Sometimes you need a break. Not next month, not even next week but more or less now. In fact, your left foot is already edging towards the front door.
And just imagine: What if this time tomorrow, instead of being stuck in your daily routine, you were busy packing your bags with a ticket-to-go? You’ve booked yourself an emergency weekend getaway and the next thing you know, you’re taking a dip in the Mediterranean.
THE ZEN OF LAST-MINUTE TRAVEL ESCAPE
Last-minute travel is as much a mindset as it is an opportunity to capitalise on some great down-to-the-wire deals. Granted, being based in a major travel hub such as London, Frankfurt or New York will inevitably give you more choice. But wherever you are, an adventure can be had – and it doesn’t mean you need to stick up your thumb and stand on a roadside.
I love the kick I get from booking a last-minute cheap trip. My work as a freelancer means that my weekly schedule is often varied and sometimes I end up with a few days off mid-week or have a sudden week’s holiday in-between projects. Making the most of last-minute travel has become a welcome by-product of this randomness.
But whether you’re a freelancer or a nine-to-fiver, the key element for snagging deals is an open mind – mainly in terms of destinations but also, to lesser a degree, timing. It all boils down to the simple logic of supply and demand as no airline or hotel wants their wares go unused.
This requires the bargain hunter to let go of preconceived ideas. If you’ve set your heart on a specific destination and nothing else will do, it’s unlikely you’ll get the best deal on offer. But keep your options open and you might be wolfing down that authentic Neapolitan pizza in no time.
WHAT IS LAST-MINUTE TRAVEL, EXACTLY?
In principal the definition of ‘last-minute travel’ is anything within 14 days. In my experience in Europe you can book flights as close as the day before and still not pay by the nose whereas in North America the sweet spot of reasonable last-minute bookings seems to land anywhere between a 4 to 10-day margin.
Same-day flights can shoot through the roof as the airlines prey on those forced to make a booking the very last moment. Though even here I’ve had luck with Easyjet, finding a same-day flight from London to Barcelona for £55 / $90 (excl. hold luggage) and finishing the night off with an ice-cold Estrella and some delicious tapas.
Affordable last-minute flights aren’t just the domain of low-cost carriers (such as Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizzair in Europe and Spirit in North America) – many traditional airlines offer deals too. Useful international sites to hunt for last-minute flights are AirFastTickets and SkyScanner. Scouring through Twitter can also yield results through hashtags such as #lastminutetravel.
BOOK YOUR HOTEL LAST-MINUTE, EVEN ON THE DAY
The best deals on hotels can be had the day before or on the day itself as the rooms that are available are more likely to remain so. The market is saturated by sites offering last-minute grabs, and of these, we’ve had luck with Laterooms and Trivago.
With Hotwire, instead of booking a specific hotel, you choose the star rating and then book a hotel within an area you want to be. You will only find out the hotel’s name after booking but you can often get yourself a great deal.
HAVE A GAMBLE!
Priceline offers a ‘Name Your Own Price’ option, which takes the drudgery out of bargain hunting by turning the booking process into a gamble. You begin by choosing a desired area followed by the minimum star rating. Finally, you need to name the price you’re willing to pay. If you aim too low, the hotels are likely to reject your offer, so you need to be both savvy and realistic. Each time your offer is rejected, the site / app requires you to increase the figure, thereby eliminating an endless barrage of unrealistic propositions.
We’ve had great luck with Priceline and at best we saved nearly $100 off the rack price for a night at a 4-star hotel in Calgary, Canada. But it’s also just good fun to wait and see whether your offer gets accepted or not. To gamblers’ delight, Priceline now provides the same option for booking flights.
ALL-IN-ONE VS. Mix’N’match
We tend to enjoy the freedom of mixing and matching travel methods (be it flying, driving or sailing) and accommodation. There are numerous ways to pull together a DIY last-minute travel escape. Apart from mobile phone apps, private holiday rental sites, such as HomeAway, can be nifty places for last-minute haggling (make an offer – the worst they can do is reject it). Airbnb is also a brilliant and often cost-effective way to find accommodation in just about anywhere in the world.
THE ARTFUL ROVER
Travel on the 11th hour is an art form rather than science. As soon as you think you’ve figured out the algorithm behind the perfect getaway deal, the rules appear to change.
Some experts recommend both travelling and making your bookings during the week (Tue-Thu) for cheap flights, others advise to include a Saturday in your hotel booking. We’ve had luck with a number of variations and it’s safe to say that as long as you keep an open mind about where you might end up, that last-minute travel escape could well be yours.