This blog post was updated on April 15, 2019.

In early 2014, my husband called me and asked, “Do you want to go to Peru for Thanksgiving?”

I snorted. “Sure. Let’s go to Peru this Thanksgiving. Let’s also go to the moon. Maybe Narnia.”

“Sweet!” he said. “Because I just found last minute flight deals for $275 round trip.” He then specified the dates – which were really specific, and eight months away.
My heart race sped up a bit. We were saving to go to Europe. And it was eight months away! “We can’t,” I said firmly.

“For $275? We can,” he persisted.

Ten minutes later we had two nonrefundable tickets to Jorge Chávez International Airport.

Why Airlines Sell Extremely Low Fares

There are dozens of reasons why a specific flight might be as cheap as, say, $275 round trip from Salt Lake City to Lima, Peru, but what it really comes down to is airline data. Airlines have very good data about how their flights perform. They know which flights will be full and which will be empty even if they keep the pricing consistent. Because of their information on who will pay what, they reduce the fares on some flights to encourage you to buy and increase fares on others when they know people are willing to pay a premium. (i.e. flights to Florida are much higher during Spring Break season and flights to Wyoming in February are very low.)

But that’s not the only reason flights are offered so cheap. Because airlines schedule their flights up to two years in advance, they can tell when a flight will or will not be full, and may offer an extremely discounted fare in order to sell more seats. Hence, the Salt Lake to Peru over Thanksgiving deal.

How to Find & Jump on Last Minute Flight Deals

The best way to find out about random travel deals is to sign up for alerts. There are several places you can do that online, and most involve entering your email address or providing your phone number for text message alerts. CheapOair has great last minute travel deals for those who are looking to get away right away. But those looking for something more specific can sign up for a fare alert system on each CheapOair destination landing page. This is ideal for people who have a set place in mind and are flexible with their travel times. Securing a last-minute bargain is much easier if you are flexible and don’t care which airline you fly with.

It also doesn’t hurt to follow your favorite airlines on social media (where they may post last-minute flight deals) & sign up for newsletters to be notified right away.

The logistics of a last-minute flight might freak some people out, especially since most are non-refundable. But after booking our flight to Peru and subsequent last-minute deals, I’ve found that the rest of the details usually fall into place much easier than anticipated. The expense of traveling is the hardest part for us to figure out, so booking last-minute deals works, but it may not be for everyone. Time off from work or childcare may be the biggest consideration for others. The risk you take, though, when you try to figure everything out in advance is that some cheap fares sell out in minutes, so you lose the opportunity to travel for pennies. It’s better, I’ve found, to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission.

The Benefits of Spontaneous Travel Deals

I knew two things about Peru before we went: 1) It’s in South America and 2) I think the Disney film The Emperor’s New Groove is set there. We traveled throughout the country during our ten-day stay, to Puerto Maldonado, Lima, and then to Cusco, where we took a train to Machu Picchu.
It was during our trek to Machu Picchu that we ran into fellow last-minute Salt Lake to Lima travelers. We sat in a little pizza place at the base of the Andes, warming ourselves before our late train ride. I was talking about Salt Lake to some Swiss tourists we met when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see two men and a woman behind our table.

The woman said that she overheard our conversation and knew I was from Salt Lake. She then asked if we jumped on the $275 deal. And they weren’t the only people we met in Peru that booked that flight. We had two more encounters with fellow spontaneous travelers: one at the airport and one in our tour group at Machu Picchu.

For some of them, Peru may have been at the top of their travel bucket-list. And while it wasn’t at the top of mine at the time, it would have been had I known what the country had to offer. Even without the thrill of Machu Picchu (which actually took my breath away at first sight), it was lovely. Lush green mountains speckled with wandering llamas. Craggy streets with handwoven fabrics and oil paintings on canvas. Oh, and the best bread I’ve ever had in my life.

When my husband first asked if I wanted to go, I panicked about missing Thanksgiving. What about the rolls and stuffing and turkey? We’d miss my Uncle Ted’s pecan pie! Besides, we’d never even talked about going to Peru. We had been planning on going Europe! But I’ve since been to Europe, multiple times, and I wouldn’t trade my experience in Peru for any of them. There was something about the unexpected that I loved. Every day was a surprise, with new people, food, places. It’s tragic to me that I may have missed that experience entirely if I had stubbornly insisted on going to my bucket list destinations in order.

My point is, that people like me who want to go everywhere, have to be flexible with where you go now. So if travel is important to you, but you don’t have a large disposable income, jump on those last minute travel deals — wherever they may take you. Because as long as they get you somewhere, you’ll eventually go everywhere on your list.

Are you a veteran of last-minute travel deals? Share your experiences in the comments section below! 

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About The Author

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.