How to Save Up to Half off on Flights by Booking Less Than 24 Hours From Departure

PHOTO: Courtesy of André Balazs’ Sunset Beach

Fly last-minute and cheap!

Have you spent longing hours scouring the internet for a flight to a destination that makes you feel free from everyday life? This freedom is especially needed during major holidays when it seems like everyone with vacation time is turning their official day(s) off into a week-long getaway. While this is good for the traveler who is used to booking their holiday vacation well in advance, where does it leave the last-minute traveler? Either stuck in their home city or suffering from buyers’ remorse after paying an inflated ticket price.

Rest assured, finding deeply discounted fares during high flying season is possible with these six search hacks that will ensure your up-to-the-minute travel plans can take flight without paying an arm and a rent payment.

Fly on the Fly

Since most travelers give up on searching for flights within days of travel, the demand for fares within 24 hours of a departure time drops significantly. This is when you want to set an email alert for said day of travel. Leaving the suggested departure window open allows the search engine enough flexibility to provide you its lowest offer, which can mean taking off at a time not often preferred by many—midday and early evening. With available inventory—albeit limited—still to sell, unbelievable last-minute deals still exist, and can shave off up to half a flights’ ticket price and deliver it right to your inbox.

INSIDER TIPBecoming a member of a travel website provides you with customized flight deals delivered to your inbox according to your history of search preferences.

Buck the Trend

Being a last-minute flight booker means your skills at searching for fares are most likely adept. However, if you’re looking for a flight at the times published studies suggest for optimizing fares, this is not a good strategy. These deals are still conditioned on high-volume traffic by travelers like you and won’t scratch the surface of discounts you could potentially experience. The real hack is to choose unconventional search times in your time zone, like after midnight thru predawn, on Saturday nights when experienced seekers are enjoying their social life, and on Monday mornings when the working force is more concerned with starting the work week off right, than surfing for flights.

Cookies Are Bittersweet

INSIDER TIPChanging the time zone on your computer to a few hours ahead of your real time can trick your algorithm into thinking that your departure time is sooner than it actually is, delivering you an even deeper discount.

When you repeatedly return to travel sites to check on a fare, the website’s algorithm will produce flight prices with minimal change in price. However, once search demand drops, this is the time to clear your cache of its cookies. Your computer will now assume that your search for a flight is new. This new search will provide you with offers that are related to your impending flight and compare them to present search demand which will be significantly lighter. The closer to your departure time you repeatedly look–preferably between 12-20 hours before departure—the more likely that these recent cookies will deliver you a deal on unsold inventory that airlines are looking to sell with the hope you’ll fall hook, line and sweeter.

Book Blind

The luxury of booking flights in advance is the ability to know exactly when you’re taking off and landing. But, if you can suspend the need for this knowledge and allow yourself an open window of travel time that’s less than 24 hours from your booking, then the express deals that guarantee departing and returning flight windows can work to your advantage. Usually, these deals pop up after you visit search engines that advertise cheap, last-minute deals that you subsequently abandon because the published fares are still too high. These blind deals show you your approximate travel window times, flight savings, as well as what you’re allowed for carry-on and checked bags. This way, you’re not left in total mid-air about what this deeply discounted fare allows and restricts.

Travel Light

Last-minute fares favor the smart and light traveler who can board with a carry-on and unchecked bag. Of course, there’s a ton of must-haves you want to pack for your getaway like those name brand dad shoes, or the leather jacket that’s a statement piece but really far too hot for the climate you’ll be in. While you may not have your fare up to two weeks in advance, you most likely already know that you want to go somewhere. Begin planning what you’ll pack as soon as you decide a trip is in your foreseeable, last-minute flight future, so that unnecessary luggage doesn’t turn into costly baggage.

Think Like a Salesman

In sales, the first offer isn’t always the best or even the last. This is true even when it comes to searching for flights in the final hours before departure. Be patient and give yourself up to three times to search for a flight within a 24-hour window from when you would like to depart. Conducting searches every two hours can yield great results.

INSIDER TIPChanging the preferred airport of departure to a close alternate during your search can reset your algorithm to deliver you results unlike previous searches and result in a better fare.