Pre-pandemic, traveling felt more accessible than ever. Discount airlines reigned and travel booking sites made comparison shopping easy. Seeing the world felt financially possible for more than just the uber-wealthy.
But the pandemic changed the travel landscape, and airlines are still recovering. Between fewer flight options and airline staffing shortages, flying is, once again, a pricey experience.
If you’re looking to get away for a few days without spending a fortune, try booking travel with a shorter lead time and following these insider tips on saving on last-minute travel.
When it comes to saving money on travel, Brett Holzhauer, travel writer at Baldthoughts.com, says you can save "hundreds” if you can be flexible with your travel dates.
Christien Johnson, a luxury travel expert and the co-founder, CEO and CMO of Villa Punto de Vista, recommends looking at weekdays and off-peak seasons when booking flights and hotels. “Just like with flights, hotel rates can vary depending on the season and day of the week,” Johnson says. “Being flexible with your travel dates can help you find better rates.”
Flexibility with connecting flights and airports can help, too. “Booking connecting flights instead of direct flights can sometimes be cheaper, so it's worth checking the prices for both options,” Johnson says. “Flying into or out of alternative airports can sometimes be cheaper than flying into or out of major airports, so it's worth checking the prices for both options.”
Flexibility in booking hotels can result in savings as well. Staying outside of a major city or at least outside of the city center can help you save on accommodations. Renting a home or apartment through a service like Airbnb can also sometimes be cheaper than booking a hotel.
When weighing cost-saving options, keep your eye on the big picture. Before booking any accommodations, Holzhauer urges travelers to always compare costs between hotels, home shares, or hostels to see what makes the most sense for their trip. And if you do choose a hotel or rental property away from your main destination, be mindful of potential increased transportation costs. If you’ll have to book an expensive taxi each day instead of being able to walk, you may find staying away from your destination could cost you more.
Holzhauer recommends also following social media accounts of local travelers in your area that post flight deals. “Airline deals are hard to come by post-pandemic,” he says. “This is a great way to meet local travelers, as well as see what kind of deals are available if you’re open to new destinations.”
Holzhauer’s favorite Instagram travel account to follow for finding flight deals is @flightwis. He also keeps an eye on sites like The Points Guy and other points bloggers, but advises skipping third-party travel bookings brands like Expedia or Priceline. These sites advertise deals but can be more trouble than they’re worth due to a lack of helpful customer service processes.
When you know your travel dates, Johnson also recommends regularly checking airlines' social media accounts, as they sometimes advertise last-minute deals there.
Turn to rewards
If you can’t find any last-minute deals on flights or hotels, credit card or loyalty program rewards can help bring down the cost of travel bookings.
Holzhauer says vacation costs can be cut by at least 50 percent when applying rewards to flight and hotel costs. “I’ve earned millions of points from credit cards and I’ve been able to hit 20 countries by my 30th birthday by doing so,” says.
In addition to using credit card rewards to help lower travel costs, Johnson suggests joining hotel loyalty programs. “Many hotel chains offer loyalty programs that can give you access to exclusive discounts and perks,” he says.
Be ready to move quickly
Before embarking on your search for deals, it's crucial to establish your budget and identify the dates you have available for travel. When it comes to saving money on last-minute travel, being prepared to act swiftly is essential. By doing so, you'll be able to seize a great deal as soon as it arises.
“Last-minute deals often sell out quickly, so if you find a good deal, be prepared to book it right away,” Johnson advised.