En español | Growing older means greater flexibility in planning getaways. If you're retired, you don't have to work around school schedules or job demands, and can travel more inexpensively by snagging flights with unsold seats and booking hotels when rates are low.
Get ready to pack your bags on the spur of the moment using these strategies:
1. Eyeball airfare charts to pinpoint when to go. Fares vary day to day, depending on demand. Websites of carriers — including Delta, Southwest and United — show the cheapest days to fly if your dates are flexible. (It’s often best to go on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, when most business and leisure travelers don’t.) To cast your net wide, punch in departure and arrival cities and a time frame on websites such as Skyscanner or Google Flights. They survey multiple airlines to show the most economical days to travel.
2. Set up fare alerts. If you want to visit grandchildren or friends and don’t have firm dates, sign up for a price alert. You can do that on websites such as AirfareWatchdog to be informed when seats cost less. When you search for flights on Kayak, it will advise whether it’s a good time to buy or if fares are expected to go down. You may also sign up for email notification of discounts on many travel websites. One of the best newsletters for current offers comes from Travelzoo, a clearinghouse for discounted flights, hotels, and air and lodging packages.
3. Use frequent-flier airline miles to take off. If flights aren’t filled, carriers may offer more award seats close to departure. Carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue have eliminated blackout dates in loyalty programs, meaning if a seat is available, you can grab it using points. An impromptu round-trip ticket booked in July from Baltimore to Albany, N.Y., costs 15,000 miles on Southwest, plus $11 tax. The cash price would have been $400. It pays to periodically review your miles and expiration dates so that you don’t lose travel that’s nearly free.
4. Call on a “virtual travel assistant” to do the searching for you. The Hipmunk site is a great source for travel steals. Its new “Hello Hipmunk” feature, which uses artificial intelligence, lets you email what you want (a quick getaway to Vegas, for instance). Within seconds, you’ll be given options for flights and hotels, with sassy commentary from a cartoon chipmunk in aviator goggles hauling a roll-aboard suitcase. “Vegas, Baby! … stress no more,” the Hipmunk replied when asked for flights from Washington, D.C., and hotels in early August. The lodging (Stratosphere hotel, $76 a night) and cheapest round trip ($268.38 on Spirit) were cheaper than on hotel and airline sites. Hipmunk then sends users to sites including JustFly and CheapoAir to book. It also ferrets out Airbnb rentals in your chosen destination.
5. Pay less for rental digs. Owners don’t want properties to sit vacant, so it’s possible to score lower last-minute rates via sites such as Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO and HomeAway.com, where you deal directly with homeowners or property managers. Sometimes you needn’t negotiate: Sale rates for certain rentals are shown.
6. Bed down cheaply on an impromptu road trip. Have points in hotel loyalty programs? Book a free stay along the way. Or bid for low rates at Priceline.com to score a deal, though you won’t know the name of the property until you book. Priceline’s “Express Deals” don’t reveal the hotel, but also don’t require bidding. If extreme last-minute planning suits you, HotelTonight has access to unsold rooms and can put you into one cheaply the day you wish to stay. You can book up to a week before through its website or app.
7. Scope out a last-minute cruise. When ships don’t sell cabins, prices sink. Unfortunately, now that cruising is so popular, rock-bottom prices are scarcer. This summer, Alaska sailings sold out fast, says Travel Weekly. A reservationist at the CruiseDeals site said sailings everywhere now fill faster, so booking early is a smart move. She did find a seven-day Mediterranean cruise from Savona, Italy, in October on the Costa Pacifica for $392.60 a person, double occupancy, including taxes and fees. “Last Minute Cruise Deals” on the website are worth checking out.
8. Go one-stop shopping at Last Minute Travel. Whether seeking a vacation destination, flight, cruise, air and hotel package, or rental car, you’ll find it at the Last Minute Travel site. The website offers “Undercover Hotels” at rates below the norm (you won’t know the lodging name until you book). Join the Last Minute Travel Club for $50 a year to nab even lower prices; if you don’t save what you paid to join, you’ll get a promo code for discounts to make up the difference.