Can I travel extremely last minute for cheap?
December 20, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

What if I don't care where I want to go?

Is it possible if you were extremely flexible to travel to random places for very cheap. Say you just show up at the airport, walk up to the ticket counter and say "I don't really care where I'm going, do you have any flights that are departing in 30 minutes that have an empty seat you can give me for dirt cheap?" Also I'm guessing people at the gate have some flexibility in terms of what they can charge you for the fare. If a flight is 1/2 full at least they would get something than nothing right?
posted by Scientifik to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You could maybe find a cheap flight somewhere, but ticket prices rise the closer the plane gets to taking off because the airline knows that someone buying a ticket a couple hours before a flight NEEDS that flight and will pay for it. Also airlines are cutting routes and flights, overbooking, and packing more seats into planes so that there aren't any half full flights. With these fuel prices the companies can really only afford full flights.

Plus walking up to a ticket counter and saying, "I need a cheap ticket that leaves in the next half hour and I don't care were it goes." is going to raise all kinds of red flags for the TSA.
posted by Science! at 12:04 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well looks like I'm a little of the mark; prices a week or so before a flight are dropping but I can't find anything about day of prices.
posted by Science! at 12:14 PM on December 20, 2008

In general buying tickets at the airport will get you the worst fare possible. A quick google for "last minute travel" shows a ton of sites that seem to do what you want.

Here is one -- you pick your departure city and a date and it gives you several packages to various locations. Probably you are better off using this as a starting point and then using a search engine to really find a good fare.
posted by ChrisHartley at 12:36 PM on December 20, 2008

Yes, this is a common misconception. I don't know if it's ever worked like this in the past, but I know for sure now that walking up to a ticket agent and asking to go wherever is the best way to overpay. You'd think that, if they know a plane won't be full, why not discount the remaining, unused seats? There's no doubt a reason they don't do this, but I don't know what it is.

Your best bet, if you just want to travel, but don't care where, is not rely on a plane as your method of transport. It can be your first method, but pick a place and then travel slowly around the area. Take buses and trains. They're a lot cheaper and more flexible. I've personally walked to a train ticket agent and asked for a ticket on the next train out, no matter where it was headed.

If you've got a month to travel, pick a region and buy an open-jaw ticket (fly into one city, out of another) and spend your time slowly making your way between the two cities.

For finding cheap plane tickets, start with Kayak. Use their Buzz feature, which lets you put in your origin, and it'll show you the cheapest places you can fly to from there. You can filter the search by region and month.

If you want to preserve the randomness of what just showing up at the airport would offer, buy a big wall map and a dart. Drink three beers, then throw the dart at the map. Go there. And if you do a bit of planning, and you won't break the bank.
posted by nitsuj at 12:49 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The other problem is that "you don't care where you go"... but you probably care that your flight back brings you home. So even if you get a cheap one-way there, how do you get home if the flights aren't empty?

But for the general idea, I like Kayak Buzz for just finding somewhere/anywhere to fly to. Here is my super-duper tip that I just found out: always put in a dollar amount limit. If you leave it unlimited, it just gives you the Top 25 most popular destinations, which includes a lot of Florida and places like Hawaii that are very expensive. So half the list is useless (to me at least). If you put in $150 or $200, you get the Top 25 under that price, which opens up a whole spectrum of places that are interesting.
posted by smackfu at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2008

"If a flight is 1/2 full at least they would get something than nothing right?"

You'd think, wouldn't you? But no. This is usually not the case, and I still haven't really figured out why. In any case things like Kayak Buzz or Skyscanner are probably your best bet. I once planned a somewhat insane trip around East/SE Asia that covered HK to Singapore and every place in between that ended up being insanely cheap through using low-cost airlines (AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia). I've no doubt the same can be done in the US or Europe if you indeed don't care where you go. Find the cheapest ticket, and off you go!
posted by ryanbryan at 1:35 PM on December 20, 2008

Package couriers are something akin to what you're talking about. look them up at
posted by cmchap at 1:44 PM on December 20, 2008

"If a flight is 1/2 full at least they would get something than nothing right?"

It's not cheap because there's no demand for that. Lowering the prices wouldn't affect demand, so prices rise because people are more likely to want to go to specific destination and are willing to pay. Casual travellers are few and far between.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:50 PM on December 20, 2008

The reason they don't cut prices at the last minute at the airport is that people who are at the airport buying a plane ticket have the most inelastic demand ever - they need to go wherever they're going so badly that they went to the airport without a ticket. Last-minute travel demands happen a lot more than last-minute "let's go to the airport and see what we can get for cheap!" wild hairs.
posted by YoungAmerican at 1:55 PM on December 20, 2008

"There's no doubt a reason they don't do this, but I don't know what it is."

Because if they did do this, people would make a bunch of full-price, fully-refundable reservations (either themselves or through a collaborator), then cancel at the last minute, take the refund, walk into the airport, and buy a ticket on the same flight for cheap because they suddenly have a bunch of unfilled seats.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2008

Here's a similar question asked previously. Hope it helps. And have fuuuuuun. (Jealous)
posted by Stewriffic at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2008

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