Last Minute Travel

It’s well established that we actually enjoy planning travel. We get a kick out of scouring flights and hotels months in advance, choosing ever so carefully where we will spend our precious free time.

But what if, unlike us, you want to go somewhere now? Tomorrow? This weekend?

I’ve often wondered if our inclination to book well in advance sometimes precludes us from good deals. Is it true that the early bird catches the worm? Or in the case of travel, does it pay to wait for the last minute?

In the spirit of scientific research, I think it’s about time I test my theories, as I embark on some last minute travel research.

Last Minute Travel

Today is Wednesday and we have no plans this weekend. It’s the perfect time to get away for a day or two, if there is a good last minute travel deal out there. I am aware that it’s August, and not the typical time of  year when people travel spontaneously, but now is as good a time as any to see if this frugal gal can score a deal.

First, transportation. I’m open to flights and to trains, both easy to book from London and typically where we get the best deals. We tend to spend less than £50 per person on most European flights, and we wait for those deals, booking in advance.

Today, the cheapest flight available is £113 per person, to Paris, France. There is also a flight to Turin, Italy for £116. These flights are Friday-Sunday, the typical weekend schedule.

By being more flexible and traveling just Saturday – Sunday, there is a cheaper option, to Jersey. Not New Jersey, but the lovely island of Jersey, UK, between the UK and France. Including taxes and fees, the total price for this round trip is £68 per person.

Last Minute Travel

Alternatively, train travel is always an option. But unlike those lovely flight aggregator websites where you can see every option flying from every airport, the railway website is not quite as flashy. In order to see a fare, you need to know where you’re going and when. For the purposes of my research, I’ve selected a few of my favorite UK cities, and checked out the prices for Saturday – Sunday. For Bristol, it’s about £55, for Norwich, £52.

I’m disappointed! I thought I would find at least one amazing last minute travel deal, one that would make me rethink the idea of spontaneous travel altogether.

So far, I’m not impressed.

Before I give up hope, there is another way that I know to go about last minute bookings and that’s through the deals that show up on sites like Travelzoo. These companies put together travel packages with properties that have low occupancy, or need the boost in sales. Typically, a package will include a hotel stay, at least one meal, and some also include transport.

As luck would have it, I am able to uncover a few weekend breaks in the UK that are being highlighted this summer. One particularly tempting deal is hosted by a hotel a couple hours from home. It is offering a great summer package including food and lodging for two nights. But, when I click through a little further, I realize that the hotel is booked up this weekend. There are free rooms if I’m willing to book four weeks in advance. Which, today, I’m not.

Another point against spontaneous travel.

For a final effort, I’m going straight to the source. The website Lastminute.com boasts specifically about its last minute deals. On the home page there are multiple options claiming just £99 per person for flights and hotels to several amazing European destinations.

Last Minute Travel

Digging a little deeper, I find that when I select my actual travel dates (Friday – Sunday), the prices increase considerably. A Bruges package, advertised for £129 per person on the home page, is actually £286 on my dates (selecting the cheapest hotel option). Berlin, which boasts a weekend for just £99 per person, is actually £221 per person two days from now.

If there ever was conclusive evidence against spontaneous, last minute travel, especially during peak travel season, this is surely it. My inclination to plot and scheme months in advance is clearly the better bet most of the time. I will sleep soundly tonight knowing that I’m not missing out on a last minute adventure to a far off place.

Yes, I realize deep down that by doing this research in the height of summer, I am being a little unfair to the travel industry. I know for certain that there are frequently good deals just waiting to be scooped up in the dead of winter. When do you think I book all of my £40 return trips across the continent?

The world is on holiday this week and the prices reflect it.

Curiosity quenched, I’m giving my credit card a break this weekend, and we’ll be staying home. Now if only we could figure out how to make summer weekends in London a fantastic value…

What are your best tips and tricks for scoring last minute deals? I’d love to travel spontaneously and clearly I’m in dire need of some advice!

Last Minute Travel

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  • August 4, 2016

    I’ve never tried it, but airports (at least Amsterdam airport does for sure) often have a last-minute desk. You can pack a bag with a variety of clothing, take it with you to the airport and see what deals you can score. I’ve heard about people travelling to many different places on a whim like that!
    Dominique recently posted…Pieterburen – Seal SanctuaryMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      that’s pretty cool. I’m not sure if London airports have a similar desk, but that would certainly be a fun way to start a weekend!

