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50 Tips for Smarter Last-Minute Travel


Putting together a trip on short notice, whether out of impulse or necessity, doesn't have to break the bank—or you. Stay calm and check out these savvy suggestions from more than a dozen travel experts on how to plan (and save money on) a perfect spontaneous getaway.

Published on Feb 5, 2018

 

Last-minute Travel

 

1 Know When to Book
Airlines often discount flights on Sundays and Tuesdays for travel later that week. "Including a Saturday-night stay generally results in locking in the lowest ticket prices," says Expedia spokesperson Alexis Tiacoh.

2 Compare One-Way Tickets
Purchasing separate one-way flights on two different carriers can sometimes offer a better value than booking a round-trip ticket. If you're traveling internationally, you'll need to show proof of your return flight at check-in and at border control, so bring printouts of all itineraries and receipts.

3 Set Fare Alerts
Sign up to receive alerts on Expertflyer.com or the Hopper app to notify you as soon as seats become available on a particular route, letting you book before others—and score last-minute deals.

4 Consult a Specialist
Paul Tumpowsky, owner of the travel agency Skylark, says that many firms, like his, have access to seats that don't show up on airlines' websites. If you're finding only sky-high fares for a trip this weekend, don't assume that cheaper options aren't available.

5 Look for Combo Deals
While you might pay a little more for the airfare, bundling your flight, hotel, rental car and activities can often reduce the total cost of a spontaneous vacation. Booking.com, Priceline, and Travelocity all offer good-value vacation packages.

6 Use a Consolidator for Foreign Travel
"Airfare consolidators sell the types of fares that don't require advance purchase, but most are on international routes and carry other restrictions, such as being nonrefundable," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog. Check out Airlineconsolidator.com.

7 Get Organized
File away all your flight information, hotel and rental car bookings in one spot with digital trip planning apps like Trip Case or TripIt. Forward any confirmation emails directly to one email address and the app will create a master itinerary you can access offline and share with others.

8 Train it, Don't Plane it
Southeast Asia can be easily accessed with overland transport, and trains can be an affordable and more scenic alternative to short-haul or regional flights. The KTM train from Singapore to Butterworth connects travelers to Malaysia's gourmet capital, Penang, while Vietnam's 1,600-kilometer railway links the north of the country, Hanoi, to Saigon in the south.

9 Check International Travel Sites
"When flying with foreign airlines, it often makes sense to pay in the local currency," says Brian Kelly, a.k.a. the Points Guy. He notes that you can do that by booking directly with a carrier on its native website—he cites Norwegian as one example—or by using the international sites of Expedia and other aggregators.

 

#10
Travel in Low Seasons
You can often get great last-minute deals on destinations that aren't in high season. Traveling in Southeast Asia during rainy season (March to October) will be a cooler, less crowded and more economical experience.

 

11 Pay Attention to Newsletters
Subscribe to e-mails from your favorite airlines to find out about last-minute flight deals. Third-party sites, such as Airfarewatchdog, Scottscheap flights, and the paid service DealRay will also help you find cheap fares.

12 Be Open to the Unexpected Google Flights'
Destinations feature lets travelers plug in their preferred travel dates— starting with the current day—and get a list of dozens of destinations that have the best airfare specials.

13 Have a Complete Plan
Be careful not to book too fast, suggests Julie Danziger, director of luxury travel services at Ovation Vacations. Don't grab a great deal on a flight before securing your hotel—especially when traveling during high season. "Too often, travelers book one part of their trip in a rush, only to discover that the other components don't fall into place," she says.

14 Steer Clear of the Business Crowd
To get the best deals on last-minute fares, avoid Friday evenings and Monday mornings, when business travelers, who often pay premium rates, are frequent fliers. You're most likely to find low fares when traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

15 Pack Smarter
Type in your destination, trip length and purpose of travel into the handy PackPoint app, and a customized packing and luggage checklist will be created just for you. PackPoint takes into account the weather, potential activities and business events while you're away, and can also connect to TripIt and Evernote.


DRIVING

16 Try a Sharing Service
Car-sharing service Zipcar parked its first Asia-based outlet in Taipei in June 2016, while Car2Go, owned by Daimler, has launched in seven Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Haup, based in Bangkok, has a fleet of cars bookable directly through their app.

17 Search for Car-Rental Coupoons
If you're heading on a spontaneous road trip, you'll find that many agencies routinely offer discount codes on their sites, usually for fully prepaid rentals. A recent Hertz promotion shaved 15 percent off the base rate. Check to make sure that the offer is valid at your rental location before booking.

