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Last Minute Travel

Find information on how to make last minute travel plans.

Many people book their flights at the last minute. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Many people book their flights at the last minute.

According to a 2006 poll by the Travel Industry Association, 64 percent of vacationers plan their trips within two weeks of traveling, and about a quarter of Americans plan all their vacations at the last minute. Although transportation tickets generally can become very expensive if booked closer to the travel date, there are still ways to find bargains on last-minute travel.

Last-minute travel can be made more economical by choosing the right time of year to travel. There are deals to be had for travelers who are flexible with travel times and dates. After the peak summer travel season, generally starting in September, airlines usually offer heavily discounted fares. Traveling at an unpopular time of the week or time of day can lead to huge savings. It's also important to cross-check prices on several travel Web sites to see which combinations of flights, hotels and dates offer the best fare.

Last-Minute Travel Web Sites

There are a number of Web sites that specialize in last-minute travel packages. LastMinuteTravel.com and LastMinute.com offer deals on flights, cruises, rental cars and hotels for travel around the world. Larger travel reservation Web sites, such as Travelocity.com, sometimes acquire overstock inventory and offer discounted travel packages for people departing within two weeks of the date on which the reservation is made. Such tickets generally can be purchased up to three hours before departure, offering savings of up to 70 percent. The drawback to such heavily discounted tickets is that sales are usually final.

Signing up for discount alerts can be beneficial for those considering a last-minute vacation. Most travel Web sites, such as those run by the airlines themselves, offer discount alerts, allowing travelers to receive e-mails with deals as soon as the airline offers them. Many Web sites, such as SmarterTravel.com, also aggregate information from the airlines about last-minute sales on airfares to particular destinations.

Bereavement Fares

Many people who plan trips on short notice are traveling to attend a funeral or visit a seriously ill relative. Several airlines offer bereavement or compassion fares that are discounted by as much as 50 percent, although because of the last-minute nature of this kind of travel, starting fares are generally very high. However, bereavement fares usually offer flexibility in the return dates of travel.

Some airlines, such as Delta, only offer bereavement fare in cases of illness or death of immediate family members, and often require contact information for the attending physician or funeral home to confirm claims. American Airlines offers compassion fares for people who have family or friends serving in the military who have died or been made prisoners of war. Generally, however, bereavement fares are more expensive than last-minute online bookings made through the airline's Web site or discount Web sites such as LastMinuteTravel.com. Several hotel chains offer bereavement rates as well. It's best to check with the chain's policy upon making a reservation.

Standby Air Travel

Sometimes it's necessary to change the travel time on an existing airline ticket. Most airlines allow travelers to fly standby on an earlier flight. Standby passengers are seated on other planes on the same airline, provided there are empty seats. Some airlines, like United Airlines, charge a small fee for this service. Some discount carriers, such as Southwest Airlines, do not offer standby travel, because their tickets are relatively inexpensive already. Other restrictions also may exist, so it is best to contact specific carriers to find out the rules and fees that may apply.

AirTran Airways offers heavily discounted tickets for last-minute travelers between the ages of 18 and 22 who are willing to take a bit of risk. Through their program called AirTran U, the airline allows travelers in that age range to travel stand-by at reduced fares. The program does not allow for passengers to check luggage, but a carry-on bag and a personal item is allowed. AirTran U allows passengers to travel for $69 per segment of a trip (a segment is defined as one take-off to landing). AirTran U tickets are not available during peak travel times, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.

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