Where and how to get cheap last minute flights?

If you are a flexible and spontaneous traveler and you are looking to snap up a flight deal it’s well worth considering last minute flights in order to get the best price. In that case, it’s good to keep some considerations in mind. In this post we’ll have a look at some of these considerations and l’ll also try to share with you some tips on how to bag a last minute flight deal.

Booking last minute can be cheaper sometimes, but not always.

First of all, last minute flight tickets don’t always get cheaper. Conversely, at times they can be very expensive. This depends on each airline: some airlines drop their air fares before departure in case there are still many seats empty, whereas others don’t. For example, in case there are still many seats empty some airlines still keep the price high trying to get as much revenue as possible from each single seat in order to maximize the yield and reach the financial target for that specific flight.

Although the logic of airline pricing is not always easy to understand, it seems that the main rationale behind this choice is that airlines assume that people flying last minute need to fly and therefore are ready to pay a higher price.

In some cases, when the capacity of an aircraft (the so called Passenger Load Factor) is still very low in the very last few weeks before departure, airlines might even cancel the flight putting the travelers who have already bought a ticket for that flight on another flight.

Getting last minute flights off-line: standby flight tickets.

The traditional way of getting last minute flight deals is called “Standby”. This consists of waiting at the airport up to an hour before the departure to see if a place gets released on a certain flight. You don’t know whether you will get into that flight or not until the very last moment. That’s why, as the word suggests, you are kept on stand-by mode until literally the last minute.

Uncertainty and discomfort are the price you have to pay to get a cheaper fare. Sometimes, if you are lucky and a seat becomes available on the next departing flight, you are able to grab a very good deal without too much hassle. Some other time though, and more often than not, this means waiting for an available seat for hours and hours and, in many cases, even sleeping at the airport to catch a flight the next day. In this case, it seems that the last minute flight deal comes quite costly, at least in terms of comfort.

Back in the days, standby flying was quite popular, but these days not so. Nowadays most airlines do not offer standby to the general public but only to the members of their staff and their staff’s families and, sometimes, friends. Generally, standby is also reserved for travellers who missed their flight, for those who are involuntarily bumped from their original flights, and for those who want to get on an earlier or later flight on the same day of their original scheduled flight.

In short, for most of you, unless you have a relative or friend working for an airline, standby won’t be an option to get a cheap last minute flight bargain.

Getting last minute flights on-line.

What about the more and more dominant online world? There are many websites which allow you to find flight tickets online. Some of the most well known online travel agencies (OTAs) include Expedia, Priceline, Opodo, GotoGate, Trip.com, and many others. However, none of these websites specifically offer last minute flights but just flights at anytime and from anywhere to everywhere. Even Lastminute.com, which judging from the name you would think that’s exactly what they offer, in reality they don’t. There you can find, among other products such as theatre and Spa tickets, generic flights just like any other OTA, but no last minute flight deals. 

SkyScanner and Google Flights, arguably the best metasearch engines, also called search aggregators, in the market, allow you to compare prices from different OTAs and also airlines, although they don’t issue flight tickets themselves like OTA, and obviously airlines, do. Similarly to the online travel agencies mentioned above, metasearch engines do not focus on last minute flights but scans the web for any flight you can imagine.

Currently the only online platform focused to last minute flights is Runtofly.co.uk, a new online startup which directly negotiates with airlines specifically for the unsold inventory, also called distress inventory, close to flight departure time (exactly 24 hours before departure) in order to get the best last minute fares. However, it is currently quite limited in terms of offering, since there you can find last minute flight deals out from UK only, at least for the time being. Thus, this will be an option only if you live in the UK.

Tips for Getting Last-Minute flight Tickets

The main variable impacting the chances to find a good last minute flight deal is whether you need to fly to a certain destination or not. In the former case, your options are limited and you would need to choose from a more limited offering.

In the unfortunate case that you need to fly with very short notice because one of your loved one living abroad has suddenly passed away, you should check directly with the airline, since some of them offer bereavement rates.

In case you are spontaneous and you simply want to get away without any specific destination in mind, then your options increase greatly and it is more likely to find some great last minute flight offer. The chances increase even more if you are flexible not only about your destination but also the about airport you’re flying from. This is definitely an exciting way to find yourself in a place or city that you’ve never thought to go, and in some cases, even heard of before.

Apart from platforms such as Runtofly where you can specifically find last minute flight offers, although from the UK only, there are not many particular tips to find a good last minute flight deal. Most of them are not any different from the usual best practices that you would need to follow when looking for a flight deal in general, not necessarily last minute.

Among some generic tips, first of all, it’s always better to fly in low season when the demand is lower and therefore the aircrafts struggle to reach full capacity. In that case, airfares tend to be cheaper. Second, sticking with the same principle, it is generally better to avoid weekends, especially Friday evenings, whereas you can find good deals on Saturdays instead. Third, it’s generally better to choose less appealing flying hours such us those terrible early hours of the morning. If you have woken up at 2am (if you actually were able to sleep at all…argh!!!) to catch up a 6am flight you know what I am talking about. Finally, you can choose to fly from peripheral airports instead of main ones. Low cost carriers, such as Ryanair, generally choose secondary airports, together with some anti-social flight times that I previously mentioned, as one of the mean to lower their fares.

As for tips more specific to last minute flight, as said, there aren’t many. Among the few ones, first of all, it is also worthwhile to follow your favourite airlines signing up for their newsletters or following them on their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). Sometimes that’s where they announce last minute sales and promotions. In particular, charter airlines sometimes have empty seats left and they’ll let their subscribers know first.

One other thing you could do, in case you have a specific destination in mind is to sign up for price alerts with metaserach engines and marking a flight you are interested in. If you’re ready to take the gamble and wait for it, the price might drop just before departure.

Finally, although this applies more to holiday packages, you could specifically look for cancellation holidays. Some travel companies sell off their package trip at the last minute for a massive discount when their customers can no longer travel.

I hope these few tips will help you make the most from your last minute flight shopping!

About the author

Federico is the founder of Runtofly, a new online travel startup where flexible travellers can find last minute flight deals within 24 hours before departure.

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