You’re feeling spontaneous and need to skip town — preferably next weekend. A last-minute vacation is more feasible than you think. Here’s how to fulfill island wanderlust on demand.
1. Be flexible — with dates and destination.
Sunday can be one of the more expensive days to fly, but moving your return to a Monday or Tuesday can make a big difference in price — or, plug in dates for two weeks later and do a side-by-side comparison.
Also, play around with your length of stay, advises Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel. Some hotel brands offer a fifth night free, which gives you an extra day of beach time at no additional cost.
Because of the larger quantity of hotels and volume of flights from the U.S., locales with larger tourism — for instance, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic — often offer better last-minute deals than harder-to-reach places.
However, says Margie Hand of Andavo Travel, don’t discount slightly more off-the-radar islands like Curaçao, Grenada or St. Kitts, which may be offering some enticing last-minute options to lure visitors.
2. Consider airfare first.
If you can pack up the car and drive to Tybee Island within a few hours, great. But for those thinking more far-flung, be sure to check out flights before booking that (non-refundable) last-minute hotel room.
Airfare, Epperly says, is often the “deal killer” because of potentially high costs. While deals can sometimes be found 14 to 21 days in advance, it’s more common that airfare becomes more expensive the closer you get to your travel dates.
3. Play spin the globe on your phone.
An onslaught of apps is making last-minute travel easier than ever — and the inventory unsold seats, hotel rooms, villas and private homes mean you may score an 11th-hour deal. One favorite is HotelTonight, which can hook you up at a cool, pre-screened boutique property that would’ve taken you hours of research to uncover on your own.
Book up to a week in advance (though same day is fine, too) whether you’re headed to Key West, Florida, or Coronado Island, California — plus they’ll share need-to-know tips and connect you with their in-house concierge before you arrive.
4. Aim for the off season.
One week out, Martha’s Vineyard for the Fourth of July holiday might be a little pricey (if you can find a room, that is). The same trip in October? You’re way more likely to score a deal.
5. Outsource the planning.
Maui or Moorea? Not all islands are created equal and, even with limited lead time, a travel pro can help match you with the right fit — often at an unadvertised rate. Some may add a small fee to expedite last-minute plans (and make a few urgent phone calls on your behalf), but an accredited organization will give you peace of mind that your vacation has been vetted. They also may be able to pull some strings so that “hotels know who you are before you get there,” Epperly notes. Hello, upgrade?
6. Note what’s non-refundable.
Most hotels have a cancellation policy of anywhere from 24 hours to 7 to 21 days in advance. For last-minute jaunts, your reservation may have to be paid in full up front. If there’s a still a chance you might come down with the flu in the week before you leave, or if your boss may not approve those last-minute vacation days, consider travel protection insurance.
7. Beware of a deal that’s too good.
Scrolling through pages of user reviews may cut into your packing time, but be sure to do your due diligence to make sure you’re getting what you paid for. “Last-minute deals are not always what they’re cracked up to be,” Hand warns.
8. Get on the waitlist.
Flexibility is key when you’re on a short timeframe, but if that dreamy beach resort you fell in love with on Instagram is fully booked, call and ask to be put on a waitlist for any last-minute cancellations. Same goes for dinner reservations, spa appointments and the like.