The last few weeks of the year tend to race by. Planning an affordable vacation or booking flights and hotels to join family and friends over the holidays might seem impossible now.

But there is still time. Use our travel tips to book an affordable last-minute flight and hotel room in time for Christmas or New Year’s Eve; our information can help you find great last-minute travel deals next year, too. 

1. Travel on 'Off' Days

Shifting your travel dates by a day or two will often allow you to nab a much lower airfare. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly.

If you're traveling with a group, consider splitting up your party when you're searching for deals. If you have four in your group and there are only two cheap seats available, online reservation systems will give everyone higher-priced seats. Instead, check the price for one, two, and three seats on the plane, as well as for all four, then book accordingly.

You might also find deals if you fly on a holiday. If you’re flexible enough to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, airfares can be 25 percent to 50 percent less, according to the Travel Channel.


Go to Consumer Reports' 2016 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. Be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide, and sign up to get an e-newsletter with top picks, trusted product reviews, and the latest news from CR.
 

2. Check Multiple Airports

When you use price-comparison or airline sites, specify the city you want to depart from, not the airport. Most sites will then show you the flight options for any of that area's airports. A round-trip from one of the airports is likely to be significantly cheaper than from others. For example, a recent search for nonstop, round-trip fares from "Los Angeles area" airports to "South Florida area" airports on JetBlue (for its cheapest "Blue" seats) departing Dec. 31 and returning Jan. 3 varied from $680 to $1,735 (including taxes and fees).

Last-minute travel plans include airline travel

3. Time Your Purchase

The best time to shop for flights? Check prices at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday; that's when the greatest number of cheap seats might be available. But bargains, even for last-minute travel, can appear at any time, so keep searching and set up alerts that will send you an email or text message when prices on your route drop.

4. Consider Heading Overseas

The winter months are also the off-season in European travel hot spots such as London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, and Rome. It may be tough to find cheap flights, especially for last-minute travel, but deeply discounted hotel rooms may make paying a bit more for flights worthwhile.

TripAdvisor recently listed deals for a rate of $191 per night for a Dec. 31 through Jan. 3 stay at the Grand Royale London Hyde Park, and $150 per night for the Radisson Blu Edwardian New Providence Wharf Hotel. Kayak showed several four-star hotels in Rome from $64 to $190 per night for the same dates.

5. Haggle With Hotels

Only 28 percent of respondents to one of our surveys tried bargaining for better hotel room rates, yet 78 percent of those who did won an upgrade or a lower rate. Success rates were higher for people who haggled over the phone than for those who bargained in person.

Ask about unadvertised specials, and use free parking, a different bed size, or room location (for example, if it's next to the laundry station) as bargaining chips. Some hotels may be willing to give you a last-minute travel deal if they have empty rooms.