How to Find a Cheap, Last-Minute Vacation

Maybe you’ve been extra busy this year, but suddenly you look up from the computer screen and notice summer slipping away. Can you still find a cheap (OK, cheapish) last-minute vacation? You can and it won’t take all that much work on your end. What will help: flexibility.

1. First, Find a Cheap Itinerary

There are cheaper days and cheaper dates to fly. Experiment with itineraries as you shop to find the best prices. Not surprisingly, you’ll notice that sometimes the more inconvenient the travel days and times are, the cheaper the airfare.

  • Fly these days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are usually the cheapest days for domestic travel. Weekdays are usually cheaper than weekends for international travel.
  • Fly this date: Delay your vacation or getaway trip until around Aug. 22 (or beyond) and you will likely see prices drop from peak summer pricing to cheaper fall fares.
  • Suggested itineraries: For week-long vacations, try flying Saturday to Saturday. For a shorter break, try Wednesday to Saturday or Saturday to Tuesday. As you shop, move the dates around, plus/minus three days and see what works best.

2. Look at Cheaper Destinations

One of the biggest reasons one destination is cheaper than another? Competition, competition, competition.

Cheap cities: These cities are famous for the number of airlines vying for your business and they include a significant discount airline presence: Boston, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami and Seattle.

Cheap routes: You can often find a deal on hub-to-hub flights that last about 90 minutes (give or take). These routes are also immune to the big price swings during expensive holiday periods. Some examples: Los Angeles/San Francisco; Dallas/Houston; Boston/New York.

3. Use a Cheap Destination-Finder Tool

If you’re not sure what’s cheap from your hometown, use an interactive deal finder; there’s one on my site but there are plenty of others out there and they’re easy to use. Just type in your hometown and the month or time of year you want to fly and – voilà – a bunch of cites and prices pop up, from nearby tourist magnets to Caribbean beaches and even global destinations. I’m confident you’ll find something cheap and charming. Here are some round-trip fares for travel in August, found July 11: Boston-Baltimore, $95; Los Angeles-Orlando, $183; New York-London, $456.

By the way, all those nice prices are for non-stop flights – but connecting flights can sometimes be cheaper, another instance of inconvenience making a trip cost a little less. Compare non-stops to flights with one or more stops and see if the savings are worth it to you. The Cheapest Way to Buy Two or More Airline Tickets will also help you save if you’re booking the family.

4. Find Ways to Shed Fees

Remember, you don’t know the total cost of your airfare until you add in all the fees and for most folks that means baggage. In most cases, you’ll avoid the $50 round-trip checked bag fee by using a carry-on. And since you’re the one hanging on to it, the airline won’t be able to lose it. Before you ding your credit card, figure out all fees you might need to pay and add them to the airfare; only then can you tell which carrier truly has the right deal for you. Airline Baggage Policies: What’s New, How to Save has more tips.

Now that you’ve got your deal, make the most of it. And don’t bring the laptop.