woman reading maps

It’s totally possible to pull together a last-minute trip with flexibility. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

5 Simple Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Getaway with Maximum Flexibility

It’s always understandable in an ever-changing world when travelers are hesitant to click “book” and set in stone any firm vacation plans. But with lower fares and looser cancelation policies staying on the horizon, the time to buy might be now.

Here are five tips help you plan last-minute travel to go see your family, for them to come see you, or for you to just get the heck out of Dodge!

As always, check for travel restrictions before booking any trips.

1. Be Flexible

You’re not going to find a deal if you travel on the dates that everyone else does. I always use Thanksgiving as an example because everyone wants to depart on the Wednesday before and return the Sunday after, right?

Well, not only are those the most expensive days to fly, they will also be the most crowded.

So I always advise using your days off wisely to save money and avoid the crowds. By bumping your flights just by a day or two, you can save 50 percent or more. This advice goes for any time you travel, not just turkey day. Be flexible with your dates, especially if you’re planning to fly last-minute.

2. Read the Fine Print

Since the travel industry is going through its most difficult time in history, airlines have really eased up on change fees. Most will let you cancel at the last minute, whatever your reason, and they will give you a travel credit that’s good for a year or two. Always find out what the airline’s cancelation penalties are before booking.

TIP: If you do need to cancel but don’t want a travel voucher for a future flight, wait until the day before to see if your flight gets canceled to get a full refund.

woman in face mask walking through airport
Follow safety guidelines at the airport. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Know Your Hotel’s Cancelation Policy

Before you book a hotel, read its cancelation policy. The policies are not all the same, and they might even differ from property to property, not just by brand. Usually, prepaid rates are more restrictive, and it’s even worse when booked via a third party.

Booking directly on the hotel’s website will usually make it a lot easier to cancel and give you perks like free Wi-Fi, upgrades, elite benefits and sometimes even breakfast.

When I book a hotel in advance, I always set a calendar reminder for the day before I can cancel a reservation without penalty. That way, in case something comes up and I forget to cancel, my wallet won’t get dinged.

4. Research Your Travel Insurance Options

Reading the fine print before you purchase travel insurance has always been the golden rule. Now it’s even more important since most policies don’t cover COVID-19.

Whether there’s a pandemic or not, the best way to buy travel insurance is similar to booking flights and hotels. Shop around and then try and book directly with a provider.

There are two websites in particular that will do this legwork for you: insuremytrip.com (IMT) and squaremouth.com. Both search 20+ providers to find the best deal. After being told by one insurance company that I couldn’t insure my then 86-year-old dad for a trip to Italy, I searched IMT and found multiple providers that would.

coronavirus travel restrictions sign at airport
Make sure to research travel requirements and restrictions before your trip. (Photo: Getty Images)

5. COVID-19 Testing

These days almost everyone is making last-minute decisions about travel. Just keep in mind that many destinations, including Hawaii, require proof of a negative COVID-19 reading within 72 hours prior to the final leg of departure.

Airlines and airports realize that their golden ticket, while awaiting a reliable and effective vaccine, is offering widespread, rapid, accurate COVID-19 testing. That’s why they’re scrambling to partner with different health companies to offer testing.

Not all COVID-19 tests are created equal, so find out in advance which test is accepted. You can’t just walk up to most clinics, so be sure to make an appointment to get a test in advance and tell them you need the results back within your time frame. Here’s a list of airlines that are offering COVID-19 testing.

John E. DiScala, aka Johnny Jet, has traveled more than 100,000 miles a year since starting his free newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. He was named by Forbes as one of the Top 10 Travel Influencers and writes about everything travel on JohnnyJet.com. Johnny now travels the world with his wife and their two children.