Plane tickets on short notice
December 4, 2022 5:34 AM   Subscribe

There is a very good chance I will need to fly from Massachusetts to Florida in the next few days for a funeral. I haven't flown in almost ten years. What is the current thinking on the best way to get plane tickets on short notice, without breaking the bank?

Bonus points for any tips for flying in the COVID era—I'm sure a lot has changed in the last few years, and I've seen plenty of horror stories. My relationship with the deceased was (to put it mildly) very difficult , and I am dreading this trip something fierce... so I'm looking to make this part of process as easy as it can be, at least. Thanks for your advice.
posted by cellar door to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a pretty good idea of itinerary, you could buy tickets now from southwest at little risk. You might save money by buying them a bit earlier than the day before, and if you end up not going or need to change, all southwest’s tickets are either fully creditable for use on a different flight or some fare levels are fully refundable.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:41 AM on December 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Google Flights or Kayak are probably the easiest way to find cheap flights (unless you have loyalty to a specific airline). On Kayak right now I can find flights from Boston to various Florida cities leaving later this week for $150-300. One thing that's changed in the last 10 years is the proliferation of fares that don't even include carry-on bags so do watch out for that when you're booking.
posted by mskyle at 7:13 AM on December 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

In addition to Southwest, a few other airlines have dropped their change fees during the pandemic. I've rebooked on Alaska not once, but twice this past year. I want to say JetBlue and American have as well, but don't quote me on that.
posted by hoyland at 7:32 AM on December 4, 2022

Best answer: Yeah, buying on short notice is not as bad price-wise as it might have been, unless you're looking for very in-demand dates. Check Southwest (and I think JetBlue?) separately since they don't show up in normal search engine results, but I know that for my itineraries they have been shockingly expensive compared to what I found from the larger airlines. So I second Google Flights and Kayak. Note that Google Flights prices are not always accurate for certain airlines, which is a pain.

Since reliability is probably important for you, I would highly recommend booking directly from an airline and not through a third-party site, even if that's more expensive. Should you need to make any last-minute changes, or should a flight get canceled, it can be much much easier to deal with the airlines themselves. Check change fees and cancellation fees before booking.

I would also vote against Spirit Airlines if that comes up since their cancellation track record is much worse than average. You can check cancellation statistics here.

Seconding that posting prices that don't include check-in bags or sometimes even carry-on bags (!) has become an obnoxious thing in the last few years, so double-check when making your price comparisons.

Bonus points for any tips for flying in the COVID era

Well, rates have been starting to go up so I'd get the best masks possible (N95, KF94, etc.) for both airport and flight. Almost nobody will be masking. You'll be asked to take down your mask briefly for the ID checks. Plan in advance what you want to do about eating or drinking. If you're going to be away for more than 2-3 days you might want to take some rapid tests along with you so that you can test while you're there, and get a few tests for when you're back home.

This isn't related to covid, but make sure you pack such that if you're asked to gate-check your carry-on bag, you won't be in trouble.

Also new in the past few years is that (most? all?) airports now have pick-up areas for rideshare transportation, if that's relevant to you. At the same time, there are also generally still regular old taxi stands if you prefer that.

There's been a trend of passengers putting AirTags in their bags in case they get lost. No idea if it's worth it.

If you have time and energy, check whether any of your credit cards has particularly good travel/travel insurance provisions.
posted by trig at 8:04 AM on December 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

You won’t be alone with wearing a mask, trig really spells it out really well. Often the least expensive flights are very early or very late. Car rental is more complex so if you have a substantial drive from the airport, reserve a car and change up the reservation as you need to.

For complicated relationships - I’ve had my own room at the hotel with similar out-of-towners and also stayed separately, such as Air BnB for my own peace of mind to minimize contact with people with bad boundaries. YMMV.
posted by childofTethys at 8:32 AM on December 4, 2022

Best answer: You may want to look into the airline's bereavement policy for discounts or at least flexibility (example). You'll generally need to call the airline reservation line directly about that, and they'll want documentation, but if you have to go somewhere that only one or two airlines serve -- as I often do -- it may come in handy.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:00 AM on December 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Prices could vary a lot across airlines; judging from your location in "Pioneer Valley" I'd obviously price both Boston and Hartford/Springfield, but depending on the price difference you might want to look into the New York airports as well. Similarly, it may help to be flexible about your destination airport (assuming you plan to rent a car down there) - Florida has lots of airports.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2022

If you're willing to come to New Haven (we're closer than NYC), there's a discount airline called Avelo now. It pretty much goes to Florida on the east coast.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:05 PM on December 4, 2022

Response by poster: This was all incredibly useful. Fortunately, it turns out to be a moot question: there will be a cremation, and then a service much closer to home after the new year, so there's no need for me to go flying down south for now. But thank you all for your tips regardless; I really appreciate it.
posted by cellar door at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

JetBlue definitely shows up in search aggregators like Google Flights. Southwest will not.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:13 PM on December 4, 2022

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