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My family recently took a vacation – that was all that was originally decided, that they were going somewhere. The timing and price were set, and they decided to wait and see where they would go. It’s a unique way to travel, certainly, but it turned out incredibly well for them.
With a bit of know-how, and the willingness to put in the leg work (or mouse work, if you will), you can find incredible deals on travel of all kinds – from airlines to hotels to rental cars. Companies realize they’re better off selling at a smaller profit than not filling the empty spaces. It’s better for an airline to fill every seat on a plane that’s going to fly anyway, even if some of the tickets sell at a smaller return.
There are several last minute booking sites out there that know that, and use the companies’ desperation to your advantage. If you’re looking to book a flight, hotel, cruise, or any other type of travel in the near future, try starting with these last minute travel sites.
First, though, a disclaimer: these are all last-minute deals. If you’re set on a particular place on a particular date, these sites are risky. If you can afford to be a bit more flexible though, and run with the great deals that come up (a really fun way to travel), these sites are for you.
LastMinute promises you up to 70% discount on your travel. You can book flights, hotels, cars, or whole packages anywhere from three weeks to three hours in advance. If you want to, book the ticket, pack, and go.
LastMinute also offers sections for “this weekend,” “next weekend,” and “under $250” for those looking for cheap vacations. There’s a ton of stuff on there, most of it within the United States and Caribbean. If you’re looking to get out of town as fast as possible, and don’t care much where you go, LastMinute.com’s a great place to start.
TravelZoo definitely wins my award for the ugliest site to look at that’s actually useful. It has many of the same features as LastMinute, and also offers an incredibly useful email subscription list. Sign on to the list, and TravelZoo will send you their Top 20 of the Week, pulling together the Top 20 last minute travel bargains of the week from around the Internet. It’s a popular list, with editions for the US and around the world, and offers great deals of all shapes and sizes.
I like Airfare Watchdog because it does things a bit differently: all you’ve got to do is plug in the airport you want to fly in to or out of, and you’ll see the cheapest other halves – either the airport you’ll fly out of or into.
For instance, I plugged in leaving from New York’s Kennedy Airport, and got a list of the cheapest last minute flights leaving from that airport, as well as how far in advance you can book them. There are sections for domestic and international flights, and a huge list is compiled.
Fun fact: I can fly from JFK to Akron, OH, round trip for $144. Not a bad deal. There’s also a list of “Fares of the Day” that will help you find the cheapest flights you can possibly find, anywhere in the world.
SideStep is primarily a booking site like Orbitz or Priceline, but it has a large and useful “Deals” section. It works something like a Google for cheap travel, in that SideStep doesn’t have the deals itself, but instead points you to the best deals around the Web.
There are flight deals, cruise deals, hotel deals, themed vacations (skiing, golf, etc.) and a number of other ways to save money. As always, most of the deals are for last-minute vacations, but it’s a huge repository of links to deals around the Web, sorted well and presented easily for you.
It’ll require some more browsing, because you usually can’t buy directly from SideStep, but it’s certainly a good place to start, as it includes a huge number of other sites trying to find you deals.
If you want to go on a cruise, check out Vacations to Go. They get the deals from cruise lines that no one else gets, based on the notion that cruise companies want to sell every last spot, even at huge bargains. It requires a sign-up, but it opens the doors to huge deals that no one else can see.
Since Vacations to go is a bit more exclusive, there’s likely to be less competition for great deals, but it’s also not the limitless resource some of the others are. Also, check the site often: cruises are rarely available more than a week in the 90-Day Ticker, but you can book further in advance with the “Find a Bargain” feature.
Luxury Link is a high-risk, high-reward way to travel. It’s essentially an eBay for vacations, in that you can bid on the vacation you’d like to attend, and the highest bidder gets the vacation. In addition, there are vacations you can “Buy Now,” and skip the auction process.
The real deals are going to be found through the auctions, which feature everything from cruises to flights to hotels, in destinations all over the world. This is great if you know generally what you want to do, and can play the auctioning game for a while before you go. Their prices are higher, but so is the quality of the destinations.
If you want to go to a particular place, do a particular thing, and at a particular time, don’t use these sites. If you’re a “travel by the seat of your pants” kind of person, looking for a fun, economic way to travel, try one or many of these different websites, and see where they take you.
When you’re looking to travel, where do you go? How do you book vacations?