CBS News just asked me to do a travel segment on how to find cheap last-minute Memorial Day weekend flights and while writing my notes down, I figured it would make a great article. At first, I thought finding last-minute flights for Memorial Day weekend was an oxymoron since if you wait until the very last minute, you’re not going to find cheap flights. But after some deep thought and research, I realized there is a way to still save money. RELATED: 17 Ways to Find Cheap Flights
In general, finding cheap airfares isn’t rocket science. You just need to know some tricks (here are my 17 ways to find cheap airfares) and the same goes for last-minute flights. The only difference is you probably won’t get as good a deal as you would if you booked weeks or months earlier, you might have to sacrifice some convenience but if you think outside the box, you can save.
Before you start searching, know that AAA is predicting this Memorial Day weekend will see 42.3 million travelers taking to the roads and skies. That’s an Increase of 7% from last year and 5.4% above the 2019 numbers. Air travel alone is expected to rise by 11% this year with a total of 3.39 million travelers taking to the skies.
If you don’t believe AAA, take a look at TSA’s security checkpoint numbers from this past Sunday, when their officers screened 2,650,573 people nationwide. Four years ago on the same day (pre-pandemic), that number was 2,070,716. Yowza!
If you want to add to those checkpoint numbers but haven’t purchased your tickets yet, here are my strategies. Keep in mind, these can be used for this holiday weekend or any time for that matter.
1. Be flexible
The best way to save money on airfares or travel in general is to be flexible with days, times and airports. For example, if flying New York to South Florida on Friday and returning on Sunday, flying nonstop LGA to MIA will cost you a minimum of $622 (see screenshot below):
But try changing the airports. Flying JFK to MIA or EWR to FLL drops the price considerably, down to $504 roundtrip. See screenshot below:
Now if you really want to save money, then use your vacation days wisely and take a day or two off work or work remotely. Look what happens if you depart Saturday and return on Tuesday. The price drops down to $298 roundtrip.
2. Make a stop or two
If you notice in the screenshot above, the American Airlines flight requires a layover in Charlotte. In general, making a stop can save you serious cash. Take a look at the screenshot below of a Chicago to Paris flight leaving this Friday and returning on Monday. If you make a stop, you can save $686 per ticket. Just keep in mind that making a stop is obviously not that convenient as it takes longer and you open yourself up to more chances of something going wrong (i.e. delayed or cancelled flights).
3. Price out one-way and roundtrips tickets individually
A lot of people think you need to book roundtrip tickets to save. That was the case 20 years ago in the U.S. as airlines tried to hold business travelers hostage by making them spend a Saturday night to save. But these days, you can sometimes save a lot of money by booking one-way tickets and doing it on different airlines. However, if flying within Europe or to/from international countries, it’s usually cheaper to book roundtrip tickets even if you’re not planning on returning.
4. Price out one ticket a time
If more than one person is traveling, then price out what it costs for one person then put in the number of people traveling and make sure it adds up. If it doesn’t, then it will probably be cheaper if you buy tickets individually as airlines use fare buckets. It’s complicated but let’s say there are only 2 tickets left in the cheaper fare bucket and you’re pricing out a family of four, then the airlines will automatically give you the higher fare bucket price. If you split the tickets up, you sometimes can save. For example, if I buy a one way ticket to fly LAX to New York’s JFK on Friday, it’s $299. See screenshot below
If you input that there are four people traveling, that price goes up to $1,748 but four times $299 equals $1,196.
5. Set a fare alert
No matter which day, route or airline you’re flying, set a fare alert (here’s how to set a fare alert). This way, if the price drops, you know to buy or if you already bought and didn’t buy a restrictive ticket, you should be able to cancel, rebook and get a travel credit for another time.
6. Fly low-fare carriers
If you really want to save money, then fly low-fare carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. Just be sure to know their dirty little tricks as a carry-on bag that goes in the overhead bin can cost you up to $99 each way. Check out these videos of passengers recently learning the hard way and here’s the carry-on bag you should buy.
7. Try new airlines like Breeze or Avelo
One way to save money on plane tickets is booking on new airlines or new routes. For example, Breeze Airways, created by the founder of JetBlue is charging $129 to fly nonstop from Charleston, South Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky on Friday. American and Delta are charging $169 and $244 and you have to make a stop. See screenshot below.
8. Use miles and points
If you’re trying to fly LAX to St. Louis on Friday, American Airlines is charging $388. If you use your AA miles, it’s just 13,500 miles and $5.60. If you don’t mind making a stop, you can bring the mileage down to 9,000. Great way to save.
9. Look for package deals
If you’re looking to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu this weekend, it’s $609 roundtrip per person. But if you buy an Expedia package deal, which includes three nights hotel and flights, it’s just $908. Difficult to beat that. See screenshot below.
10. Sign up to newsletters
As always a good way to save is to sign up to newsletters. There are a lot of great travel bloggers out there and companies like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), the Flight Deal, View From the Wing, One Mile at a Time and of course mine, JohnnyJet.com. I also write a daily travel tip with strategies like this.