Book and go: An expert’s guide to last-minute flights

By Samantha Shillabeer

Whether you’ve got some annual leave that has to be taken or you just need to be on a sun lounger in Barcelona with a strawberry daiquiri in hand as soon as physically possible (we hear you), finding the right flight at the right price is possible with just a few smart travel hacks and a degree of flexibility. Read on and learn how to navigate the world of last-minute flights with confidence.

Search flights to Barcelona for the next 30 days

Flexibility is key

Keep your options open with the KAYAK Explore tool

The number one rule to finding a last-minute flight is to be as flexible as possible. If you don’t have your destination or dates set in stone, you can search for many more combinations of flights with a greater chance of bagging an awesome deal. KAYAK’s Explore tool was designed to help you with exactly that, and does all the hard work of researching different flight combinations for you.

Just enter your home airport, budget and travel dates (either select specific dates, or keep your options open by choosing a month or season), and you’ll instantly see all your flight options on an interactive map. It’s a really quick and easy way to compare prices at a glance.

You can also filter by the type of trip you’re after from our list of categories. Choose ‘Romantic escapes’ to compare great destinations for couples or try ‘Party central’ to find somewhere with buzzing nightlife. See it as an opportunity for adventure – that city you’ve never considered visiting before or that beach town you’ve never heard of might end up being your new favourite place.

Explore with our interactive map

Avoid popular flights

Last-minute flights are easier to find at less popular travel times

When you’re booking last-minute, it pays to avoid the flights everyone else is after during popular times like Christmas or New Years. Don’t forget to look into school holidays or other public holidays, which can differ from country to country. If you wait a little too long to book flights around public holidays, try flying on the actual holiday, when fewer people are likely to travel.

Fridays and Mondays tend to be busy so if you’ve got your sights set on a city break, consider flying mid-week rather than over a weekend. When it comes to flight times, your best bet is to look at the first or last flights of the day. A lot of people aren’t willing to get up at the crack of dawn or land in the middle of the night, so you’re more likely to find a bargain on these ‘anti-social’ options.

When you’re ready to start looking, KAYAK’s flight search allows you to be flexible with your dates so you can pick up to three days before or after your desired departure and arrival dates to see all possible prices, and pick whatever combination of dates work best for you. It’s much simpler than it sounds – just have a look for yourself by clicking below.

Search with flexible dates

Be open to stopovers

Stopovers can turn your trip into a two-for-one holiday

If you’re looking to fly long-haul and you’re struggling to find an affordable direct flight at the last-minute, consider a stopover. Not only does this give more routes and airlines to choose from, it’ll probably save you some cash too.

If you don’t fancy spending too long at the airport, think about incorporating a multi-day stopover into your trip and taking the opportunity to explore a new destination. Some airlines even let you do this for free. All Icelandair flights between Europe and the US, for instance, let you stopover in Reykjavik for as long as you’d like at no extra cost. You can easily book your hotel and manage all your info in the KAYAK app should you choose to stay longer at your stopover.

Consider alternative airports

Don’t forget to consider alternative airports

It’s all well and good that we’re telling you to be flexible, but what if you need to travel to one specific destination? First, if a city has more than one airport, make sure you check flights to and from each one (KAYAK’s ‘All airports’ search functionality makes this really easy).

If you’re still drawing a blank, it might be time to think outside the box a bit. Try searching for flights to or from another city close by (again, KAYAK’s ‘Nearby airports’ filter makes this a breeze) – even if it’s in another country. For example, if you’re heading to Malmo in Sweden, it might work out better to fly into Copenhagen, Denmark, and then hop on a train across the border.

Set up price alerts

Monitor fluctuating flight prices to find the best time to book
Monitor fluctuating flight prices to find the best time to book

KAYAK’s Price Alert tool is an essential for pretty much any flight you’re interested in taking. Once you select your departure airport and destination, along with a date range, you’ll get an email or push notification as soon as the price drops so you don’t have to worry about missing out.

Open to flying anywhere, as long as it’s cheap? You can also use the tool to create an alert for the top 25 most searched for cities to receive a daily overview of the best prices. Here’s a useful step-by-step guide for getting started.

Find cheap flights to Amsterdam

Keep an eye on package deals

Package holidays are a one-stop shop for flights and accommodation

As well as last-minute flights, you can also get some great deals on last-minute package holidays. It’s a particularly good option when you’re short on time, as it saves you having to find a flight and accommodation separately. Head over to the Travel Hotlist section of the KAYAK website to browse handpicked holidays, cruises and city breaks to places like Greece, Thailand and the Caribbean.

Be decisive

When you find the right flight, don’t hesitate

To wrap it all up, remember to be decisive and book your travel once you’re happy with the price. Every time you run a flight search on KAYAK, we’ll offer a Price Forecast in the top left corner that says to buy now or wait, so you can finish booking and move onto the slightly more enjoyable part of planning your holiday.