Booking last-minute flights

Vera is in two minds about surprising her sister in South Korea for her birthday early next year. She’s worried about the unrest nearby and wants to know how late she can leave booking her flight if she decides to go.


Q. Vera
My sister lives in South Korea and I am thinking of surprising her with a visit for her birthday at the end of January. I’m a bit worried about what’s happening with North Korea at the moment and so I don’t want to make a decision until I’m more sure of the situation there. What I want to know is, how late can I wait to book a flight before it’s going to cost me a fortune?

A. Well who knows what’s going to happen in North Korea, or the nearby countries. Time will tell I suppose, but I can’t help you figure that one out.

I can, however, help you with a few tips on how to book last-minute flights that won’t break the bank.

The best advice I can give you is to keep a close eye on all airlines. Sign up to the airlines’ websites, follow them on social media and keep checking third-party sites such as WebJet, Skyscanner, and at Flight Centre.

There are always last-minute deals popping up, but there’s no guarantee of it happening.

Some flights will book out months in advance. Some will fly half empty (though that’s not likely).

Sign up to airline loyalty programs, such as Virgin’s Velocity program or Qantas Frequent Flyer. There are plenty of other ‘points’ programs you can join, too. So enrol and ensure you check the ‘receive special offers’ box on your account preferences. 

Also sign up for Skyscanner Price Alerts, select the country you want to fly to and wait for deals to filter through. This service will email you every day and let you know how much a flight to that country will cost, whether the price rises or falls.

Airlines also advertise Facebook or Twitter-only deals, so make sure you’re following them.

Check with Flight Centre and other travel package holiday companies for any last-minute cancellations, too. Because they’ve most likely already received some sort of compensation for a cancellation, they’ll offer you a huge discount to get someone to put a bum on the seat of a cancelled flight.

And most importantly, you’ll have to be flexible. You may have to fly at the crack of dawn or some other incredibly inconvenient time. You may have to fly with a low-cost carrier, or you may have to do a few stopovers on the way to where you’re going.

The other option is to book a fully refundable flight now, and if you decide not to go, cancel it and get your money back. You may spot a much cheaper flight closer to your departure date, in which case, you cancel your purchased flight, get your money back, and spend it on the cheaper flight.

Have you any advice for Vera booking a last-minute flight?

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