The Best Sites for Booking Last-Minute Travel
Many great travel deals can be found by carefully planning in advance. But spur-of-the-moment trips can also be had for cheap if you know where to look.
That's because hotels, airlines, resorts and more are looking to fill vacant spots at the last minute.
Here are our picks for the best sites to book a great trip on short notice without blowing a crazy amount of money.
Best all around last-minute booking site: Expedia.com
Expedia.com's last minute booking page wins for layout as well as price and convenience. Three columns of deals under the headers of Tonight, This Weekend and Next Weekend show you top deals for the destination you select. You can further filter your results to see just flight, just hotels or package deals for both. Destinations include both major U.S. cities and foreign vacation spots.
Clicking on a deal will give you a page showing you pictures plus ratings, reviews and amenities. You will also see, in the case of a hotel, what other rooms are available and their prices as well. Flights work in a similar fashion. Find the destination and deal that appeal to you and you will be shown other flights leading to that destination in case you are looking for alternatives.
Of course, the best deal is flight + hotel. Just mousing over the options will show you how much money you'll be saving by booking them together. Just remember that the stated price doesn't include baggage fees.
Best last-minute hotel: Hotel Tonight
This isn't a site, but an app and it's a life saver. Need an extra night's stay but your hotel has no more vacancy? Score a last minute flight and need a place to stay? The Hotel Tonight app detects your location and shows you all the hotels in your area with vacancy. You can also set it to show you a city you haven't arrived in yet.
The display shows you pictures of the property, the price, the quality of the hotel and how much you'll save. Tapping on a specific hotel on the list will give you more images, user reviews and, most importantly, a Need to Know section under the Info tab. This lists the restrictions of that particular deal. Pay attention to limitations like the inability to book a specific type of bed until arrival or warnings about the neighborhood around the hotel.
Best last-minute flight: Kayak
Kayak pulls in data on more than 400 airlines and lets you compare multiple travel sites at once. Not only can it direct you to other travel deal sites, but it also shows you the current prices directly from the major airlines' websites.
The sliders on the side bar is what makes Kayak really shine. Adjusting the sliders and checking off the options you want will quickly show you the exact deals you're looking for. You can upgrade or downgrade your seat, choose a different airline or a select a new take-off/landing time.
Don't forget to click on the "More Filters" button in the sidebar to narrow down the price range, layover options and, most importantly, planes with built-in Wi-Fi. Seriously, what did we do on planes before Wi-Fi?
Best last-minute room rental: Airbnb
Though there is no explicit LAST MINUTE DEALS CLICK HERE! button on the front of their site, Airbnb is still a great service to find a last minute room to crash at a fraction of the cost of even a deeply discounted hotel room. Simply enter your destination and dates (even if it's tonight) and the site will display all the rooms, apartments and houses to rent available to rent by the day. (Note, there is a "Help! I need a place, tonight" search feature in the app for iOS and Android.)
Concerned about the safety of spending the night in someone else's home? Every listing includes actual user reviews. There is also a 24/7 hotline if you have any issues with your stay. It's one of the best ways to find a place quickly and cheaply and make a new friend along the way courtesy of your gracious hosts.
Pro tip: The best way to save money on last minute travel plans is to have some flexibility. Can you take a plane with a stop over instead of a direct flight? Are you willing to stay in a hotel in a new part of the city? Comfortable sleeping in an extra room of a welcoming host's house? A little adventure can go a long way in saving you a lot of cash.
[Updated on 10/9/2014]
[tourist with phone via Shutterstock]