William Shatner may be best known to most Americans as STAR TREK’s Captain Kirk, but for a new generation he is instantly recognized as the Priceline Negotiator, appearing in a number of cheesy, over the top commercials hocking the last minute, budget minded travel site. Priceline was among the first of many similarly themed sites, offering steep discount on airline fares and hotel rooms nationwide.
It is an attractive concept. If you don’t mind some odd departure or arrival hours, you can typically pick up unsold airline seats or empty hotel rooms for a fraction of the normal price. The only downside is that to make it work you have to wait until the last minute to make your travel plans and you end up at the whim of whatever might still be available.
You don’t even need a middle man like Priceline to get a deal either. Airlines routinely offer empty seats at steep discounts, just to get them filled, make some money in the process, and entice customers to make that last minute weekend getaway.
Most major airlines offer these last minute sale days on Mondays through Wednesdays to accommodate travel for the coming week or so. Most of these last minute deals depart on Friday or Saturday and return on Sunday through Wednesday.
Many of the airlines will allow you to sign up for newsletters through which they announce such discount sales. Other travel related sites such as also makes similar announcements, which may actually be a better choice as they tally all of what is available and promote the best offers.
You should also be prepared to act when you find an attractive offer. Last minute specials are extremely popular and if you find a good option, chances are it will be gone if you so much as hesitate. Don’t start looking until you are prepared to make a purchase, and make the purchase once you have found the deal for you.
Familiarize yourself with flight patterns. If you watch long enough, you will notice that there are recognizable patterns when it comes to flights in and out of given cities on given days. Knowing which airlines serve your city, and on which days will really help you when it comes time to look for those lower price ticket bargains.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you might want to consider bundling an airfare/hotel package, an option that can save you considerable money. Websites come online almost daily offering last minute vacation packages, weekend, week long, air/hotel, air/car, hotel/extras, or whatever combination serves your needs.
You may also look to the services of a ticket broker or consolidator. This is someone who buys tickets in bulk and then resells them at drastically reduced prices, in some cases up to 70 percent. Brokers’ lowest fares typically become available the closer a given departure date approaches, in which case it is best to wait until closer to time before buying. Keep in mind that many of these flights may be on smaller or lesser known airlines.
Of course if you are a student, senior citizen, or traveling as a family, you may be eligible for discounts pertaining to your individual situation, ranging not only from airfare but also for car rental, hotel rooms, and any number of other activities. Families get discounts just for the number of people involved, and in many cases, kids may fly for free, or babies carried without having to purchase an additional seat.
Students (which typically refers to anybody under the age of 26), may also receive discounts on airfare, with many sites specializing in student travel, organizing hostel stays, museum visits, and even travel by rail if necessary.
If you are looking at an international flight, the same rules still apply. Book from 7 to 21 days in advance, travel during the middle portion of the week, and include a Saturday night in your schedule. The one difference is to make sure that you are aware of your destination’s high and low seasons, as this could make a difference in the thousands of dollars for your travel plans.
The economy is tight, and more of us are having to find new and creative ways to stretch our dollars and pinch our pennies. It may seem like living on the edge, but booking travel arrangements last minute is a viable and effective way to keep a few more bucks in your pocket.