Last-Minute Trips Are Hot Right Now — Here Are 3 Ways To Save On Spontaneity

It has long been a tried-and-true mantra the travel industry: If you don’t want to pay through the nose for a trip, book early, book early, book early. Yet in these post-Covid times, many travelers are doing exactly the opposite.

According to the 2023 Travel Trends report from the airfare tracker Hopper, Americans are spending 30% less time planning trips compared to pre-pandemic 2019. Travelers are beginning to search online for a trip five weeks before departure, down from nearly seven weeks before the pandemic.

During the period between planning and booking a trip, travelers are showing a greater anxiety than pre-Covid. In 2022, Hopper users checked prices for domestic trips an average of 16 times before booking, a 33% increase from 2019.

Finally, the average lead time for booking is getting shorter, too. For domestic trips, the average traveler is now booking three weeks out, about a 10% reduction since 2019. For trips to Europe, the most popular international destination region, Americans are booking seven weeks ahead of departure, on average, a full two weeks later than pre-pandemic.

Even more notable is the explosion of hardcore last-minute Charlies. Last year, more than half (55%) of hotel bookings made on the Hopper app were for same-day check-in. That’s an 8% increase compared to 2021 and an 11% jump compared to 2020.

This trend looks like it’s only getting stronger. In the first three months of 2023, nearly two-thirds (63%) were same-day bookings.

Travel costs are higher in 2023.

More than eight in 10 Hopper users (84%) expect to spend more on travel in 2023. That’s a safe bet. According to the latest Consumer Price Index released on Wednesday, airfares have climbed 4% in just the past month and hotel rates are up 3%. The average cost of dining out rose 0.6% between February and March.

To save on an upcoming trip, even a last-minute one, Hopper offers three pieces of advice:

Be flexible.

“Flexibility is key to getting the lowest prices on flights and hotels,” says Hayley Berg, Hopper’s lead economist. That means staying open to alternative destinations, or being able to travel midweek or at off-peak times of day. “Travelers who fly midweek can save an average of $90 off of domestic airfare, and over $140 on international airfare,” she says.

This is a handy hack for remote and hybrid workers. Of the 45% of Hopper survey respondents who said they have some level of control over when and where they work, more than half (52%) say they leverage that flexibility when planning trips. That means traveling more frequently, traveling midweek and adding extra days to their trips.

Steer clear of Saturday.

Avoiding the Saturday-night stay at a hotel can save travelers an average of 25% off their nightly rate, according to Berg. “In popular weekend cities like Las Vegas and Miami, skipping the weekend stay can save travelers over 80% versus including a Saturday night,” she says.

In 2022, Hopper saw hotel bookings for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday check-ins grow significantly faster than Thursday and Friday, historically the most popular days of the week. Thursday and Friday arrivals have lost a 15% drop in share since 2019.

Choose a city break.

Last-minute travelers can often get lower rates by booking in major cities, says Berg, but cautions that they run the risk of hotels selling out over event weekends or during peak season.