Are flights cheaper last minute, or are you better off booking them well in advance?
As a personalised cheap flight alerts service, we’re constantly monitoring fares and so it’s a question we hear all the time!
Generally speaking, flights are often cheaper last minute if there are still a significant number of seats available. On the other hand, if the flight is almost full then this will most likely result in inflated prices. There is also a correlation between cheaper last minute flights and short haul destinations, as well as a correlation between more expensive last minute flights and long haul destinations.
Before we dive into the last-minute aspect, it’s worth understanding the basics on how airlines set their prices.
And whilst the algorithms they use are very sophisticated, the main takeaway is that prices are based on supply and demand.
Sure, they’ll look at a whole range of factors such as the probability of selling more seats depending on historical data – but it’s mostly down to remaining capacity and duration until the flight.
And when time is of the essence, prices can fluctuate heavily on a day-to-day basis!
Put simply, if passenger demand is low and it’s getting close to the date you wish to travel – don’t be surprised if you see some extremely cheap last-minute flights!
The only problem is, we don’t always know whether it’s worth hanging on or not…
Besides, it could end up being a costly mistake if you really needed to get on that plane and fares rise closer to the time.
However, there are some things we can keep in mind to give us a better chance of being able to secure a great deal last-minute.
Unfortunately, some airlines won’t offer significantly discounted fares for last minute routes in any scenario.
This is especially true for those that predominantly cater for customers on popular business routes, such as KLM and British Airways for instance.
This is because the airlines know that business customers will often have no choice but to pay big money for last minute trips, especially when fares are covered by their company!
The same is true for domestic flights which are mainly catering for business.
When it comes to the budget airlines however such as easyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair there are sometimes considerable savings to be had last minute.
They might also enforce similar strategies to business customers depending on the route, but this certainly won’t be as frequent.
It’s also worth browsing for a last-minute, flight-only booking with a chartered airline, -such as TUI.
As the holiday operator books the whole plane for packaged holidaymakers, there’s often some spare seats which they sometimes offer on the cheap to those just wanting to hop on a flight.
Besides, booking flights and accommodation separately is a growing trend thanks to greater control, flexibility and it often results in making savings!
With that said, all airlines are cautious when it comes to last minute price drops in the digital age, hence why they’re relatively rare.
Part of the reason for this is human psychology.
If airlines frequently dropped their prices last minute due to a lack of demand, we would more than likely catch on and they would see a drop in advance bookings which in turn would hit profits!
So, it’s really difficult to gauge, and the common theme throughout this post is that you need to be on the ball to find the best deals.
People often think there’s an optimal time do book flights, but the truth is fares fluctuate all the time.
So, the trick is to look everywhere, all the time – which is exactly what we do in the short haul world – and you can check us out here – simply select your favourite departure airports and join free in the UK!
But still, when are these flights most likely to drop last minute?
From our experience, you’ll find the widest range of destinations with huge last minute discounts around November – February time.
So, if you’re looking to go away during this period, and maybe even a month either side, and you have a little flexibility we would almost certainly suggest holding on!
This is mainly because the winter months are not as popular for a getaway, but a contributing factor is also because people are often busy or don’t have much surplus cash around Christmas / New Year.
And soon after this often-expensive period, many people have to be careful with their spending money for a month or two before even thinking about a holiday!
You’ll therefore find some extremely cheap last minute flights if you can look around these dates, and of course avoid the Christmas holidays.
So as long as you’re flexible, you’ll be able to capitalise by booking the unpopular routes.
We’re talking £10 – £20 return flights even over a weekend, on a wide array of interesting destinations!
According to research undertaken by travel search engine KAYAK, you’re usually better off booking closer to the date of travel for short haul flights.
In fact, the data showed that flight prices to over half of Brits favourite European destinations get cheaper during the final month before travel!
It was found that waiting could save holidaymakers up to around 50% on flights.
And whilst the early bird doesn’t always catch the worm, it was concluded that the worst time to book for the most popular destinations is eleven months before you travel.
So, if you’re brave enough to wait until the last minute, the potential savings are certainly there, especially for short haul.
In contrast to the above, you’re usually better off booking in advance for long haul flights.
The same research undertaken by KAYAK found that the best time for booking these flights is around 6 – 8 months before the date of travel.
And unlike getaways to Europe, where most Brits are booking too soon, they’re leaving it too late to book their long haul travel!
Therefore, the best chance of finding cheap last minute flights is by booking short haul flights in the winter months and being flexible with your destination, departure airport and of course dates.
That’s not to say you won’t find any in the spring, summer or autumn – but certainly the majority of last minute deals come about when holidays are a little off-radar.
And other than cheap flight alert services like ourselves, you can try your luck on platforms such as Skyscanner and Google Flights.
You might not have the time to be monitoring fares all day every day, but it’s still never been easier to have a browse for last minute flights when you can.
Let’s take Skyscanner for instance – you can use their flights to “Everywhere” feature to find these deals.
Simply input your favourite departure airport (and if you’re flexible tick “add nearby airports” too), search to the nearest whole month and hit Search flights, like so:
Then all you need to do is scroll down the list of destinations until you find one that fits the bill – hopefully they’ll be some good last minute deals!
This tool is a great way to see cheap flights at a glance, although you’ll find most of the lowest fares are midweek or unsociable flight times – so it takes some persistence to find something convenient for you.
This highlights another benefit to our service, as we filter out the inconvenient flights and feature only the best departing from your region.
Flights can indeed be cheaper last minute, although this depends on many different factors as discussed.
Our general “rule of thumb” in order to give yourself the best chance would be as follows:
If you’re booking a short haul flight outside of the peak season and you happen to have flexibility in terms of dates, departure airport and or which airline you fly with – it is often worth waiting until the last minute.
You’ll be more likely to secure a great deal in the winter months – say November to February, but fares do drop last minute all year round if you’re monitoring closely enough.
There are no guarantees that prices will drop in the weeks leading up to your travel dates – but when they do the savings can be really significant.
If you’re booking a long haul flight somewhere you need to be, we wouldn’t risk waiting until the last minute, no matter what time of the year it is.