Route 66

Last Minute Travel

Last Minute Sites

Expedia: One of the Big 3 "transparent" travel sites, founded 1996, Expedia has an ever-changing inventory of flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises and packages. When you enter the name of the city from which you're traveling, a selection of deals will appear. Or you can book by entering your departure city and dates you wish to travel. Customize packages by selecting a different flight from the one originally offered and adding a rental car. The site also includes tips for getting the best deals - such as traveling to Las Vegas midweek and searching for low-flight Web fares, which are released on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for travel the upcoming weekend.

Priceline: Airfare, Hotels, Rental Cars & More!

Click on the banner above to visit Priceline.com. The granddaddy of the name-your-price game also is a good bet for last-minute planners. Click the Vacation Packages tab, then select Last Minute Packages from the Sample Our Favorite Finds menu.

Priceline and Hotwire are the clearance racks of the travel industry, featuring the "opaque" travel sites that won't tell you which company you're doing business with until you enter your credit or debit card number. Not the best choice for every trip, especially if you have your heart set on a specific hotel or if you must follow a set schedule. Cancellations are never allowed and changes are generally not an option. Advice and help for Priceline and Hotwire are available in the Betterbidding Forum.

Other Helpful Sites

That offer bargains for spontaneous travelers:

www.vacationstogo.com: Savings of up to 75 percent on last-minute cruises.

www.sidestep.com: This search engine lays out a smorgasbord of deals, domestic and international, from multiple providers to more than 3 million consumers each month. Click the Deals tab for TravelFinds - flights, packages and cruises - or subscribe to the e-mails newsletter.

www.smartertravel.com: This free subscription service offers weekly e-mail newsletters detailing last-minute Internet deals and the latest promotions. The site posts the latest fare sales, deals and special promotions daily along with travel advice.

www.travelzoo.com: Click on Last Minute Specials and specify your departure city to find some pretty amazing deals (like $45 per person for an all-inclusive resort in La Romana, Dominican Republic, from Fun Caribe).

www.last-minute-vacation-guide.com: Editors of this info-packed site, founded in 2003, do the work for you, sifting through last-minute travel and vacation deals from sites such as Orbitz, Cheap Caribbean.com and Hotels.com. Plus, travel coupons, tips on topics from packing to traveling with pets, advice on buying travel insurance at the last minute, passport renewal information and a currency converter.

Last Minute Tips, A Bakers Dozen

  1. A travel agent is the best resource for finding last-minute package deals, as they're kept abreast of many of the last-breaking discounts.

  2. Register online with several major airlines to be e-mailed bargain "e-fares" each week. Also log on to the major travel booking sites; just make sure to comparison shop by going to the airlines' own sites.

  3. For a hotel deal, visit the hotel chains' Web sites to look for getaway promotions or weekend specials.

  4. Call the individual hotel and ask if any specials, upgrades or lower rates are available.

  5. Be flexible. Sometimes departing a day earlier or later can make a big difference in airfare price. Travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays for the best deals. If it's a weekend getaway, save some cash by leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Sunday. (In general, try to avoid holidays.)

  6. Jump on it. When you see the right deal, book it quickly. Airline ticket prices can change within minutes. Coordinate scheduling and make other pre-travel arrangements before you search, so you can book your fare as soon as you see it.

  7. Broaden your horizons. Once you choose your city, be sure to search multiple neighborhoods to find the best deal.

  8. Go off the beaten path. You may find more bargains.

  9. When you see a good price, lock it in.

  10. Be creative. Travel in low season. Go to Las Vegas or the Caribbean in the summer for smaller crowds and better rates. Or go to Orlando when school is in session.

  11. Booking a vacation package is the best way to travel.

  12. Know what the price includes. A great last-minute deal doesn't mean you have to take a leap of faith by paying before you know the details - such as an unknown hotel or a less-than-desirable flight itinerary. Some sites give only a booking window (morning, afternoon, night) while others don't display the airline information until after you submit a credit card.

  13. Know your options. You never know when you might want to get away, so it's always best to be informed. Sign up for e-mail notices.