18 Use a Discount Aggregator
While car-rental companies will sometimes offer significant discounts on unreserved cars, check out aggregator sites, too. Carrentals.com has some of the best deals, and it allows you to sign up for price-drop alerts.

19 Cast a Wider Net
Renting a car at the last minute in a major city is notoriously expensive, especially on weekends. Consider taking public transportation to the suburbs, where name-brand agencies often charge less.

20 Rent Your Car to (and from) Others
Rather than pay for long-term parking, let your idle car earn you money while you travel by renting it out with a local service. Carshare.hk has more than 20,000 members in Hong Kong who rent cars from local car-owners, while Rent a Car Club is a peer-to-peer car-renting network based in Thailand.

WHERE
TO STAY

21 Contact Hotels Directly
Call and ask to speak to the manager or front desk (not the reservations line) to ask for the best available rate. First check the price listed online for your dates, then ask whether the hotel can do better.

22 Compare Online Prices
If you prefer to book online, "always compare rates quoted on aggregator sites and booking apps to those on a hotel's own site," says miles expert Dave Grossman. "I've seen some amazing deals, but have also seen cases where it would have been significantly cheaper to book directly with the hotel."

23 Take Your Chances
Travel sites like Hotwire and Priceline have offers for unnamed hotel properties (and car rentals) that aren't revealed until you commit to a purchase. Some of their best deals can arrive at the last minute. Put on your blindfold and leave it to fate—you can often be rewarded with as much as 60 percent off published rates.

24 Be Willing to Hotel-Hop
Consider packing light and staying at more than one hotel. Once you've arrived at your destination, upgrading to another property with steep day-of price reductions on vacant rooms can be cost-effective.

25 Enlist a Travel Agent
Sometimes a hotel's website will indicate no availability for your preferred dates, but a good consultant has the connections to get a last-minute reservation.

26 Become a Member
Online travel agencies, such as Booking.com, Expedia, Kayak, and Hotels.com, give their members extra savings of 10 percent or more on last-minute bookings.

27 Use an App
Find spur-of-the-moment hotel deals by using three great apps: HotelTonight can be used to book up to one week ahead of travel and has special Geo Rates that target users based on their GPS location, One:Night offers same-day bookings for dozens of luxury properties, and Secret Escapes has last-minute deals for upscale hotels—sometimes as much as 70 percent off published rates.

28 Go Off-Peak
Some cities have visitor patterns that you can work to your advantage. Seaside spots will be popular for local weekenders, so cheaper to book during the week. If you plan on visiting Asia during Lunar New Year, make sure you book well in advance to beat the celebrating crowd.

29 Install Honey
The Web-browser extension Honey searches the Internet for promo codes to help you save on retail sites such as Amazon, Target and Macy's. Its launched travel site (honey.travel) offers exclusive discounts of up to 55 percent on hotels.

 

#30
Bargain With Your Host
When booking on Airbnb, you're dealing directly with the property owner (or renter), and rates can be negotiable, especially if you're traveling at the last minute. While lowballing could misfire, a reasonably discounted offer might score you some savings.


DINING

31 Follow the Crowd
When in doubt of where to eat, the best indication of a local hotspot is a crowded restaurant or queue outside the door. Join the line and ask the people in front for their menu must-eats.

32 Use Dining Apps
A spontaneous trip means you'll likely be unable to get reservations at the city’s hottest restaurants. Openrice is the go-to booking app for reservations in dozens of places around Asia, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Macau, China, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines.

33 Go Early for Dinner
Walk-ins are often accommodated late in the afternoon, and reservations at buzzy restaurants are more plentiful then, too. "Plus you'll experience a more leisurely meal," says Caroline Potter, chief dining officer at OpenTable, "and the restaurant is less likely to have run out of any specials."

34 Ask Your Concierge
Hotel concierges have the connections to help you score a table at the most sought-after restaurants. Even if they can't fulfill your wildest dreams, they will have suggestions for little known or up-and-coming hot spots.

35 Sign Up for Discounts
Whether or not you receive Groupon's subscriptionbased offers in your home city, taking advantage of its dining deals in your destination is an easy way to help with the cost of your vacation. Southeast Asia's Fave offers deals throughout Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

36 Consider Breakfast or Brunch
Instead of dinner, a meal earlier in the day could be the next-best thing. Michelin-starred Singapore restaurant Forest, helmed by celebrity chef Sam Leong, is also open for breakfast, with walk-ins welcome.

