Finding cheap last minute flights can be challenging.
It’s all well and good when you’re able to plan your long haul trips in advance. But what if you have no choice but to book at the last minute? Or if you decide you want to get away in the next week or two? Are you going to be forced to pay over the odds?
You might have heard the general rule that the closer you get to your departure date the more expensive your flight will be. For this reason, I usually recommend you book your long haul flights between 2 and 6 months before you go. This is the time when the flights are likely to be at the cheapest and you’ll have the best chance of getting a sale fare.
But when you can’t or don’t do this, what are your options for finding a good value air fare?
What Do I Mean by ‘Last Minute’?
First, as far as this article goes, a last minute flight is one that you book less than one month before your departure date. If you’re searching for flights more than a month in advance take a look at my article How to Find Cheap Flights Without Losing Your Sanity.
Finding a cheap last minute flight largely depends on where you’re going and how flexible you can be. If you can be flexible with your dates, length of trip or your destination you might still find a great fare. And if you’re lucky you might find a bargain fare.
Check Google Flights
It’s always worth checking what’s available on Google Flights, even if you’re leaving in the next few days. There are sometimes good value last minute fares, especially on routes with a lot of competition between airlines.
These fares are almost never cheaper than the fares offered two or more months in advance but they can still be good value.
For example, I’m writing this article on 3rd June 2019. The screenshot below is what I found when I checked Google Flights for return flights from London to Bangkok for a 1 week trip in June.
As you can see, there’s a good selection of dates with fares at £393 return, which is a great fare from London to Bangkok. This particular fare was with Lufthansa, with short connections and checked bags included.
If you do find a good fare on Google Flights then also search on Skyscanner, Momondo or Kayak to see if the fare drops with an online travel agency. You can see full details of how to do this in my article How to Find Cheap Flights Without Losing Your Sanity.
Remember the more flexible you are with your dates and destinations, the more chance you have of finding a good value fare.
If you can’t find decent fares from your local airport then try searching for flights from other nearby airports. You’ll need to take into account the cost of getting to the other airport, but you might still save money overall. Do the same for your destination and you’ll increase your chances of finding a fare you’re interested in.
Cheap Last Minute Flights With TUI
There’s one notable exception to the rule that air fares increase the closer to the departure date. And that’s flights operated by holiday airlines such as TUI.
TUI don’t fly to every country in the world but they are perfect if you’re looking to get away at the last minute and you’re happy to go to somewhere they fly to. They operate long haul flights from many UK airports to the Caribbean, Florida and Mexico and they also have flights to other destinations such as Costa Rica, Mauritius, Thailand and Vietnam.
TUI often have deep discounts for long haul flights that are leaving in the next few weeks.
For example, on 3rd June I found return flights from Gatwick to Liberia in Costa Rica for £289 leaving on 10 June for a 1 week trip:
This deal doesn’t include checked bags but even after adding the £70 bag fee you’re still getting a very good value flight.
The more departure and destination airports you select in your search, and the more flexibility you have around your dates and the length of your trip, the better your chances of finding cheap last minute flights with TUI. To see what’s available go to the TUI Flight Deals page* and do a late flight search.
Thomas Cook Airlines also sometimes have good last minute flight offers but they don’t usually go as low as the TUI deals. You can see what’s on offer using the Thomas Cook Cheap Flight Finder.
Check Airline Frequent Flyer Programmes
If you have a lot of points in an airline frequent flyer programme there’s another way you can try to get a cheap last minute flight.
Airlines release award seats to people buying with frequent flyer points around one year before the departure date. Most award seats sell out well before one month prior to departure, however, some airlines do release additional award seats in the last few days before departure.
This varies extensively for each airline and route, so I recommend you check directly with your frequent flyer programme for last minute award seats.
Watch Out for Passport, Visa and Health Requirements
When you book a trip close to your departure date you might not stop and think about passport, visa and health requirements.
Many countries have passport or visa restrictions and you will not be able to board your flight if you don’t meet these. And you won’t get your money back if this happens.
So please take a moment to look at the links below before you book any trip to make sure you don’t get any nasty surprises.
To check for passport and visa restrictions enter your trip details at Traveldoc. If you have any doubts about entry restrictions check with the authorities of the country you’re planning to visit.
Make sure you are aware of the health risks of travelling to your destination before you book. I use the free Fit for Travel site from NHS Scotland to find out if vaccinations, antimalarials or other precautions are recommended for my trip.
Finding a good value long haul flight less than a month before departure can be challenging, although it’s not impossible.
Flexibility is the key to getting a decent fare. And if you are going to a destination served by a holiday airline such as TUI you might be able to get a bargain.
What are your experiences of finding cheap last minute flights? Have you been lucky or did you end up paying over the odds? I’d love to hear from you, so add your comments below.
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