TIP: 5 Ways to Save on Last-Minute Holiday Travel

The last few weeks of the year tend to race by. Planning an affordable vacation or booking flights and hotels to join family and friends over the holidays might seem impossible now. BUT, there is still time. Procrastinators can land a great deal that doesn’t break the bank– Read more at: ConsumerReports.org

1. Be a Flexible Traveler
Shifting your travel dates by a day or two or flying early in the morning or late at night will often allow you to nab a much lower airfare. You might also find deals if you fly on a holiday. If you’re flexible enough to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, airfares can be 25 percent to 50 percent less.

If you’re traveling with a group, consider splitting up your party when you’re searching for deals. If you have four in your group and there are only two cheap seats available, online reservation systems will give everyone higher-priced seats. Instead, check the price for one, two, and three seats on a plane as well as for all four, then book accordingly.

2. Check Multiple Airports
When you use price-comparison or airline sites, specify the city you want to depart from, not the airport. Most sites will then show you the flight options for any of that area’s airports. A round trip from one of the airports is likely to be significantly cheaper than from others. For example, a recent search for nonstop round-trip fares from Los Angeles-area airports to Ft. Lauderdale on JetBlue (for its cheapest “Blue” seats) departing Dec. 23 and returning Dec. 27 varied from $630 to $960 (including taxes and fees).

3. Keep Tabs on Changes
There’s no one best time to buy airline tickets. Fares change almost by the minute. Bargains, even for last-minute travel, can appear at any time. Matthew Ma, co-founder of The Flight Deal, suggests becoming familiar with the prices for a trip you’re considering by signing up for daily price alerts through Google Flights or Kayak. “Every day you’ll get an alert to see what the price is, and if you see the price drop, you should buy,” he says.

4. Consider Heading Overseas
The winter months are the off-season in European travel hot spots such as London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, and Rome. It may be tough to find cheap flights, especially for last-minute travel, but deeply discounted hotel rooms may make paying a bit more for flights worthwhile.

TripAdvisor recently listed deals for a stay in London from Dec. 30 through Jan. 2 at $181 per night at the Grosvenor Hotel, and $217 per night for the Strand Palace Hotel. Kayak showed more than a dozen four-star hotels in Rome for about $100 per night for the same dates.

5. Haggle With Hotels
Only 28 percent of respondents to one of our surveys tried bargaining for better hotel room rates, yet 78 percent of those who did won an upgrade or a lower rate. Success rates were higher for people who haggled over the phone than for those who bargained in person.

Ask about unadvertised specials, free parking, or a different bed size or room location (for example, if it’s next to the laundry station). Some hotels may be willing to give you a last-minute travel deal if they have empty rooms.