how to book last-minute travel cheaply

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After declaring last year the “year of travel” (successfully,) I was really trying to put the brakes on it this year and instead focus on paying my student loans way down and building up my savings. That hasn’t quite panned out – I’ve taken two last-minute trips back home to Michigan, and also impulse bought a flight to Boston ($150 round trip to see my bestie? Yes please!) But this year I’m only doing it where my budget feels comfortable. On my last (very important) trip home, I wasn’t going to go unless I found a flight under $300. I ended up finding a really great deal and four days later, I was in the air. Here are some of the tips I’m using to travel for less this year!

  • plan ahead: for a “last minute” travel post, this may be counter-intuitive, but it’s easy to do! Rewards cards are a great way to stock away travel points for hotels or airlines. My favorites are the SPG Preferred card from American Express (I used the points earned on this card to book a hotel for a last-minute trip to Memphis the day we rolled in to town, and also booked two nights free in Denver for a music festival!) and the Chase Sapphire card, which is widely considered the best rewards card currently. There’s a nice bonus to start with, get double points on travel spending and restaurants, and when you redeem through their website, get an extra 20%. I’ve used these points for a flight to Chicago and four nights in a New York hotel!

you're the worst chase sapphire

  • Hipmunk: I always use Hipmunk to get a good idea of what flight prices look like around the time I want to travel before I check out airlines like Southwest directly (they don’t post their flights on search services like Priceline, Orbitz, or similar websites.) The other day I found a Chicago to Nashville flight for $38.10!
  • Priceline Name Your Own Price: when my grandma passed a few months ago, I booked a flight using this option for the first time. You don’t get to choose your flights, they’re automatically assigned by the airlines based on what flights are undersold, but I got 40% off the trip that way. They have different travel options for this – I really like this feature for hotels and rental cars as well. My best score was a rental car for $8 a day vs. the $25+ it would have been booking directly.
  • budget airlines: airlines like Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant are great on the budget, but tend to fly out of pretty limited airports. If there’s one close to you, it can be cheaper to drive a bit farther to one of these airports to catch a cheap flight (but be aware of any extra fees like checked bags, carry-ons, or pre-selecting seats on the plane.)

These are a couple ways I’ve cut down on travel spending this year – what are your best travel hacks?