How to Find Cheap Last-Minute Holiday Flights

It’s no secret that airfare during the holidays is sky high and continues to steadily climb as the years progress. The Wall Street Journal reported in late October that Christmas week fares were 7.3 percent higher than they were in 2012.

With such bloated rates, how in the world are you supposed to go home for the holidays without going broke? We all know that great deals can be found when booking ahead, but do you have any alternatives when you wait until the last minute?

Why, of course you do!

Here are five ways to find cheap last-minute holiday flights without breaking the bank:

1. Comparison shop

Prior to booking, use an online search engine such as Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz or Travelocity to get an idea of how much flights are going for across the board. Once you have an idea of the most affordable rates, head over to the websites of the airlines to view their prices. Check to see if they have any holiday sales or promotions.

Once you’ve found your top choice, go ahead and book with the airline directly. The airline may offer a price adjustment benefit, typically in the form of a voucher minus a re-booking fee, if you notice that the ticket price declines after you’ve made your purchase.

2. Set up price alerts

A number of travel websites, including FareCompare, Airfarewatchdog, Yapta and CheapAir, offer tracking tools that alert you once your desired flight reaches an optimal price point. For all you Southwest Airlines fans, they offer this service through Ding. However, it is important to understand that you must be prepared to take advantage of the offer as soon as you are alerted because the seats usually don’t last long.

3. Mix and match

Even if you are a diehard fan of a particular airline, don’t be afraid to select different carriers for the departing and returning flights if the rates are lower. You may have to give up the television or Wi-Fi for a few hours, but switching it up a little may well be worth the cost savings realized in the end.

4. Be flexible

Even if you would really like to depart and arrive on a particular day, being open to other travel dates that vary slightly from your original itinerary can help reduce the cost of last-minute holiday airfare. When conducting your search, look for flights that are not popular with travelers, such as those that depart early in the morning or late at night, or have long layovers.

According to CheapAir.com, you should refrain from searching for flights on the Saturday and Sunday after Christmas or New Year’s Day. Instead, try looking for flights on the Monday leading up to or on the actual holidays, as the rates appear to be cheaper.

5. Consider alternate airports

While a small commute will probably be required to reach your final destination, it is possible to save a substantial amount of money by flying to smaller airports in outlying cities and catching the train or a cab upon arrival to be with your loved ones.

Of course, it may be tempting to sit around and wait until the last minute to snatch up an unfilled seat at a rock-bottom price. Unfortunately, this tactic is a thing of the past, and airlines are handling scheduling in the most economical way possible to cut costs and be more efficient.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Ariana Louis

    Hi Allison. I find your post to be full of usable facts. I travel a lot, so I know that it is ideal to book early. However, circumstances have a way of changing our plans. Don’t you think so? Your article is really helpful when there is an emergency. Because of emergency situations, we can’t easily book cheap flights online since the flights that we want are more often fully booked.