5 Ways to Be a Smart Last-Minute Trip Planner

There are two reasons you may be making last-minute travel plans: Wanderlust took hold and you can’t stay put any longer, or you have a last-minute business trip to plan.

In either case, planning last minute can lead to higher costs, small (but detrimental mistakes), and more. If you don’t have the luxury of time to dot your I’s and cross your T’s, take extra care as you book flights and don’t accept the first costs you see as your only choice—in many cases, you can control these factors. You just have to know what to look for and how to hack the details, which is why we’re here.

Go Mobile

When booking your last-minute trips, don’t go to the usual comparison sites or even the company’s website. Instead, go to your mobile phone, where you’ll find dozens of apps geared specifically to the last-minute traveler trying to find a deal. Here are a few to check out.

GTFO (Get the Flight Out): This app provides prices for flights leaving from your airport tonight through the following morning.

Hotel Tonight: With this app you can find affordable accommodations at the last minute. You can find hotels in most medium-to-large cities in North America, Europe, Middle East, Central and South America, and more.

Last Minute Deals: Get agent-level prices (usually the price you see is the wholesale price) with this app, which allows you to search for flights, hotels, and rental cars. Kiplinger found that prices were typically $100 cheaper than on the popular travel sites. Look for the “Deal” icon, which denotes exclusive in-app prices.

Standard booking sites are also doing everything they can to make sure you visit their mobile app over their competitors. As such, you can find exclusive mobile discounts through the apps for some of your favorite travel booking sites, including:

  • Expedia
  • Booking.com
  • Trivago

Finally, don’t miss Twitter, where some large brands have accounts dedicated solely to inexpensive, last-minute booking deals. Check out:

Keep Travel Dates Flexible

Often, the best strategy for scoring an inexpensive flight is the willingness to board a plane on a random weekday at 9:00 p.m., instead of holding out for a more convenient time. The more popular a departure time is, the more it will cost to purchase airfare.

According to Conde Nast Traveler, the cheapest days for booking a domestic flight are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but when it comes to an international flight, the weekends generally offer the most bang for your buck. If possible, be open to different days and times.

Be flexible with where you fly into as well. Google Flights shows you a map of prices—each one denoting the cost to fly into that airport, on that day and time, from your starting point. If you plan to rent a car, it may be worth flying into an alternate airport to get the cheaper flight.

Choose an Off-Season Locale

When traveling for fun, finding last-minute deals for the most popular locations, like Miami or Australia, can be hard. If you just need to get away, consider visiting a location that’s in their off-season. For example, WhereTraveler ranked the top 10 off-season summer destinations in the world, and Expedia created a guide for 20 Places That Are Better in the Off-Season. Use these resources to find a vacation spot that still offers what you want—without the high price tag of last-minute booking.

Think Outside Hotel Chains

It may be easier—or more familiar—to book a room at a brand name hotel like the Marriott or Hilton, but you’ll find better prices with sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO when planning last-minute trips. This alternative is cheaper than standard hotel rates, and in most cases, you can also spend less on food if the accommodations have a kitchen.

On Airbnb, turn on the “Instant Book” option. If you find a place you like that’s listed as Instant Book (indicated by a lightning bolt symbol), you can book without waiting to be accepted by the host.

Be on High Alert for Scams

When you’re in a mad-dash to book airfare, lodging, entertainment, and other details, it’s common to overlook signs that something isn’t right. Unfortunately, rushing the process makes you vulnerable to scams. A 2017 Europe Travel study found that the most common scam type is emotional (22 percent): “Scammers can use emotions to trick you in many ways, from gaining your trust by being overly helpful to making you feel sympathy by looking desperately in need. Remember, being friendly doesn’t mean giving your money or property away,” explain study authors.

Don’t forget to keep your eye out for:Consumer Resource Guide

  • Corrupt business scams (20 percent): Taxi drivers not using the meter or charging for pre-existing damage to a rental car.
  • Pickpockets (9 percent): Common distractions used include bumps, spills, and being touchy-feely with you.
  • Impersonation of officials (8 percent): Fake police or border patrol, for example. Always ask for an ID and never give away money.

Time to Book

Whether you’re heading off for a much-needed vacation or jetting to your next big client meeting, your last-minute trip doesn’t have to cost a lot or be hard to book. Use these tips to be smart about booking and you’ll enjoy every moment as if you’d planned months in advance.

BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time writer and small business owner. She’s written for Bonappetour, Lifehack, Reader’s Digest and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect LinkedIn.