is it possible to book a cheap flight the same day you want to leave?
October 11, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

is it possible to book a cheap flight the same day you want to leave

i want to leave nyc this evening and go to san francisco. if an airline had empty seats, would they sell one to me cheaper than listed? right now websites indicate about $500 each way. (i will also have to come back at some point)
posted by lulz to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't this called flying standby? I've never done it before but I'm pretty sure this is what stand-by is....
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2012

Standby is when you have an existing ticket for a different flight and then go to the gate of an earlier one so you can try to take any of their extra spots.
posted by Madamina at 8:13 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to try and Priceline?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Standby is when you have an existing ticket for a different flight and then go to the gate of an earlier one so you can try to take any of their extra spots.

No, you can fly standby by having a cheaper, standby ticket, where you turn up for your booked flight but only get on if there are spaces not taken by passengers with regular tickets. If there aren't spaces, you are bumped to the next flight and the same thing happens again.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Flying standby is an option. I've noticed you can sometimes get cheap last minute flights as airlines hate flying with empty seats, but with the whole American Airlines craziness going on at the moment I imagine every other airline is nicely full up and isn't going to drop seat prices when they can get all the paniced AA customers who missed flights business.
posted by wwax at 8:24 AM on October 11, 2012

Ah, my bad.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:24 AM on October 11, 2012

Poster, please be aware - as I recently wasn't - that airlines have a window before the flight where they won't sell you tickets, for security reasons. When it came up, I was told 4 hours online, 2 hours in the airport, but I can't find good documentation online - I would confirm with your intended airline as one of your pre-planning steps, here.
posted by ftm at 8:26 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, it is possible if the flight is quite empty and/or there is competition on the route. Otherwise, the last seats on the plane are generally expensive because they are catering to walk ons like you. The block of cheaper ones have typically been sold earlier - either very early on or in demand-based promotional activity designed to shift seats on a low-demand flight. Most airlines are - it goes without saying - good at optimising revenue per passenger or they tend to go out of business.

This is not the same as flying standby, which basically is the airline retaining the option to bump you off a full flight and onto a later one with availability.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:27 AM on October 11, 2012

Technically, about 24 hours before a flight, the seats get "released" and then are in control of the online system and the gate agent system. So you can't get same-day flights on the phone, usually, or you can, for a crazy price, but you CAN get them online but, most easily, at the airport. It's a crapshoot! Often you won't see a price drop same-day online, but you might improve at the airport. (Just checked AA's prices to Miami from NYC for today online; not great at all.) Or not!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Airlines don't want to fly empty seats, but they also don't want to set precedent where people wait until the very last minute to get a cheap seat.

Also, the funeral and medical emergencies crowd pay top dollar for last minute seats.
posted by hwyengr at 9:27 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Orbitz right now show tix at $310 one way, from LaGuardia to SFO. That's as good as you're going to get.
posted by beagle at 9:44 AM on October 11, 2012

I checked Priceline and US Airways has a round trip, returning a week from now, and it's $675 RT, with a return next Thursday.

C'mon, that's pretty damn good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:47 AM on October 11, 2012

You want to search for "Last minute airfare."
Expedia, Hotwire,
There are more if you Google. Looks like you can fly tomorrow into San Jose for $295.

Also, weekends are the best time to look for these kinds of deals, since business travelers tend to fill up the weekday travel slots.

We took our first anniversary trip via a last minute airfare. Just decided to wait and see what was cheap that weekend and boom, off we went.
posted by Addlepated at 10:21 AM on October 11, 2012

Historically same day flights are the most expensive as the airlines know you want to fly. In business class their was a riddle; What's the only thing that gets more expensive the closer it gets to its expiry date? An airline ticket.
posted by saradarlin at 11:29 AM on October 11, 2012

My intro to econ prof also mentioned this. He said that he doesn't understand why airlines don't have an auction / standby section at the gate when flights leave. If there are free seats, whoever wants to pay the most get to go (this was in the days before Crazy Security).

But airlines don't have that infrastructure, so I think the short answer is "you gotta be bffs with a flight attendant". OTOH, kayak is showing $300 standby tickets for 4:25pm from jfk (the time is now 2:32) with one stop in philly. That seems pretty reasonable to me.
posted by Phredward at 11:34 AM on October 11, 2012

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