Extremely Cheap Last-Minute Flights in 2024
Competition between airlines is the best thing for consumers looking for last-minute flights. You have to learn about the current state of the airline industry to find the best deals. It’s the basic mechanics of supply and demand that determine prices on flight routes. As a savvy traveler, you will need to keep that in mind when searching for a last-minute airfare deal.
What are the major drivers of flight prices in 2024?
There are three major drivers of flight prices:
- The route
- The season
- The competition
First, let’s discuss flight routes and why that is so important. Airlines are constricted in their flight paths by the available gates and capacity at airports. They have to apply for new capacity and are often put on a waiting list to get access to gates at specific airports. The approval process can take a long time and may involve helping to fund the addition of a new terminal to handle the additional passenger capacity. Even airlines that may fly from the tarmac without having a sky bridge still need a gate for their staff to collect tickets from passengers, and somewhere for passengers to gather before the flight leaves.
Secondly, airlines may increase or decrease flights to destinations based on the travel season. For example, flights to Mexico from the USA may increase during the peak holiday periods to account for the increase in passenger interest. Airlines can subcontract with charter and regional airlines to handle this extra capacity, but you won’t know that until you board the aircraft. Conversely, the number of flights may decrease to destinations such as Alaska in the winter because of the drop in vacationers.
Lastly, competitive dynamics among airlines can have drastic effects on prices, in both directions. Let’s say a budget airline wants to compete with a legacy airline on an important route, and they get approval to fly the route. They could intentionally lose money by pricing the tickets below cost in an attempt to make a marketing splash among their target consumers. This strategy could result in a boom in unpaid earned media such as coverage in local television, social media shares, and other free promotions. However, if the budget airline cannot maintain a profitable route, they may drop it, or in severe cases may go out of business altogether. In that case, the legacy airline can possibly raise prices higher than before the budget airline came on the scene.
How do airlines set prices for their last-minute flight deals?
There are three major factors that airlines use when setting prices, notwithstanding the above-mentioned basics of supply and demand.
- Base price + Extras (seat fee, baggage fee, etc.)
- Dynamic pricing
- Price elasticity testing
Budget airlines pioneered the concept of charging for baggage, but the whole industry has embraced it and taken it further. Now, even legacy airlines publish a base fare that includes taxes and fees, but may or may not include checked bags and an assigned seat. For the most part, you should assume that the prices you see on a price comparison website do not include anything more than the base fare and that you will need to go a few steps in the booking process to see the fully loaded price. If you want the best deal, travel light and don’t pay for your seat assignment or other extras.
Everyone has heard about how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world, but what many people don’t know is that airlines have been using AI for years to price their seats. They use machine learning algorithms to set prices dynamically, using hundreds of inputs and with a predicted output of flight profitability. That means if there are many people searching and booking the same route on similar dates, their pricing engine could start raising prices on that route without any human input at all.
Price elasticity testing is a concept that aims to determine how elastic consumer demand is at different price levels. So if a flight price is raised 10% and results in only 5% fewer bookings, it may indicate that consumers are price sensitive but are willing to pay the higher price anyway, at profitable levels for the airline. If a 10% drop in price results in only 5% more bookings, it may not make sense for the airline to maintain that price level. Price testing is often part of an airline’s overall pricing engine, overseen by an entire department of analysts.
How to find last-minute airfare deals?
Price alerts such as those offered on GoLastMinute are one of the best ways to find out about the cheapest flights. You can select up to 5 routes to watch prices on, and the email alerts also include the most popular destinations from the origin city. So, for example, a fare alert from New York to Miami would also include prices to the top destinations from New York.
Signing up for fare alerts is super easy on GoLastMinute. From any flight search page, enter your origin and destination cities and then fill in your email address. We will remember your email address in case you want to add more fare alerts in the future, up to a total of 5.
To manage your alerts, just go to the User Profile. From there you can add, delete, pause and unpause your alerts, or delete your account if you so choose.
Fare calendars are also a great way to find the cheapest days to travel. The GoLastMinute Fare Calendar will show you the cheapest-priced travel days for specific origin and destination pairs, based on actual fares other users have found. We even show you how long ago that price was found.
When you search for flights on GoLastMinute, we will show you prices for the most popular destinations from the origin city in addition to your search results. This helps you discover deals that may be cheaper than your intended destination.
On the flights page you can see flight deals from your origin city to anywhere. We'll show you prices other users found for this and next weekend so you can plan your next last-minute getaway easily.
We also have a last-minute flight city directory which you can bookmark and check regularly to find the best deals from your origin city.
Keep in mind peak travel seasons and try to go just before or just after them. You’ll find the best airfares during the slow seasons when there are fewer travelers. Everyone wants to travel during holidays, but because of the nature of supply and demand, these are often the most expensive times to fly. Choosing to fly on actual holidays (such as New Year Day) can save you enormously compared to flying one day before or after.
Airlines have to keep their planes moving in order to have them positioned in the right places for peak travel times of the day. That necessitates early and late flights which are often priced more cheaply. Keep this in mind when searching and open up the filters to include early and late flights. A red-eye overnight flight may be the cheapest fare available if you aren’t afraid to use that travel pillow you got for your birthday from a work colleague.
Direct versus connecting flights
Direct flights are nearly always more expensive than connecting flights. Airlines know that travelers will pay more for the convenience of a direct flight. Especially long layovers can be priced much less to compensate for the inconvenience. Keep in mind you can always store your luggage for a few hours and do some sightseeing on a long layover.
Skiplagging is a new term coined for the practice of buying a connecting flight but then skipping the second leg. Strange as it may seem, this can sometimes be cheaper than booking a flight directly. It seems this travel hack wasn’t taken into account by most airlines' pricing engines, as it is often not allowed by the terms of conditions of the airlines. You will run the risk of losing your luggage if you try this so it’s best to fly with carry-ons only.
Beware of Fees
Fees, fees, and more fees are the norm. Be sure to follow the booking path to the last page before payment to see how all the fees stack up as you do your price research. It takes a little bit longer but is worth the effort to know how much you will really pay.