthly Freshen Up Fridays with the Summer on the Hudson music series at the West Harlem Piers.
22. Head for the Hills, or the River
Get outdoors and enjoy the natural scenery at a local, state or national park. Chicago’s Grant Park offers much more than a playground and picnic areas. Known as “Chicago’s Front Yard,” the 319-acre public park includes artwork like the famous reflective sculpture Cloud Gate, nicknamed “the Bean,” where you can take silly selfies with city reflections. Marvel at the Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest in the world, as it puts on a lighted nightly display.
National parks can be a low-cost way to enjoy hikes in some of the country’s most scenic spots. An America the Beautiful pass gets you into any national park in the country that charges admission. What most people don’t know is you can get in free to hundreds of parks across the U.S. every day of the year even if you don’t have a pass.
23. Don’t Overlook Free Attractions
When it comes to the nation’s best attractions, some of the best things in life really are free. The Saint Louis Zoo took top honors from USA Today for best free attraction in 2016 and best zoo in 2017. Go nose-to-nose with polar bears and giraffes.
Other favorite free attractions include the towering red rocks of Garden of the Gods in Colorado, the Freedom Trail in Boston and the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. To stretch your vacation dollar, check out the best free activities in every state.
24. Take a Drive
A road trip offers an inexpensive way to get your family to a vacation destination. “Pick a one-tank destination and drive,” said Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie. “With average national summer gas prices at 12-year lows, it’ll save you!”
With gas prices averaging $2.28 across the country, there’s no better time to hit the road. If you drive a car with a 15-gallon tank averaging 20 miles per gallon, you can plan a vacation up to 300 miles away for just over $34 in gas each way. Your drive will cost you more in California, where prices average $2.99. A single-tank trip starting from Los Angeles will still get you to Las Vegas, Yosemite or Carmel-by-the-Sea on the California coast for about $50 each way. In Alabama, where gas prices average around $2, fill up for about $30 and head for Memphis, Tenn. or Destin, Fla.
25. Embrace the Dry Heat
Seek out swanky desert destinations where you’d pay a premium during winter months. “Desert destinations like Scottsdale and Palm Springs see prices bottom out during the summer and will generally keep those low prices going through Labor Day,” said Saglie. “Prices will creep up slowly late summer/early fall because of the general post-summer lull that sets in, making these destinations a bargain even after the official end of summer.”
Spend your day at an AAA four-diamond resort with a sandy beach pool at The Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa in Palm Springs for $109 nightly. Lush palm trees, bubbling water features and dramatic fire pits might make you forget you’re in the desert. Hit a few balls at the resort’s two 18-hole golf courses, swim in three pools or relax at the on-site spa.
In posh Fountain Hills just outside Scottsdale, The Inn at Eagle Mountain rolls out $79 per-night deals with no resort fees. Stay in a mini suite overlooking the desert and enjoy $100 in spa credit included in the deal.
26. Go Downtown
Big cities roll out a treasure trove of cultural events and venues along with imaginative open spaces and an abundance of restaurants and attractions. They can also be one of the most affordable places to take a last-minute vacation.
“Financial hubs like New York and Chicago will see prices bounce once fall hits, as business travel revs back to normal,” Saglie said. “Until then, hotels here remain bargains for late-summer travelers, especially on weekends.”
In Chicago, stay just a block away from Magnificent Mile shopping at hotels like The James Chicago, which has had deals on Travelzoo for as low as $149 a night. The James makes Travel + Leisure’s list of 10 best hotels in Chicago and serves up conveniences like bikes to borrow and milk and cookies for the kids before bed. Or book a few nights at the Life Hotel in New York for $179. The brand-new hotel opened in 2017 in the former beaux arts headquarters of Life magazine, close to Herald Square.
27. Think Tropical
“The Caribbean is a bargain hunter’s dream in summer, driven both by the muggier, prevailing weather but also the hurricane threat that’ll stick around through early November,” Saglie said. The best values, according to Saglie, are found on islands with a high volume of resorts and hotels such as the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Book a grown-up getaway in Aruba for just $108 per night at the Brickell Bay Beach Club and Spa. The deal includes a room for two, beach lounge chairs, daily continental breakfast and WiFi. Relax on the beach or swim up to the pool bar. Savor succulent frozen grapes served poolside each afternoon, or ride the hotel shuttle to explore nearby casinos and shopping.
28. Set Sail
“Cruises are always a bastion of last-minute savings,” said Saglie. “In the summer months, the best values will exist on last-minute cruises to places like Mexico and the Caribbean. Look for discount pricing as well as incentives like prepaid gratuities and drinks packages.”
Enjoy a view of the ocean from a balcony cabin for $499 to $609 per person on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with MSC Cruises when you set sail in August or September. Choose from sailings to either the Eastern Caribbean or Western Caribbean and visit destinations that include Puerto Rico, Nassau and the Cayman Islands. Travel aboard the MSC Divina, which has elegant appointments that include a glimmering Swarovski crystal staircase.
29. Cowboy Up
Enjoy a lush desert setting at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Ariz. The dude ranch topped the 2016 list for Conde Nast Traveler’s “Top Resorts in Texas and the American Southwest.” Explore miles of desert surrounding Saguaro National Park on horseback or on foot, relax in the shade of mature trees, swim in the resort’s heated pool or just soak in the expansive views complete with stunning Arizona sunsets. Travelzoo’s $99 price includes a room for two at the upscale dude ranch, breakfast and a complimentary horseback ride for one guest.
30. Play Tourist in Your Own Town
As families gear up for back-to-school time, it’s not unusual to see hotel and attraction rates decrease from summer peak pricing. Book a nice hotel using last-minute summer vacation deals and spend a few days seeing sights around your hometown and the surrounding area from a tourist’s point of view. If you want to come back to your own comfy bed each night, head out on day trips within 60 to 90 miles from home. Check out nearby theme parks and other attractions. Disneyland, for example, offers $97 value pricing Monday through Thursday during the last two weeks of August. Easily find attraction deals near you on Travelzoo by using the search engine to seek out “Things to Do” in locations near you.
Flights and travel deals sourced through airlines’ websites and Travelzoo on July 27, 2017. Prices subject to change.
About the Author
Jodi O’Connell is a freelance wordsmith based in Sedona, Arizona, who writes about everything from vacation vagary and adventure sports to real estate and pets. She spent more than a decade in Arizona’s real estate industry advising first-time homebuyers and commercial investors before indulging her passion for the written word on a full-time basis. Her articles appear on websites as diverse as U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, Hipmunk, Roots Rated, and Travelocity.