close up of flying planeI have a few hidden talents. One of them is finding amazing deals on flights. I travel a lot for business. For maximum flexibility, I often buy my plane tickets just a day or two before I fly. But I never pay more than I would have I bought my tickets months in advance; and sometimes I pay less (I have gotten from San Diego to London for less than $200 several times).

Last minute airfare deals do exist and you can definitely find them. Here are some of the tricks I use.

1. Kayak.com

I get nothing for endorsing Kayak. But I love this website and it’s the first place I check. I even book flights using their iPhone app literally as I’m on the move. The only thing I will say is that I’m sad that it’s not such a secret anymore because now the deals aren’t as good as they used to be.

Kayak.com has a pretty clever approach to finding airfare. You put in the information of dates and destination into their search engine. They quickly search hundreds of travel websites to help you pinpoint the cheapest fare. You can even search based on a matrix of date and destination flexibility, so you’ll know at a glance if a nearby airport is cheaper or its better to fly on Saturday than Sunday.

Kayak will even tell you when it is cheaper to put together several one-ways from multiple airlines, rather than booking a round trip. Kayak is a quick way to find a cheap flight without a lot of research.

2. Southwest Airlines

Unless I’m too busy to care, I usually do a few other checks after Kayak. My next stop is Southwest.com.

Southwest used to sell a lot of cheap tickets last minute. But sometimes they decide to take away the cheap fares a week or two before flying. They are also not searchable by Kayak, so you have to check them directly. Still, I fly Southwest nearly half the time because they are consistently cheap and flexible.

I don’t find Southwest to be any worse than other economy class seats. And they give me flexibility to change flights without fees, which is really useful. They don’t have first class, though. But nearly all their flights are short hauls (around 2 hours). Southwest is just a bus in the sky, and that’s perfectly fine with me for short hauls. Southwest has never stranded me somewhere (unlike United, whom I banned from my repertoire because they have stranded me repeatedly and have terrible customer service).

I also recommend the Southwest credit card for mileage if you are doing a lot of short haul domestic flying. I use this card to pay for most of my business expenses. I also use it to buy all the materials for my husband’s real estate business because we get triple points for those items. I get so many points from this that I end up flying free regularly.

3. Create Your Own Itinerary Based On Experience and Experimentation

Sometimes I cobble together flights from different carriers on my own. For example, when I fly to London, I usually find a cheap domestic flight to JFK in New York (because those are plentiful). Then I find a cheap ticket from JFK to London, because those are frequently on sale by someone. Certain airports, like JFK, offer airlines that others don’t (I like Air India to London because they serve curry, WIN). A little creativity and about 20 minutes can save you several hundred dollars.

You might also be surprised to learn that going directly to the airline’s website might give you a better deal than, say, Travelocity. That is because they pre-sell a block of tickets to travel websites and keep the rest for themselves. If they undersell their own tickets, they will price lower than the travel websites on last-minute fares.

I have a lot of luck with Delta and Alaska. But play around — especially if you know you are going to an airport where a particular airline has a major hub. If you travel to the same places frequently, you will start to notice patterns.

Using these tips will increase your chances of scoring a great deal on a last minute flight. There is no steadfast rule that booking a last minute flight should cause your wallet to go into shock. I have only had problems with last minute flights being expensive a handful of times in the last ten years. Check out these different websites and airlines for the best deal possible.

Oh, and the one thing you won’t find very helpful is Googling “last minute air fare deals.” So don’t bother. You will get so many junk travel package websites that it’ll make you nutty. Go to the source.

Alicia Dearn

Alicia Dearn

CEO + Trial Lawyer at Bellatrix PC
Ms. Dearn gives sharp and insightful legal counsel to entrepreneurs and employers so they can advance their businesses fearlessly. She fixes legal problems.
Alicia Dearn