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How to get cheap last-minute flights and find the best deals online

Where to look and how to book: our guide to getting a cheap last-minute flight deal online

Gone are the days where you could show up at an airport, hover around a check-in desk and score a last-minute flight deal to somewhere exotic. While standby seats still exist (airlines will always have spare seats on some routes), tickets are now allocated only to people who have already paid for a ticket and want to fly earlier or later, or to airline industry staff. No longer the spontaneous adventure it once was, buying last-minute flights at the airport can be staggeringly expensive.

But book online at the right time and you can still take advantage of substantial price drops on last-minute flights. Cheap tickets are definitely there if you know when and where to find them. We’ve put together a few tips and tricks to help you find the best last-minute flight deals for your next escape.

READ NEXT: How to get cheap train tickets online

Are flights cheaper last minute?

As with train fares, booking flight tickets on the day of travel can leave you with a massive dent in your wallet. But booking early doesn’t guarantee the best deal either. Airlines constantly change their rates to ensure they’re filling as many seats for as much money as possible.

The best time to book will depend on when you need to travel. If you need to fly on specific dates, it’s best to book your tickets in advance. Prices tend to be at their lowest around 50-60 days before departure, and if you’re looking to fly in a peak period such as a school holiday or over a bank holiday, it pays to nab tickets as soon as they’re released (usually 9-12 months before departure). But if you’re flexible with your travel arrangements, you can make substantial savings by holding out for a last-minute price drop.

Our top tips for finding a cheap last-minute flight deal online

1. Be flexible with your destination and your departure airport

If you want to jet off in the next few days and are completely open about where to go, check out Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature. Just add the dates you want to travel and enter the destination “Everywhere” to sift through flights from an airport of your choice. Checking hundreds of routes in one go, this time-saving tool then lets you hone your search based on the cheapest routes. As an added bonus, it lets you filter destinations by some emoji-illustrated filters too including beach, foodie, romantic and cheap living. Consider widening your search even further by adding a geographical area to the departures field rather than a specific airport, such as “London (Any)” rather than specifically Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Luton, Stansted or Southend. Alternatively, you can tick the “Add nearby airports” box. Kayak’s Explore feature offers a similar service.

Book via Skycanner Book via Kayak 

2. Consider booking a seat on a charter flight

Low-cost airlines aren’t necessarily the best option for low-cost last-minute flights. Their pricing strategy is geared up to take advantage of passengers that need to travel on specific routes at the last minute, so you’re likely to get stung if you leave things too late. Charter flights, on the other hand, work on the basis that a holiday operator has booked an entire plane to transport holidaymakers on package deals. The operator will then look to sell off any excess seats at a heavily reduced price to flight-only passengers. It’s worth keeping an eye on companies such as TUI as they often have deals on long-haul routes to destinations like Florida and the Caribbean.

Buy now from TUI fly

3. Sign up for deals

Let the deals come to you. Stay on top of flash sales, new flight launches and last-minute discounts by signing up to newsletters and alerts from airlines and deals publishers such as Skyscanner, Cheapflights, Travelzoo and HolidayPirates. Skyscanner’s newsletter highlights cheap flight deals of the week (including last-minute departures), and Travelzoo sends Newsflash emails about particularly strong flight deals from your local airport. Holiday Pirates sends a “deal of the day” via WhatsApp, which means you can jump on a last-minute flight deal as soon as it’s released. It’s definitely worth following your favourites on Twitter and Facebook for tip-offs about price drops and sales. Airlines need to ensure a certain amount of availability before launching a site-wide promotion, so they’re more inclined to promote one-off deals and savings to their social media followers only.

Sign up to Skyscanner’s newsletter Sign up to Travelzoo’s newsletter

4. Get ready to pounce on deals on a Tuesday afternoon

Set aside a little time on a Tuesday afternoon to take advantage of any last-minute flight deals that will be released for that coming weekend. By this point in the week, airlines tend to know if their weekend departures are fully booked or whether they need to slash prices in order to sell off their remaining seats. Flight sales are also typically launched on a Monday, so competitors will often drop or match prices on a Tuesday.

5. Set up a price alert

For a low-maintenance last-minute flight search consider setting up a price alert and let someone else do the grunt work. If you have a rough idea about where you want to travel to and when you want to go (presumably in the next couple of weeks), you can set up an alert via Skyscanner. The site will keep tabs on a specific route and tip you off about price drops so that you can pounce on a good deal. You can set up different alerts to monitor the same route on different dates to see when’s cheapest to travel. You can do the same thing on Google Flights, Kayak, Airfarewatchdog and Kiwi to cover all bases.

Sign up for a Skyscanner price alert  Sign up for a Kiwi price alert

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