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Get Cheap Flights Last Minute
If you've ever tried to book a flight at the last minute, you've probably experienced the same frustration that many of us face. Ticket prices are usually high compared to advance bookings, and availability can be very limited (if not impossible to find). Airlines are happy to charge top dollar to people who have no choice but to travel on short notice, whether it's for a family emergency, a sudden business trip, or even a chance for a spontaneous getaway.
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Fortunately, there are steps you can take to save money on last-minute flights. Having miles and points from the best travel credit cards helps, and knowing where and how to book can sometimes make the difference between an affordable trip and a painfully expensive experience.
With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can save money on last-minute flights. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)
Before you start researching how to book a last-minute flight, it's important to get a basic understanding of what airlines charge for your current route and date. Google Flights is a great resource, as you can search for the cheapest tickets on multiple airlines at once. You never know when you'll get a cheap ticket.
Google Flights is also handy if you've found yourself pressed for time and unsure of your destination, or if you've had to wait until the last second to book a vacation due to schedule uncertainty. They have a handy search function where you can see a map of all the places you can go from your airport - just put in your dates and the maximum price you want to pay.
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Note that some low-cost airlines (such as Southwest) won't show up on Google Flights, so you'll need to search for those airlines separately on their websites. Read our post on how to use Google Flight Search like a pro.
If you're one of those rare travelers who can travel very lightly, you could make a fool of yourself by flying low-cost airlines like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, WestJet, etc. You get what you pay for with these carriers - and so do you. don't get what you don't pay for. Many budget airlines charge extra for things like:
As long as you familiarize yourself with these fees before you fly, you have nothing to worry about. Even if you opt for an expensive checked bag, you can still save a fortune on major airlines. Just check the price of your ticket and any hidden fees before jumping on a cheap ticket.
Airports can have dramatically different ticket prices. In some cases, a nearby airport (or destination) will sell tickets hundreds of dollars cheaper. Pays the price of the surrounding airports. When searching for other airports, Google Flights lets you search multiple routes at once.
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Search for flights from one or two of the nearest airports. You may be able to save a lot if you drive a little further. For example, if you are searching for cheap flights from Lexington to Tampa, you can enter multiple airports in the departure and destination fields.
You will then be taken to a results page that automatically shows you the cheapest ticket for each permutation of origin and destination. In this case, Cincinnati to Clearwater is $90 cheaper than Lexington to Tampa. You'll have to weigh up whether the extra ride is worth the money — but if you're traveling with the family, the $90 per person savings can add up.
You can also click on "Airports nearby" at the top of the page if you don't know what other airports are around your destination.
While we always recommend booking award flights as early as possible to get the most availability, you may not know that some airlines release additional award seats closer to the departure date. Don't assume you won't be able to get an award flight just because you're traveling at the last minute.
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MMS editor Jasmin used airline miles to book a flight at the last minute. His father's relative died unexpectedly and the ticket to Calgary for the funeral was over $500 at the last minute. That's a lot of money for an elderly person on a fixed income, and it may not go away. But luckily there were plenty of seats available, so she bought 15,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles for her ticket and was able to go, which meant a lot to her.
Meghan redeemed 25,000 United Airlines miles for a last-minute round-trip ticket for her sister when she realized she had a few days off to visit family before starting a new job. That same ticket sold for more than $700, and Meghan was able to quickly transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines to book the flight.
Note: If you have certain Chase United Airlines credit cards, you'll get access to more available United Airlines seats - even if it's the last seat on the plane. This includes cards like the United℠ Explorer Card.
The above examples provide another good reason to collect transfer points. You're not locked into a specific airline, so if you suddenly need to book a ticket, you can move your points to the frequent flyer program you need if an award seat is available. Here are the best transfer point programs and their partners:
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If you're having trouble finding a seat, be sure to check out award flights on Southwest and JetBlue. With both of these airlines, as long as there is a seat for sale on the plane, you can book it with points. Note that the price of the award is tied to the price of the paid ticket, so expensive last minute tickets will cost more points. It's always worth it if you absolutely have to get on a specific flight.
Don't be discouraged if you can't find premium seats - all is not lost if you have flexible bank points in your arsenal. You can still buy miles and points for paid flights when you book tickets through the bank's travel portal, or in some cases directly with your card.
The easiest way is to use a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to pay for the ticket. Once the transaction has posted to your account, you can use your miles to "clear" the charge over time. And it works for almost all airlines - even low-cost carriers. Read our complete guide on how to use Capital One miles.
With this card, your miles are worth 1 cent each on paid trips. There is no minimum redemption amount if you use Capital One Venture miles (unless you use the miles to pay for part of the fare, in which case the minimum is 2,500 miles or $25).
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You can use Capital One Venture miles to cancel airline fees on your card, even on low-cost airlines. (Photo: Spirit Airlines)
You can get more than 1 cent of value per point if you have certain cards and use your points to buy airline tickets through a bank travel website like the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or the Citi ThankYou Travel Portal. This is my favorite method, as it has no blackout dates and can actually get you a better deal than transferring points to an airline to book a premium flight if the ticket isn't expensive. It's easy to do and works just as well as third party websites like Orbitz or Expedia.
Million Mile Secrets independently collected the information for Chase Freedom. The card information on this page has not been reviewed or provided by the card issuing company.
I assigned a random one-way bus flight between Indianapolis and Orlando. On the Chase Travel Portal, the cheapest ticket is an American Airlines flight for $81, or 6,488 Chase points (with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card). The same flight would cost 10,000 American Airlines miles - so you're effectively getting the flight for 4,500+ points less.
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Be sure to compare the flight prices you found on Google Flights with the prices on the bank's portal. They're usually the same, but if they're not, it's worth calling to see if you can get the same price.
You can also redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for airline tickets through the Amex Travel portal at a rate of 1 cent per point. But here's another neat trick to save you money (and points) if you have the Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
This benefit can really soften the blow of having to pay for an expensive last minute ticket with points.
Here's another angle if you have certain Delta Amex cards, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. Cardholders can redeem their Delta miles through Pay With Miles at a rate of 1 cent per mile for tickets paid for. It's convenient if you can't get award seats, but you'll spend a lot of miles on expensive tickets.
These 10 Useful Tricks Will Find You Cheap Last Minute Flights
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