6 Secrets to Successful Last-Minute Travel

Conventional wisdom says there are awesome deals to be had on last-minute vacations. But does the truth actually live up to the hype? We found out.

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1. Last-minute travel means "short notice"

"Last-minute travel" is generally defined as travel taking place within about 14 days from when you booked. Unlike literal last-minute travel—where you show up at the airport and buy your ticket, as in many a rom-com movie (which, by the way, would cost you an arm and a leg)—"savings of 30 to 50 per cent are not unheard of," says Toronto-based travel expert Brian Simpson.

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2. Airfare deals require sleuthing

The biggest savings are in accommodations and package vacations—not airfare. "Flights on regular scheduled airlines tend to increase in price the closer to departure you get, so last minute deals on flights are rare," says Simpson. But keep your eyes peeled and you may score the odd savings bonanza. "Some tour operators sell last-minute deals on charter flights, mainly to sun destinations. We've seen operators offer last-minute charter airfares to Florida for as low as $29 roundtrip, plus taxes and fees, and to Mexico for as low as $55 roundtrip, plus taxes and fees. Of course, taxes can often be in excess of $340, but even so, that's a significant savings," says Simpson.

These Mexican destinations offer unforgettable locations and hidden gems that can't be found anywhere else.

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3. Mid-week travel saves you money

Travelling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday helps you save more since most people tend to book weekend departures. Even if you're advance booking, flying mid-week can save you hundreds of dollars per ticket. (That's why my family's doing a Wednesday to Wednesday Caribbean getaway this summer!)

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4. Be savvy with secret hotel deals

"Secret" hotel deals are even more last-minute-friendly with apps like Priceline Negotiator. Basically, you type in the locale you want, your preferred hotel star rating, and a price. You won't know what hotel you'll be staying in until the transaction's complete. It's a great way for hotels to quietly move unbooked rooms and for consumers to snag deals if they're not concerned about hotel brand. On the other hand, be aware that "secret" hotel tools don't allow you to avoid certain hotels either, i.e. any listed on The Bedbug Registry.

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5. Last-minute travel means serendipity

If you know exactly what you want—and will be bummed if you don't get it—last-minute may not be right for you. "Last-minute travel is best suited to those who aren't set on a particular destination, particular hotel, or even a particular room type. If you must have any one of those things on your trip, then you could be disappointed. For example, if you regularly travel to Cancun and stay at a 4-star resort in a superior ocean view room, you could be forced to downgrade your room, the property, or even the destination if you wait until last minute to book, as there's no guarantee those things will be available at the last minute, especially for popular resorts or destinations," says Simpson. On the other hand, if you're thinking "I just need a getaway someplace sunny and hot," you'll be fine!

Here are 14 Inspired Ways to Upgrade Your Cancun Vacation.

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6. Use last-minute travel for fun trips, not crucial trips

As mentioned in #5, last-minute travel isn't appropriate if you're set on a particular type of suite in a specific type of accommodation at a particular location at your destination, or must travel during specific dates. If everything has to be perfect for your honeymoon, babymoon or March Break getaway, book ahead instead. "Do you really want to skimp on your special trip for the sake of saving some money? Early booking bonuses are offered to stimulate bookings earlier, so take advantage of those if you're planning a trip for a special occasion," advises Simpson.

Check out The 10 Best Babymoon Destinations for You and Your Hubby.