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.