Cheap Flights at the Last Minute

April 8, 2010

Are cheap flights and last minute airline tickets a total contradiction?  Can you really get cheap tickets when you book your airfare the day before you leave?

I have to travel unexpectedly this weekend so I spent hours last night looking for airline tickets online. It seems the closer you get to the day of your flight, the higher the prices of the plane tickets.  I’ve heard of people getting last minute deals on flights but what I’ve found is that you have to be pretty flexible to get those discounts.

Cheap Flight Search

I started off on airline ticket websites like Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak and ran the same search on each of them.  Then I compared the results of each using the search filters they offer like arrival & departure time, number of connections, layover time, and of course price.  Then once I found the best flights I’d also jump over to that airline’s website and check out the deals they offered there.

Travel Website Deals

The nice thing about the travel websites is that they make it easier for you to narrow down the cheapest flights that meet your criteria. However, the same flight and prices pretty much showed up on all the websites that I searched.  Most of the good deals I was able to turn up involved being really flexible about when you flew. 

For example, Priceline offered a combined flight and car rental for $422 when the cheapest all the other sites where selling the same aireline tickets for was a little over $600.  This caught my eye but I dug a little deeper because it seemed too good to be true. It turns out that you basically have no control over when you fly, the airline picks the flight for you:


“Your trip will start between 6am and 10pm on your travel dates.  Although we always look for non-stop flights first, flights may make up to one connection each way. Your exact flights and times will be shown to you once your purchase is complete.”

American Express Airline Rewards

My next thought was that perhaps I could get a deal going through the AmEx website and buying with my American Express Blue Cash card.  Turns out that the prices I found searching flights on their site were no different than the ones I found elsewhere online.  They do allow you to help pay for tickets with your rewards points but I get cashback on my Blue cash card, not rewards. 

American Express was offering a Delta SkyMiles promotion where you earned a 25,000 bonus for opening the card and $50 back when you bought your first airline ticket but I needed to get a seat right away.

Airline Coupon Codes

Since I wasn’t very flexible about the times that I could fly, it turns out that the best savings I could get on airline tickets at the last minute was by using a coupon code when I checked out. 

CheapoAir was offering a fixed discount when you bought a ticket through them and I was also able to find a CheapoAir coupon code that saved me another $15 on top of that.  So overall, I found that you can’t find cheap flights at the last minute unless you’re willing to be really flexible.  I guess the best way to get the cheapest airline tickets is to plan ahead!


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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