Ready for takeoff: Find a last-minute travel deal
Itching to escape the cold? We are, too! But planning a vacation isn't always a multi-month process. Sometimes you decide on the spur of the moment that what you'd really like to do is get out of town and hit the beach for a week.
If you find yourself craving sand, surf and sunshine, finding a last-minute travel deal is easier than you think. We put together some tips to help you make your last-minute travel dreams a reality – and ideally give your bank account a break in the process.
Step one: Do your research
Before you decide where you want to go, it's a good idea to do some research into some of the destinations or hotels at the top of your list. Check out a few user review sites to get a better idea of what other travellers are saying. Did the hotel you're thinking of booking get a good rating from most users? Does the city you want to visit have enough kid-friendly activities? You can usually get a good idea about whether or not you want to book or stay based on the reviews and comments you read. Here are some sites to get your started.
Step two: Start searching
The next step is to begin comparing fares on various travel search engines to find out what kinds of deals are available. Some popular options include Kayak, Bing, Vayama and Expedia. Play around with dates and times to see if that affects price – often when you're leaving last-minute, there are more low-cost fares or package deals than if you were booking fairly far in advance.
Make a note
It's also a good idea to search on sites that specialize in cheap fares and vacations, such as Priceline.com, Travelocity's travel deals section, Lastminute.com, Cheapflights.com, Hotwire.com and Last Minute Spider, all of which cater to the last-minute jet-setter.
Step three: Sign up for alerts
To cover more ground faster, you can sign up to get travel deals delivered right to your inbox, which is a great way to find a last-minute or discounted trip. If timing isn't an issue (and you can take off whenever you like) the only decision you'll have to make is where to go. Cancun or Cozumel, Costa Rica or Belize? The possibilities are endless. Simply input your email address and the deals will start rolling in. Try Travelzoo (sign up at top right) or Bookit.com (sign up on left side, halfway down page) to get started.
Step four: Figure in flash sales
With the popularity of group-buying sites like Groupon, it was only a matter of time before travel got the daily deal treatment. These sites offer discounted luxury travel packages through limited-time-only sales. Some, like SniqueAway, are invitation-only, but we were given access within a day of filling out the application. In the case of SniqueAway, once you're a member (membership is free) you can log in to look at the deals on offer – and how long you have to snap them up. At the time of writing we spied deals for various U.S. cities, Mexico and as far away as Thailand. Simply click on the spot that interests you to see the deal and book if you wish.
Step five: Scout out social networks
Facebook and Twitter aren't just for keeping in touch with friends. Another great way to nab travel deals is by following travel providers and airlines on various social networks, especially Twitter. Airlines will often tweet limited-time deals or special offers, which, if you're quick enough to spot, can help you save money. Get up-close and social with JetBlue Airways, Hotwire and CheapOair, just to name a few. You can also try checking out airline and hotel Facebook pages to see if they're offering any special deals or last-minute packages.
Watch: How to pack everything into a carry-on
Want to travel light? With a little research -- and a lot of editing -- you can lose your luggage dependency, one overstuffed bag at a time.