If you’ve made a last-minute decision to head off for a short break or longer holiday, how can you get the best deal on flights?
Unfortunately, the days of being able to turn up at an airport and bag a last-minute bargain as a result of late cancellations are probably over.
But it could be possible to get a really good late deal from a tour operator, which may also include your accommodation once you reach your destination.
Scheduled airlines: late booking means high prices
The cost of booking a seat on most scheduled flights increases the closer it gets to departure.
To help maximise profits and ensure that planes are full, carriers tend to sell tickets at a wide variety of prices:
the cheapest go on sale long in advance, with the most expensive seats reserved for those who decide to fly only a day or two before departure.
After all, anyone who needs to take a flight at very short notice is likely to be willing to pay more – for example if they have an urgent business meeting, or need to visit an ill family member.
The idea is that by selling seats at a carefully calculated range of prices, the plane is full but the airline has raised the highest possible revenue from tickets.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave a lot of room for last-minute bargain-hunters.
Most scheduled flights do not have spare seats – often flights are over-subscribed to allow for an expected level of cancellations – so there is very little reason for airlines to offer late price reductions.
Go for a charter
Charter airlines, on the other hand, may give you a better chance of getting a cheap rate. Most charter flights are aimed at tourists on package holidays.
If these holidays are not sold, the flights are likely to have spare places which may go on sale in the days and weeks leading up to departure for much less than the going rate.
Many of the major tour operators have “last minute” or “late deals” sections of their websites where you can see the best prices on offer.
And most flight price-comparison websites also list charter flights alongside scheduled airlines.
You may also be able to pick up a package at a bargain, so you don’t have to worry about finding accommodation when you get to your destination.
How to get the cheapest flights
If you want to pay less, you need to be flexible. If you’re picky about where and when you want to travel, you’ll end up paying more.
When it comes to your destination, cheap charter flights are much more likely to be headed to beach resorts such as the Canaries or the Greek Islands than cities such as New York or Cape Town.
And the emptier flights are generally going to involve midweek departures – so if you are happy to travel on a Wednesday rather than Saturday or Sunday, you’ll get a much better choice of low-cost late deals.
Flying outside the school holidays will also keep costs down.
Don’t forget your travel insurance cover
In the rush to make a last-minute holiday booking, you may overlook one of the most important aspects of your trip – travel insurance. The right cover is vital if you don’t want to risk having your time away ruined by theft or emergency medical bills.
It takes just a couple of minutes to compare holiday insurance prices on Confused.com – and remember to buy your policy as soon as you book your trip to make sure you are covered for any late cancellations.