It sounds irresponsible — maniacal, even — but you may find yourself days away from the vacation of a lifetime without a single detail booked. Your bags are packed. You’ve submitted your vacation request at work. And you’re just beginning to browse for flights and hotels.
Not everyone has the chops for it, but booking last-minute travel can pay off in a big way. Especially if you’re a frequent award traveler — some of the most aspirational and valuable awards magically appear a few weeks (or days) out.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. You might just be inspired to give last-minute reservations a go.
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Some of the best flight and hotel awards appear within a few weeks of travel
It’s not ideal, but waiting to book your flights and hotels a week or two before departure can be your only chance to achieve your bucket list items.
InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa
Despite costing 120,000 IHG points per night, demand is high — in large part because points book directly into an overwater villa (often $1,300 and above per night).
However, if you search for award availability just a week or two out, you can often find what you’re looking for. Here’s a three-night stay available on points for next week — it really doesn’t get much better than that.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Similarly, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island makes an appearance on many a bucket list.
For most of the calendar year, you’ll find the hotel charges over 500,000 Hilton points for a premium room. The hotel makes standard rooms available in waves.
But here’s the thing: Standard room availability is nearly guaranteed within a month from the current date.
Swiss business-class seats
Swiss International Air Lines business class tends to have good availability eight days from the current date — and it often gets scooped up quickly, as you’ll likely notice availability isn’t nearly as good on days 1-7 from today.
Our favorite ways to book are through Avianca or Air Canada Aeroplan. You can search routes between Zurich Airport (ZRH) and the following cities:
If you’ve got ice in your veins, you can hold off on booking flights until eight days from your desired departure date and snag a quality business-class seat to Europe on Swiss.
Lufthansa first class
Lufthansa releases its first-class award inventory to its partners up to 30 days before departure. However, you’ll need to reserve your flights at least three days prior to departure — so there’s a balance as to how “last minute” you can book.
This deal is still extremely hard to find. Lufthansa’s first-class seats are a darling of the points and miles community. After flying them once, you’ll understand why.
We recommend using ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) to alert you when seats become available. Set your route search between Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and the following U.S. cities:
It takes a bit of faith to book last-minute flights and hotels. However, with some of the best deals in award travel, there’s really no other way to book.
Tangentially, it’s good to have a backup plan just in case the stars don’t align for you.
When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve booked safety-net flights and hotels that I would have been at peace with using if award space didn’t open up. It’ll keep you sane during your frantic, white-knuckled week of award searches before your departure date.