  • August 6, 2016

    My boyfriend and I are meticulous planners and we love to look way ahead coming up with ideas and possibilities, booking, and building itineraries but like you, I’ve heard there are “great”deals to be had if we’d just be a little more spontaneous. It doesn’t sound like it!

    So glad you wrote this post so now I too can rest easy. 🙂
    Stacey recently posted…Travel Goals Update: Second Quarter 2016My Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      we are totally the same way. During high season, it certainly pays to plan!

  • August 6, 2016

    Oh man I really hate sites that advertise a certain price which then isn’t available. I’m sure that has to be in breach of advertising standards
    Anne recently posted…How To Get The Best Value From British Airways RewardsMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      it is super annoying. We tried multiple ‘deal’, yet not one had accurate pricing. Frustrating, to say the least.

  • August 6, 2016

    Interesting. I guess the least you can do is look for deals, but when you need to travel you have to make use of the best options available. Sometime you get great deals and sometimes you don’t.
    Travelwith2ofus recently posted…Procida island in Naples Italy is absolutely breathtakingMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      I think in the off season, there are deals to be had, but during the height of the tourist season, good deals are almost impossible to find.

  • August 6, 2016

    recently, our last minute travel destinations have been drivable! with the kids we can hop in the car and drive from Vancouver to Seattle, or even Portland, we can get to Kamloops or Kelowna or other summer hot spots in Canada! from Vancouver, the best weekend getaway is often Las Vegas, but it definitely is NOT a deal to travel there last minute!
    Lindsay Nieminen recently posted…Tips to Consider When You Book an All Inclusive HolidayMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      we don’t have a car, so that’s not an option for us. We did look at last minute car hire from our local car agency, but couldn’t find anything under £70/day. When you add in the high cost of petrol, ends up being a lot of cash!

  • August 7, 2016

    I’m definitely going to check out those sites you listed! I’m not ambitious enough to do last minute, this weekend kind of trips, but I do love a weekender break. I find Groupon really helpful for trips in Europe too.
    Carly Moore recently posted…Iceland and Ireland: Exploring Game of Thrones Filming LocationsMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      we might check out Groupon. I actually didn’t know it existed here until recently, when I saw an ad for it in the Tube. Good to know they do travel stuff.

  • August 7, 2016

    Travelzoo is definitely a great resource- maybe not for last minute deals as you pointed out, but some great deals nonetheless!
    Tamara Elliott recently posted…10 quintessential Prince Edward Island experiences you must tryMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      Travelzoo is a great site for deals, that’s for sure. They always have some interesting itineraries available, just not during August in Europe!

  • August 7, 2016

    We have had good luck traveling around Europe on short notice. But you are right July and Aug are not the time that you can find deals. We tried to ride out this time of year by staying in one place to save a little money on travel expenses and then start moving again in Sept.
    Rob recently posted…How to find the Best Beer and Chocolate in BrusselsMy Profile

    • August 8, 2016

      The high season is where good deals go to die!

  • August 8, 2016

    This made for a really fun read, mostly because I’ve been through the same scenario before! Got to the same conclusion, booking months in advance does save you more- most of the time.

  • August 8, 2016

    Too bad you didn’t find any good deals! We always plan way in advance because of last minute prices as well! I know people seem to find some good deals last minute, but I have a hard time with it sometimes. We’ve used the hotel’s tonight app several times for last minute deals and it sometimes works out well.Hope you can come across something good in the future!

    • August 8, 2016

      we might try the hotel tonight app in the future, as a few people we know have recommended it to us.

  • August 9, 2016

    I’ve always been similar to you, and I usually plan my trips months in advance just to get the best deals. I know people say that flying last minute can also be an advantage at times, but I think you have to be open to where you want to go or even not going if the price isn’t right. I do think though, that if you want to go to a specific destination, it would be best to book months in advance.

    • August 10, 2016
      Julie

      Exactly. Sometimes we don’t have any destination in mind, so just book what’s cheap. If we really need to be in a specific place at a specific time, we really try to do our homework well in advance to secure the best deal possible!

  • August 10, 2016

    I’ve always been the planner—- booking months in advance. This trip though, I plan as I go and sometimes, deals aren’t just really deals. I’ve used travel zoo too but I still think planning ahead works more.

    • August 10, 2016
      Julie

      We completely agree! I thought we might get lucky but turns out, our obsessive forward thinking really does us well in this instance!