Jesse Collier booked a weekend trip in 45 minutes on a Friday afternoon.
She recommends calling a hotel to see if they will price-match, or beat a price you find online.
Collier also says to consider taking advantage of bereavement deals if that's why you're traveling.
I was feeling restless at 3:15 p.m. on a Friday. "Crazy idea," I said to my husband. "How about we get out of town?"
I sent to a text to my friend, asking if he could come by a couple times to feed our rabbits. After I confirmed pet care, our weekend getaway was a go… as long as I could find a good price for a hotel room.
I had everything booked within 45 minutes.
Travelers have resources to snag the best deals for last-minute flights and lodging. Here are four ways I've saved thousands of dollars over the years.
1. Check online travel agencies
I have used online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Hotels.com, and HotelTonight to save up to 56% on hotel reservations.
On a Friday afternoon, my husband and I decided to take a weekend trip to San Diego. I looked on HotelTonight and found a room for the following day at the boutique Porto Vista Hotel in Little Italy for $130 a night. At the time of writing, Porto Vista's website lists the same room's weekend rate as $302.25.
I also used an OTA to find a room at The Manhattan Club in New York City. The hotel is a five-minute walk from Central Park, generally a popular and expensive area, but I booked a room for the following day for $353 a night. While that sounds high, their website currently lists their room rates beginning at $529 a night. At the very last minute, many hotels provide discounts to fill as many rooms as possible.
Hotels will often match OTA pricing, and may even negotiate a little lower to sweeten the deal. Call the hotel, mention the quote and source found online, and ask if they can beat the price.
It's also smart to inquire about discounts or package deals provided directly by the hotel.
2. Consult Google Flights
Whenever I need to book a flight, the first thing I do is visit Google Flights, which aggregates ticket prices for most major airlines. This gives me a general idea of the average price to get to my destination, as well as fare differences between airlines. If you have a day or two before you need to make your decision, you can always toggle on their "track prices'' setting, and they will email you whenever fares change.
Sometimes, booking two one-way flights is cheaper than booking a single roundtrip flight, especially if you shop around with airlines.
One of the major benefits of Google Flights is that you can easily use them to book one-way flights using different airlines. If United Airlines has the best price to Boston, but American Airlines has the cheapest flight back, you can easily book both legs in just a few minutes.
While Google Flights shows pricing from many carriers, the following are not included in their database: Southwest Airlines, Philippine Airlines, China Eastern, Thai Airways, and Air China.
3. Avoid leaving on a Saturday when possible
If I decide to take a vacation in two weeks and I can play around with my travel days, I almost never leave on a Saturday morning and come back on a Sunday.
While there are many opinions on this topic, there is no black-and-white "traveling on this day is more expensive than that day." When shopping for flights and hotels, I open multiple windows and look at different dates. How much would my flight cost if I left on a Wednesday and got back the following Tuesday? Are hotel prices cheaper from Tuesday through Thursday?
Pricing varies by season, local events, whether people are traveling on business or fun, and the demographic of tourists, to name a few. Many travelers will leave for a vacation on Saturday morning and return the following weekend, but if you can leave on a Wednesday and return the following Thursday, you could save some serious cash.
I boarded a Monday flight to Maui and returned on a Tuesday for $588 in July, which is peak travel season. Flying from Los Angeles to Maui on Saturdays can cost as much as $1,000 per person, so I was happy with this booking. I also used the aforementioned two one-way flight hack; I flew there on American Airlines and returned on Alaska Airlines, which saved me money as well.
4. Take advantage of bereavement fares
Many airlines, including Alaska, Delta, Air Canada, and WestJet, offer discounts to passengers booking last-minute flights due to the death of a family member.
For example, Alaska Airlines' policy offers their Mileage Plan members a 10% discount on flights within the next seven days if needed for an immediate family member emergency. Eligible family members include parents, grandparents, immediate in-laws, children, and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews. Cousins are not listed as eligible for bereavement fares for Alaska Airlines.
To see if your preferred airline offers bereavement fares, check their website or call their reservations number.
Spontaneous trips often come at a high price
Understandably, airlines and hotels price according to demand. They may also be taking advantage of travelers' desperation — travelers may need flights for last-minute business trips or to tend to an urgent family matter.
When hunting for a deal for your next trip, I'm the first to say that booking as early as possible is usually best. However, life throws curve balls and new opportunities — which can make planning ahead more of a luxury than a given.
Jesse Collier is the creator of The Road Jess Traveled and helps people save, plan, and book their dream vacations.
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