37 Sit at the Bar
If you can't nab a table at your desired restaurant, consider seats at the bar or the chef’s counter. Sometimes bar seats even have privileges like special menus with better pricing. Also make friends with the bartender, who might be able to tell you about off-menu dishes.

38 Embrace Tuesday as the New Saturday
"When you dine midweek, there's more availability, and the restaurant will appreciate your business. I have a restaurant-owner friend who always says, 'If you want to show me how much you love my restaurant, show up on a Tuesday, not a Saturday when we're slammed.' " —CAROLINE POTTER, OPEN TABLE

CRUISING

39 Be Aware of What You're Getting
Not all cruise fares are all-inclusive, so double-check to see what's excluded. Alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, and shore excursions may be extra. A very cheap cruise might seem attractive— until you add it all up. In the end, a pricier cruise might be a better option.

40 Keep Checking Prices
If you find your cabin offered for a lower rate after you've paid for it, call the cruise company to see if it will refund you the difference. At the very least, they may give you a shipboard credit.

41 Call a Travel Agent
As cruising has grown in popularity, many ships now sell out months in advance. But an industry specialist will have close ties with reservation managers. Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises Etc., says, "We know whom to call if we need something last-minute, because sometimes the cruise lines hold back cabins for last-minute issues."

42 Confirm Your Cabin Choice
When booking at the last minute, you may have to take whatever accommodation is available. But if you want a specific cabin, "make sure your confirmation shows the room number. Sometimes it will say 'GTY,' which means 'guarantee' for a specific category, such as ocean-view or interior room or balcony," says Liz Sadie Sutton, president of Alabama World Travel.

43 Download the Cruise Finder App
Though it's best to book cruises well in advance, this app from iCruise has a deals feature for last-minute sailings. A recent search shows us a five-night cruise in Vietnam with Royal Caribbean in an ocean-view room for US$507 per person, just a week ahead of travel.

 

#44
Be Alert to Price Drops
The cruise lines' websites and social media are a timely place to look for deals, as they will slash prices to fill the boat. Also check CheapCaribbean, and follow Last Minute Cruises on Twitter for fare sales. You can also track fare fluctuations on Cruise Critic's Price Drop feature, and sign up for notifications.


ACTIVITIES

45 Trust the Locals
If you're traveling on a whim, chances are you haven't had time to properly research the must-do activities in your destination, let alone where to shop, take the kids to a playground, or find a babysitter. Don't hesitate to ask shop owners and waiters for recommendations. And if you're staying in an Airbnb property, your host can be an invaluable resource.

46 Hire a Stylist for House Calls
If you've flown on short notice to, say, a celebration or work event and you need your hair, nails or makeup done, Vanitee is a Singapore beauty app that connects you to local hair stylists, makeup artists and nail technicians that you can book in an instant, and can even have come to your hotel or Airbnb.

47 Book a Private
Tour Tickets to popular attractions, such as the Sagrada Família, in Barcelona, or Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, in Milan, can sell out weeks in advance. You may still be able to gain access by booking a private tour, says Michael Brozek, a destination manager for American Express Travel. Context Travel, which operates in more than 40 cities globally, gives private tours and can access many top attractions.

48 Look on Social Media for Discounts
Follow your favorite tour operators, hotels and airlines on social media, where they'll often post flash sales and last-minute deals. "If space becomes available in a popular destination, we'll share the opportunity with our social community first," says Abercrombie & Kent founder Geoffrey Kent. Also search Twitter for "last minute travel deal."

49 Rent Your Own Yacht Nowboat is an online marketplace for thousands of sea adventures around the world, and a convenient place to look for yacht charters, snorkeling trips and boat tours. Airbnb also offer water-based rentals, from traditional Indonesian phinisi boats in Bali to luxury catamarans off Thailand's most picturesque beaches.

 

#50
Look for Cancellations
Group-tour operators, such as Abercrombie & Kent, Butterfield & Robinson and Wild Frontiers, often have openings at the last minute. Expeditions to bucket-list destinations often sell out far in advance, but check for cancellations, especially around the holidays.

 


Compiled by TALIA AVAKIAN, ELOISE BASUKI, CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, MELANIE LIEBERMAN, JESS MCHUGH, JOHN SCARPINATO, EMMA STONEAL, CHRISTOPHER TKACZYK AND SHIVANI VORA.

Illustration by Chotika Sopitarchasak.

 

 

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Illustration by Chotika Sopitarchasak.
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