Clark Howard

How Do You Find a Deal on Last-Minute Airfare When You Don’t Have Flexibility?

Clark Howard is a certified travel expert. It’s hard to imagine any one person with more experience from a business and personal perspective who is also as passionate about finding deals and enjoys traveling as much.

His No. 1 travel rule is and always will be to find the deal first. Then figure out what you're going to do at the destination.

To put it another way, the more flexibility you have on dates and locations, the easier it is to find a deal on plane tickets.

But it’s not always possible to be totally flexible on your travel plans. Nor is it always possible to buy your tickets at the exact perfect time. Does Clark have any advice for those situations?

How To Find a Deal on Last-Minute Airfare to a Specific Destination

Can I still find a deal on last-minute airfare to a specific destination?

That’s what a listener recently asked Clark.

Asked Marc in North Carolina: "Clark often talks about his travel philosophy of 'go where the deal takes you' rather than setting your mind on a specific destination. But I'm wondering if Clark has advice for a specific travel scenario where you don't have flexibility. That is, last-minute booking to a fixed location.

"Whether it's for a deceased relative, some other family emergency, or just because you want to make a spontaneous visit. It seems to me that if a plane has open seats that still haven't sold near the departure time, why wouldn't there be opportunities for discounts?"

Clark’s most practical advice? Only look at one-way flights. Don’t go to Google Flights, Hopper or any other flight search resource and check out round-trip tickets. Especially when it’s last minute.

Also, consider whether leaving from a different city or flying into a different city that’s reasonably close by can save you money.

“[A round-trip flight search] will default to showing you the lowest fare using that [specific] airline round-trip,” Clark says.

Seldom is the same airline the lowest price both ways.

“And check any cities near you where you can depart from. Or near to where you need to go that you can arrive to. I can’t get you a bargain fare. But I can get you one that’s much lower if you follow that strategy.”

Why Airlines No Longer Offer Last-Minute Deals on Flights

Finding last-minute cheap flights isn’t pure fantasy, Clark says.

He remembers when many airlines would publish a list online of last-minute bargains a week or less out. The last, he recalls, was the now-defunct Delta Escape Plan.

Airlines also used to offer “bereavement fares.” They’d give you a discount, sometimes a significant one, if you had to fly due to the death of a loved one. Those have almost all gone extinct like the dodo bird, Clark says.

Today’s airlines are also much more efficient. Which means they have much fewer empty seats.

“The airlines these days want to hold back every last seat for people facing death, emergency or business travel,” Clark says. “Because the airline’s design is if somebody has to go at the last minute, to charge them as much as you could possibly imagine for those final seats.

“So it’s the opposite of what you’re thinking that they’d want to offer last-minute bargains to fill those seats. They’d rather a seat go out empty so that the last person who buys is paying an outrageous fare for the flight.”

Final Thoughts

Finding a deal on last-minute airfare isn’t as easy as finding a deal on plane tickets generally.

However, if you look for one-way tickets instead of round trip, and you’re willing to comparison shop (even considering alternate departure and arrival cities), you can still secure the best possible price.

The post How Do You Find a Deal on Last-Minute Airfare When You Don't Have Flexibility? appeared first on Clark Howard.