7 Last-Minute Vacation Planning Tips to Get the Most for Your Money

summer family getaway

If you're not at all prepared for pumpkin spice coffee drinks and changing leaves, you're not alone. In fact, plenty of us plan on snagging our last ditch chance at beach time ASAP.

An estimated 34.7 million Americans plan to travel this Labor Day weekend, according to the Auto Club AAA. Thankfully, whether you're sneaking in your last summer trip now or later in the month with the kids, extended family, friends, or just your spouse, pulling together an impromptu getaway is a lot easier than it sounds. 

The key: Casting a wide net with your search -- and striving to be open to a variety of options.

"Everyone is heading for the beach or the lake, but if your kids are like mine, any pool [even at a local hotel or in a country house] would also work," says Tom Gilmore, CEO of VacationHomeRentals.com.

Whether the consolation is where you're going to sunbathe or how you'll get to your destination, Gilmore recommends expanding your search for the best deal.

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Here, 6 more tips and tricks to planning an affordable last-minute vacation ...

1. Choose your travel days wisely. Whether or not you're traveling with little ones, you most likely want to avoid crowds. If you have flexibility, try mid-day departures and arrivals, when there's not as much of a rush, advises Bob Diener, co-founder and president of Getaroom.com. And if you can pick any day of the week? "Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good days, but Saturday is the quietest travel day and best for traveling with a baby," he says.

2. Read the fine print & choose places where kids stay for free. If you're flying, baggage fees and other incidentals may not be included in your fare. And depending on where you want to stay, resort fees can quickly add up, as can charges for Wi-Fi or other things you wouldn't necessarily consider an "extra."

Diener offers advice for parents in particular: "Never pay extra for kids," he says. "Every hotel has a different policy regarding allowing kids to stay free -- some as high as 19 years old! But some charge for ages 2 and above. Avoid the extra charges by checking the kids charge policy first."

3. Book your airfare at the right time for the best price. If you're flying, you'll do best to book your airfare on a Tuesday night -- ideally from midnight to 1 a.m. That's because most low airfares seem to appear between Sunday night and Monday night, but Tuesday at midnight, all the discounted fares that haven't been scooped up show up again in the airline’s computer systems.

4. Compare -- and share. Knowledge is power, especially when you know that discount travel sites (like Hotwire.com, Travelzoo.com, LastMinute.com, or the app Hotel Tonight) are offering a super-low price. Talking directly to the hotel or resort where you want to stay and asking them to match the rate you saw online is a quick way to strike up a deal. Or you can contact booking sites about possible slashed prices. For example, if you dial Getaroom's call center, agents can offer unpublished rates that are typically 10 to 20 percent lower than any available one online.

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5. Don't give up too soon. Just because you couldn’t find something in your first search, don’t give up hope, advises Eileen Busing, vice president of communications for HomeAway.com. "Owners with last-minute cancellations or an open week to fill will often offer incentives or discounted rates to insure a booking," she says.

6. Be inquisitive. It can pay to ask about cancellations -- or staying longer than you initially intended. "Calendars aren't always perfectly updated in the vacation space, so you might get lucky," notes Gilmore. If you're staying at a property available for rent by owner, Labor Day or even the month of September may be the end of their season, so they might let you stay a couple of extra nights for very little money, he says. 

With these tricks up your sleeve, you'll be able to snag the perfect last-minute trip faster than you might expect. Bon voyage!

What are your upcoming travel plans?

 

Image via ©iStock.com/SquaredPixels

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