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Last-Minute Travel: 5 Tips to Finding Deals and Saving Money

View of moon from airplane window.

In most cases, the best way to plan for travel is to do it well in advance: Check flight prices months ahead, look for promotions at your favorite hotels, or wait for coupons to pop up in your e-mail inbox for a great limited-time package deal.

However, there are those instances where you have to plan your travels at the last-minute in an unorganized, hurried mess. Whether it’s for a funeral, a family emergency, or just because you want to be spontaneous, each of us will probably have to plan a last-minute trip at some point.

Because you can’t scour the airline and travel Websites for months when you travel last-minute, you might not be able to snag the best rate. But there are still some ways to save money on your impromptu trip…

Consider packages

Travel Websites often offer discounts if you book a package deal. If you’re flying to your destination, consider adding a car or hotel to your travel search: You could be pleasantly surprised that the package deal is cheaper than the entire flight by itself. Even if you don’t necessarily need a car, it’s worth a try to see if the prices come back a little cheaper. Plus, you might be happy you have your own transportation if you’re going to be spending several days at a relative’s house or at the hospital.

Additionally, many travel sites now even have special sections dedicated specifically to last-minute trips. Don’t forget to check out this option when you’re booking your flights, cars, and hotels.

Ask about “hospital rates”

If you do end up staying at a hotel and you’re traveling for a funeral or family emergency, ask about a hospital rate. Hospital rates are sometimes offered as a courtesy to those who have relatives that have been in the hospital or still are in the hospital. These rates can be as much as 50% lower than the standard rate on a room.

Carry reusable water bottles

Have you ever tallied up how much you spend on beverages when you’re travelling?

Reusable water bottles are by far my favorite travel buddy…especially now that you can no longer carry on liquids greater than three ounces on any flights. And for some reason, water always seems to be a lot more difficult to come by when I’m traveling versus when I’m at home. Instead of going through bottle after bottle of over-priced mineral water at the airport and on your trip, bring a re-fillable drink container. It’ll save money, keep you hydrated and healthy on your last-minute travels, and, as an added bonus, it’s good for the environment.

Consider rental car gas service

Over the past several years, rental car companies have started to offer a gas fill-up service when you rent a vehicle. When you pick up your car, they’ll offer you the option to not fill up the tank and, instead, have them fill it for you at a quoted rate per gallon upon your return. If you can and have time, take note of the gas prices in the area where you’ll be driving before you get the counter so you can opt for the best rate. Some rates are 5 to 15 cents per gallon cheaper than the going rates at area gas stations (likewise, many are probably more than the rates at local gas stations). If you do go with the rental car gas quote, it will also save you a bit of time and stress when you come back to return your car. Be sure to check, however, that the rental agency will only charge you for actual gas used. In some cases, they’ll charge you the cost of a full tank, which negates any per-gallon savings at all if you didn’t actually all the gas you’re paying for!

Avoid airport money-sucks

Most of us are well-aware that airports are huge money-traps. You’re often confined to one small area for several hours and there is always an array of options to kill the time while you wait – but it’ll cost you. The fast food pits and coffee shops in airport terminals are often priced higher than traditional locations. But it doesn’t just stop at food—souvenirs, reading material, toys, jewelry, luggage, and even electronic merchandise like iPods and cameras are now available for sale at many airports. As you hurry out the door for your trip, grab nonperishable snacks like granola bars and trail mix, an assortment of reading material, and toys for your kids. This way, you’ll easily be able to avoid the money-pits at all airports. Of course, there are those times where there is no other option but eating airport food. It happens and it’s probably not the best idea to starve yourself to save some money. But, I still can’t think of any excuse for blowing a bunch of money at those Best Buy Express kiosks I’ve seen popping up at airports over the past few years: Save those purchases for a another day when you’ve had some time to think it over.

As Always…

As always, when you’re looking to save money, try to plan out as much as possible (which is sometimes hard on these last-minute trips), check different places for different deals, and don’t be afraid to just ask for a discount. Last-minute trips can be more expensive than well-planned trips, but remember these tips as your rushing out the door and you could save yourself a couple bucks when it’s all said and done.

What are your money-saving tips for last-minute travel?

Photo by WTL photos.

About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. Be careful with the gas option…though the stated price may be lower than local stations, the gas can be taxed at going car rental rates and this can negate any benefit.