How to get a good last-minute travel deal
Budget-minded travelers often plan their vacations months in advance so they can find the best deals.
But if you’re yearning for a last-minute summer or early fall getaway, there’s good news: Fuel prices are relatively low, and you can find good deals on airfares, as long as you know where to look. You have more options for places to stay, too.
Kiplinger expects gas prices to run about the same this summer as last — fluctuating between a national average price per gallon of $2.80 and $2.85 through the summer months and declining a bit after Labor Day. Wild cards in the forecast include a hurricane disrupting refineries on the Gulf Coast or OPEC and Russia failing to agree to maintain their current oil production quota.
To plan your trip, budget for gas and find current gas prices along your route, use AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner or the AAA Mobile app (both are free, with a couple of features available to members only).
Finding low airfares
Despite the temporary grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max planes, you can find deeply discounted airfares this summer, thanks to lower-cost jet fuel, according to Tracy Stewart, content editor of airfare-deal site Airfarewatchdog.com. Stewart has seen round-trip fares from the U.S. to Barcelona as low as $280 and to China for less than $400.
Don’t rely solely on the big travel sites — such as Expedia, Google Flights, Kayak and Orbitz — to get the best deal. Airlines have enhanced their websites and apps in an effort to sell directly to customers, said Brian Sumers, senior aviation business editor at Skift.com, a travel industry news site.
You also risk overlooking some good fares: Southwest lists only on its own site, and United Airlines has threatened to stop doing business with Expedia Group on September 30.
To get the best fares, sign up for fare alerts, compare prices on the search sites, and then book directly through airlines’ websites. Be flexible on dates and destinations. Midweek flights can cost hundreds of dollars less than weekend flights.
If you’re flying to Europe, you could save money by focusing on getting across the ocean as cheaply as possible — say, to London or Barcelona — then book a secondary flight on a budget regional carrier to your destination.
Hotels and home stays
Though you can find good deals on international airfares, you may get the best deals on lodging by staying closer to home. Lodging prices domestically are expected to rise only 2% to 2.5% from last year, according to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group. Whereas Global Business Travel Association and Carson Wagonlit Travel expect lodging prices in the Asia-Pacific region to rise by 5.1% and Western Europe by 5.6%.
If you like the idea of staying in a home rather than a hotel, but want more amenities than the typical home-sharing services like Airbnb or VRBO offer, you have a new option.
In April, Marriott launched Homes & Villas by Marriott International, with 2,000 premium and luxury homes in the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. Book through HomesandVillasbyMarriott.com. Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program members will earn points and can redeem them, too.
[Ed. Note: To book a hotel last-minute, try Hotwire.com, a free website that allows you to book a hotel in a particular area for a deeply discounted rate. Although you won’t know exactly which hotel you got until you pre-pay, you can choose the exact area and category, e.g., a four-star hotel in Times Square. Of course, you can also call the front desk of any hotel and ask for last-minute rooms by phone.]
© 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.