11 ways to save on last-minute summer travel

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So you blinked and — oh, look! — summer’s at its end, and you’ve yet to reach an island. Or beach. Or national park. Or even a dusty old cabin in the woods. Too late now, right? Last-minute trips cost a bundle, especially if you’re looking to go somewhere good.

Well, not necessarily. There are ways around summer-end surge-pricing. Here are 11 ways to save on a last-minute summer getaway.

1. Get flexible.

You’ll notice an over-arching theme as you go through the tips below that we’re just going to address upfront. If you’re going to get away before summer turns to fall, you can’t get too hung up on travel dates or destinations. The time for careful planning has passed. Now, cross your fingers and go where the deals take you.

2. Use an app.

There are some that specialize in helping your find last-minute deals. HotelTonight and HotelQuickly, for instance, help you score (you guessed it) hotel rooms on the fly, while Get the Flight Out (GTFO) is a go-to app for legit spontaneous airfare. (It shows you deals on flights leaving your local airport that night or early the next morning). And Last Minute Travel can help you find all the above, plus a rental car, at the, well, last minute. You can find a few more money-saving apps for travel here.

3. Travel on the weekdays.

Yes, we know you want to go away for Labor Day weekend, but here’s the thing — so does everyone else. Travel deals hinge on supply and demand, meaning if you can still score a reservation Friday to Monday, it’s going to cost you. Plan a Tuesday to Thursday trip instead. Or, if you really are restricted to Saturdays and Sundays, try cramming in your last-minute getaway the second weekend of September.

4. Take a red eye.

The same rule applies to flight, train or bus departure times. Heading out late at night or very, very early in the morning can help you save a few dollars — and up the odds of scoring a seat — since most people don’t want to travel at those times.

5. Cash in your credit card rewards.

Lower the net price of a last-minute getaway by using points or miles to fund your airfare or a hotel night (or two). Also worth noting: Issuers have plenty of travel partners, so it’s worth checking out your rewards portal to see if there’s a deal you can take advantage of. You could find a vacation package available only to cardholders or at least get some bonus points back on a rental car.

6. Use your travel credit card.

A good one will save you on foreign transaction fees and help you rack up points or miles to put toward next year’s summer trip.

7. Sign up for fare alerts.

Services like Google Flights, AirfareWatchdog, SkyScanner or Hopper will notify you via text, email, or push notification when fares start to drop. Some sites and apps let you know when prices are hitting a major low, while others let you specify what you’re willing to pay and hit you up once a flight becomes affordable.

8. Use a travel agent.

For real. They often have access to promo codes or package deals you do not. Plus, agents handle last-minute cancellations — and they might squeeze you into that slot instead. Speaking of last-minute cancellations …

9. Consider travel insurance.

It protects you in cases of trip interruption or trip delays. Plus, if you’re really stressed that a trip you book on the fly won’t work out as planned, you can opt for a policy that lets you CFAR (cancel for any reason). It’ll cost extra — and only cover about 75% of a nonrefundable, prepaid trip – but, for spontaneous travelers, it could provide ample peace of mind. We can help you compare travel insurance quotes here.

10. Look into vacation rentals.

Thanks to accommodation-sharing sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO, you’re not beholden to staying at that hotel by the beach. If you can’t score an affordable room, look into renting out a home instead. You could even try haggling fo a lower price on a place that looks like it might go unbooked.

11. Stay the course.

A key part of the last-minute deal is that whole last-minute thing. Carriers, hotel chains, rental hosts, etc. don’t want a seat or room to go empty and cancellations inevitably occur. If you don’t have any luck finding affordable travel accommodations the second you stop reading this article, keep up the search. There’s plenty of days between now and September.

Image: molchanovdmitry