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Cheap Last-Minute Flights are Making a Comeback, Even for Summer!

Waiting too long to book your flights is typically a recipe for paying too much. Airlines often start increasing fares a few months before departure, knowing desperate travelers and business flyers will pay up.

But this year, a new and unmistakeable trend has emerged: Cheap, last-minute airfare is making a comeback, meaning you don't have to rule out a flight later this this month or next if you haven't booked yet. Again and again, we've seen airlines cutting flight prices for travel over the next month or two – especially for domestic flights.

That has given way to a flood of cheap summer flight deals, from $96 roundtrip fares to Charleston (CHS) and Savannah (SAV) to trips to coastal Maine as low as $137 total. It's a major win for all travelers, whether you're still considering that summer getaway … or already have something booked – these price drops mean you could rebook that expensive flight from months ago and pocket a voucher!

Here's a look at the latest and greatest trend in flight prices and how you can use it to your advantage.

 

What Do You Mean ‘Last-Minute Flights?'

OK, so “last-minute” might not be the right phrase for it: Booking a flight for tomorrow or next week will likely still cost you an arm and a leg.

But we're still finding cheap flights as close as just three weeks away … for a trip this summer. That's unprecedented, and a stark change from last summer when travelers could hardly find a cheap domestic flight even booking three or four months in advance. That has changed.

Let's take this Google Flights calendar search for flights between Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), for example. For a trip this week or next, you're still looking at $350-plus roundtrip – fairly typical for flights within 14 days. The week after, however, prices fall to $229. The week after that, you could find dates at $213.
 

ORD to MSP airfare calendar 

Four weeks from now, though, you could fly to Minneapolis and back for $168 roundtrip – for Fourth of July weekend, no less – and those fares continue on throughout much of the rest of summer, too.

It can get even better. This search for San Francisco (SFO) to Seattle (SEA) fares this summer shows that sub-$200 flights start popping up before the month of June is even over!
 

SFO to SEA price calendar 

Just three weeks is all it takes to get those prices to $158 roundtrip flying Alaska Airlines between the two west coast hubs.

These two searches are just the tip of the iceberg of cheap fares you can find with availability in July and August right now. And that's incredible: Peak summer airfare is typically sky-high this time of year. Indeed, the absurdly flight prices are all over the news these days.

This latest trend bucks that narrative. But why?

Last summer, domestic airfare prices skyrocketed as travelers put off big trips abroad due to lingering travel restrictions. This summer is different: Everyone is heading overseas this summer, pushing transatlantic travel demand to near-record highs … and leaving domestic flights emptier than airlines would like. There's one surefire way to fill up some of those seats this summer: Cut travelers a better deal.

The tides have turned, and cheap, last-minute flights are well within reach – even if you haven't booked yet.

 

Where Can You Find Cheap Summer Flights Last-Minute?

Short answer? Domestic flights.

Flights within the U.S. are most likely to follow this emerging flight pricing trend, making a quick, last-minute getaway a reality this year. We've found examples of cheap domestic fares this summer from coast to coast with trips to Texas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, Florida, the Carolinas, New Orleans, and many more over the last few weeks.

Two recent flight deals we've sent to Thrifty Traveler Premium members help tell the story – and helped travelers get to two of the most beautiful places in the country. Let's start with a dirt-cheap trip to Colorado.
 

Denver flight deal 

This Denver flight deal was a pretty sweet one for travelers all over the country. It included rock-bottom fares through the summer and into fall the end of fall from most cities, including some great fares lingering in late June and early July. Last summer, these peak summer flights were in the $400s or $500s.
 

Dallas to Denver airfare calendar 

The same goes for this sizzling deal to Great Falls, Montana (GTF) near the east entrance to Glacier National Park. It's my favorite way to get to the park because it's always cheaper than the west side of Kalispell (FCA). It's also home to Many Glacier – an iconic yet far-flung section of the park.

In 2022, these flights were in the $500s or $600s minimum. Not anymore…
 

Glacier National Park flight deal 

This deal included August availability to help get our Thrifty Traveler Premium members to Glacier this summer. Travelers based in Salt Lake City (SLC) don't have to wait that long.
 

SLC to GTF airfare 

That $169 nonstop fare to Montana is just a few weeks away! If you punted away the idea of booking a bucket list trip like this for this summer, think again.

But aside from domestic flight deals, there's another place where you can still get last-minute flight deals: Using your points and miles. You can even find award availability to hop across the pond in business class, too.
 

Germany Condor business class flight deal 

Only Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members get award alerts to use their points and miles!

At a time when many travelers' searches are coming up empty, this recent award alert flying Condor business class for just 55,000 points was a boon for those Alaska Airlines miles. Back when we first discovered this award space, you could book a flight to Frankfurt (FRA) from June through August.
 

Condor business class fare 

Don't give up on your travel hopes for this summer if you don't have to. There are great deals out there for late June, July, and August travel.

 

Already Booked? Rebook & Save!

If you're looking at these low, low prices and thinking that you booked too early, you're wrong! When flight prices drop, you can rebook your flights and save.

During the worst of the pandemic, major U.S. airlines did away with change fees on almost all their flights. That flexibility remains in place today, and it opens an avenue for travelers to change (or cancel and rebook) their existing reservations when fares drop … and pocket the difference! You won't get money back but an airline credit or voucher to put toward another trip.

It's one of our favorite travel hacks, period. And combined with these recent price drops we've seen for domestic flights, it's a surefire way to come out way ahead. We've heard from readers who have saved thousands of dollars doing this over the years.

But how does it work?

  1. Say no to basic economy. Airlines' cheapest basic economy fares cannot be changed or canceled without forfeiting a hefty fee – or at all. You need to book at least a main cabin economy fare for this method to work.
  2. Set a price alert. Whether you're waiting to book or already have your trip, set a Google Flights Price Alert and voila – you'll get an email when there's a significant price change on your flight.
  3. Cancel your existing flight (or change it, if you can). Once you've confirmed your current flight is now cheaper, log into your airline account and cancel it for a voucher. Some airlines may allow you to rebook the exact same flight online (or by phone or via social media) without canceling, but that's no slam dunk.
  4. Rebook the cheaper flight. Use that airline credit or voucher you just got after canceling to rebook your flight at the lower price.
  5. Pocket your voucher for the difference! If you canceled and rebooked a flight that originally cost $750 for just $500 after prices dropped, there's a $250 travel credit on its way to your account to put toward another trip. But pay close attention to that expiration date: These vouchers are a “use-them-or-lose-them” perk

 

delta airlines economy cabin

 
Read our full step-by-step guide to rebooking flights after prices drop! 
 

Bottom Line

Ruling out a trip this summer due to high airfare prices? Think again: It might be cheaper than you think, even booking fairly late.

Cheap last-minute flights have made a comeback this summer, especially domestically. And that's great news whether you've already booked your flights or not.

 

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