Last minute air travel deals - fact or fiction?

I'm wondering what your experiences have been in finding "last minute air travel deals". Have a passport, credit card and roller-baag at the ready. Was it urban legend or fact that more adventureous travelers could snag bargin air fares when airlines reduced last-minute inventory with special pricing. Yes, I've seen first hand at how full planes are flying these days; so perhaps, there is little inventory to offer. And, those web sites that I've recently visited were not very productive.
Thanks in advance.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
280 posts

Craig, I'm not sure what "last minute" means to you but I think it's possible to save on airfare if you're able to wait to buy until 30-45 days prior to your trip. I started tracking fares in Nov 2011 for a Sep 2012 trip to Paris. I checked every day - Nov had the lowest prices, they spiked on Feb 14 and decreased steadily after that. I purchased on Apr 1. By Aug the fare for the same flights was $550 less than what I paid. I'm not brave enough to wait but if you are you may be able to save some money. Good luck!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2821 posts

Milk used to come in glass bottles, a 500 MB hard drive used to seem like a bottomless pit of data storage, and last minute airfare discounts used to be available. You get the idea. As you say, planes are now very full (and airlines have aggressively cut capacity by reducing both the number of flights and the size of planes they fly), so they have no need to cut prices as they used to. There can still be sales, and someone's bound to say they waited and lucked out. But the days of counting on last-minute airfare reductions (if they ever existed) are over. We've had several tales of woe on this Helpline of people who followed bad advice to wait (say, until 4-6 weeks before their trip) and paid more because of it.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
772 posts

What can come up late still sometimes is availability on frequent flyer programmes, particularly in first or business class and with carriers that don't give these classes away on upgrades.

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1154 posts

Sometimes, in lower demand periods, a charter airline (like Sunwing or Transat in Canada) will offer a lower price a few days out for flight-only fares. But this ONLY applies to charter flights.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
368 posts

Last minute air flight bargains are a thing of the past. On many domestic routes the guy who gets the last open seat in caoch usually pays more than most of the people in first class. In the past airlines operated at 60% load factors now they are operating in the high 90s. Their approach to last minute tickets is more like: I got one how bad do you want it. Do the daily drill and when you see a number you can live with take it, live with it and stop looking. In the last couple months before the flight you will most likely see lots of numbers you don't want. Cruise lines have lots of last minute deals because the morons who run them have built so much over capacity that it is pathetic and they just keep building more.

Posted by Nicholas
Seattle, Washington, United States
282 posts

Fiction, mostly. Prices almost always go up the closer to the travel date you get because 1) Full planes and 2) There is the assumption that your lack of planning means that you have no flexibility in when you travel, which in turn means that they can charge whatever they want.

Posted by Tom
Suffolk, UK (formerly St. Louis, MO, USA)
166 posts

Mostly fiction, these days. I can say that I have found cheap fares 'last minute' - but its not typically because of the fact that its last minute - its almost always been because there was an unannounced sale on a particular route. To do that though, you have to search airfare regularly and be ready to pounce when a sale happens. I can also tell you that its highly route and load factor dependent. For example - if you can fly either direct or with one connection to London, your price will be one number. But if you add a connection or two through 'non-standard' places, you can sometimes save some money because the airline is trying to increase traffic in the non-standard areas. You have to be willing to put up with the hassle-factor. There are also a few websites that do last minute vacations - I know AA has one through AA vacations: https://www.aavacations.com/deals/Shop_By_Theme-Last_Minute_Vacations Your mileage will vary, though. Sometimes there are deals, other times not so much.

Posted by Joel
Tempe, AZ, USA
835 posts

Craig - I'll agree with the others and say mostly fiction. Although last year British Airways was offering a travel special during Christmas time for their Club World(business class) PHX - LHR flight of $2000 RT air fare. Now I know that is high but considering that the normal fare is between $5500 - $5800 it was a deal.

Posted by Marcella
Hendersonville, TN
91 posts

I can't say if it's fact or fiction for sure but I snagged a "last minute" deal six weeks out this August from a Travelzoo Top 20 email. Atlanta to Paris $535 inclusive Was I planning a trip to Paris? Nope. As soon as I saw that my CC was whipped out and I was booked. Spent a wonderful 6 nights in October eating too many croissants and getting soaked by the Paris rain. I would so do it again in a heartbeat!

Posted by James
Frisco
1776 posts

I think in general you will do better by carefully choosing the time of the year and the days of travel. I've got the time of year pretty well figured out for the places I travel most (central Europe) so I play with dates and the days of the week until I find the best combination. The high / low range can be a difference of $1000 a ticket. I also have to make two changes to get to where I go and if I wait too long to buy the ticket the options get real narrow. Also as a general rule the cheapest flights will have impossibly short lay overs. Its vacation and I don't want to run through airports in a panic or miss a flight. I can not believe that they sell tickets with a 40 minute lay over in Frankfurt.

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
892 posts

I had about the same situation as Marcella. We were not planning on traveling since we had just returned, but when a REALLY good deal popped up on the screen, we went for it right away. Since we're retired, we have that flexibility. I'm not seeing many good deals right now.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

Marcella tip about Travelzoo is a good one. They have some very good deals on both flights and packaged tours if you have the flexibility.

Posted by Craig
Wynnewood, PA, USA
49 posts

Thanks to everyone who replied for their input. I'd a strong hunch prior to posting my question that the days of last-minute deals were long gone. just looking for confirmation that I'd not left any stones unturned.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Like it's been said, airlines are now controlling their flights and keeping the supply low and demand high. Record high fares are now being experienced. A big study was done by ITA last year, and 60 days out are the best times to book flights. My suggestions: 1. Try to fly on the cheaper days of the week--Tuesday and Wednesday. 2. Take your trips prior to "mid season" (3/21/13 this year) or prior to 6/1/13. Flights 6/1/13 to 9/1/13 will be very, very expensive.
3. Identify the less expensive airlines. U.S. Air was by far the cheapest when I flew to Italy in late March. ITA's website has a calendar that has prices on your itinerary posted for month by month. It's a great tool. Watch the newspapers for specials in the Sunday travel sections.

Posted by Judy
Grass Valley, California
110 posts

Most of the deals that I see are for the up coming week. Not to sure if you would get the seat you would want. Maybe a middle one. I have not been at a point in life to do that, but hope to be someday. Do it and let us know how it goes!

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
604 posts

fiction. It used to planes were not full. Year's ago I'd be on flights that were more than half empty. These days, it's unusual to not have people flying standby to fill the plane. I had a flight about a month ago that had a few empty seats, and when one of those was the middle seat next to me I though I'd hit the lotto! Just an example, I purchased a one way ticket from LAX to SFO about a month ago for $82.00. I was thinking about going home a day early, and that same one way flight (across all flights/airlines started at $132.00). With the number of flights between the LA and the Bay area, I was surprised to see how much the flight was 1 day prior.