As you read this, a hundred new last-minute travel deals are being posted all around the web. But of course you can only use one at a time, right? So how do you find that fantastic “We’ve gotta grab this!” bargain that will get you a great weekend getaway or long vacation for cheap?
You could spend hours searching a dozen different sites, or you could just let the right deals come into your inbox.
It’s not a new thing to get targeted travel deals coming your way. It was probably the late 90s when I first started getting newsletters that highlighted flight deals and package vacation from my own city. The offers have gotten both wider and more targeted since then though. Wider in the sense that there are more players to choose from, more targeted in the sense that you can narrow things down and slice them even more accurately so you’re not wasting your time sifting through a big pile of useless data.
Setting Up Deal Alerts
The first thing to do is find the sites where the deals line up with what you want to do. If you live in Sydney, for example, you’d probably want to go to CheapFlights and get on their list for deals from there. You can sign up for flights, hotels, cruises, or holiday packages and exclude the other categories that don’t interest you. Then you’ll get alerts for last-minute deals like a flight from there to London for AUD$750 or a 3-night trip to Melbourne with flights and hotel for AUD$479 per person.
In the USA there are a zillion online travel agencies and deal aggregators to choose from, which can get overwhelming, so the best places to start are the places you go already to find deals. If you regularly use a specific booking service or regularly search a content site like BudgetTravel, Booking Buddy, or Airfare Watchdog, then sign up for their deal alerts since you are already familiar with their interface. Naturally sign up with your favorite airline too, the one you already use the most.
What about “flash sale” sites? These don’t get the media attention they did four or five years ago (and some have gone under), but often the best last-minute deals come from these inventory-clearing sites that are trying to fill up empty rooms and plane seats. They go from high-end resorts from the likes of LuxuryLink down to the site you normally visit for half-price pizza: Groupon.
Rental Deals for Cars and Apartments
Think beyond the flights and hotels too when you’re looking for deep discounts. Your favorite rental car company runs flash sales when there are too many cars sitting unreserved. If you don’t have any company loyalty, prices will be even less in alerts from the opaque booking sites like Hotwire and Priceline.
If it’s low season in that resort area down the road from you, it’s a sure thing that apartment rental sites will have plenty of owners offering limited time discounts. When I used to have a Mexican beach house listed on an international rental site, there was a function as an owner where I could put in as big a discount as I wanted and anyone who had showed interest in that area would see the deal pop up on their home screen or in an e-mail.
“Dynamic pricing” isn’t just for airlines either. Cheap bus companies and train lines frequently run sale rates when capacity is looking low.
Trolling for Loyalty Point Discounts
Naturally if you’re signed up for a frequent flyer or hotel points program, you’ll get e-mails from that company, maybe far more often than you would like. Don’t automatically delete them though because sometimes hidden in the stack is a great points discount that’s worth shouting about. As this post goes up I’m in Peru on a hiking adventure in the Sacred Valley. I got a round-trip flight from Mexico for just 30,000 miles because of a discount deal United was running and on the long leg back I’ll be sitting in business class on Avianca even. For 30K miles total!
Four times now I’ve taken advantage of Point Breaks run by the Intercontinental Hotels Group where specific hotels that are running at low capacity go on sale for just 5,000 points. I’ve used these promotions to stay in a nice hotel for close to nothing in Managua, Mexico City, Atlanta, and a town in South Carolina.
Yeah I know, we’re all suffering from e-mail overload, but an extra few minutes a week deleting some targeted newsletters when you’re not traveling can result in hundreds or thousands of dollars shaved off your travel tab when it’s time to get away.