Lucky you! You have an opportunity to travel at the last minute – or perhaps your boss is calling the shots and has a habit of asking you to jet to Dubai with just a few days’ notice. Last-minute travel booking is an art that isn’t for Nervous Nellies who need to assemble a travel wardrobe
, but if you happen to have a perpetual packing list in the only suitcase you own – and a good idea of how to pack in an hour and still look fashion-forward throughout your trip—this advice is for you.
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For traditionalists: Priceline.com
Once upon a time William Shatner took breaks from his iconic role of Starship commander to promote the granddaddy of quick-book websites: Priceline.com. He had a great reason to lend his persona to the site: He owned part of the action. Today, daunting competition has applied pressure on the last-minute flight deal industry, but you can still get “you snooze, you win” deals from this iconic resource.
Save up to 50-percent using the trademarked Name Your Own Price feature if you have 7 days’ advance notice to get where you’re going. The short menu of “recent last minute” flights are a crap-shoot since you have to be going to a specific destination to get a one-day turnaround at a price that doesn’t insult your wallet. Start here! Read the small print and testimonials if you have time to do so, and you could get a deal even Donald Trump would applaud.
For quintessential bargain hunters: CheapFlights.com
What’s the marketing plan behind CheapFlights.com? Appealing to a specific audience of online shoppers who like a home page that offers to help travelers “score a last-minute flight” and follows up with “How-to” tips that make readers feel as though webmasters really care about saving browsers money.
Roam the website menu to find the flight deal tab, but once you’re there, you’ll have to work to get your info, at which point, deals listed by aggregators like CheapOair and Smart Fares will pop up. On the day we explored this website, every flight required nearly two weeks’ advance notice to get the price breaks sought – not the best reward after working really hard just to navigate the website. On the other hand, use the Special Offers tab and you could strike gold!
For folks who are quirky: TravelZoo
Okay, these folks get right down to business by asking for specifics on the home page, at which point you’re in the game. We like that; there’s not a lot of copy, advice, and graphics to wade through, which explains why Travel Zoo boasts over 29 million members worldwide and all of them are eager to make travel plans on the fly.
Having filled in our parameters, we were re-routed, so to speak, to CheapOair, Travelocity, CheapTickets.com, LowCost Airlines, Expedia and Orbitz. Jeez. By selecting all sites, six plus pages popped up, all at the same time, offering too many options to consider without a spreadsheet. It’s called a super search. If you don’t mind being bombarded with web pages, there are so many choices on this website, you’ll do a happy dance.
For last-minute travelers craving simplicity: Kayak
Even the home page is soothing and easy to navigate, which may be why this pioneering aggregator remains popular. They’ve just added a tab for cruises, so you can book more than just flights using the clean, easy-to-access website. Cruises on kayak? A little nautical humor, we surmised.
Having been around the block (make that the stratosphere) for years, Kayak has had time to knock out the kinks and if you never know when an opportunity to leave post haste will strike, the “Kayak price alert” feature will become your closest travel companion. Start by signing up, and as soon as last-minute deals are posted by airlines, a note is sent to your computer, smartphone, tablet or whichever device you rely on to keep you in the loop. Done and done.
For sophisticates: Expedia
The telltale parade of flags representing nations around the globe at the bottom of the Expedia home page sends a clear message: We want to be your international last-minute travel resource. Site users can elect to have their data delivered in Spanish and Chinese and if you’re an app fanatic, there’s a way to get double points added to your Expedia travel account that offer even more incentive to travel on the fly.
You’ll have to join up to take advantage of all of these perks, which means your inbox is going to be inundated with marketing communications. Warning given, if being deluged with e-mail updates doesn’t faze you, make this your go-to booking source for both domestic and international last-minute travel arrangements.
For Expedia converts: Travelocity
Consider this last-minute travel hub to be the twin son of the same mother—the mother being Expedia. These two came onto the internet web scene in tandem and frequent users of Expedia find themselves equally at home on Travelocity. Even the graphics and home page layout look similar.
Create a personalized account for yourself and the “Travel deals” tab takes you to a daily menu of goodies, including member discount journeys that save you an additional 10-percent on hotels—assuming you intend to stick around. For purposes of transparency, you should know that Travelocity loyalists frequently admit to patronizing this site because they’re enchanted by the site’s spokes gnome!
For animal Lovers: AirfareWatchdog
AirfareWatchdog is the place you go when you’ve got a career to keep tabs on, pets to care for, and you haven’t a lot of time to mess around scrolling for a last-minute flight. Relatively new, AirfairWatchdog’s comical bulldog gives site visitors a touch of whimsy, but the good news is that the site is as uncomplicated as it gets.
Top fare specials from your homepage pop up immediately, and if you don’t want to sign up as a member, it’s not required. AirfareWatchdog’s claim to fame is that their staff is populated by real analysts, skilled at sleuthing out real deals, including those that go unpublished by carriers like Southwest. Frequent the site blog for additional recommendations and revel in the fact that this dog requires neither walks nor food to get you where you’re going.
For fun seekers: Hipmunk
If it takes very little to amuse you and you dig the AFLAC duck, talking dogs, and mischievous cats associated with TV commercials, the headline “Cheap flights…without the agony” accompanied by a cute chipmunk wearing aviator glasses could have you at hello. Simple, fun, cartoonish and affiliated with most players in the travel industry, sign up and you’ll be assigned a travel hipmunk eager to connect you to an endless variety of platforms, tips, advice (from the head chipmunk, naturally) and your own personal travel calendar.
Because this site is so app-driven, it’s a trendy and fun way to book your last-minute flights. Since Hipmunk is now on Facebook Messenger and Skype, you can access the Hipmunk Bot and chat away to secure bookings and get instant advice from the Hipmunk in charge if you’re up for conversing with a forest creature. FYI: No rabies booster required to frequent this comical resource.